Changes in the Chassis
The word “superman” is laden with emotional freight, clouded with semantic confusion and distorted by childish romanticism. To some, it immediately conjures up specters of the Master Race and the Nazis, a connotation of arrogance and coldness, if not brutality, To others, the word is objectionable because it suggests accentuation, rather than transcendence, of human qualities.
I will retain the word in spite of these handicaps, and indeed partly because of its shock value. I want to take by the scruff of the neck the dainty, the timid and the supercilious, and rub their noses in it; we must aspire to be, and intend to become, superior to mankind and to all its past heroes, individually and collectively, and in all aspects--physical, intellectual, emotional and moral.
The most difficult and disturbing questions concern superman’s mentality and personality, and these are deferred to later chapters. Less frightening-if often startling-are the physical options, those of anatomy and physiology in the narrow sense, which will now be investigated.
I shall not attempt to conceptualize superman as a single, integrated entity; not only would that be beyond the scope of this essay and the skill of the writer, but it would be false to the spirit of the immortalist, who sees everything as open-ended, tentative and incomplete. Rather, I shall select certain traits for attention, without implying that these are necessarily the best or most important, and without fixing the date at which their implementation might become feasible. I am dealing here only in conjectures and suggestions, although it is hoped that the guesses are shrewd and the suggestions reasonable.
Assembly vs. Invention
Superman does not have to be invented. We reject, as a trivial example, the “Superman” of the comics, the “man of steel” who is “more powerful than a locomotive” and “can leap tall buildings at a single bound.” We reject not his banality but his dishonesty; barring super-flatulence, for example, there is no apparent way for him to alter course or maintain thrust in midair.
We likewise reject the super-powers of most heroes of science fiction, who have the magical ability to exert direct control over other minds, over matter, or over space and time-the dealers in telepathy, psychokinesis, teleportation, precognition, etc., who beat the game by changing the rules. It is true that we don’t yet know all the rules, and we are probably mistaken about some we think we know; nevertheless, it is more honest, and will probably be more fruitful, if we give our superman briefly those powers that are extensions of reasonably well-established phenomena. As we shall see, this will still provide immense scope for quantitative and qualitative improvement.
Instead of inventing superman, we can assemble him. We already have examples of all the traits and abilities required for a very respectable superman indeed. New ideas will undoubtedly occur, but we need postulate no more than already exist, their sources being: (1) rare human talents, (2) talents of other species, and (3) machine talents. After this, we can build speculation on flimsier hints and clues-in fact, we must, since long-range development will surely dwarf our boldest imaginings.
In the first category, there are several subdivisions. First, there is the obvious lode of variance among men. Most races need warm beds, but the Indians of Tierra del Fuego sleep nude in a climate worse than Chicago’s. Most of us just want to lie down, but now and then we notice a Jim Ryun or a Dick Fosbury. And by far the majority of men can function in bed at most once a day, but Dr. Kinsey assures us there are those who can jump in and out like jackrabbits, several times a day, week in and week out. (Or so they say.) (9) Since such capacities are known to exist, they must have some anatomical and physiological basis, which can be discovered and (eventually) duplicated by various means, including not only genetic manipulation but also treatment of the mature individual by chemistry, surgery, special virus inoculations, and other means.
This is not exactly self-evident, and it is conceivable that certain traits tend to be mutually exclusive, making it difficult for a single individual to embrace them all, even if desired; but the over-riding presumption is that, once we thoroughly understand something, we can duplicate its effects sooner or later, and even improve on them. As supermen, all of us will have the important talents of the best of us, and anyone who doesn’t like the monotony can choose to remain inferior.
In the category of “rare human talents” I include not only the fairly constant talents of exceptional people, but also the occasional creative successes of more ordinary people. All of us, at times, have performed “over our heads,” reaching a peak not matched before or after. There was some reason why we could do it, and it should be possible to make such ability routinely available. Again, children have certain capacities that are often gradually lost as they grow older; in particular, the young have acute senses. Their hearing everything is not just nosiness, but sharp ears; their finickiness about food is not just temperament, but sensitive taste. Still again, systems such as yoga and hypnosis seem able to unlock hidden stores of perception and control, stores which will inevitably be made public.
A little more difficult, perhaps, will be the appropriation of the skills of other species, because of the greater likelihood of incompatibility. Nevertheless, the hybridization of animals, including man, through artificial means has been predicted by competent biologists, based on work already in progress. (44) If some animal is doing it, then it can be done; and if it can be done, it can scarcely be doubted that we will do it, if we wish. It is only and always a question of effort, money and time.
The third category is really bluesky, because in principle a machine can be made to do anything that is physically possible; and if we envision the human brain coupled to a machine or complex of machines-so that the machines are extensions of the person then, with only modest reservations to be noted later, we can do anything, which means we can be anything.
Feasibility and Credibility
Before jumping into the jam-pot, a further word is in order about how serious the ensuing suggestions may be, and how much evidence exists that such things will be possible.
Specific references to current art will be sprinkled lightly throughout, but most of the book avoids technology and addresses itself to the lay reader. An Appendix is provided with selected references to and excerpts from the technical literature, providing some specific support for some of the conjectures.
But useful as particular detailed hints may be, a mere generalized optimism, a hopeful reading of history, is even more useful. From the amount and rate of recent progress, surely it is pikestaffplain that, at the very least, we shall eventually be able to imitate nearly every existing life process.
For example, suppose we want to give our superman the ability to hibernate (and we do). It isn’t necessary to know anything whatever about the mechanism of hibernation in order to predict a hibernating superman; it is only necessary to know that hibernation exists-for instance, in bears. Since it exists, it can be studied, understood and imitated or improved upon. It is not self-evident that hibernation can be made compatible with the totality of other physiological processes in man, but presumptively it can. At the worst, the ability to hibernate will require the sacrifice of some other ability, or some loss of efficiency in other capacities, or a larger body size.
At this point it is also necessary to beat a little on a horse that not everyone realizes is dead. There are still too few who appreciate how far the facts have outrun the judgement and imagination of experts and seers. Consider that Vannevar Busha brilliant, creative scientist-testified that an intercontinental missile was far in the future; and this virtually while the Russians were building one. Add that H. G. Wells, in reaching for an example of the ridiculous, cast his scorn on the “2,000 mile an hour airplane”. (178) And that Britain’s Astronomer Royal called space travel “utter bilge” in 1956, one year before the first sputnik.” Consider that Auguste Comte in 1835 said that man could never know anything about the chemical composition of the stars-just a couple of decades before Kirchhoff invented the spectroscope, which told us more about the chemistry of stars than we knew about the chemistry of the earth. . . the list could be extended almost indefinitely. (See also Chapter 11.)
It is unimportant that optimists have also been wrong, because the failures of optimism pertain mainly-perhaps entirely-to details and time scales. Sometimes a particular means has proven impractical (think of the dirigible), but the end (in this case, comfortable air travel) has nevertheless been attained. Often a road proves much longer than expected, full of twists and obstacles; but superman’s development is not dependent on any timetable.
If we think of superman as our remote descendant, then time scales are unimportant. If we think of superhumanity as our own condition, after freezing and resuscitation, then again we have plenty of time; no one gets impatient in the freezer. In either case, the usual “practical” considerations dwindle to almost nothing, and we can focus chiefly on what is possible in principle.
Energy and Success
One definition of a superman would be “someone with more than human potential for success.” We cannot say, with any confidence, what constitutes success until we know much more about ourselves and the universe, but we can tentatively assume that “success” refers to survival and security, and possibly dominion, along with the learning, growth and development that make these possible, and such subjective criteria as comfort and joy.
Possibly, then, we can get some notions about superman by looking at unusually successful humans and analyzing their virtues.
As a first approximation, by general agreement, the main factors in personal success, under present conditions, are energy, talent and luck-in that order, if we are speaking of moderate success. Energy is by far the most important requirement, if you hope to become moderately rich or gain fairly rapid advancement in your vocation or employment. What counts is the marginal or extra performance you can turn in, above that required to get by or to satisfy standard demands. Every “premium” increment becomes very important: if your output, by some appropriate measure, rises from 110% of standard to 120% of standard, then your premium output has doubled.
