How I Got Here—A Personal Journey
by Lee Frank

      Epiphany is a word I never use. (I once argued this vehemently with an editor who attempted to insert it into one of my articles.) Yet, that word best describes what I experienced at the Conference on Consciousness in April of 2000. Surrounded by hundreds of people piecing together aspects on consciousness, aware of the dozens seeking to create synthetic minds, I had a clear vision of the future federation of those efforts combined with the mechanism of the meme. On 4/10/00, I made the following note: “The Ultimate Personal Meme, a paper on Digital Immortality for next conference in 2002.” And here I am.

      Of course, sudden insights rarely arise without a background of long contemplation and deep foundations. Although my first college major was in architecture and my second in experimental psychology, I ended up in computing. Within a few years, hindsight revealed the connection: I wanted to create practical things for people to use. For me this was an obvious trinity. Designing and making things for people required an understanding of not only people's needs but also their perceptions and assumptions.

      After college, I continued to learn (and study) in many fields, some quite distant from my principal interests. In some cases, these digressions became additional principle interests. An attraction to semantics led to General Semantics, then to Alfred Korzbyski's Science and Sanity, which in turn led to dozens of detours into philosophy and science. His “ladders of abstraction” echoed the generalizations of Eric Hoffer, which took me deeper into studies of society. More relevant to the task at hand, Korzbyski's concept of time-binding is clearly a precursor of memes.

      Working at NYU's Graduate School of Business Administration, I encountered Peter Drucker (whose office was just down the corridor). Interest in topics like Management and Marketing was the obvious result. Other subjects like game theory and linear programming, while less obvious, followed. Then Drucker's Age of Discontinuity broadened my curiosity as to how society was changing.

      Serendipity is another word that resides more in my reading vocabulary than in my thinking and writing. Exploring bibliographies had led me to Bateson's Steps to an Ecology of Mind, and that book prepared me for Calvin's The River that Flowed Uphill, accidentally encountered during one of my desultory library meanderings.

      As I delved deeper and deeper into (what was for me this new field) Cognitive Science, I began to see that my many decades of intellectual peregrinations were coalescing. This new way of looking at mind pulled together my studies of perception from Psychology, of the relation of thought and behavior from Semantics and Sociology, and of automata and artificial intelligence from Computing.

      And where was Design in all this? For one thing, creating computer software. From projects as large as a Financial Data Processing Language to tiny DOS utilities, I built my share of effective and easy to use computer tools for people. However, as the power of personal computing increased, I began to think of its greater potential and grander designs, although these were well beyond my ability to implement. One was an Information Valet (see valet.pdf) in 1993. When I began writing as a professional the following year, my first article was on the “Information SuperHighway.” In it, I mentioned the OTIS website and its goal of (artistic) “digital immortality.”

      In dozens of columns and articles over the next seven years, I wrote about where personal computer power was heading. In my files are twenty pages of notes begun in 1994 under the heading, “Ethics for the Information Age.” In 1997, there appear a series of notes exploring the commercial possibilities of digital immortality. After the Conference on Consciousness in 2000, I started to reshape these last two into a “Philosophy for a Digital Age.” At which point, I opted for more public discussion and awareness—a poster session on Digital Immortality for the conference in 2002.


Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Ballentine Books, 1972.

Calvin, William C. The River that Flowed Uphill, Macmillan, 1986.

Drucker, Peter. Age of Discontinuity, Harper & Row, 1968.

Frank, Lee. “One Perspective on the Information Revolution” unpublished paper, 1993.)

Korzbyski, Alfred. Science and Sanity, The International Non-Aristotelian Library Publishing Company, 1950.

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Last updated 3/26/02
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