Natasha Vita-More in Conversation with Tim Maupin on the “Last Generation to Die”

[quote]The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge[/quote] ~ Thomas Berger

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[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ho wants to live longer?  In the transhumanist community, life extension has been the focus of riveting discussion and rigorous debate for over 20 years. In the mainstream, it is just beginning to be topical. Yet, before modern cultures formed, the Taoists envisioned the pill of immortality. If one digs a little more deeply, and past current headlines or cover stories, there is a big world of ideas generating from people like philosopher Nicolai Fyodorov (1829-1903), social scientist Jean Finot (1858 – 1922), gerontologist Roy Walford (1924-2004), and biologist Lyn Margulis (1938-2011)—all who added to the emerging narratives of life and its extension.  Outside the recordation of history and plots of science fiction, human use of science and technology  has helped to  steer life extension forward into its present reality.

Through investigations into science, technology, philosophy, and budding cultural trends, transhumanism stands out as a viable collection of knowledge about the diverse trajectories for how we might get there – the penultimate goal of not dying. But what does it mean not to die?  Since we are biological life forms, not dying in biology would mean that we would regenerate our bodies and brains to continue functioning. But what happens when we have prosthetic appendages?  Possibly, the same set of scenarios – to rebuild and regenerate ourselves to continue functioning.  And I propose that this method would continue in the newer set of systems and devices that we would use for mobility, communication, and cognition – keep it functioning, until a person determines  not to function – or live – any longer. Changing the definition of death and bringing about a new set of meanings and classifications may be necessary for every future generation that encounters death, based on the system that generation exists within[1], and the new environments humanity might build for life in the future.

We are alive at this moment.  We do not know if we will be alive tonight or tomorrow. The question becomes: How do we stay alive? I attempted to answer this in my doctorate dissertation and by this attempt, I became aware of how new knowledge aggregates new questions.  It is a spiraling type of reciprocity. Some of us chip away at this question from their professional work[2], and each of us has our own personal story of why we became interested in life extension and what contributions can we have made to the field of life extension that might, in some ways – no matter how large or small – inform others  and to attempt to overcome the tyranny of death.

Life extension has undergone numerous generations of research and technological advancements in its evolving process. We will most likely come to see it as a vast and multi-disciplinary field – springing out from the proto-scientists, through philosophy, biology, and into culture as a narrative which time has arrived, as some people alive today might be the last biological generation to die of the biological disease of death.

 

Tim Maupin’s project is a short film titled “The Last Generation to Die”.  I loved the title of this at first glance. And after I talked with Tim, the film’s director, I was even more enamored. How often is it that we can share passions with another person in a relaxed yet highly charged discussion. It is my pleasure to tell you a little about Tim.

Tim, with a background in cinematography and directing, recently was part of team that won an Emmy for the short format piece, “Transforming Haiti”- produced by Story Track and which Tim was cinematographer on.

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“Transforming Haiti”

Tim was also the winner of the Poptent Commercial Contest in 2010, given the title of Best Cinematography by Webster Film Festival in 2009, and the 1st place visual FX by Kinematifest in 2009. His recent cinematography and stereographer mentions include nine projects from 2010 to 2012, some of which can be found on the TimMaupin.com website.  There you will be delighted with his 3D visual effects  and his shorts “Old Light” and “Reentry”.

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Credit: “Old Light” , Tim Maupin (2010)                               Credit: “Reentry”, Tim Maupin (2010)

Recently, Tim headed up a Kickstarter campaign to fund “Last Generation to Die”. The initial funding period has passed and his team raised $35,355, a sum that surpassed their targeted $9,000 goal. To meet the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) ultra-low budget of $50,000, they are now extending fundraising. If you would like to be part of this amazing project, head over to Apeiron Life for the extended fundraising!

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Credit: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1956082973/the-last-generation-to-die-a-short-film

[quote]I don’t think the time is quite right, but it’s close. I’m afraid, unfortunately, that I’m in the last generation to die. [/quote]  ~ Gerald Sussman

 

Natasha:  You mentioned to me a quote by Gerald Sussman about he is in the last generation to die. How did Sussman’s quote inspire you? For example, did it grab your interest the moment you saw it, or did it cause you to wonder about his own motivations and concerns and then filter them into your own feelings?

Tim: The quote grabbed me on an immediate level.  I remember reading it several times and thinking it was a pretty bold statement and it only became more profound as it stuck with me for days after. Even the phrasing and cadence of it is engaging. The pauses and the pacing seem to reflect someone who is highly contemplative and reflective in their life, an admittance or acceptance on several levels.  After reading more about life extension and the very real possibilities behind his statement, it carried even more weight — the idea that a person could just miss the technological cutoff of living indefinitely. Taking the generation angle further, I soon realized this would be a profound story in looking at the divide in generations and the resulting implications of even one gap from parent to progeny. I knew I had hit upon an interesting story that needed to be explored.

 

Natasha: In the last months of 2013, we can see strong evidence that life extension is thriving. With Google’s new company California Life Company (Calico), they hope to pursue a “big-data” approach to health.[1]  This seems to tie into the current cultural trends toward the Quantified Self projects where people gather numerical information about aspects of their lives.  Since these types of discussions are becoming more and more mainstream, what approach are you taking in your film and storyline to capture the attention of your audience and also touch on current sciences and technologies of life extension?