If we measure success by the crassest but readiest criterion-money-then the picture is plain. If you increase your earnings, by overtime or moonlighting, from 110% of your living cost to 120%, your savings are doubled, (Better yet, reduce expenditures 10%; because of the income tax, a penny saved is more than a penny earned.)
At this point, someone may object impatiently: What do these hum-drum, workaday notions have to do with superman? Surely a superman is not just someone who can work a little harder! Besides, if everyone had this capacity, the competitive edge would be lost. Furthermore, has the number of supermen increased markedly since the use of stimulants became common coffee in seventeenth-century Europe, amphetamines in twentieth-century America, etc.?
The last question is complex, and as far as I know the correlation has not been studied extensively. As for the rest, bear with me a while.
Explicitly, if you were a plumber in 1968, earning $4 per hour, and you doubled your savings by increasing your output from 110% to 120% of standard, this would mean a yearly added saving of perhaps $800; if for simplicity we disregard advances in earning power and inflation, and compound this at 6% for 40 years, it would come to a grand total extra saving of over $130,000.
If you are an academic, the results are nearly as obvious. If you work 10% longer or faster each day and double your output of pedestrian scholarly papers (or committee reports, etc.) you will have a high probability of tangible reward. In business management, the situation is similar.
In fact, an hypothesis suggests itself about the remarkable correlation between scientific achievement and youth. (Most of the important advances in physics and mathematics have been made by young men.) Perhaps it is not originality or creativity or insight which diminishes with age, but just energy and available time. The older man has less physical strength and more family and administrative responsibilities; he just can’t devote long hours to taxing work of his own choice. It may be partly a matter of energy in the literal, physical sense, a question of body metabolism; and there may also be an alteration of “physic” energy, of motivation and life style.
Needless to say, this hypothesis cannot be the complete explanation of the correlation of genius with youth, since it does not readily interpret the variations with different professions; but if it has any validity, it offers another very striking instance of the way in which modest quantitative differences can become critically important qualitative differences. In order for the potential genius to function as a genius, i.e. to produce works of genius, he requires that little extra strength and drive. Since major works are rare, a slightly reduced store of energy is likely to mean not just fewer works, but none at all. In other words, there is a kind of threshold effect, a small gain in energy being translated into a quantum jump in productivity.
As introduction to a slightly different view of the same phenomenon, consider the effect of a slight increase in the intelligence of a population. The distribution of intelligence in a population seems to follow nearly the bell-shaped “normal” curve, with the greatest number of individuals near average, and smaller numbers above and below.
Let us suppose that for a certain sub-population the average IQ is 100, and about 2% are “gifted”, having an IQ greater than 130. (These are more or less typical figures.)
Now, if the average could be increased to 110, with the shape of the distribution curve almost unaffected (roughly 10 points added to each individual’s IQ), then, the mathematicians tell us, the number of “gifted” people would jump up to about 9 %! Keeping the distribution curve, an increase of only 10% in the average intelligence would multiply the number of “gifted” people by about 4.5 or 450%. In the “genius” range the effect is even more pronounced.
In general, then, a shift of a few points in the average will sharply affect the number of very bright-and very dull--people. In particular, a modest improvement in the average may result in a startling increase in wheel-horses, those key people whose efforts are most important for quality and progress. (These observations apply irrespective of any reservations one may have about the usefulness of particular tests, and those who dislike the words “bright” and “gifted” may use the word “effective” instead.)
Now,.one can also examine the productivity of the individual in the same way. There is-I believe-a similar statistical variation in the individual’s productivity, measured against time. We work “over our heads” only occasionally, and we really transcend ourselves only rarely; yet it may be just those times of transcendence on which we rely for exceptional ideas or perceptions. Thus, a relatively small increase in energy may multiply several-fold our times of transcendence and our major works. It follows that a functional superman might result from something so modest and simple as an improvement in the glandular system, producing more energetic people.
Admittedly, energy is only one factor in success, and it depends partly on competition-it is partly a relative rather than an absolute factor. When machines do almost all the physical work and much of the thinking, and when every-body can be optimized, a moderate boost in the individual’s energy may count for little. But that time is well in the future, and the early versions of superman may quite possibly center on physical and psychic energy.
“Can the Ethiopian Change His Skin?”
… or the leopard his spots?” This was Jeremiah’s question, and he thought the answer negative. In these latter days, however, skin and other outward changes promise to become relatively trivial, quick, and cheap, and it is of some mild interest to wonder whether the Ethiopians, and the Orientals, as well as the Caucasians, will choose cosmetic changes on any substantial scale.
Before very long, the Negro will be able to whiten his skin if he wishes-or blacken it to ebony, as seems more likely if the “black is beautiful” trend persists. Because moods and fashions change rapidly and with unpredictable vagaries, no one can say with confidence what the trends will be, or what effects, if any, they will have on race relations, but one can, as usual, speculate.
The whole question of race relations is a very minor one in the long view: expanding opportunities and multiplying options will make diversity both inevitable and acceptable, in all areas where choices depend primarily on taste or caprice. In those areas where clear-cut differences in quality or value can be shown, there will be uniformity, since everyone will choose the best. But we will surely encounter some surprises in the revelation of what is arbitrary and what is not.
Aesthetic questions will often be found to have surprising answers. To what extent is beauty truly in the eye of the beholder, and to what extent is it absolute? At present, we can only surmise, but I dare say most people feel there are absolute elements of beauty. It is difficult to imagine a point of view from which a wart hog, say, is lovelier than an antelope. Will there ever be a culture which regards a scaly skin-a blotchy, irregularly scaly skin-as more attractive than a smooth one? And so on. One might be tempted to retort that the wart hog thinks itself more gracious than the antelope, but I do not concede the point. After all, the average is not our ideal of beauty, nor are these ideals species-specific. A man might easily decide that a peacock, or a panther, is more beautiful than a woman-not more desirable, of course, but more beautiful. In the same way, it is entirely possible that certain races, in some of their traits, are either more or less beautiful than others, even in their own view.
The fact that, in the past, many American Negroes have tried to lighten their skins and straighten their hair proves nothing, because their psyches may have been twisted by the prevalent culture. The fact that many Caucasians like to darken their skins by exposure to the sun also proves nothing, because the urge to be “different’ can take many forms. But careful introspection can provide some clues--however unreliable-to our feelings on these matters.
At risk of being obnoxious as well as wrong, let me make a few guesses. First, I think that skin color has no absolute aesthetic value, although texture and highlights may. Ivory, ruddy, brown, ebony-all can be delightful. Likewise, hair color is equally attractive in all shades; at least much more depends on texture and subtleties of reflectance than on simple hue. But hairiness of body (until and unless we consider actual fur) is a negative factor, and in this the Caucasians are the main losers. Frizzy hair on the head is also a debit, and here the Negroids suffer. The black, straight hair of the Orientals is attractive enough, but as a racial trait it suffers from too much uniformity, lacking variation for interesting individuality.
It may be that even if absolute criteria of beauty do exist, their application may take a variety of forms, depending on the training and sophistication of the viewer; we think, for example, of the different forms and styles of music. In any case, there will be a protracted period of experimentation with hectic flutters of fashion.
At first the new opportunities may evoke defensive psychological reactions in some quarters, some people choosing to leave their appearance alone, or even to accentuate existing traits, merely to prove that they were proud of themselves all along. And there will be, indeed, a tendency to respect the other fellow’s appearance more than previously, since it will be a matter of choice: he looks the way he wants to look, not the way his accident of birth forced him to. But very soon, in most quarters, the new cosmetics will become big business and the center of high fashion.
