NEW YORK -- No sooner has Dmitry Itskov, a 32-year-old Russian multimillionaire, sat down at the table in his hotel room than he springs up again and begins pawing through the snacks in the minibar. He tosses aside chips and candy, settles on a box of mixed nuts, then sits back down.
Itskov maintains a strict diet -- no meat, fish, coffee, alcohol or cold water -- but not because he's afraid of high blood pressure or heart disease. In fact, he's convinced we’ll all live forever.
Itskov's 2045 Initiative has the goal of achieving human immortality within the next three decades. It aspires to change human evolution as we know it and Itskov has drawn up an ambitious timeline for this transition to “neo-humanity”: By 2045, his manifesto maintains, we’ll have “substance-independent minds” housed in non-biological bodies.
In 2011, he stepped back from his work as an internet entrepreneur to lead the project, which he runs from his home in Moscow. He has traveled to New York this week to host a conference at which luminaries such as Marvin Minsky and Ray Kurzweil will discuss this new evolutionary approach.
Though his endeavor immediately conjures up visions of robotic humanoids and artificial organs, Itskov is most concerned with how immortality will reshape the mind.
“Immortality is a side effect,” he explains, describing eternal life as a means of transforming and improving human consciousness. Decoupling the mind from the needy human body, which demands food, medicine and shelter, can curb our negative inclinations and pave the way for a more elevated and sublime human spirit, he believes.
“Sometimes the way people live makes me think that they’re just following programs,” he says. “We should try to look for the opportunity to develop spiritually.”
Itskov is preparing for eternal life by training himself to attain a higher state of consciousness, and he gives the impression of someone who considers his body only insofar as it hinders or helps his mental pursuits. He spends several hours a day meditating, doing yoga or engaged in breathing exercises, all part of a spiritual practice he says helps him “discover some different states of my consciousness.”
His diet is guided by how different foods affect his energy. Meat gives him an energy he’s “not comfortable with,” he says. Alcohol “affects the consciousness” so "you stop feeling the real nature of it.” Even ice water is off limits because it lowers energy, Itskov tells a documentary filmmaker who’s offered him a cup of ice water while her crew sets up in his hotel room.
Itskov, who has close-shaven blonde hair and a vague shadow of stubble, speaks softly, slowly and with the calm self-assurance of someone who’s used to considering much more cosmic questions than those being posed to him.
How certain is he that humans will attain immortality by 2045?
“I am 100 percent certain,” he answers.
And what gives him that certainty?
“My belief," he says. He pauses for a moment, then continues: "In an ancient text, I read that whatever we have in our mind, in our consciousness, whatever we intend to achieve, we will achieve. It depends when, and it depends on the internal certainty."
Questions are frequently answered with a question -- is he religious? “What is religion?” -- and even the nature of death is up for debate. Doctors can measure the death of the physical body, says Itskov, but no one has determined how to evaluate the death of consciousness.
Itskov has already considered a world in which biology is obsolete, and bodies are supplanted by holograms or avatars.("If the technology advances, I think there will be no need for biology at all," he says.)
Within a century, he tells the filmmaker, we’ll frequent “body service shops” where we can choose our bodies from a catalog, then transfer our consciousness to one better-suited for, say, life on Mars. He seems to find the world’s relentless focus on carnal matters to be quite tedious, and laments to the documentary crew that every interviewer asks him how his vision will affect eating, procreating and having sex.
“Why don’t people think about something more sophisticated than just food, sex and children?” he asks. “By the way, if you live in this biological body for 80 years and have five or six children, isn’t that enough? Why don’t you start living for a greater purpose than to just help raise your children?”
Itskov’s quest for a deeper consciousness hasn’t stopped him from indulging in a few earthly pleasures: When we sit down for an interview, he has on a Burberry button-down and Louis Vuitton sneakers.
So what does someone do for fun if he knows he’ll live forever? Itskov is content to dedicate his life to the pursuit of eternal life. He has no wife, children or immediate plans to have either, and spends just one week a month at his home in Moscow. The rest of the time he’s traveling between the U.S., Europe, India and China meeting with experts and potential supporters.
“We are mostly having fast fun in this world," says Itskov, likening fast fun to fast food. "But we are not thinking of a more essential fun, which is inside of us.”
Itskov says he has fond memories of visiting the Salvador Dali Theater and Museum in Figueres, and he loves the Prado Museum in Madrid. He's partial to paintings by El Greco and Goya. But once his mission has been realized, three decades from now, Itskov says he will seek out solitude, not sightseeing
“What will be intriguing to me is the process of development of my personal consciousness,” he tells the crew of filmmakers. “Probably, I’ll be sitting somewhere up in the mountains, just meditating.”
This story appears in Issue 59 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, July 26.