Ray Bradbury vs. Ray Bradbury
Mike Darwin's fascinating blog entry about Ray Bradbury's opposition to cryonics stimulates thought about the bigger picture of the persistence of art. Mike portrays Ray as focused on "immortality through works", and references Bradbury's science fiction novel Farenheit 451, which suggested the preservation of books through the memories of individuals. Does anyone familiar with the fallible nature of human memory see the deep conflict here?
The world of Farenheit had little respect for the literature of the past. The exceptional community of memorizers, based (somehow) on recruiting young people to memorize and pass on what they learned from respected elders, is laughably self-contradictory. After a few generations of the literary telephone game, the so-called "human books" would bear no resemblance to the original paper versions. Did Bradbury understand this, and use his superlative literary skills to gloss over this glaring problem?
A contemporary of Bradbury's, science fiction author Zenna Henderson, left her literary legacy to a relative. Henderson was a Christian, and started chapters of her The People novels with quotes from her Bible. The relative decided that these quotes would upset the secular science fiction audience, and omitted them from future editions to increase sales. Because of the perpetual nature of modern copyright, it is in fact illegal for a third party to publish editions of Henderson's novels with the quotes included. If Henderson was still around, she would not put up with this.
It is probably only a matter of time before the inheritors of Bradbury's copyrights remove the upsetting parts of his work, make movies, then, make novelizations of those movies, burying the original complex stories under a load of exciting action and mugging superstars. Someday, Fahrenheit 451 will be about the handsome action hero defenders of copyrighted pop music, not Ray's boring old story about boring old books. If you don't believe me: ''Sherlock Holmes''.
This is not unusual - read the book The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, and then look at the entirely different movie made from it because Jean-Dominique Bauby's ex-wife controlled the copyright. Had Bauby survived, even as a 99% cripple, the actual story would have been protected long enough for a more accurate movie to be made.
Personally, I do not believe it is possible for an unmodified human brain to persist functionally into deep time; not because we can't replenish the structure, but because of the one-way consumption of synapses involved in creating and modifying memories in a finite-sized skull.
However, over the course of the 21st century, minds will be greatly expanded digitally, with persistent external resources that will gradually take over from the limited biological original. This won't be a "Kurzweil Copy", but a redirection of growth and experience capture into new and unlimited substrates, providing active continuity as the whole system adapts to the limitations and injuries to the original biobrain.
Those worried about "rich get richer" effects (perhaps including Bradbury) should learn a little history. It is the widespread diffusion of relationships between ordinary individuals that built democracies, and rendered dictatorship impractical. With digitally enhanced minds, "cyborg brains" can maintain many more meaningful relationships than biominds constrained to the interconnectivity of senses and fixed location.
Will the rich get this technology first, and withhold it from the weak? Chances are, the first people to use this technology will be the locked in like Bauby, who have far more to gain than to lose from the extreme early risks. Electronics is CHEAP - dirt farmers in Afghanistan have better cell phones than I do. The rich may have more castles and yachts than a peasant, and more expensive educations, but they have too much to lose by diving into the digital commons. The hypnotizing rants of charismatic leaders will be lost in a ten billion channel world.
Among those channels will be a myriad of variants of Farenheit and Butterfly and People. I hope the original authors of future works will stay around to defend and explain why their "original authentic" variant is better than the others. We might not all believe them, but a few culture snobs might. As a culture snob, I don't mind spending time listening to the original disrespected authors, and if enough of us survive, that disrespected author will always have an audience. However, I will also enjoy the rewritings of Shakespeare and Kipling and Twain, who plagarized earlier versions of their stories. Bad artists copy, great artists steal. The world needs mindspace for both.
Ray Bradbury is dead. Someday, his literary work will be transformed into superficial parodies of the complex originals, so his work is on borrowed time. We need to make room for the new, but we need to keep the originals around as well. Savor the original Bradbury if you can, but stick around, so you can defend the original work, and explain the era that prompted Bradbury to write them. Ray Bradbury's last hope of any feeble ghost of immortality may be the cryonicists he disparaged.
Takehome assignment: If Michaelangelo was still alive, how would the restoration of the Sistine Chapel have turned out?