Not only changes in skin and hair color and texture, but even changes in physiognomy, eye color and size, and eventually even bodily contours will become relatively easy to perform and inexpensive matters of choice. One year in London the ideal man may be covered with silky blue fur. The next year in Paris a fashionable woman may have small breasts and no pubic hair. After her trip to the beauty shop, you may actually not recognize your wife. Life, yet once again, will become more complicated, with still more avenues to good or ill. One of the benefits, perhaps, will be easier marital fidelity: with so much spice of variety in one’s wife or husband, will not the temptation to wander be reduced? In a life of centuries or millenia, such novelties may become more important.
The Elimination of Elimination
If cleanliness is next to godliness, then a superman must be cleaner than a man, and cleanliness is only partly a matter of money.
In the Middle Ages, one of the distinctions between rich and poor was that the former were not quite so lousy; the poor, often unable to keep themselves, their clothes and their dwellings clean, had to resign themselves to lice and bedbugs. Because of the cost of soap and perfume, people could then say, quite literally, “Poverty stinks.”
In fact, it still does. With the possible exception of a Howard Hughes, even the wealthiest of us must sometimes mingle with malodorous crowds and inhale the bad breath of passersby or co-workers, not to mention the grime of the gutter blowing in our faces with every gust of wind. And even Howard Hughes cannot escape the stench and indignity of his own elimination.
In the future, our plumbing (of the thawed as well as the newborn) will be more hygienic and seemly. Those who choose will consume only zero-residue foods, with excess water all evaporating via the pores. Alternatively, modified organs may occasionally expel small, dry, compact residues. In any case, urination and defecation as we know them will be only disgusting footnotes to ancient history, which we will read about (or remember) with remote distaste, as we now read about birds disgorging food for their young.
Is such daintiness normal or necessary? Certainly we get along now with little distress in these areas--but so did our lice-picking ancestors. We are highly adaptable, and can put up with a lot. But lice, nevertheless, are incompatible with the better life, and so is the toilet.
The Graceful Glutton
Gluttony has usually been considered a vice, or even a sin; and indeed it is a sin against oneself to weaken the body with fat, serum cholesterol, and other present consequences of overeating. There are also Freudian allusions often made against those who love to eat, shaming or at least worrying them about hidden motives of guilt, inadequacy, etc. At the very least, there is a tendency to question the strength of character, if not the moral outlook, of one who indulges himself freely in food.
It will certainly become possible to eliminate the uphappy physical consequences of overeating, in many ways. Foods may be produced that will have all the requisite texture, taste, appearance and aroma of natural foods, but no food value whatever; they will go through you quickly and cleanly-no muss, no fuss, no bother. (Perhaps they will even be eliminated by evaporation, with no indignities.) Then again, your own metabolism may be improved so that ordinary foods will be processed more sensibly, extracting only those nutritional elements that are actually needed at the time, and efficiently disposing of the rest. Special groups of enzymes may be designed; or, if necessary, Symbiotic organisms may dwell in your gut-something like an improved tapeworm, but perhaps microscopic for aesthetic and other reasons-which will process the food as needed. The Romans, usually referred to as “decadent,” were said sometimes to continue banqueting for many hours, renewing their capacities by occasional regurgitation; we will acquire the same capacity without the indelicacy.
But is not such a notion, indeed, decadent? Who knows? Certainly there have been good and even great men who loved their food and drink, and showed it-Winston Churchill, for instance. Huge numbers of people depend on a nervous habit-smoking, or chewing gum-which is hardly more dainty than eating. Surely a normal person will not need to glut himself; at the same time, why should he not have the means to do so, if be sometimes wishes? Or even if he often wishes? Why should this be regarded as more than a minor idiosyncrasy, like an addiction to crossword puzzles?
Various retorts suggest themselves. For instance, if someone craves such massive animal satisfaction, why not eliminate the middleman and use electronic stimulation of the brain? To this question, there is a fairly easy answer: one does not desire, for example, sexual orgasm alone, but the whole ritual of lovemaking, with its nuances and subtleties; analogously, one desires not just to slake his thirst, but to clink the goblet and admire the sparkle; and in the case of food, one may well wish not just to achieve satiety, but to eat, or dine, or banquet.
Whether meals will be more or less important in various eras of the future, no one can yet say. But our general rule is to leave our options open, and try to assure that what we want will be there when we want it. We shall grow in many directions, and some of us will grow in gluttony.
The integration efforts of the future will, of course, not concern anything so trivial as social amalgamation of the human races, but will be of two kinds. First, we must achieve the integration of the individual’s own body. Second, we will consider the incorporation of genetic traits of other species into our own heredity.
The human body at present is not so much an entity as a kind of loose alliance or empire. The brain dominates the body, and the conscious center dominates the brain, but very imperfectly. In many locations and functions, the nominal command center has neither communication nor control: the whole muddles through, more or less, through the creaky operation of custom and tradition, but with frequent breakdowns and low general efficiency. Far from the seat of empire, many of our tissues and organs carry on trade with the “outer” world, but have scarcely heard of government, while their individual citizens, the cells, are totally parochial.
The possibility for improvement exists, even prior to genetic tailoring. Unusual individuals and special techniques have long been known to be associated with astonishing powers: we think especially of yoga and hypnotism, as well as congenital talent. The yogis, it is well known, often learn to exercise surprising control over “involuntary” functions, such as heartbeat, slowing or speeding it at will and beyond the ordinary range.
The dentist can use hypnosis or teach the patient to use autohypnosis-to interfere with normally ungovernable pain signals (or with their interpretation or processing) to eliminate the annoyance. I can wiggle my ears, individually. J. B. S. Haldane claimed he could detect the opening of his pylorus, and the passage of waste materials along his sigmoid flexure-a sensation not unlike a “belly full of snakes.” (64)
The afferent nerve supply is especially rich from the skin, special sense organs, joints, and commonly-used muscles-it also exists from the other organs-and there seem to be many possibilities for outbound communication as well. (64) Thus we see the physical basis of these unusual abilities. Why they are so unusual is not easy to say: one is tempted to guess that they have low marginal survival value, and thus low priority in evolutionary selection. However that may be, we are sure to find good uses for all of them.
Turning to the adoption of the talents of other species, the field is even richer. It may not be possible, or at least it may not be practically feasible, to incorporate every animal ability into superman’s body; it is clear that some functions and capacities may derive from the total organization, or from the interaction of major subsystems that are incompatible with our basic plan. For example, we can hardly expect, by strictly biological means, to acquire the hovering ability of a hummingbird or a bee. But only a small fraction of the possibilities seem even tentatively ruled out.
A simple, but extremely useful improvement, on which animals may provide some clues, concerns muscular coordination. The seal can balance balls on his nose, perhaps the result of fine coordination of the neck muscles useful in catching fish. (Some human acrobats, after training, can do almost as well.) Cats are noted for agility. Bears, clumsy as they look and awkward as their paws are, can scoop fish out of water, a feat few humans seem able to learn easily. All such talents surely depend on relatively small differences in anatomy and physiology, since the animals named are all mammals; hence it seems nearly certain we can incorporate all such abilities into superman. And it goes without saying that every superman will also have the maximum talents of every human, including, for example, the finger coordination demanded for concert-caliber piano playing. It seems unlikely that these several talents will prove mutually exclusive to any important extent.
The nose of the bloodhound will be ours, and the ears of the snake; ours also will be the navigational abilities of certain flying insects, which use vibrating fibers in place of gyros. We will have adaptations of the sonar of the bat and the porpoise. The eye of the eagle may present problems, since its function must presumably be combined with normal human appearance; yet a betting man would have to guess that superman’s sight will be better than the eagle’s at any range, since our larger size permits larger lens aperture, hence finer possible resolution.
The advantages of many of these adaptations will not merely concern efficiency; subjective vistas will be opened. For example, the dog has relatively poor vision and is color-blind besides; it seems rather plain, to anyone who has observed dogs that their keen sense of smell affords a rich variety of subjective connotations and appreciations; similar remarks can be made about blind species. When a species finds some of the windows on the world shut or narrowed, it tends to open wider the remaining ones. Superman would have all his windows opened wide, and be able not only to use, but to enjoy the view.
