Friday, December 14, 2012

"Artists at the Edge: Natasha Vita-More"

-- David "Skinny Devil" McLean
first published at Tinfoil Music
Friday, 11 August 2006 08:30

For those who already know of Natasha Vita-More, no introduction is needed. For those unfamiliar with her, suffice it to say she is a HUGE thinker not just in the world of technology, but in the world of ideas. Her scope goes far beyond one or two focus groups and covers art, technology, fashion, science, politics, sex, religion...from primitive past to brilliant & kaleidoscopic future.

Natasha sculpts her body and her mind with old-fashioned work and new-fangled technologies, and gazes into the future with dazzling clarity. She is award-winning artist, actress, author, speaker, television show host. She holds a BFA from University of Memphis, MS from University of Houston (Future Studies), and is a Ph.D. candidate at University of Plymouth. She holds certificates from the AMFA as nutritionist & personal trainer, from Blackstone School of Law in paralegal studies, HTML writers Guild in animation. She was president of the Extopy Institute from 2000-2006 (ExI officially "closed it's doors" earlier this year), is founder & director of Transhumanist Arts & Culture, honorary vice-chair of the WTA, & sits on the council of advisors for the Alcor Foundation. She has delivered speeches to hundreds of thousands at various conferences around the world, been interviewed by newspapers like the New York Times & Village Voice and magazines as diverse as Wired, US News & World Report, and Harper's Bazaar. She has appeared in television & film for over 20 years and her artwork has been exhibited from coast to coast in the US as well as Europe and Japan, and her bio is featured from the Who's Who to Kurzweil AI.

In short, she is a brilliant artist and futurist. In the expanding world of transhumanism, extropianism, and art, she is a legend. She has been married to the equally brilliant strtegic futurist Dr. Max More since 1996, and though she was born mid-way through the last century, she looks like an Olympic athlete half her age.

I had the chance to speak to Natasha recently (note: this interview took place in the spring of 2006), so here is the first of a 2-part series. Hang on - it's a wild ride.....

1) Hi, Natasha! Welcome to Tinfoil Music. How's the weather in Austin?

I was just in San Francisco over the weekend, but since I've been back the weather is lovely - crisp with Willie Nelson's Blue Skies - just right for this time of year.

2) You've had a long, diverse, & fascinating career as producer, artist, actress, social commentator/forecaster, TV host, author, public speaker, and so much more, so I'd like to touch base on a few of those things. First, your book "Create/Recreate: The 3rd Millennial Culture" was released in 1997 (2nd addition issued in 2000) to rave reviews. Do you have plans for another book?

My first book was intentionally designed to be a "hands on" project. I enjoyed writing the essays and designing the book as an artistic endeavor-like the books one sees in art museums, untainted by publishers. I wanted it to be my personal viewpoint about the emerging culture as I experienced it.
My next book on transhumanism will be a much more serious endeavor and for this project I will be more conventional in regards to structure. The content will be a profile of transhumanity's beginnings, its present condition, and its future.

3) From 1985 through early 2005 you were engaged in quite a bit of public speaking (from the "Art, Music, & Entertainment" conference in Japan in 1991 to the "Future of Gender & Sexuality" conference in 1997 to an Alcor presentation in 2000). Do you have a favorite among these conferences?

I enjoyed the Japan conference because it was produced with sense of quality and style. I facilitated a panel on arts and entertainment, and I also had the marvelous opportunity to meet the Prime Minister of Japan as well as the Princess of Japan. I thoroughly enjoyed the televised portion of the conference. The Extropy Institute conferences are always a hit, and they are favorites. But to date, my number #1 conference was in Estonia where I presented the keynote talk at the Cumulus European design conference. But for a one-day roundtable conference of experts, I enjoyed Terasem Movement, Inc.'s webcast produced by Martine Rothblatt which was held at the Terasem retreat in Vermont.

4) Will you be engaging in more public events in 2006?

Yes. There are a few documentaries I will be appearing in, and some print publications. I have a "Futures Podcast" and will be speaking at the World Futures Society conference in Toronto this summer.

