Post Human

mactThere’s this guy I almost knew, Mac Tonnies. A fan of my books, a writer of his own (I never read After the Martian Apocalypse, his book about the “Face on Mars”, but I read some of his short fiction), and a paradoxical amalgam of UFO buff and skeptic: someone who embraced the phenomenon while rejecting the usual extraterrestrial interpretations. He was more of a those-among-us type; I understand there’s a completed book in the wings that leans heavily towards the Cryptoterrestrial model (much of his interest in my own stuff hailed from his interest in alternate types of consciousness). Mac seemed to regard his place on the fringe with wry humor, and the habitat itself with tonnes of salt.  He didn’t let any of that cramp his propensity for wild speculation. I never really knew whether he was a flake or not; I’m no expert on UFOs. But I checked the rss feed for Post-Human Blues pretty much daily, with a mixture of eagerness and trepidation: eagerness because the dude always had a shitload of cool links to cutting-edge nuggets ranging from robotics to psychoactives, and trepidation because the fucker posted so many links that I could have easily spent a couple of hours every day just following the rabbit-holes planted on Mac Tonnies’s blog. I never met the man face to face: we came within a couple of provinces of each other when he was up in Halifax a while back, but there was never really any rush because we were bound to end up at the same con at the same time at some point. I run into all of you paranormal types eventually.

Except I won’t be running in Mac Tonnies, because he’s dead. Last Thursday, in his apartment, “natural causes”.

Natural causes? The dude was thirty four.

I don’t know how to feel about this. It would be presumptuous to feign grief; as I say, I never met the man. For all I know he could have been a slick AI  instead of a sentient mammal. But whatever sat at the other end of that line, I enjoyed talking to it. I liked its attitude. And I would have been honored to sit its chassis down on a barstool some night, and buy it a couple of pitchers, and present it with the considerable challenge of convincing me that Cydonia isn’t just a pile of rocks on Mars’s northern hemisphere. And knowing now that that’s never going to happen — it changes something, somehow. Something’s wrong. Something’s missing.

Thirty four fucking years old.

I hope it wasn’t natural causes after all. I hope it was a government conspiracy. As far as I could tell, Mac never believed in that shit.

Update 25/10/09: Sentient Developments has a fitting tribute to Mac’s exuberant balancing act between the flakes and the empiricists.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Saturday October 24 2009at 12:10 pm , filed under misc . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

17 Responses to “Post Human”

  1. In my experience, people rarely just drop dead at thirty four without some kind of pre-existing medical condition.

    Before we wax Machiavellian, does anyone know his health status? Did he have a chronic disease? Did he come from a family of heart attack victims or those with a proclivity towards anuerims? If medical in nature, can we assume that whatever it was that did the deed, was undiagnosed?

    Are we looking at some kind of closet drug use here, or did he simply mix the wrong prescription meds with a glass of wine?

    Of course, then we might assume that he was suicided for some knowledge he had just gleaned about alien conspiracies.

    Such a shame. Another talent lost.

  2. 34? Suspicious. Heart giving out in sleep is natural causes. Doesn’t happen in 30-somethings..

    Maybe they count AA among natural causes?

  3. I would have thought that a pre-existing medical condition would count as natural causes. That said, I do find it unnerving when people younger than me drop dead.

    It is a shame, though. I’d never heard of Mac Tonnies before I read this post but, having taken a quick look at his blog, he does sound like the sort of person I’d have been interested in following. I can’t say I’ll miss him, but – for me – his death is an opportunity lost.

  4. This may make me sound like a dick but I really pity anyone who’s keen on science/sci-fi (hard to seperate latter from former and not suck) that dies before the singularity.

    Part of my great, idealistic, probably false hope for the future is that I will live long enough to see the singularity or reap the advance of medical science to the point that typical human lifespans no longer really matter. Without this horizon, this fleeting chance to be among the first immortals, I do not know how I could have hope for the future.

    Some days it feels like we’re so close and others still light years away. In either case it’s a right fucking shame when so bright a candle just vanishes without warning.

    Should be fun getting to sleep tonight, dammit.

  5. Natural causes is improbable, but not at all impossible. I recall a 22-year-old with a herniated blood vessel in the brain which burst. No warning, no preexisting conditions, just boom, dead. Could happen to anybody.

  6. According to his mom, his heart gave out; apparently a (congenital) heart defect. He died peacefully, in his sleep.

  7. I’ve read up on it. Natural causes is supposed to be multiple organ failure brought on by general decrepitude or death caused by progressing disease. It’s only unnatural if it’s accident, or homi/sui cide.

    I guess he was very unlucky and got dealt some awful genes. Ufo-people don’t drop dead.. were he a weapons expert like that unlucky British guy who died from a tiny little cut with his penknife. And it wasn’t even down, it was across.