Cold, Heat, and Drought Resistance
Any self-respecting superman should be able, at the very least, to endure the worst conditions his native planet can threaten. Dandridge Cole pictured an early-model superman as running tirelessly through the snow, virtually naked, disdaining to use a vehicle for trips of a few miles or even a few dozen miles.26 This would save a good deal on road taxes and car payments, but presumably the main motive would be the sheer fun of it, the joy of exercising one’s (super) faculties, just as a healthy person now enjoys a brisk walk in crisp weather. Weather resistance would also, once more, provide an extra margin for survival in emergencies or unusual contingencies.
The first modification could be to speed up the acclimatization that most of us already exhibit. In one test of this adaptability, several city-bred men were subjected to six weeks in the open, sleeping at night with only one army blanket in 37 F temperature. Measurable physical changes included metabolic rate and changes in the blood vessels which provided better circulation in the hands and feet. Our first model outdoorsman will be able to make the metabolic change almost instantaneously, and will have variable and controllable vascular parameters.
More striking adaptations are shown by certain aborigines in Australia and by Alacaluf Indians in South America. The Australians can sleep naked in 39 F temperatures; their skin and outer body temperatures fall substantially, but they ignore this and sleep without shivering, while the internal organs remain at normal body heat.” The Alacalufs of Tierra del Fuego, on the other hand, who also sleep naked in miserable weather-even in sleet or snow-show an increased metabolic rate, and shiver to generate heat, although without awakening.”
While no humans can live unprotected in Antarctica, penguins can do so, even enduring a bowling wind at 80 F below zero; in fact, they can do this for months at a time, without food! Part of this capacity depends on a special network of blood vessels in the feet, with arteries close to veins, so that warm outgoing blood in the arteries takes the chill off incoming blood in the veins. As already noted, the out-doorsman will have variable vascular features.
Instead of the penguin’s feathers, our snow man may have the hair of the yak or the yeti. Domestic animals, such as some varieties of dogs and horses, grow thicker hair when the weather gets colder, and perhaps superman will be able to grow hair in hours instead of weeks. If it isn’t feasible to grow hair that quickly, he might burrow into the snow and hibernate for a few days while the fur is sprouting.
Heat is potentially much more dangerous to life than cold. Living tissue can freeze and live-sometimes even near zero-but.it cannot boil and live, even though some microbes can endure many minutes in boiling water, and there are organisms which thrive in hot springs at a temperature not far below boiling. But there are animals, including mammals, that can live in the hottest deserts.
The camel, of course, is the prime example-an amazing animal. Not only is it a mammal, but it is a sweating mammal, yet it can go without water for days in the Sahara. Part of its adaptation is the tolerance of a wide range of blood temperature: in the cold desert night, it cools down to the low nineties, and next day it can slowly warm up to 105 F, absorbing a great deal of heat in its massive body, before beginning to sweat. Then when it perspires, water is drawn from the tissue spaces of the body, the blood remaining normal; it can lose more than 30 gallons of water and over 25% of its body weight without harm-and then restore itself with a half hour’s drinking! (The hump stores fat, not water.) These should be relatively easy tricks to learn, and modified man will wander in comfort, naked, almost anywhere on earth.
The notion of a man with natural armor seems ridiculous at first. We usually associate such armor with the chitinous exoskeletons of insects, or the horny plates or scales of reptiles, and not with mammals. We also have been taught that over-specialization is the biological road to ruin, with the disappearance of the giant reptiles as the prime example; agility is more important than a tough hide. Furthermore, the availability of artificial armor-clothing and vehicles of various kinds-might make it seem rather silly to grow our own. But there are possibilities only recently recognized.
A few years ago a Long Island company reported development of a new nylon body armor for soldiers and police-a one-eighth-inch fabric of special weave that works by “diverting the impact energy from the impact point.” The threads “pull together and tighten up when struck by a bullet, force it to wobble, then actually pucker around the projectile and Stop it.” (170) A bayonet is said scarcely to dent it.
Perhaps this material did not fulfill its promise or advertising, since I have found no more recent report; but the idea may have some merit. If it does, then a special kind of hair, trained to grow in the necessary patterns, might fulfill the function of the nylon. Or there might be a subcutaneous layer, a web of thin, tough ligaments cunningly woven, which would tend to prevent any deep penetrating wounds. After all, many creatures have layers of protective fat under the skin. If the volume and mass requirements of the armor layer and its service tissues are substantial, then our armored man will just have to be a little bigger, but that’s no problem.
Imagine the chagrin of a lion who tries to take a bite out of this model of man. The poor beastie would think itself up against Clark Kent in person.
Stinking, Shocking, and Breathing Fire
What about a biological repertory of active defense? As usual, the presumption is that it isn’t worth the trouble, but again-who knows? Built-in biological weapons would be relatively puny, but they are also cheap and convenient. There may be periods and philosophies in which the selfcontained man is idealized, external appurtenances are scorned, and frontiersmen will have to deal with hostile life-forms on strange planets.
If so, we can design quite a versatile active defense system into a body just a little bigger than present man’s, with a few specialized glands and other organs. In this way, we could secrete poisons of many kinds, and deliver them by fang or claw or spray: the formic acid of the ant, the venom of the cobra or black widow, etc. (“Let’s get married, Honey.” “We can’t-you’re poisonous and I’m not.”)
Chemical active defense is not limited to poisons, but also includes stenches, such as those of skunks and certain beetles. It could also include smoke screens-the cuttlefish uses an inky smoke screen under water-and it should be possible to develop one for use in air.
We could also imitate the electric eel, and acquire the ability to deliver a thousand-volt jolt at will.
An even more delightful trait would be the ability to blow flames, which is actually possible with no great difficulty, even though so far only mythological creatures have done so, The idea occurred to me when I saw some undergraduates display an engaging trick: they would pass gas (flatulence), hold a lighted match near the rear end, and there would be a marvelous puff of flame. (The gas contains combustible hydrocarbons.) For a dragon-or a man-to blow flames, all that is necessary is to belch a similar gas, simultaneously gnashing teeth that are designed to strike sparks, similar to flint and steel. Voila-a living blowtorch! (It may take a little practice to avoid singed eyebrows.)
Batman and Dragonfly
The origin of our dreams of flying seems to be in dispute. Some claim these dreams have sexual significance, others that they are related to our ancient fear of falling out of the tree, or still more ancient adjustments to a three-dimensional life in the sea. Or our yearnings may stem prosaically from envy of the birds. However that may be, there is indeed a widespread longing to fly with our own wings, and this longing will assuredly be fulfilled.
Will we really create a race of batmen? Or will Los Angeles one day refer primarily, not to a city, but to a breed of angels, a variety of winged men? The obvious difficulties make an affirmative answer seem absurd; yet bide a wee.
The worst problems of winged men may concern furniture and clothing. To fly is splendid, but to perch is ridiculous, and furniture to accommodate wings may require tricky design. But all this is secondary to the feasibility of flying.
Icarus could never have gotten off the ground. Many studies have shown that man is simply too heavy to fly under his own power. Given earth’s gravity and atmosphere, the power and wing surface requirements seem to rule out a flyer the size of a man. The largest flying bird, the condor, has a wing spread of nine feet but a weight of only about twenty-two pounds. The largest animals ever known to have flown, certain pteranodons of the cretaceous, had wing spreads of twenty feet but weights, it is believed, of only about twenty-five pounds; and they were probably soaring creatures primarily, rather than wing flappers.
This is one of the key words: soar. It is obvious that men can fly without engines, because they have done so: sail-planes can carry men for hours, if the pilot is skillful in finding updrafts of air to ride. If we add the ability to flap one’s wings for added upthrust and forward thrust, then we could have muscle-powered flyers.
