Dr. Bruce Damer
Bruce Frederick Damer, PhD (born 31 January 1962) is a Canadian-American multi-disciplinary scientist working in evolutionary biology concentrating on research into the question of the origin of life, and as a designer in the exploration and economic development of space. He is an associate researcher in the Department of Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California at Santa Cruz where he collaborated with Dr. David Deamer to develop the Coupled Phase Cycle model for the origin of life. From 1999 to 2009 his company, DigitalSpace, was awarded contracts by NASA to build an open source 3D modeling platform for the simulation and design of space missions. He has recently collaborated with Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute and Julian Nott of Nott Technologies in the design of SHEPHERD, a concept spacecraft for encapsulating and handling of rocky and icy planetesimals for science and resource utilization.
In the 1990s Damer helped organize and develop the field of Internet-based multi-user virtual worlds through the Contact Consortium, which he established with anthropologist Jim Funaro. The Contact Consortium hosted many of the first online experiments in persistent 3D and 2D graphical environments with users interacting using avatars. His book Avatars: Exploring and Building Virtual Worlds (1997) chronicled the platforms and experiments during this innovative period. Damer collaborated with other researchers and entrepreneurs to found a number of conference series to forward the field including the annual Avatars conferences (1996-2004), Digital Biota (1997-99, 2001), and VLearn3D (1999-22). At the Earth to Avatars conference in October 1996, several indiividuals met who would go on to new Internet venture (Reid Hoffman, John Sculley) and academic disciplines (Celia Pierce, Brenda Laurel). The Avatars98 conference was the first conference to be hosted entirely online in graphical virtual worlds. At the 1998 Digital Biota 2 meeting in Cambridge, UK, Richard Dawkins conceived of his book The God Delusion while listening to a speech by Douglas Adams. In 2000 Damer met with Richard Dawkins in Oxford and first proposed a computer simulation framework and internationl competition for the origin of life that became his Evolution Grid project..
In the 1980s while an undergraduate at the University of Victoria, Damer developed and presented architectures and simulation software for optical computing at IBM Canada Development Laboratory (now IBM Toronto Software Lab) and IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center and carried on this work as a graduate student at the University of Southern California. In 1987 he joined Elixir Technologies Corporation as one of the first two software developers and co-authored one of the first graphical desktop environments on personal computers, based on the Xerox Star 8010 which was sold by Xerox and others to enterprises and governments generating electronic documents through high speed printing systems. In 2000 he returned to Elixir to help the company architect a transition to a new, modular, web-based platform called Tango.
Also in 1987 Damer began to collect artifacts and the oral history of computing with a focus on the origin of the graphical user interface. He established one of the largest existing collections of computer artifacts and documents in the history of computing currently housed in his 5,000 square foot barn in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Silicon Valley in northern California. Opened to visitors by appointment beginning on July 13, 2002, the DigiBarn Computer Museum collaborated with the Vintage Computer Festival and Computer History Museum to host several important anniversary events and numerous oral history projects, often featuring lesser known innovators.
In the late 1990s Damer met the American philosopher, speaker and writer Terence McKenna and formed a brief collaboration investigating the connection between computer virtual worlds and the inner worlds experienced through alternative states of consciousness. In 2006 he became an agent for the estate of Dr.Timothy Leay and is currently developing a research and publication project around Dr. Leary's surviving book, record and news archives. Damer is a storytelling performer, occasionally working with live bands of DJs, at diverse venues such as Burning Man, the Esalen Institute, and music and art festivals worldwide covering topics ranging from science, to history, to questions of origins, and the meaning and future of the human enterprise. Many of theese talks may be found in online podcasts and are collected together in: the Levity Zone podcast and community site.
Damer is a follower of a scientific version of the philosophy of liminality occupying a liminal boundary between rational, reductionist, materialist approaches to reality but open to inspiration from alternative states of consciousness. He has built a practice of intentionally seeking visionary experiences through meditative states that can be grounded in scientific insights or meaningful stories. He has refined this philosophy since childhood when he developed a practice of entering imaginal worlds and expressing those worlds through his artwork. Damer is currently researching a book based on interviews with other practitioners of what he terms "endo" (sourced in an endogenous way) experiences who pragmatically apply their insights to real world applications.
Damer attended public schools in Victoria, and Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada and undergraduate program in computer science at Cariboo College, the University of Victoria and a summer programme in the history of Britain at Royal Holloway College, U.K. In 1986 he began graduate studies in Electrical Engineering (Optical Materials and Devices Laboratory) at the University of Southern California. In 1986 he completed his MSEE degree and determined that his desired PhD thesis topic, utilizing computers to simulate emergent lifelike phenomena, was too ambitious for existing computers and networks and for his potential doctoral committee so he left his studies to resume them in 2008, earning his PhD in 2011 at University College Dublin, in Ireland for work on the EvoGrid: An Approach to Computational Origin of Life Endeavours. Through scientific contacts made through the Digital Biota conferences and the intervening 22 years, this work was developed through the assistnace of several external advisors including Richard Gordon, Freeman Dyson, Stuart Kauffman, and David Deamer.
From 1991 to 1994, Damer was a member of the staff in the Department of Mathematics and Physics at Charles Univerisity in Prague, teaching software engineering approaches in special projects to give students intellectual and design skills in computer science. Damer became heavily involved in the development and re-integration of post-communist Czechosolovakia into the world and hosted Silicon Valley style networking functions, helped equip a laboratory at Charles University and organized a US tour for Czech professor Rudolf Kryl to raise support for education. In 1997 he joined the staff of San Francisco State University, multimedia studies program. In recent years Damer has presented seminars and course modules at many institutions inlcuding the University of California at Santa Cruz.
Damer is married to Galen Brandt, a singer, musician, writer, and virtual reality performer and presenter of VR applications in medicine and psychology. Damer met her in 1996 in San Francisco when she attended his first conference on virtual worlds.
Bruce Damer in February, 2015, photo credit: Reno DeCaro.
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