In Chinese mythology, there are five islands in the Bohai Sea, inhabited by immortal beings who have discovered the elixir of life. Many have searched for the islands, but no one have yet found them. I came close, however, four years ago this very week, when I travelled deep into the Nevada desert, to go to Burning Man.
I’m not going to talk about the festival. Its wonders are already well known. Personally, I found it quite hard in my borrowed tent that didn’t zip up and gradually filled with sand. But I’m glad I went, because it was my introduction to a fascinating subculture within San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
Many members of the camp I was in were Thielians. They worked for organisations connected to or funded by Peter Thiel, a billionaire who founded PayPal and has since invested in many other leading tech companies.
Thiel is an interesting person. He’s a libertarian interested in how to escape the power of nation-states, whether through cryptocurrency or through setting up your own floating micronations.
And he’s a transhumanist. He’s invested a lot of money into longevity research, genetics and psychedelics, as means to enhance and transcend ordinary human capabilities.
All these interests were represented in my camp at Burning Man. I met people who worked at SENS (the longevity / immortality company Thiel funded), the Seasteading Institute (another Thiel-funded project which tries to establish floating cities outside of national jurisdictions), and in crypto funds. And everyone was on psychedelics (Thiel is a big investor in Compass, the world’s biggest psychedelic company).
I’d never met anyone who genuinely thought they could live forever. Now I was surrounded by them. What do you want to do with forever, I asked one immortalist. ‘Get high, explore the universe’, he replied.
Now, there’s a specific overlap of interests that I’m interested in learning more about — and I write this week’s newsletter as a way of thinking out loud, in the hope that some of my readers may be able to help me learn more. I’m interested in the overlap between Burning Man-esque…