Interview with Rudy Rucker, Transhumanity Magazine, 8/27/2002
This interview with Rudy Rucker was published in August 2002 in the late lamented Transhumanity magazine of the late lamented World Transhumanist Association (now Humanity+).
Q: You have called your literary style "transrealism". How would you
A: Broadly speaking, transrealism is writing about your immediate
perceptions in a fantastic way. Working day to day reality into your
SFictional constructions. I sometimes call it a “magpie approach.” You
snatch up the shiny --- or stinky --- things you see and work them
into your nest.
Q: Is the Jena character of Spaceland a former girlfriend?
A: No. In some of my transreal SF novels I do in fact model the
characters on people I know. But in Spaceland I invented the
characters from whole cloth. I guess they’re inspired of any number of
people I’ve casually seen around Silicon Valley. I write a lot in my
local coffee shop, the Los Gatos Coffee Roasting, which is good for
Q: Both the uvvy in the *Ware novels and the mophone in Spaceland work
as part of a non-hierarchical, distributed P2P network without central
servers. In Spaceland this network approach saves the company even
after giving up the "magic" 4D phones. Could you explain the concept
in more details, and are you aware of any real-world implementation?
A: Astute of you to notice this. It’s kind of a pet idea of mine. My
idea is that instead of going off to some central server antenna, your
cell phone signal need go only as far as the next closest cell phone,
and that it can then hopscotch onwards from there. It’s a little like
the way a packet makes its way across the Internet, but with the
smarts pushed all the way down, so that there aren’t even any high
-level routers. Each individual unit acts as a router. This would
assume a goodly amount of processing power in the individual phones.
Unless I’m mistaken, something like this approach was used by the now
-defunct Ricochet. Around San Francisco, you can still see Ricochet
repeaters mounted on many lampposts and utility poles. As I understand
it, the purpose of the repeaters was to pick up the weak signals from
any nearby cell phone, and amplify the signals, hoping to hit another
Ricochet cell phone nearby.
My son Rudy Jr. and I are in fact working on a science fiction story
called “Jenna and Me” which involves Jenna Bush and those slightly
Q: In the "Spaceland Notes" posted on your website, you mention that
one editor rejected Spaceland. So also established writers get
rejections sometimes? What would be your advice to a beginning SF
A: Selling a book or story has never become absolutely automatic for
me. I’m eternally about one editor away from being unpublishable.
Thank God for enlightened minds like David Hartwell of Tor, who bought
my last three novels.
The hard fact is that not everyone does get published. Advice to
beginning SF writers? Write a lot, finish what you write, and when
it’s done, keep sending it out for quite awhile. Heinlein had a famous
dictum like “Leave your material on the market till it sells,” and
there’s a lot to that. I never give up. If all else fails, there’s
always print or web zines.
Q: I recommend reading Infinity and the Mind for an explanation of
Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. But for readers who can't wait, what
does it say and mean in one sentence?
A: Suppose that M is a formalized set of axioms incorporating our
mathematical knowledge. If (a) M is clearly defined enough so that we
can easily tell which sentences A are indeed axioms of M and (b) M
doesn’t embody any internal contradictions, then (c) there will be
some sentences A which we can’t prove or disprove from the axioms of M
and (d) we will in fact be unable to prove the (true) fact that M
embodies no contradictions.
Q: In Infinity and the Mind you recall your meetings with Kurt Gödel.
Did he ever say anything on the implications of the incompleteness
theorem for machine intelligence?
A: I discuss this matter in some detail in Infinity and the Mind. As I
understood him, Gödel said that his theorems prove that you can’t in
fact specify a formal system whose power is equal to your mind.
[Because, if you “know” your mind to be consistent, then when you
write down a system M to represent your mind, you “know” that, being
like your presumably consistent mind, M embodies no contradictions,
but this fact is, by (d) above, something that M can’t prove, which
then means that you therefore “know” something M can’t prove, which in
turn implies that system M is weaker than you, so M isn’t equivalent
to you after all.]
