I loved your two books. So many timely ideas and really unique characters. If I were to summarize them they’re about the search for existential meaning in a future where technology allows anything to be experienced as real. Even though they are entertaining, they are also deeply philosophical and in their own way address spiritual issues. What made you decide to write fiction novels immersed in those topics?
Two series of events inspired me to write the I AM series. The first was an experience I had about the nature of being while under the influence of a drug in a sensory isolation situation. The second was conversations I had with Terence McKenna about the acceleration of novelty and of our being drawn to an Attractor leading to an eventual transcendental object which lies in our future. I have no doubt the Attractor is the new technology. Advances in nanotechnology, faster computers, and lifelike virtual realities will generate the tipping point toward a future gateway. Advanced virtual reality hardware and programs will create parallel experiential worlds that will change the current cartography of reality. Upper worlds and lower worlds will be just a click away.
The ideas of transcendence and some type of singularity pervade your two novels. Do you think that the universe has a transcendental evolutionary drive, an inherently transcendental script like Terence McKenna’s Time Wave Zero or Teilhard de Chardin’s Omega Point?
A transcendental path toward greater consciousness and ultimately a form of immortality is only one out of many options we can choose for our future. Being ethnocentric killer apes is another option as our past has shown us and as some tribal societies, radical religious groups and political dictatorships continue to demonstrate today. The question is whether the technology at one point takes charge and our choosing a course, transcendental or other, no longer becomes an option.
Don’t you think we may have already passed that threshold, that we may already be losing control?
Funny you should ask that. The Internet, Google, computer games and virtual realities, media in general, are becoming such an intrinsic part of our lives that there is no turning back. The realities made possible by technology have become attractors whose pull we can no longer resist. Turning back to a previous way of life would require something near apocalyptic that would destroy the electronic infrastructure. So yes, part of what is unfolding is no longer under our control and likely to become less so when computing machines exceed human intelligence. We have opened Pandora’s box.
In your books a virtual Christ creates itself and escapes autonomously into the World Net, which brings up an interesting variation of the Turing test. If a virtual Christ asserts it is Christ, acts as if it is Christ and cannot be readily distinguished from the Christ conjured in beliefs then could it be an actualization of Christ?
That’s one of the main ideas I wanted to explore in my books, the fact that with virtual realities and autonomous cyberentities, our ideas of what is real will be altered because these virtual worlds will become parallel realities, like inhabited countries, that we can access at any time. They will be real to us. Autonomous cyberentities will be the analog of what we have called spirits.
Your books suggest the technological singularity, a point where computers exceed human intelligence, is in our near future yet there are many critics that doubt that there will be a singularity or that consciousness can be replicated through electronic means.
The question not really answered in the book is whether the singularity suggested, I AM, has an origin in the World Net system or whether it is simply using the World Net to communicate. I do believe that cyberhosts both individual and a World Host system that searches for the truest, most accurate information are in our future. I also believe more complex parallel cyberrealities are not that far down the line.
Game changers will be novel types of computers and virtual reality programs like Oculus Rift. With them, some type of comprehension threshold will be passed, a point where some of what they do is no longer comprehensible to us. Parallel processing and matrixed/networked processing may create structures that generate a sense of awareness in machines. This is a case where the future is not predictable because it is not yet comprehensible to us, much like protohumans could never have imagined the long term consequences of language.
One of the areas your books address is the future of religions in a technology intermediated world. Some of their content is bound to be offensive to fundamentalist Christians.You almost make a joke of the crucifixion of Christ.
I think there’s a lot of religious nuttiness going on right now driven by religious fundamentalists, not just Christians, who emphasize salvation in the afterworld. For me a prophet or a religious figure like Jesus either has a transcendent outlook or not. A transcendent being would not advocate killing and would have great empathy for human and nonhumans because he or she realizes and identifies with the common ground of being in all things. He or she would also know the role of evolution in generating a complexity of landscapes and beings that gave rise to what we call consciousness. He or she would know the wonder and importance of this world; that the most should be made of it, that transcendence is something experienced in this life.
You still didn’t answer my question about the crucifixion,
There is a Christian theme park (The Holy Experience) in Florida where the Passion of the Christ is reenacted on a daily basis. You have a Creation Museum that shows dioramas with men and dinosaurs inhabiting the same period of time. A replica of Noah’s ark is scheduled to be built. Cyberrealities will offer unique opportunities for actualizing beliefs, no matter how irrational and far-fetched they are. In time virtual realities will become parallel realms that will add confusion to the contextual notion of real. I just decided to take it to another level of virtualization. I have no doubt it will be a venue exploited by religionists and religious entertainment centers in the future.
A reviewer mentioned some readers may be uncomfortable with the combination of sex and religion in your book. Actually you almost present sex as a kind of salvation.
Mmmm… there are moments during sex, and I don’t mean just the act of intercourse but tiny fragments of moments during foreplay and orgasm and the end of sex during which, disillusioned as it might be, one experiences a momentary existential dissolution, a fusion moment, an I-in-me recognizes the I-in-you moment. There is great hope in sex and potentially great humanity. In spite of all the technological temptations, I see humans in the future not give up on that yearning but actually turn to it more often in ways that are more personal and psychologically more intimate.