However, the use of very large wings to permit soaring, and the ability to flap these wings are not easy to reconcile. What may be needed is a large set of locked wings, plus a smaller subsidiary set that our muscles can flap. This might lead to a man looking like neither an angel nor a bat, but more like a dragonfly-or like the four-inch scarab beetle of Central America, with stiffly spread forewings and beating rear wings. (122)
Recent and current experiments with ornithopters have involved bicycle mechanisms to flap mechanical wings. As far as I know, no one yet has tried the combination of a large fixed wing plus a small powered set. Success with the latter might help pave the way for dragonfly man.
All this may still sound rather foolish, involving too much effort and too much specialization for a result of very limited value. But the specialization may not be as excessive as it seems, and the result not so limited in application. Imagine a race with a smallish set of wings, powered by the pectorals and muscles of the back, shoulders and buttocks. Living in the very low-g interior of a hollow asteroid, these people could fly handily, and would be free as birds. In caverns of the moon, where weight is one sixth that on earth, they could attach small auxiliary fixed wings; this dependence on artificial aids might be not much different from our usual reliance on shoes for walking. For those who visit or live on earth, flight would require putting on a large set of soaring wings, and would be almost entirely recreational rather than utilitarian, yet it might seem worthwhile.
There will be myraid complications, some of them unforeseen, but also compensations. New sense organs may be needed for navigation, and a balanced body will require patient simulated trials. But the life of the mind, as well as the senses, would be enriched: there could be whole new modes of expression, subjects of fashion and adornment, referents for literature, bases for architecture. At least some of us, for a time, might live in such fairylands.
Oceanography of late has become almost as glamorous as space science, with countless predictions that much of man’s technological and economic future lies in the sea; mutual funds have sprung up devoted entirely to speculation in the stocks of ocean-oriented companies. Oil drilling under water is already important, and there are indications that metallic mineral recovery may become so; portions of the ocean floor have been discovered heavily sprinkled with mineral nodules containing substantial amounts of manganese, copper, and cobalt. (179) More sophisticated fisheries and deep-sea “farming” may mitigate the world food shortage.
All these predictions and speculations deserve considerable skepticism; they may or may not prove out. But one thing is sure: there is a lot of ocean-the seas cover more than seventy per cent of the planet. The ocean is much more habitable for man than any of the known extra-terrestrial planets. The temperature of seawater is more or less tolerable, and although the stuff isn’t quite right either for drinking or breathing, accommodations can be made.
Is it possible to breathe water? Yes-even for a mammal! In a remarkable series of experiments a few years ago, it was found that dogs could live underwater for hours, inhaling and exhaling water instead of air. The main trick required was to keep more oxygen than normal dissolved in the water, under pressure; the small amount in solution at ordinary pressure is not enough for a mammal. While this type of experiment has no direct application, it does show that we are not as far removed from sea adaptation as might be thought.
A full-fledged aquaman must be able to breathe under water, and not just hold his breath while making long dives, as the seals and whales do. Whether our lungs can be modified to breathe both air and water is uncertain. Possibly a set of gills will have to be added, with either lungs or gills hooked into the circulatory system, depending on need. Once again, all these spare parts and alternate systems will need more space-a larger person-unless we can increase the efficiency of other parts.
The usual predictions for life in the sea center on domed cities, with excursions requiring submarines, scuba gear, or something of the sort. But freedom, fun, and safety will be magnified when water becomes one of our natural elements. Making the adaptation will not be easy; there are countless problems in addition to breathing: problems involving the skin, the eyes, the ears and many other considerations. Yet when they are solved, “freedom of the seas” will have an entirely new meaning.
The Way Before the Omnivore
One of man’s natural competitive advantages has been his willingness to eat almost anything that doesn’t bite him back, and many things that do. It can be wiggly like a rot-grub, squiggly like an earthworm, stinking like limburger, or full of offal like a fresh intestine-a hungry man will eat it, if civilization hasn’t queered him to the point of suicide. (Some anthropologists believe that early man was not primarily a predator, but a gatherer and scavenger; he found his dinner under a rotten log, or if he were lucky, he stole some carrion before the hyenas got to it.) He has some digestive peers, including the pigs, and some superiors, including the cockroaches, but not many. By and large, man is a good journeyman omnivore.
In the future, the question of digestion is not likely to be a major one; in a century, at the outside, we will probably have solved the problems of space and population, and our wealth and resources could be such that everyone can live exclusively on caviar, truffles, and hummingbird tongues, if be wishes. Even so, it may be thought prudent to design the greatest versatility into ourselves-in case of unforeseen emergencies-as a convenience in exploring and colonizing new planets, or possibly as a way of deflating the mystique of eating. There may be some small value in asking, how far can superman go in becoming the complete omnivore?
As a first step, we can learn to enjoy-and not merely tolerate-those things our bodies now can process. This will be partly a psychological trick, since many of our repugnances derive from cultural or personal bias, e.g. the Japanese like raw fish and Americans do not. Americans like maize and Chinese do not. And so on. But this improvement may also be partly physical, including the provision for some pleasant new sensations and for blocking certain unpleasant sensations, those associated with specific aromatics or other chemicals in certain foods. (By way of analogy, the ear can be trained to enjoy certain sophisticated combinations of sounds, and can also be physically deafened to certain otherwise irritating frequencies.) At present, “taste” is said to be largely a matter of smell, with the actual taste buds sensitive only to sweet, sour, salt, and bitter signals. In the future, we may invent a great many new kinds of taste buds, or increase the range of those we have.
(Sometimes what seems to be just a finicky appetite is based on metabolism. Some varieties of men-such as those in Africa and South America-seem to lose the enzyme needed to digest lactose after they are weaned, and the dried milk that generous Americans send them makes them sick.)
As a second step, we can adopt or adapt the techniques of the mammalian herbivores, so that we can eat salads of grass if we choose. But of course grass is not very nourishing, even for cows and horses-they need a great deal of it to get by-and this will bestow no major benefit, except to the vegetarians.
As a third step, we can study the termites, design suitable symbiotic bacteria, and attain the capacity to digest cellulose (plant fiber generally, even sawdust) into sugar. This would wonderfully improve our survival potential in hostile or stingy environments.
As a fourth step, we can study the small faunas of caves, and design the ability to extract energy from many kinds of mineral ores, even in the absence of oxygen. In emergencies, then, a superman might be able to subsist on a barren, airless planet! Creatures have been found that actually have such capacities. We may become literally able to chew nails and spit rust.
As a fifth step, we can use techniques borrowed from the desert creatures (mentioned earlier) to get by with a minimum of water, e.g., by allowing a rise in body temperature instead of sweating to keep it low, and by dropping nearly dry feces.
As a sixth step, we can learn the ability-said to be exhibited by some animals, including cattle-to utilize a certain amount of mineral nitrogen as food, rather than requiring all organic nitrogen, thus reducing our need for proteins.
As a seventh step, we might even copy or improve on the performance of the legumes, and fix nitrogen from the air. Instead of eating protein, we could inhale its main ingredient.
More generally, we might learn to utilize all the main nutritional elements of air-oxygen, carbon dioxide, water, and nitrogen-so that, besides energy, we would need only relatively small amounts of other elements (phosphorus, sulfur, etc.) from other sources to get by. This would be doing better than most plants, which require water from the ground and cannot get by with water vapor in the air. The energy could be obtained in a variety of ways, including solar conversion devices of various kinds to utilize the sun’s rays; but ultimately, as already indicated, we hope to be able to use a miniature nuclear fusion device (sort of a tiny, controlled-release, hydrogen bomb) that will last, for all practical purposes, indefinitely without refueling, and provide energy for all our bodily purposes, including metabolism and locomotion.
A superman of this model, if he chose, could disdain dining altogether. Perhaps cults of asceticism would arise, eating being considered a disgusting display of primitive animalism. And if some of the religions of India maintain their sway, their adherents would welcome the chance to quit being predators of any kind, to live without devouring other living beings. As an outward sign of their moral superiority, such cults might eliminate the mouth from the human (or X-model super-human) physiognomy, substituting a porous membrane capable of passing only air. For those speaking English, the most obscene four-letter words would be feed and food.
