Rutgers alumnus launches book on transhumanism
If physical form no longer bound humans, what would society become?
This is one question Neal Jordan explores in his 550-page science fiction book, “Transgod,” which was released on July 20th.
Jordan, who graduated from Rutgers in 2007, where he double majored in economics and labor studies and employment relations, said he has always been interested in writing, storytelling and technology. As a child, he said he dreamed of a career with NASA.
Set 500 years in the future, Jordan compared his book to “The Matrix” and said understanding the concept of “transhumanism” will help others to grasp the concept of the book.
Transhumanism has to do with developing technology that is eventually expected to solve the fundamental challenges of being human, like sleep and communication. It is about creating ways to enhance human intellect and pushing the boundaries of human physical and psychological limitations.
In his novel, Jordan said he has a group of beings that have left their human existence behind and have uploaded their minds to the Internet.
At first, the government and corporations wanted to study that process, Jordan said. They were the only ones who could afford the technology that allowed people to transfer their minds over to machines.
The government and corporations kept these minds as prisoners, out of the fear that with freedom, they would wreak havoc.
One of these “former humans” eventually escapes onto the Internet and connects with the others, Jordan said. That being warns the group that humanity will try to control them if they don’t try to control humanity first.
So the group of these “former humans” convinces humanity that they are gods, Jordan said.
The book can get confusing at times, he said, but is relatable to those who have grown up with religious backgrounds.
“I think it’s relatable as a story because you’re sort of figuring out everything from the eyes of this priest who doesn’t understand what is happening because he was always taught one thing,” he said. “But what he’s seeing in practice is totally different.”
Jordan has always been interested in the implications of technology for the future, both the challenges and the opportunities.
He gave the example of developing the technology to instantly communicate with each other via microchip without having to speak out loud.
Jordan said people think these inventions are 100 or 200 years away, but with the miniaturization of computers, they are closer than one might think.
“It’s not too far away where we’ll be able to do things that fundamentally challenge what it means to be human,” he said. “And I think there will be some religious and philosophical debates about that.”
Raised Protestant, Jordan said that while he does believe in God, he doesn’t believe that one religion is the right one.
He said the very first scene in the book portrays a priest talking to a congregation, which was very much influenced by his childhood.
The final copy of “Transgod” did not deviate very much from the original outline Jordan created when he first set out to write it. He said the final copy was 90 to 95 percent consistent with his original plot outline.
At Rutgers, Jordan lived in Brett hall and found himself a brother of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, a group he described as an “awesome amalgamation” of nerds, jocks and tech guys.
Jordan said the process of editing his book was “awful.” Writing an outline took eight months, writing the book took six months and editing took a year and a half.
The good thing is since his book is not in print but only online in a downloadable format, he can continue to upload small changes and corrections.
Jordan’s goal is to bring the understanding of the future of technology to the people. He wants people to be hopeful for the future because looking at the past 50 years, the average quality of life has improved tremendously.
“It’s the optimism of the future and spreading that message that technology can solve a lot of our problems,” he said.
Dimitri Kashtanov, Jordan’s middle school best friend and main editor of “Transgod,” said Jordan is very detail-oriented and precise.
“He doesn’t do anything half-a--ed,” he said. “If he sets his mind to doing something, he’ll get to the end of it, and that’s kind of how this book happened.”
Kashtanov, who also did the artwork for the book’s cover, said the book is a new concept, different from what’s already out there in the science fiction world.
He said the book highlights the theme of how mankind can use technology for good or for world domination.
“I’m really glad that we got to where we got, there were a couple of points along the way where we were like, ‘well this is a lot of hard work,’” he said. “It was a lot more hard work than either one of us thought at the beginning.”
Christopher Brooks was the vice president of ZBT while Jordan was president. Brooks said the two stayed friends after Jordan moved to Wisconsin, keeping in touch via phone and Facebook.
Brooks said the book allows readers to immerse themselves in this world Jordan has created.
He said the humans of the book, while they are sleeping, have a relationship with the gods, and one of the major themes is the question of at what point humans begin to trust in fellow humans and give up trusting in their gods.
“[Jordan’s] smart, he’s one of the smartest guys I know, and he keeps to himself, but when you engage him he’s got so much on his mind, and he’s got such great opinions,” Brooks said. “But he’s also open-minded and open to listening to your ideas.”