5) Many people are either new to Transhumanist/Extropian ideas, or have a very superficial view of the movement. Can you briefly outline "transhumanism" and "extropy" for our readers?

Let me give you a visual: Transhumanism is the big sky of the future and Extropy is a shining star in the sky that has been catalytic in introducing people to the big sky and bringing people into the big sky by encouraging critical thinking and creativity as we drive toward the future with our hopes and dreams.

Transhumanists are part of an international cultural movement of individuals who advocate researching, developing and implementing different types of technologies that are ecologically viable and the best possible alternatives to problems relating to the environment, health, communication and transportation. Extropian individuals are the original Transhumanists who developed the transhumanism and the Transhumanist movement. Simply put: Extropy Institute is the first Transhumanist organization and pioneered the Transhumanist movement through the philosophy of Extropy - which is a unique philosophy within transhumanism.

Transhumanism is a modern philosophy was created the philosopher Max More. Dr. More defined transhumanism as "Philosophies of life, such as extropy, that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values."

Extropy is the Transhumanist philosophy with a clearly defined perspective on transhumanism which are expressed in The Principles of Extropy. Extropy and Extropy Institute are non-partisan for the key reason that solutions to challenges are best discovered through strategic, interdisciplinary approaches rather than through biased political dogma, which lacks objectivity and openness to change. Specifically, extropy is the extent of a system's intelligence, energy, experience, diversity, opportunity, and growth.

The Principles of Extropy are:

1. Perpetual Progress: Extropy means seeking more intelligence, wisdom, and effectiveness, an open-ended lifespan, and the removal of political, cultural, biological, and psychological limits to continuing development. Perpetually overcoming constraints on our progress and possibilities as individuals, as organizations, and as a species. Growing in healthy directions without bound.

2. Self-Transformation: Extropy means affirming continual ethical, intellectual, and physical self-improvement, through critical and creative thinking, perpetual learning, personal responsibility, proactively, and experimentation. Using technology - in the widest sense to seek physiological and neurological augmentation along with emotional and psychological refinement.

3. Practical Optimism: Extropy means fueling action with positive expectations - individuals and organizations being tirelessly proactive. Adopting a rational, action-based optimism or "proaction", in place of both blind faith and stagnant pessimism.

4. Intelligent Technology: Extropy means designing and managing technologies not as ends in themselves but as effective means for improving life. Applying science and technology creatively and courageously to transcend "natural" but harmful, confining qualities derived from our biological heritage, culture, and environment.

5. Open Society: Extropy means supporting social orders that foster freedom of communication, freedom of action, experimentation, innovation, questioning, and learning. Opposing authoritarian social control and unnecessary hierarchy and favoring the rule of law and decentralization of power and responsibility. Preferring bargaining over battling, exchange over extortion, and communication over compulsion. Openness to improvement rather than a static utopia. Extropia ("ever-receding stretch goals for society") over utopia ("no place").

6. Self-Direction: Extropy means valuing independent thinking, individual freedom, personal responsibility, self-direction, self-respect, and a parallel respect for others.

7. Rational Thinking: Extropy means favoring reason over blind faith and questioning over dogma. It means understanding, experimenting, learning, challenging, and innovating rather than clinging to beliefs.

6) Many people view the Transhumanist & Extropian movement(s) as technology centered, but you've publicly said, "Transhumans and transhumanism is not just about technology. It is about expanding human understanding and intelligence." Can you expound on that idea?

Society always been technology centered and, as such, sought to increase innovation through the technology of the times. Whether the technology of the time is a caved arrow out of stone or a nanochip out of carbon-people will seek to innovate with the miraculous materials which they discover or manufacture. What has changed over time is not the fact that society is technologically centered, but that the materials with which we innovate, design and build, are unfamiliar. It is the unfamiliarity of the materials that punctuates society's fears, not the fact that we use technology. Now with that said, I'll address your question:

Technology and transhumanism are not the same thing. One is engineering and the other is a cultural movement. Transhumanism and especially its philosophy of extropy were developed as a means to help people deal with the massive changes that occur, the uncertainties and discontinuities of the world around us in advancing into the future. Extropy was written as a blueprint guidepost to help people develop skills to adapt to change, develop critical thinking skills, encourage their own creativity and understanding of the future.