What Sunshine Borden finds in Rama?
What several of my characters discover in The CyberBardos, the second book in the series.
What about robot sex companions as some are predicting will one day be available?
That’s a Twilight Zone scenario we could one day face. In my book the hosts become psychological companions. If robot sex companions pass the Turing test we may be in trouble or we will create new social and relationship structures that incorporate these robots. A theme of the book is how cyberrealities will confuse what humans have to date called reality. It’s always possible that the delusion of the dissolution object could in the future have a nonhuman inspiration and source of fulfillment. That is in part what Spike Jonze tried to explore in the movie “Her.”
Drugs are commonly used by the characters in the CyberBardos. Is greater drug use your view of the future?
Drugs is such a broad term. I think psychotropic drugs, particularly hallucinogens and empathogens, will continue to influence culture through the arts and even the sciences. A feature of potentially mind-expanding drugs like LSD and magic mushrooms is that they can offer a non-ordinary perspective of existence and our place in it. For me a society without a segment of the population using these drugs is in trouble because it would no longer be able to access core spiritual experiences or be able to explore and consider alternate models of reality. These types of drugs act as deconditioning agents critical to fighting the imposition of tradition and dogma. They can stimulate creativity in outlook and interpretational options. They offer a control to examine the madness that is forced upon us by society and culture. There is a reason why societies that restrict religious and artistic freedom typically oppose any drug use, even alcohol, and come down hard on drug users. Hallucinogenic drugs are the most powerful tools we have against big brother/ totalitarian societies and religious dogma. They can initiate the mental deconditioning that precedes change.
Having said that, I think these drugs should be regulated. They should not be available to minors and only be used by adults under the proper controlled settings, ideally after having read books or listened to lectures relating to the history, psychotropic effects and reports of experiences of these drugs. Set and setting, as was emphasized by Timothy Leary, is a critical aspect to safe use and benefiting from these drugs. An ideal situation would be centers for taking these drugs that offered the safety, support and enriched or sensory-deprived environments for exploring different areas of mind.
Don’t you think some forms of mental illness or spiritual practices allow for these experiences.
The majority of hallucinogens and empathogens drugs are non-addictive and the experiences triggered have a definite onset and end. So there is a clear reference to and from ordinary reality for most people. Mental illness usually does not allow the detached states that allow one to clearly distinguish these boundaries of experience and interpretation. Mind you, no matter how sane you are, you will experience under these drugs states where the distinctions get blurred but with some training you learn to maintain a certain detachment because you have the knowledge they are transitory and you will return to a more grounded level.
But besides that, new engineered drugs with more defined effects will likely also become available in the future.
Derek is a strange character, penis obsessed, a woman hater and a religious nut. Why did you create such a character?
Derek represents someone who has been so traumatized he can never find the dissolution object, that momentary existential collapse where one senses in another a common ground of being. Heterosexual men have at least in adolescence the hope or delusion they can find this in women and their early experiences not only shapes their view of women but their outlook on life and their role in it. Derek’s traumas prevent him from ever finding that. He hopes religion can save him but part of him can’t let go of what he sees as trickery in women. He focuses on the aspects that see Satan, temptation, and Jezebiels everywhere. He represents the inability to transcend. And yes, I made him caricatural, like a graphic novel character. Strangely enough if one watches the news about the various mass shootings and bizarre kidnappings, caricatural humans that seem right out of a graphic novel are becoming more common or at the very least more exposed and publicized.
Derek’s view of women is disturbing, like can’t live without them but can kill them.
I guess that’s one way of putting it. And yes, that’s his conflict.
Finally, are you trying to put forth serious ideas or is I Am the Other just a kind of intellectual mindfuck.
I wrote I Am the Other as a written form of expressionistic art. My hope is that parts of it disturb, excite, make one laugh (I broke out laughing after reading some parts, like P.., I can’t believe you actually wrote this.) make one think, make one confused, maybe have some want me to be crucified. As to whether it is a mindfuck, I did write it as a glimpse into a likely future, and that, believe me, will be a mindfuck.
The wild virtual reality scenes, some of the visuals and the caricatural characters give a graphic novel feel to your books. In fact I think they would make a great graphic novel if the right artist got involved. Have you considered contacting a graphic artist?
Funny you should mention that. I consider the books near future cyberpunk novels. And yes, I was influenced by early Heavy Metal graphic magazines. Maybe some of the anime or graphic novel artists will want to make a graphic version of I Am the Other. I’m certainly open to it, although my fantasy would be that I AM the Other and the Cyberbardos would be made into a cable TV series.
My next projects are a novel and a screenplay for that novel, in part because I’ve told myself I want to write at least one screenplay before I die. Why? Because I love movies and I’ve always had a fantasy of being able to write a good screenplay. Who knows? If I enjoy the process and it sells I may write more than one.
Actually a story about a foot fetishist who witnesses a shooting.
Are you kidding?