Saturday, March 3, 2012

Life Extension - Films, Literature & Gaming

This continues a series of posts on Life Extension with the radical idea that some part of us can be educated to survive the death of the body. Getting familiar with the mood and atmosphere around death makes up part of this education.

We find certain films help to get that mood, perhaps the most classic example being Beetlejuice. Some others that I like include Death Takes A Holiday and its updated version, Meet Joe Black, Carnival of Souls, La Jette, The Addams Family tv episodes, Third Man, Touch of Evil, and Lady From Shanghai by Orson Welles, Orphée by Jean Cocteau, Bladerunner, 2001 A Space Odyssey, American Beauty, Million Dollar Hotel and others I don't recall right now. Feel free to add some in the comments if you know of any others.

In literature you have quite a few good examples. Right now I'm reading Against The Day by Thomas Pynchon. Fairly regularly in the text he goes into bardo sequences, or bardo runs, for a few pages at a time. He's very good at it, demonstrates sophisticated voyaging knowledge, and presents/teaches it quite well. I highly recommend this book for a good bardo education. It's also fun to read if you appreciate how surrealistic writing can play with your consciousness. I have a number of posts over at pointing out the bardoesqueness in Against The Day.

Even the staunchly conservative Wall Street Journal agrees, saying with a blurb on the back cover:

Against the Day is a major work of art, and like all creations of surpassing greatness, something to be studied.

Another book I just finished reading for the third or fourth time is the classic, The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, also highly recommended. Every time I read it I find deeper levels of meaning. The story basically covers the transformation of one man from a brute animal to the other end of the spectrum, but the final transformation doesn't happen until the very end. A very intense bardo sequence takes place in the "burning man" section toward the end. Bester uses experimental graphic layout techniques to help get the feeling across. He even has a character playing the role of a reader delivering instructions. Also some interesting distortions of time.

I found the next part I'm about to quote closely related to the ideas discussed here on the S.M.I.2L.E. scenario. You'll recall that in one of my first postings I linked to an essay by Robert Anton Wilson on our robotic nature. Stars My Destination p.188:

He ignored his enemies and examined the perpetual beam carved in the robot face of the bartender, the classic Irish grin.
"Thank-you," Foyle said.
"My pleasure sir," the robot replied and awaited its next cue.
"Nice day," Foyle remarked
"Always a lovely day somewhere, sir," the robot beamed.
"Awful day," Foyle said
"Always a lovely day somewhere, sir," the robot responded.
"Day," Foyle said
"Always a lovely day somewhere, sir," the robot said.
Foyle turned to the others. "That's me," he said motioning to the robot. "That's all of us. We prattle about free will, but we're nothing but response . . . mechanical reaction in proscribed grooves."

I'll quote one more relevant passage - the protagonist Gully Foyle has to decide what to do with his newly realized ability to space-jaunte. Jaunting, in this tale, is the ability to travel instantaneously by visualizing a distant location - a quantum leap with the whole body - but people can only do this a few hundred miles at a time until Gully Foyle spontaneously did it for 600,000 miles across the vast reaches of space when his life was endangered. Part of his dilemma is whether he should teach others how to do it:

"... But I'm not a robot. I'm a freak of the universe . . . a thinking animal . . . and I'm trying to see my way clear through this morass. Am I to turn PyrE over to the world and let it destroy itself? Am I to teach the world how to space-jaunte and let us spread our freak show from galaxy to galaxy through all the universe? What's the answer?"

The bartender robot hurled its mixing glass across the room with a resounding crash. In the amazed silence that followed, Daghenham grunted: "Damn! My radiation's disrupted your dolls again, Presteign."
"The answer is yes," the robot said, quite distinctly.
"What," Foyle asked, taken aback.
"The answer to your question is yes."
"Thank-you," Foyle said ...
"Completely haywire," Dagenham said impatiently. "Switch it off, Presteign."
"Wait," Foyle commanded. He looked at the beaming grin in the steel robot face. "But society can be so stupid. So confused. You've witnessed this conference."
"Yes sir, but you must teach, not dictate. You must teach society."
"To space-jaunte? Why? Why reach out to the stars and galaxies? What for?"
"Beacuse you're alive, sir. You might as well ask: Why is life? Don't ask about it, Live it."
"Quite mad,' Dagenham muttered.
"But fascinating," Y'ang-Yeovil murmured.
"There's got to be more to life than just living," Foyle said to the robot.
"Then find it for yourself, sir. Don't ask the world to stop moving because you have your doubts." ...
"Thank-you very much."
"My pleasure, sir."
"You've saved the day."
"Always a lovely day somewhere, sir," the robot beamed.
Then it fizzed, jangled, and collapsed.

The story of Gulliver Foyle reminds me a bit of Leary's story as he tells it in Flashbacks. This classic Science Fiction story, first published in 1956 in Galaxy magazine, appears a literary precursor in spirit to the S.M.I.2L.E. formulation.

After one of his lectures, I asked Timothy Leary how I could get a job in the work that he did, ie being a cheerleader for change, etc. He gave me a quizzical look for a second then said that he didn't know, but that if I should ever find out to let him know. The he asked if I had a computer.
This was in 1990 a few years before the internet and computer devices became ubiquitous. At that time he was championing computers as the next breakthrough tool for expanding consciousness.

His prediction looks to be vindicated by the use of computer gaming technologies for bardo training by E.J. Gold and his crew of programmers and game designers. They've been using and recommending video games as a training device ever since the days of Super Mario Brothers and Zelda. Playing these games develops skills at solving mazes. Learning how to solve one maze helps to navigate other, more complex mazes. The bardo appears to have intricate, maze-like, labyrinthian qualities. Learning to figure out mazes and solve puzzles makes for a definite bardo skill set. Other advantages can be had by playing these games.

As you play these games you may come to recognize that you appear as if in a game yourself. Leary called his book of Qabalistic correspondences, "The Game of Life".

Diablo II is another commercial game used a lot for purposes of bardo training. Quake Team Fortress saw a lot of use in its day. Not all games work so well for this. Gold wrote a book, Spiritual Gaming, that covers the subject in detail.

Gold and his team have also been developing their own gaming engine for a number of years under the banner of G.O.D.D., an acronym which stands for Gamemakers of Diabolical Distinction. Lately they've been releasing junior kits of the G.O.D.D. engine for a beginner's course on programming and designing computer games, or what they call "world making."

Here's a short interview with Gold about his gaming background. It also reveals a little bit of his participation in the S.M.I.2L.E. scenario back in the day.

The subject of E.J. Gold and bardo training can easily become inexhaustible. I've participated in some small percentage of it, but also have the fortune of looking after his archive of recorded talks, so I know what's out there, for the most part. One of the most effective methods of bardo training I've done was going on a bardo run with him and a group of people up in Reno, Nevada.

One of the outcomes of the gaming training was something called bardo safaris in which a group of online people participate in a shared gaming adventure. That lead to "real life" (as opposed to online) bardo safaris in what were called Afterlife Adventures set against the backdrop of the casinos up in Reno. Here's what some people have to say about it. Not sure if you'd call it magic realism or real magicism. Whatever it was, it proved quite effective.

Michael Johnson has an excellent recent post on various aspects of Immortality and Death at the Overweening Generalist blog.

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