    Did you people know that many microbiologists seem to think that the 2001 anthrax attacks were likely carried by agents coopearing with some elements of US gov’t? Supposedly, the anthrax used was so good, that they deem it very improbable that one man without access to state of the art lab tech could’ve made it… of course, the FBI is trying to vigorously downplay that possibility
    article here:
    http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/cidrap/content/bt/anthrax/news/aug1508anthrax.html)

    What made me interested in this was, that Vesmír (universe), the premier Czech science magazine published an 4-page article co-written by a microbiologist & a journalist claiming that after reviewing all information available to them on the internet, they think it made not by one rogue scientist, but by a very sophisticated laboratory, probably from Battelle. It’s not a publication given to publishing any nonsense, or at least, hasn’t been in the past.

    @Keippernicus.
    Long lifespans would mean insane overcrowding, and this planet of ours is already too crowded. I suppose they’ll hand out free AK-47s and cases of ammo with the life extension pills and let us decide how to reduce numbers.

  8. Mac was on my Twitter feed. I had no idea that this had happened, because I’ve been entertaining my parents all week and hardly available for anything online, much less Twitter. But we had messaged each other back and forth, being night owls. I’m so, so sad about this, not only because I had no idea it happened until just now, but because like you I had really wanted to meet him in person. You’re right — something’s missing.

  9. I never ran into Mr. Tonnes, but I ran into Mr. Poe the other day? He looked d*mn good for 200. He mentioned that modern life is far scarier than anything he’d dreamt of back in the day – scarier than being buried alive or bricked into a wall, scarier that hearing the guilty heartbeat of your dismembered victim through the floorboards, scarier than a raven that won’t leave your chambers.

    He also wanted to thank everyone for the roses on his grave – he says the dead can’t do many things, but they can still smell flowers and good cognac, so it is especially thoughtful.

    If anyone has heard from Mac since his death, I hope they will report in about what he found in that ultimate of post-human existences.

  10. I have actually followed the link to his site a few times from here and spent a long time following all of the interesting links he put up. Very rarely do you find anybody who approaches the topics of UFO’s/aliens skeptically. Very refreshing. I’m sorry to hear that he’s gone. What a shame.

  11. @mac

    You said “Long lifespans would mean insane overcrowding, and this planet of ours is already too crowded. I suppose they’ll hand out free AK-47s and cases of ammo with the life extension pills and let us decide how to reduce numbers.”

    Don’t be so twencen, man. Who would want to reproduce when you could just live forever yourself? Also they could build sterility into the treatment easy money.

    I like the idea about AK’s except for the way that’s worked out in Africa. Not exactly ideal.

  12. I suppose they’ll hand out free AK-47s and cases of ammo with the life extension pills and let us decide how to reduce numbers”

    Oh, the bacteria and the viruses have it covered, never fear.

  13. Dunno, but having an indefinite lifespan doesn’t mean you’re gonna live forever. Especially with other humans around.
    And especially if you’re just another meatbag. A meatbag with it’s state vector somehow regularily backed up to a secure location, maybe.. but were I just human, but long lived, I’d have a few kids. Just in case.

    Don’t forget that the urge to reproduce is a very strong biological drive.
    This guy puts it nicely: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2XD_Rht8Nc
    (my bet is that Mr.Watts would with that speech 100%)

    @Africa

    @Hjóolegur
    Viruses don’t work much on me.
    I mean, flu that sends most people to bed for a week, that’s what, about six hours feeling sort of bad, and then it’s gone. For bacteria, there are antibiotics.

    @Keippernicus
    Africans, what have they ever done right?
    BTW, the concept, it’s from this Dilbert strip, an excellent one:
    [img]http://capitalogix.typepad.com/.a/6a00e5502e47b288330120a5dba4e7970c-800wi [/img]

    I have a feeling that this century is going to be nastier than the last though. We’re in for a ride. There’s this joke:
    Q: What is a paradox?
    A: That our shitty present will look like a golden age in twenty years..

  14. […] Post Human […]

  15. @Orc

    “Africans, what have they ever done right?”

    Well I’m sure it didn’t help that a bunch of Europeans moved in, took a shit load of diamonds and gold and then pissed off without so much as a ‘by your leave.’

    And don’t count the dark continent out so quickly there’s as much genetic diversity inside africa as everywhere outside it. Who knows what sort of neat things we’ll be able to learn from our ancestral contemporaries.

  16. Yeah, aren’t there like 3 maternal lines outside Africa, and 40 inside Africa? Something crazy like that.

  17. @ Keippernicus.

    It’s not our bloody fault that our ancestors were more enterprising in the imperialist department than theirs..

    I mean, take Congo. Growing food there is absurdly easy(compared to Norway), there is lot of rainfall and the country is chock full of all kinds of valuable stuff from fossil fuels to rare minerals. By all rights, they should’ve been colonizing us, not the other way around.

    Besides, I’m not sure whether the genetic stuff will be important. It’ll all be illegal. No one is going to start genetically modify humans. (I curse that … Shelley and her Frankenstein..)