Magic Mushrooms, Mourning, and the Death of Carrie Fisher

Two pieces of news have got me thinking about death (again).  Most immediately, mere hours, I learned that a heroine and icon Carrie Fisher joined the stunning ranks of Great Voices who didn’t make it out of 2016.  The other I’ve been sitting with for a while: the confirmation with a second, more robust trial that psilocybin, the active compound in magic mushrooms, is a cure for “existential anxiety.” In other words, a cure for the fear of death. The latter is great news.  The former is deeply sad, but we’ll all get through it.


You see, I am not the kind of futurist who thinks that indefinite life extension is desirable, let alone a good idea for society.  I think that death is necessary, and that fear of death is natural.  Grief is a compound emotion, the elements of which vary for each moment it’s experienced and each person who experiences it.

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Optimizing Healthspans: branching paths of longevity and death post up

This took me a uper long time to write, resolving my conflicting feelings about extreme longevity as a topic.  This is another one of the Science, Technology and Well-being 20202 Forecasts.

Again, full post available here.

To clear up your first question, (what’s a healthspan?), by healthspan we mean the length of healthy, quality living. In the last hundred years we’ve seen a dramatic lengthening of our life expectancy, and radical life extension hopes to lengthen our lifespans, but what we’re grappling with now and in the next decade is optimizing our chances of those added years being happy and healthy.

So, how will we do that?

 Flickr user kevindooleySource: Flickr user kevindooley

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Ever More Perfect Eyes

As of now, I’ve settled on this as a name for this blog (in lieu of my first, third, and any number of impulses toward more cynical, ironic or flippant names).  A quick note about where it comes from:

“We have ever more perfect eyes in a world in which there is always more to see. See or die.”
—Teilhard de Chardin

At least, that was how I encountered it in an epigraph of a book I was reading.That’s actually a condensed, slight misquotation.  The full line in context is much less pithy (according to my favorite modern translation):

“Seeing. One could say that the whole of life lies in seeing — if not ultimately, at least essentially. To be more is to be more united — and this sums up and is the very conclusion of the work to follow. But unity grows, and we will affirm this again, only if it is supported by an increase of consciousness, of vision. That is probably why the history of the living world can be reduced to the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes at the heart of a cosmos where it is always possible to discern more. Are not the perfection of an animal and the supremacy of the thinking being measured by the penetration and power of synthesis of their glance? To try to see more and to see better is not, therefore, just a fantasy, curiosity, or a luxury. See or perish. This is the situation imposed on every element of the universe by the mysterious gift of existence. And thus, to a higher degree, this is the human condition.”

—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Human Phenomenon, trans. Sarah Appleton-Weber, p. 3

Yeah, I then tracked down the book and read it, in two translations.  Occasionally I can go on a philosophy kick, it’s allowed. And that book is a trip, I recommend it.  Some sections are knock-you-on-your-ass profound, while others let me understand why when I Googled the quotation I stumbled on a psychadelic hippy poster.

In this passage I get caught up in the encouragement, the humility, and the imperative.  First, I take “seeing” as a shorthand for perception more generally.  Perfection of perception here is I think both a scientific and a theological concept (Tielhard was both a Jesuit philosopher and a paleontologist).  It’s accuracy, detail, scope, understanding, appreciation, and finally synthesis.  But I take a page here from Thoreau’s distinction, “do not observe, behold”: perception includes awe and gratitude. In a scientific sense, perfection is accuracy and understanding; in a theological sense, perfection is a measure of closeness to God.  This is a continuously ongoing process, elaborating “ever more perfect eyes. Our abilities improve and Teilhard asserts that this improvement is limitless. We will never reach that state of perfection but we will always, if we do not ignore or deny what we see, get closer to it.    But, “there is always more to discern.” No model is perfect, no perspective truly whole.  If we could achieve that we would not be “as gods,” we would be gods.   And finally it’s not just for scholars and wankers and blathering in cafes, but a vital imperative.  Blindness, denial, ignorance, unwillingness to improve are lethal luxuries.

As a species our only chance of survival is to perceive more, to think better, and to act on what we learn. And as individual people, that’s also our best shot.