But, added Gödel, there was no reason why we couldn’t set up an
environment in which robotic minds as good as ours might evolve. This
teaching was in fact one of the main and immediate inspirations for my
novel Software which, as well as being an early example of cyberpunk,
was a thought-experiment in the philosophy of mathematics. “Y’all ever
ate any live brains?”
My detailed thoughts all this can be found in the seldom-read “A
Technical Note on Man-Machine Equivalence” at the end of Infinity and
It’s worth mentioning that in his posthumously published papers, Gödel
seems to take a slightly different slant on what I’d thought he said.
I’m in fact planning to reconsider the matter this fall, working with
some philosophers at the University of Leuwen near Brussels.
Q: What do you think of the notion that that consciousness might
require quantum effects?
A: My physicist friend Nick Herbert has developed a highly original
theory which he describes in his essay, “Holistic Physics --- or --
- An Introduction to Quantum Tantra,” online at
Nick feels that the brain has a quantum system within it, and this
system is the locus of our consciousness. Quantum systems can evolve
in two fashions: (I) in a series of discrete Newtonian-style wave
-collapses brought on by repeated observations or (II) in a smooth
many-universesstyle evolution of state according to Schrödinger’s Wave
Equation. The communicable, standard conscious content is all of type
I, and this is the kind of thing we try and mimic with our neural nets
that hopefully can be trained or evolved to display emergent
intelligence. But Nick points out that type II is closer to how much
of our inner mental experience feels. That is, upon introspection,
one’s consciousness feels smooth and analog, like the evolution of
wave upon a drumhead or a lake, let us say.
Nick says that it will require a “new physics” (or perhaps it would be
better to say “new psychology”) to specify the details of the
correspondence between mental phenomena and quantum states.
As a confirmed hylozoist (believer in the thesis that objects are
alive), Nick also proposes that the type II consciousness can be found
in every physical system, insofar as every system in fact has its own
He also proposes that one should be able to couple one’s own state to
the state of another person (or even to the state of another object),
and thus attain a unique relationship that he terms “rapprochement.” A
caveat here is that the link between the two systems should not be of
a kind that can leave memory traces, otherwise the link is functioning
as an observation that collapses the quantum states of the systems,
reducing the consciousness to type I. He speaks of a non-collapsing
connection as an “oblivious link.”
If you don’t remember anything about your rapprochement with someone
or something, can it be said to have affected you at all? Oh yes. Your
wave state will indeed have changed from the interaction, and when you
later go and “observe” your mental state (e.g. by asking yourself
questions about what you believe), you will obtain a different
probability spectrum of outputs than you would have before the
I love this idea, and it may well find its way into one or more of my
Q: As the co-author of the popular Cellular Automata (CA) software
simulator Cell Lab: what do you think of Wolfram's recent book A New
Kind of Science? Do you agree the bottom layer of reality might be
something like a CA?
A: The notion of “a world made of simple computations” has been around
for awhile. It could be that misses something essential that Nick
expresses in his notion of type II consciousness. Being conscious and
alive in the real world certainly doesn’t feel like being an emergent
will-o-the-wisp ball of marsh gas dancing upon a sea of churning
neural net computations. What of the One, what of God Consciousness,
what of the great Undivided Divinity within all of us?
In any case, A New Kind of Science is a wonderful book, and I’m still
absorbing its teachings. The newer idea in the book that I find truly
fascinating is Wolfram’s Principle of Computational Equivalence, which
seems to posit, loosely speaking, that a leaf shaking in the wind has
all the same richness of inner experience as you or me. I’m going to
spending a lot of time this fall trying to really understand this new
Q: Please give us a comment on the recent case involving the freezing
of the corpse of baseball player Ted Williams. What do you think of
cryonics in general?
A: Well, I’ve been friends with the cryonicist Charles Platt for about
twenty years so I’ve grown a little jaded about this. So I’ll go ahead
and give you a somewhat obnoxious answer along the lines of what I
might say to Charles.