One of the most obviously serious issues that we face in the world today is the fact that people around the world are not knowledgeable about dealing with change and are basically uneducated with understanding how to strategize the future. Most people live in either the present or the past and believe or hope that things will remain safe enough for them to get by. Few people, very few people as a world populace, are educated, informed and adept at forecasting, building scenarios for the future and applying these elements to their own lives, as well as applying knowledge about the future to their businesses and lifestyles.

Transhumanists want to be informed. Transhumanists want to be aware. Transhumanists are learning how to adapt to change. Transhumanists challenge and question.
One of the most important elements of extropy and transhumanism is the art of questioning and the art of the challenge. A challenge is not easy for anyone, but we all have to deal with challenges every day of our lives.

7) As an artist, your work has been shown at a startling array of exhibitions, from "virtual galleries" like EZTV to the Kyoto, Japan Convention Center and the London Institute of Contemporary Arts. What is your newest work, and what will we see from you in 2006?

My newest work is "Primo Posthuman 2006" the future human prototype. It developed as a single cell idea, crystallized into a computer graphic array of images, and then evolved into the first future human body prototype. The beauty of this piece is that it keeps evolving and it keeps getting media attention. During 2006 it will develop a virtual voice and consciousness and present a series of questions for people to ask themselves about their own image and the future. It will be educational and poetic-informative and inspiring.

8) As an actress & performance artist, you've been involved in projects as diverse as 1985's "Liquid Sky" to the 1996 movie "Tim". Is this a medium you plan to explore more in the future?

I would like to, yes indeed. I got tired of Hollywood and the business. I think I actually had it best when I lived in Telluride, Colorado and performed at the Telluride Film Festival and had the opportunity to meet so many fascinating directors and actors. I loved being in that mountainous environment with such talented people to learn from and enjoy.

9) Similarly, you were host of the LA-based TV show "Transhuman Update" from 1987-1999. Do you have plans to revive the program?

I am in the process of developing an online video show on transhumanism and the future called "Futures Vodcast" which I will host, starting in 2006. I hope it will be newsworthy and fun - and an appropriate partner for my Futures Podcast.

10) You are affiliated with The Association of Professional Futurists, Foresight Institute, WTA, Alcor, and other such organizations. You are also founder of Transhumanist Arts & Culture as well as current president of the Extropy Institute. While futurists in general are supportive of these organizations, you've taken some heat, if indirectly, from thinkers such as Bill Joy to well-known Luddites to Monday morning quarterbacks following the Ted Williams issue. What do you have to say to your critics?

People will end up in the future, even if kicking and screaming all the way. I don't know if it is a psychology or a genetic link, but there are some people who just run on a fuel of high-fear. It is as if they need to get pumped up with ideas that will scare the hell of out them in order to find their place in the universe. Often, what is lacking in their assumptions is the art of critical thinking. It is a fact that some technologies are scary and it is a fact that humanity often does things that are foolish and backfire. Albeit, it is also a fact that we cannot live without technology and that our innate instincts cause us to want to learn more, crate more, invent more to improve the current condition. Today we are working toward improving the current condition by looking for the means to extend and improve human life and to provide better, safer, cost-effective, sustainable transportation and communication devices. If the technologies that will provide these elements are new, then it is common place that some people will freak and try to freak out others. This what Bill Joy and others have done. Rather than look at the situation and actually talk with people about it who they could learn from (heck, I never got a call from Bill Joy before he slammed "us"); he might have produced better judgment calls. But he got a lot of press for his salvo and it was timely. The upside is that it caused "us" to take action in realizing that there are conservatives who we do have to deal with today and in the future.

(This concludes part one. Part 2 of the interview will be featured here soon. In the meantime, visit Natasha HERE and visit my index of transhumanist/extropian artists & musicians HERE.)

Up-date: Part 2 of this interview can be found HERE.

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