Superman: Giant or Midget?
Among the many possible dimensions of the improvement of man are some simple and obvious ones, such as physical size. Both enlargement and reduction have been recommended at one time or another.
In reduction, there are still ways of looking down on the big guys. For example, one advantage is that little people have little appetites. If human crowding continues to increase, we may prize people who don’t take up too much room, or eat too much, or wear too many yards of cloth. Looking at it durch die Blume, a little man can live, on the same money, better than a big man.
The best thing about little people is that they are quicker, and this for at least two fundamental reasons. First, their nerve-paths, their internal bodily communications, are shorter, thus the signals have less distance to travel (for example, from brain to hand). Second, their limb movements require less time, for mechanical reasons that are a little complex but well established. Thus, smaller humans could accomplish more in a given time, man for man, in most kinds of work-apparently.
The gains in economy and efficiency of minimen have other aspects too, including military ones. Submarines, airplanes, and especially spaceships have a crying need for small crewmen. Why put a big lard-bottom in the cockpit when only his hands, eyes and brain are useful? Life-support systems-for handling air, water, food, waste, temperature, etc.-are bulky and expensive almost in direct proportion to the size of the crewman.
Even in present-day infantry, the little man has some advantages: he can find cover and concealment more easily, and he makes a smaller target, these being obvious assets, especially in reconnaisance. On the other hand, he hurts more when he does take a hit, and he cannot carry as much armor. On the first hand, again-and this is the main point here--personal strength is not very important in modern warfare. In the days of armor and battle-axe, a big man could demolish a crowd of little men; but today, two little guys with rifles can outshoot a big guy in most circumstances, even if he has a heavier piece.
We hope war between men will die out, but always lurking in the background is the bogey of the ET or BEM the Extra Terrestrial invader, or the Bug-Eyed Monster. In any case, there are other considerations.
One is the question of vanity. Most of us dislike confronting bigger people. Perhaps this quirk will disappear with improved mental health, which we hope is in store, but I wouldn’t count on it. Hence, unless we legislate individual altitude and standardize it, we can probably expect most citizens to buy the “big” option. But how high can we buy?
The tallest man who ever lived may have been Goliath of Gath, before David cut him down. He was perhaps eleven feet, which, interestingly, is approximately the maximum height some scientists estimate to be theoretically possible for a human type skeleton and circulatory system. To go much beyond that would perhaps require a whole new design, and this again might rub our vanity the wrong way. But there is more at stake than vanity: large size does have some absolute advantages.
We need big brains for big jobs. There is, to be sure, no established correlation between human brain size and intelligence; a man with a highbrow or big-dome can be stupid, and a size-six hat can cover a capable mind. It may be that we use only a fraction of our brain cells. Nevertheless, we have to process enormous quantities of data, and this requires a sizable “computer” with billions of storage and switching elements. There is probably no way in which an ant, for instance, could operate at the present human level, because its nervous system just isn’t complex enough, and the time will surely come when our present brains aren’t big enough either.
This time may be far in the future, to be sure, and there may be answers other than growing bigger brains. Perhaps we will connect the human brain to an electronic computer, by plugin wires or laser beam, and use this “augmented” brain for heavy work. Then again, it has been suggested that we may “merge” several people en rapport, by telepathy or some such, to create a kind of communal brain or hive mind, in order to graduate to higher levels of mentality.
But the last idea is rather fanciful and perhaps distasteful, and living brains are much more compact than computers give promise of becoming, so the bigger brain is the likeliest solution, at least for the relatively near future. How big could our brains and ourselves be grown?
The largest animal bodies, and the largest brains, are those of whales, and if we want to go much beyond Goliath we may have to emulate the whale, grow fins and dive back into the ocean. (We may also learn to breathe seawater, which whales cannot do.) Or else, we might colonize small planets, moons, and asteroids, where the reduced gravity would allow a whale of a man to walk around. Earth is restricting, but aquamen or “loonies” might have more freedom. Alternatively, of course, we might become cyborgs; but that is another story.
Cyborgs, Saucer Men, and Extended Bodies
To most people of this era, the prosthesis-artificial replacement for part of the body-is a crutch: ugly, inadequate, and pitiful-a sorry, last-resort substitute for the real thing. And even though it is intellectually obvious that prostheses may become, in many instances, superior to the natural limb or organ, they remain repugnant, and the notion of deliberately mechanizing man seems abhorrent, on the aesthetic level if no other. Nevertheless, such attitudes can change, and for at least some people, “progress” will consist of reducing to minimum our dependence on our “natural” bodies. We will be close to ultimate development in this respect when our organic brains are served by “bodies” which are collections of mechanical sensors and effectors-devices for perceiving and manipulating the environment of variable number and location, not necessarily bound together in a single structural unit.
To show that such a trend exists, and that the goal is technically reasonable, is not difficult. The Russians have reported building artificial arms that respond to the brain’s normal signals picked up from the stump of the natural arm; the patient simply attempts to move his arm, as though it were still there, and the prosthesis responds, through a system of electric motors! (106) Efforts are also under way to provide artificial arms and hands with tactile sensation, so the patient can actually feel pressures, at least.
Although, to date, mechanical extensions of the body are inferior in sensitivity and facility of manipulation, some of them are greatly superior in raw strength and power. Great walking and handling devices have been designed, operated by a man through servomechanisms: the huge metal arms and legs of the machine imitate and magnify the arm and leg movements of the operator, making the machine a powerful extension of the man.
As for internal organs, everyone knows that there has been some degree of success with artificial hearts, which have sustained life for limited periods in lower animals, such as cattle, and in at least one human patient. Bone and blood vessel replacement by artifacts have become almost commonplace. Some experts believe that, before many decades, there will be artificial stomachs, livers, and kidneys, equal or superior to the originals. (106) Hearing aids are useful in several kinds of hearing impairment. At Western Michigan University, a research program has been reported aimed at nothing less than the development of an artificial eye, which could be connected to the brain of a blind person to provide, not a substitute for sight, but sight itself.
Now, this mention of artificial eyes immediately elicits the question: If we can provide the equivalent of natural sight by artificial means, why not something better than natural sight? A synthetic eye could be made sensitive not only to the “visible” spectrum, but also to a wide range of the ultraviolet and infrared, opening up possibilities which include night vision and qualitatively new aesthetic experiences colors heretofore impossible and unimagined. (Perhaps we could even “see” radio waves!) The technical problems may well be formidable-in particular, the brain may need extensive training and/or revision to handle the new sensations-but this probably affects just the time scale of development.
A man, part of whose subsystems are mechanical or artificial, has been called a “cyborg.” One version of the cyborg envisions all the major organs of the abdomen and thorax replaced by artificial components. At an advanced stage of development, such a cyborg might embody a closed cycle of nutrients and wastes, with no material entering or leaving the body. (Such a closed cycle already exists, in limited form outside the body, in a space capsule.) The gaseous, liquid and solid wastes of the body would be reconverted to oxygen and food; the energy supply might eventually derive from nuclear fusion, scarcely ever requiring refueling. Such a man (the tendency to call him a “creature” should be resisted) would not have to eat, drink, or even breathe, and he would be nearly impervious to changes in environment.
Carrying the notion even further, Dandridge Cole posited “saucer men,” people with only their heads-or perhaps only their brains-remaining natural and organic, all other functions being taken over by superior artificial systems, including a “flying saucer” as the vehicle or main body matrix. The saucers would provide better mobility and mechanical senses and manipulators at the individual’s service.
One can go even beyond this to the concept of “extended bodies.” The brain need not necessarily be mobile; in fact, it might be better protected and served if fixed at home base. The sensors and effectors-eyes, hands, etc-could be far away, and even widely scattered, with communication by appropriate signals (not necessarily radio). Such a person would be a superman indeed. To many his mode of living may be difficult to imagine and unpleasant to consider, but it should not be thought that such a being would be more limited than man or less freequite the contrary.
