I was around five-years-old when somebody I knew died. I can’t honestly remember who it was – a friend of my mother’s, or maybe a relative. My mom was trying to help me understand what was happening and why she was so sad. She explained to me, as I sat next to her, that everyone dies someday, and that dying means never coming back. It would happen to her, and to my grandparents, and my dad, and someday to me. She was trying to comfort me. She thought it would make me more at ease with the notion that life had boundaries. It didn’t work. I was devastated. I wouldn’t accept it – I couldn’t accept it. I cried for days. It changed my life; I never forgot.
The finitude of life as we know it remains unacceptable to me. I began in science because I was driven to find a way out. Genetics is where I wound up, but throughout my career as an academic and a researcher, I grew to understand that academia wasn’t (*isn’t*) motivated by the same things I am. I sought out the biggest, boldest idea I knew of – the Personal Genome Project – seeing the potential it had to change the way we understand and ultimately engineer ourselves – I introduced myself to the people making it happen, made my case, and moved to Boston to join them soon thereafter.
Best decision I could have made.
Surrounded by the brightest and most visionary people I’d ever encountered, I’ve had more revelations about the priority of enhancement in the past year than I’ve probably had in all the 22 before it. I’ve shifted my focus – away, for the moment, from immortality, and towards the kind of enhancement that will provide sustainability, intelligence, rationality, and responsibility to a group now approaching an unprecedented power.
We can achieve freedoms that no organism we know of has ever achieved; we can shape ourselves and our futures with control that is (as far as we know) uniquely human; my hope is that we will break our chains in the right order – to outgrow Darwinian evolution in such a way that we don’t allow the vestigial parts of ourselves to obstruct our long-term goals as they do now. We’re wasteful and hateful, shortsighted and narrow-minded, selfish and self-deceptive, competitive and corrosive – we are destructive by nature, and that’s a nature I propose we change before granting ourselves the superpowers that would enable superdestruction.
That may sound like a sour note to land on, but I find it beautiful. I maintain optimism about our ability to improve ourselves on every level. Our leash is tight, but sufficiently long to look for ways to take it off, and to not go on a rampage once we do. I see greatness in us; I hope to make that greatness grow.