I’d much rather rot in the ground. What’s the big problem with dying
anyway? I mean, what’s so frigging special about my one particular
mind? I don’t want to be God, I want to be a human with my spark of
God Consciousness. Think of a field of daisies: they bloom, they
wither, and in the spring they grow again. Who wants to see the same
stupid daisy year after year, especially with a bunch of crappy iron
-lung-type equipment bolted to it? In my unhumble opinion, you can
never really reach any serenity till you fully accept the fundamental
fact of your mortality. It’s the great Koan that life hands you: Hi,
here you are, isn’t this great, you’re going to die. Deal with it.
This said, can cryonics work? I think dry nanotechnology is probably a
dead-end. As I argue in Saucer Wisdom, wet nanotechnology, a.k.a.
biotech, is where it’s going to be at. In other words, if you want a
new body five hundred years from now, the way to get one will be to
have someone grow one from a clone based on a copy of your DNA, not by
trying to retrofit your kilos of frozen meat. The hard part, of
course, is replicating your mind --- and remember that you have
somatic knowledge in your body as well as just in your brain. I have a
feeling that copying a mind from one host to the next will require a
totally new breakthrough, perhaps along the lines of Quantum Tantra.
One final jab at cryonics. We already have too many people, so why
would any future society every put any significant energy into
bringing back the dead? How much energy will the citizens of Year 3000
care to put into producing a brand new Ted Wiilliams? You can rant all
you like about contracts and trust funds you set up, but God know it’s
a simple thing for crooks to screw a dead person out of his or her
supposedly inviolate trust fund. Enron took down California for
billions last spring, even with a seemingly living chief of state.
Q: How do you explain the popularity of Luddite and antiprogress
views? Perhaps the pro-progress camp does not make its point well
A: Unfortunately our nation, nay, our world, is run by evil morons.
‘Twas ever thus, if that’s any consolation. I’ve recently taken to
reading Boswell’s Life of Johnson in the morning instead of the paper.
Why let the politicians’ antics ruin each and every day? I do what I
can to change things by thinking my own thoughts and writing my books.
Q: How about distributing your books on the net for free? What if the
bad guys scan/OCR them and distribute them on a P2P system? How can
you stop them?
A: You can in fact buy one of my books, The Secret of Life, as an
electronic book at electricstory.com. At present, however, I don't
think the Net is a very good medium for books, books should really be
inexpensive lightweight paperbacks you can bang around. Electronic
distribution is more of a fall-back strategy for putting out a book
that isn't deemed profitable enough to print. You hardly make any
money publishing an electronic book.
There's a halfway strategy of print on demand (POD), whereby a
distributor can quickly make up a paper copy of each book as it's
ordered. Although I can imagine having some of my out-of-print books
avaialable this way, I'm not doing it a present. It just doesn't seem
worth the trouble. My impression is that people don't buy many POD
books. I think you do a lot better if your book is sitting on the
shelf in a bookstore and customers can just impulsively pick it up.
My current strategy for making my books available is just to try and
convince publishers to put out standard reprint editions. Four Walls
Eight Windows has been very good about getting some of my books back
into print; my Silicon Valley classic The Hacker and the Ants will be
out from them this fall.
Would I ever be willing to make, say, printable Acrobat files out of
my books and post them for free download? Well, you know, I've been
writing for twenty-five years, and I still have this dream of someday
being able to quit my day job. Why would I start giving my books away
for free? Aside from the financial considerations, giving away my work
would effectively say that my work is junk, without value, not worth a
Regarding your other questions, it's hard to believe anyone would go
to the trouble of posting pirated editions of my books on the Net.
Why? I'm not Microsoft or Metallica, not a monopoly, and not vastly
overpaid. I'd like to think that anyone who's that interested in my
work would be able to understand that I need to get some money for my
writing to be able to continue writing more.
Not that it's at all a realistic possibility, if I were to learn of
someone systematically pirating copies of my work in a big way, I
would certainly want to do something about it. Legal sanctions would
be the obvious route, and if that failed, I like to fantasize that
some of my cryp, phreak, and hacker-type fans might do a frontier
justice number on the pirate's electronic life.