In the first place, if our “extended man” wishes, be can retain, and even multiply, the animal pleasures. He can have a variety of remote-control bodies-either organic, or mechanical, or a combination-and he can control and experience these bodies in exactly the same subjective way we control and experience our bodies. The freedom and variety at his command (at our command, if we choose this path) will far surpass what ours are now, because his bodies will be greater in number, more varied in location, and far more versatile in capabilities. We cannot easily imagine what it would be like to enjoy such numerous and scattered limbs and organs, but we can be entirely certain of one thing: there will be some personalities, at least, who will enjoy and elect such a style of existence.
For those who find it hard to imagine a largely artificial or mechanized body, there are already some hints that one can, indeed, develop a feeling for it. Consider those pilots who “fly by the seats of their pants,” or the operators of bulldozers: they develop great sensitivity to the stresses and states of their machines, which may come to seem as much alive as a horse or even an extension of their body. When the perceptions become direct when a clash of gears, for instance, produces a physical feeling of heartburn, or a sore elbow-then the machine will be as much a part of the man as any piece of meat.
Since many people still feel a pervasive coldness and bleak utilitarianism in this type of “progress,” perhaps I should emphasize further the emotional and aesthetic aspects of these potentialities. If man, or superman, chooses this “extended” type of existence, then he-we, remember--would multiply not only his physical and intellectual powers, but also his capacities and avenues for sensation, appreciation and empathy. For example, we could include animal bodies, suitably modified, in our stock; we could take vacations “in” (in remote control of) the bodies of animals: diving with the otter, frisking with the antelope, stalking with the tiger. (Again, there would be complex problems to overcome, such as integrating a human mind with animal bodies and reflexes; but these are details, as Will Rogers said when he recommended boiling the Atlantic Ocean to destroy German U-boats in World War I.) Endless sexually erotic possibilities are also possible: couples could frolic in diverse forms.
It is not asserted that the cyborg and his extensions are inevitable developments in the main line of human and superhuman progress, nor is it denied that both serious difficulties and grave disadvantages in such developments may exist (although none has been demonstrated, to my knowledge). It may be, for example, that prudence will dictate principal reliance on organic modes, so that small numbers of individuals could carry on in event of a major calamity to a civilization; we may not want to make ourselves completely reliant on sophisticated repair and maintenance services, which might be subject to breakdown. (We remember, ruefully, the dislocations produced by a few inches of snow in New York or a break in a hightension power line.) Nevertheless, anything that is possible is also likely to become feasible-eventually. These avenues are certain to be explored-they are being explored-and it is equally definite that at least a few people sometime will vigorously proceed along this path. The results will be instructive at the very least, and perhaps salvific.
Eternal Life and Giantism
The notion of “extended bodies” can itself be extended to that of the multicorporeal giants, having not only sensors and effectors but even brains distributed over large volumes of space. Such an idea has an interesting relation to the possibility of infinitely extended life.
Apparently most scientists assume that infinite life is impossible for fundamental physical and mathematical reasons, which have been made explicit by Professor James S. Hayes. (72) However, while eternal life is not clearly possible (we don’t even know if the future of the universe is unlimited), it isn’t clearly impossible either.
According to Professor Hayes, if there is any chance at all of accidental death in a given span, in the long run death is certain. He also notes that we would eventually have to cull our memories, since otherwise our brains could not grow fast enough to retain them.
Actually, our information-stuffed brains will eventually have to grow to provide more storage space, and the growth need be controlled; but if available space is infinite, only the annual percentage growth in brain tissue will have to decrease, not the tonnage.
Now, a reader of decent sensibilities will be stunned by the word “tonnage.” Tons of brain tissue? Of course: doubtlessly, some irreducible minimum amount of matter, in mass and volume, is required to store a unit of information, and if we jettison no memories, we must become gigantic. Even storing “our” memories in a separate mechanical store or computer, plugged in at will, cannot avoid giantism for several reasons. In any case, we should not want to avoid giantism-it is our salvation with respect to the accidental death bogey.
There is a certain risk of catastrophe per year per cubic yard, and we can hardly expect to keep reducing this risk fast enough forever; hence any ordinary individual must expect a fatal accident sooner or later. But a society, if it spreads out fast enough, can have a nonzero probability of infinite life. (This will be obvious to mathematicians, and I omit the proof, simple though it is.) Can an individual do the same?
Certainly! To begin with, one may think of himself as located at a point in space, but be is not: each of us occupies an appreciable volume, and can sacrifice considerable material without disaster. For example, rays from radioactive elements constantly damage or kill cells of our bodies--thousands daily-but we replace them and carry on, and in fact do not even notice what is happening.
Of course, we cannot just grow huge, and keep this up indefinitely. Neither can we stomach the notion of submerging ourselves in a “hive” organism the individual playing the role of a cell in a superbeing; we do not want to be reduced to the status of bees or ants or anything similar. The answer is that man could develop a new type of body, the parts of which would not be physically united as they have been heretofore.
It is simply a matter of communication. The hemispheres of a brain, for example, in principle ought to be capable of integration by wires, or even radio, rather than nerves; and the same thing is true of smaller components. We should envisage a race of titans, each multicorporeal, his body divided into myriad components attenuated over a large and increasing volume of space, integrated by something like radio waves. If a star goes nova, only a few planets may be lost-a trifle, a toenail. (We are assuming now that space, as well as time, has no end.)
As always, there will be a price to pay. In particular, the giants will live slowly, of necessity, in Einstein’s world: if you are spread over a trillion cubic light-years, and your nervous system signals from one part of you to another at the speed of light, it will take you a long while to think and act. It is interesting to speculate, however, that this may explain the mysterious absence of emissaries from higher civilizations: any culture much beyond the present human stage enters the macrocosmic phase and is more or less out of touch.
In addition to size and slowness, the giants might have another bizarre quality-intermingling of bodies. If the purpose of giantism is immortality, avoiding catastrophe by having one’s parts scattered over immense volumes, any small volume (say a planet) would not have to be reserved for a single individual. Thus a galaxy, say, might support billions of individuals, each one scattered onto billions of planets and each planet supporting parts of billions of different people.
People? Beings, rather; they could hardly be much like ourselves, whose psychology and culture are strongly dependent on the physical character of our bodies. Their lives would not necessarily be entirely mental, but they would indeed be strange. They would not stand, sit, walk, talk, or even have a definite location in any easily understood sense. A man could not even perceive the existence of such a being, let alone understand its modes of living.
An obvious nasty conjecture is that the giants are already in our region of space, and we, all unwitting, are their “ cells.” That the organism’s organization, from our point of view, is inefficient and often unpleasant may interest them not at all. An even nastier conjecture is that we are not yet cells, but will shortly be taken over for that purpose, when we reach an appropriate state of development, by already existing giants evolved from a different form of life. But we can hope that they would not work in such a sloppy manner, or use fully self-conscious cells.
Finally, I am not postulating nor predicting the existence of giants. I think any such development unlikely in the extreme; instead, it seems nearly certain that new discoveries and ways of thinking will appear in the coming centuries which will outmode all such questions. I cannot conceive that we will ever seriously worry about eternal life as contrasted with life “merely” extended for thousands or tens of thousands of years. It is doubtful that the present “limiting” laws of physics-those of relatively and quantum mechanics-will retain their supposed fundamental character forever. The purpose of the little exercise above, other than having some fun, is just to put in their places those who take smug and narrow views concerning what can and cannot happen in the millennial future.
Home Where the Tachyons Roam
Various people have hazarded conjectures as to the “ultimate” development of man or superman. Arthur Clarke has made at least two suggestions: (1) human personalities will be copied and stored electronically, perhaps in several locations, conferring essential immortality and near-invulnerability; (2) the race will graduate to a kind of hive-mind, with individual “People” corresponding to the cells of the super-organism. Neither of these impresses me favorably, the first cavalierly assuming that identity is preserved when this is far from clear, and the second being somewhat distasteful as well as unnecessary.