Tim: The story takes place in 2043 and is about a father and daughter relationship set in future. Because of her own fear of death and because her mother dies when she was a child, she is impassioned to do all she can to keep her father alive. Within this context of a daughter and father, we recognize the last generation to die. Yet her father resists. This is the thematic setting of the story.

The film currently opens with Nora having to meet with the FDA for the first of a series of approvals for the technology. Her own father has been attending the trials that the fictional life extension company, Apeiron Life, has been performing. It is here, right before her important meeting that she discovers that he hasn’t been to the last three treatments and screenings. After an eventual successful first meeting, she proceeds to attempt to get a hold of her father, but cannot reach him by phone, so she leaves work immediately and drives out to his farm and eventually finds him and attempts to talk to him about his decision. This final scene of the film attempts to explore both viewpoints and arrives at an intriguing ending.

Natasha: I wonder, what are your personal interests in life extension?

Tim: I am definitely interested in life extension, but I am still exploring the idea. I can say that I am leaning in that direction. When I think about my own life, I would love the opportunity to have more years to learn as I am so fascinated by many aspects of life.

Natasha:  What about living beyond biology as an option for radical life extension?

Tim:  I am not 100% sure about mixing humans and computers at this time, but I like the idea of extending aging. At this point, my focus is the emotional story of life extension. I have not delved into life extension on an extremely deep level quite yet, although I will certainly be doing more research to fine tune the script. I’d like to learn more about what happens after death. What is consciousness? At this time in my life, some of it is really about asking questions. Some of it is motivated by the strange and exciting idea of life extension.  But I’m excited about many things in life and having more time to explore the world.

Natasha:  Let’s talk about your work as a filmmaker. You perform roles, from cinematographer, stereographer and now director. What is your favorite role?

Tim: I’m sort of torn between being a director and a cinematographer. I am pretty comfortable working with the visuals of filmmaking. Directing is something I would like to be better at – to tell the story and have every aspect of it in hand.  So, I would say ultimately director.  On most of my work, I have been in the role of the cinematographer, where you get a sense of visuals and you are a pretty vital part of the cinematic language, where the visual story comes into play.

Natasha: How much of “Last Generation to Die” has been written and storyboarded?

Tim: The storyboards are being developed and we’ve had one casting audition. We are pretty early in the pre-production stage. We did well enough on the Kickstarter that I think we will do a little more with the script and try to get the science straight. Every detail is being thought through.  We’ve actually had further interest outside of Kickstarter and have therefore decided to continue to actively fund the film through early November at apeironlife.com. Any more money can help tremendously as we’ve now scaled up a bit and films are very expensive.

Natasha: What are the central threads in the storyline? For example, since we are biological life forms it seems that the story would focus on biological options for life extension, such as advances in regenerative medicine. Here stem cells and nanomedicine might be key sciences and technologies.

Tim: Yes, we aim to keep it focused on primary science, but may hint at other additional methods. The goal with a short film is to keep it relatively simple- the film focuses on a specific scientific breakthrough. The lead character works for a life extension company.

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Natasha: I wonder if there is some necessary element that exists outside science and technology. An element that is more aligned with our deep need to help others and protect the preciousness of life.

Tim: I think the thing that is really interesting to me is what I experienced yesterday. I was at an art exhibition on Mayan processions, and I was thinking about how we are having a hand in our evolution. And it is happening much faster than traditional evolution. We are forcing evolution to happen.  Part of me asks the question about what might happen to the beautiful random outcomes that happen in a world of 7 billion people: can random beauty still happen in the future in a world where we control evolution?

Natasha: I think about random kindness and senseless acts of beauty (Anne Herbert 1982) each and every day. It ties in nicely to the idea of paying it forward – that when something delightful happens to you, that you create something delightful for someone else.  And this is random – unplanned. It reminds me of the Zen art of John Cage and others who enjoyed the art of chance.  In this, there is not judgment or expectation and somehow a level of gratitude emerges—a type of practice-based optimism.

Tim:  Yes, I lean toward optimism and perhaps it is through all these things that it does emerge. I do think about how we evolved and this is opening up my world. I don’t personally feel anger about different segments or beliefs of humanity – the brutality – and I  think we will eventually get away from it.

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Credit:  John Bisoski –August 2013

 

[quote]Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers[/quote]~ Voltaire

In reflection on Tim’s being inspired by the Sussman quote, this quote was located in a book titled Physics of the Future, written by Michio Kaku.  This gem of a quote stood out far beyond the book’s pages.  In reading Kaku, one might notice a slight disdain about life extension.  When there are intelligent individuals who are well-versed in their fields and who want to be involved in the discussion, one would hope that they would ask questions before making assumptions. This is what I value most about Tim; he is exploring ideas and unabashedly asking questions.

 


[1] For example, the biosphere for biological agents and cybersphere for avatars, and upload environments for posthumans.

[2] Reference to Greg Stock who has been a leading voice in the field of biotechnology for many years. Others include Robert Freitas, who has been a nascent knowledge source in nanomedicine. And then there is the philosophy of what does it mean to exist – to continue our identity over time, such as Max More.

[3] McNicoll, Arion. “How Google’s Calico aims to fight aging and ‘solve death’” in CNN Tech, October 3, 2013. Available: http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/03/tech/innovation/google-calico-aging-death/

 

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