Professor Gerald Feinberg has speculated that the final goal of evolution may be universal consciousness the entire physical universe integrated into a single, fully self conscious entity, which would then spend its time in varieties of introspection.” (Although Dr. Feinberg did not put it this way, one might say our goal is to create, and to become, God.) However, this seems unsatisfactory to me for a variety of reasons. For one thing, it is not yet known whether the universe is finite or infinite; if infinite, it is difficult to see how it could be integrated. More important, this notion seems to make unwarranted assumptions about the nature of consciousness, which in fact is not yet understood. Consciousness is known not to reside in our total brains (since much can be excised with no noticeable effect), and I doubt that it is possible, even in principle, for all of the universe to share consciousness.
In any case, we can hardly talk about ultimate development, which is a matter of function, not form, and which is probably many stages beyond our present ability to conceive. Still, it is interesting to project our imaginations as far as we can. The previous section discussed the notion of the multicorporeal giants. Now lot us modify and extend this idea to take account of recent developments in physics.
In the last several years, as noted elsewhere, Feinberg, Bilaniuk and others have postulated the existence of particles called tachyons, traveling faster than light, and have shown that these are not necessarily inconsistent with Einstein’s theory of relativity. (12) Although such particles have not yet been experimentally confirmed, and although they possess some very strange properties, many of which are still unclear, it is assumed that they can interact with ordinary matter and with each other, and can carry signals with any speed greater than that of light. (Particles, such as photons and neutrinos, which can exist only at the speed of light are called luxons, while ordinary particles which cannot reach or exceed light speed are termed tardyons.) If tachyons exist, and possess the properties inferred, what would this mean for our giants?
For a start, it means that the Giants need not be as slow as otherwise presumed; even though their “body” parts are separated by many lightyears, “internal” communication could be rapid. (External communication could also, of course.) It is not clear, at least to me, just how fast communication might be. For two observers-or two parts of a giant-not in relative motion, signals can even be instantaneous, the tachyons being allowed infinite speed. (A “transcendent,” or infinitely fast tachyon, carries no energy, but it does carry momentum, and presumably could transmit a signal; on interaction with a tardyon, the latter would change its direction, although not its speed.) But when the’ observers-or the parts of a giant-are in relative motion, the problem becomes much stickier, with apparent time anomalies to be interpreted. At any rate, a giant employing tachyons could live much faster than one depending on lightspeed signals.
We can indulge in speculations even more tenuous. If the tachyons can interact with the other types of particles and with each other, why should they play only a subordinate or auxiliary role in the functioning of the giants? Why should not a giant, by a gradual process of change and development, become a pattern of tachyons? Function is more important than form; perhaps a suitable aggregate of tachyons, with patterns and feedbacks analogous to those in our minds, could be a living entity-ourselves, at a higher stage of development. This would not necessarily solve life’s most important problems, but it ought to provide an awesomely powerful means to our ends. The individual would not become the universe, as in Feinberg’s suggestion, but he could permeate the universe; he could exist, perceive and act everywhere simultaneously.
Needless to say, such a notion raises tantalizing questions that we are not prepared to answer. For example, if tachyonman can think instantaneously, then he can complete his life’s sequence of thoughts in an instant, and fulfill his destiny, can he not? This is another possible answer to the question, “Where is everybody?” Perhaps advanced races quickly proceed to the level of tachyonmen, and are “finished”-whatever that means.
These reflections also suggest another possibility, without the need for tachyons. Particles of light, electromagnetic radiation-photons-also interact with each other. Could there be such a thing as photon-man-an aggregate of patterned, interacting photons, collectively constituting a person? Or at least, might the physical parts of a being depend much less heavily on tardyons, and much more on luxons? This also would give rise to startlingly different capacities. All of these possibilities will be actively investigated-perhaps sooner than we think.
In many fanciful stories, evolution’s goal has been depicted as the development of “pure mind,” with the implication that eventually we will become more or less disembodied spirits, freed from the bondage of matter. Sometimes this notion of “pure mind” pictures entities of “pure energy,” whatever that means-perhaps beings that are still material, but less grossly material, possibly containing no particles less nimble than electrons. Sometimes, again, there is postulated a being who is built entirely of “force fields,” which would be another less grossly physical sort of construct. (Actually, physicists do not usually regard force fields as separable from particles.) But there is also sometimes the bald allusion to superghost, the quite immaterial being of pure mind or pure spirit, which is said to represent our ultimate destiny.
Now, we cannot summarily reject such suggestions merely because they are vague and carry overtones of magic: any speculations about the far future must have these qualities. Neither are we entitled to sneer just because those who suggest the notions become easily confused which is another way of saying the same thing; it is indeed possible for someone to have a useful idea, or the germ of an idea, without being able to express it clearly or make it hold up in argument.
Neither should we shoot some of the ammunition at hand, for example the false arguments adduced by some of these speculators. Some of the spiritualists are motivated by abhorrence of determinism, whereas in fact this is entirely a separate issue; the arguments for determinism apply with the same force, no more and no less, to a spiritualist world as to a materialist world. Like most people, the spiritualists mix in some bad argument and drag in some irrelevant bogies, but we should be interested in dealing with their best arguments, not their worst. Further, we should not be swayed by nasty words such as “dualism.” Everyone realizes the world must be monistic in the sense that its parts and aspects must be capable of interaction-otherwise we could never have any awareness of the other part. At the same time, there may be parts or aspects of the world so foreign to our everyday thought and experience as to justify separate treatment. There are recent examples: e.g., the phenomena of electromagnetic radiation, outside of the visible spectrum, represent an extremely important aspect of the universe, yet one entirely unsuspected until modern times; in classic Greece, radio waves and X-rays might as well have existed in a different universe.
The evidence for psychic phenomena, in the sense of extrasensory perception, seems extremely weak. Nevertheless, some investigators are convinced of their reality, and of their dramatic divergence from the ordinary phenomena of physics; for example, Professor Joseph Rhine believes that certain effects are unaffected by distance or time. (141) Likewise, the seance-spiritualists have not convincingly demonstrated their “ectoplasm,” yet it is at least conceivable that some quasi-material “soul” somehow inhabits and directs the body.
We do know that very sensitive linkages exist in nature, pivot-points where extremely subtle influences can exert profound effects: for example, some years back a few pounds of copper threads were put in orbit around the earth for certain tests, and some scientists thought there was danger of the earth’s entire climate being disturbed! Professor J. C. Eccles, a prominent neurophysiologist, has written that the brain is indeed the sort of machine a ghost could operate; i.e., the mind might be a very insubstantial kind of director, needing only to nudge the brain very slightly at crucial spots to make it carry on their mutual business in the desired way. While this kind of dualism seems most farfetched to me, so far neither necessary nor fruitful, one cannot make a final judgment. Neutrinos certainly have almost a ghostly quality, and so do tachyons, if they exist; it may conceivably turn out, after all, that the spiritualists have erred chiefly in language and attitude.
Without filling in the details or soft spots, maybe we can picture something like this. The mind is different from the brain-material, but extremely subtle, even harder to detect by ordinary methods than the neutrino. This mind, essentially, is the person. It is symbiotic with the brain, in a sense; or perhaps we should say that only the mind is “alive,” the brain being merely an appendage of the mind, as the leg is an appendage of the person. Both-brain and mind-are essential, and both develop together, the reproductive cells carrying both the seed of a brain and the seed of a mind. With present techniques, the mind cannot exist without the brain, but future developments may make it possible for the mind to divorce itself from its gross partner and be self supporting. Thus we may imagine our transfigured selves as beings of “Pure mind,” gliding swift and ethereal through the reaches of the cosmos.
Hogwash, in all probability. I emphasize again that the evidence for any such notions is extremely slim, with much more likely explanations at band for all known phenomena. And yet, the realities of the distant future will be at least as strange as this.
Transsex and Supersex