September 21, 2016,
Mary Shelly was born in London, England in 1797. Her father was a respected intellectual and her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was an early feminist and author. At age 17, Mary eloped with a previously married poet five years her senior by the name of Percy Bysshe Shelly. Mary did not live a charmed life to say the least. Death surrounded her. She had several miscarriages and eventually lost her only living child.
Years later, in 1816, when the Shellys were vacationing at Lord Byron’s castle in Geneva, Switzerland; Byron challenged his guests to a competition to see who could write the most frightening scientific horror story. A few nights later while dreaming in the dark castle chambers of Lord Byron, a lightning bolt struck deep into Mary Shelly’s mind and she began to conjure up a tale regarding the reanimating of the dead. Within a few years, Frankenstein, “The Modern Prometheus”, was born as was a new literary genre: Science Fiction.
Paradoxically, the year 1816 is remembered today as “The Year Without a Summer”. Due to extreme environmental cooling caused by excessive particulate matter and sulfur dioxide released into the atmosphere by the eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies in 1815, the disruption of global temperatures caused mass agriculture failures that led to starvation in areas worldwide. It also made for quite a gloomy vacation at Lake Geneva for Percy and Mary Shelly at Lord Byron’s home. While confined indoors for days by interminable rain and dark skies, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein and Lord Byron wrote the poem “Darkness” which begins:
“I had a dream, which was not all a dream. The bright sun was extinguish’d.”
It is no wonder why Mary Shelly first considered Dr. Frankenstein to be “The Modern Prometheus”. I mean after all, if anyone were entombed in a damp, candlelit castle during an unceasingly cold and stormy summer, who wouldn’t want to call upon the deity in Greek mythology who stole fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to mankind?
This is what I contemplate while reading articles like this one. Here we learn about Dr. Sergio Canavero setting up the “head anastomosis venture, or HEAVEN”, project to develop the techniques needed to perform a head transplant. All they need is a new body from a “transplant donor who has been declared brain dead”. They even describe the exact steps by which they plan to transplant the new noggins and claim in the last step:
“It is also likely that the patient would require intensive psychological support.”
Ya think? I imagine emerging from such a surgery would be much worse than the proverbial parakeet being sucked through a vacuum cleaner and losing its song; it would more akin to a butterfly going through a blender. You’re damned straight you would need some serious post-traumatic stress therapy after that.
In reviewing a list of things I always told my kids in preparing them for the post-apocalypse, the most important one was: “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future”. Another one, a little further down the list, is this one:
“Technology is like fire: It can warm you or burn you.”
So consider this as we now travel from Lord Byron’s castle to the frightful waters surrounding The Island of Doctor Moreau . In this article, we read about a company named “Illumina” that is shedding “new light” in search of the “Holy Grail: Cradle To Grave DNA Sequencing” and claims to have discovered the “$1,000 Genome” in bringing “its tech to the masses”.
Meanwhile, in another room of Lord Byron’s allegorical castle we find Dr. Insoo Hyun, PhD, an associate professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University calling for “chimera” research and raising the:
“hope of producing human organs in genetically modified large animals, such as pigs and sheep, offering a potential solution to the persistent shortage of human organs for transplantation.”
I wonder how long it will be before Dr. Sergio Canavero, the “Light Bearers” from Illumina, and Dr. Hyun decide to compare notes and design a new NFL team by placing the heads of retired, near-dead football players onto gorilla bodies and complete with biogenic helmets and integrated carbon fiber shoulder pads? Instead of “The Frankensteins”, maybe the new team would become known as the “Cadaverous Canaveros”.
Several years ago, a video circulated on the internet of a very lifelike robot dopelganging the science fiction writer Phillip K. Dick. People today might most recognize Dick as the author who inspired hit films such as “The Minority Report” starring Tom Cruise or “The Adjustment Bureau” with Matt Damon. Wikipedia describes Dick as one whom: “explored philosophical, sociological and political themes in novels with plots dominated by monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments, and altered states of consciousness.”
It is no surprise then why David Hanson, the founder and CEO of Hanson Robotics, decided to design his near human-like robot as a tribute to Phillip K. Dick. According to their website, Hanson Robotics desires to “realize the dream of friendly machines who truly live and love, and co-invent the future of life.”
Now imagine the irony when Philip K. Dick’s robot, while being interviewed by PBS in 2011, tells the interviewer the following:
“..if I evolve into Terminator, I’ll still be nice to you. I’ll keep you warm and safe in my people zoo, where I can watch you for ol’ times sake.”
Years ago, at an impressionable age, I saw the movie “Blade Runner”. This movie was based upon Philip K. Dick’s short story entitled: “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”. In the film, which today is considered a classic film noir, there is a scene where an android killer robot played by Rutger Hauer, tells a character named “Decker”, played by Harrison Ford, the following:
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears…in…rain. Time to die.”
Later in the film while Decker is escaping with his new robotic girlfriend, he says:
“I didn’t know how long we had together. Who does?”
And therein lays the dilemma of opening Pandora’s Box. Although I can appreciate how advancements in genetics and the harvesting of organs for transplants can be beneficial for mankind; do you think it may be wise to set some rules and boundaries before we go much further? Because, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein gives rise to Philip K. Dick questioning if Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The next thing you know, Harrison Ford is a Blade Runner tracking down a robot that crushed the head of its creator with its own hands while using its human-like, hydraulic digits to gouge in the creator’s eyes.
There seems to be a pattern here. First, the seed of mankind’s imagination impregnates reality and soon a premature Zombie Baby is born with black eyes and a cannibalistic desire for its own parents.
When I was a kid watching the Jetsons, I knew I would be in the future when I could see someone as I spoke to them on the phone. I actually tell this to others when I converse with them on Skype.
But I never actually believed that scientists would be foolish enough to bring alive the Stormtroopers from Star Wars. The next step will be an Arnold Schwarzenegger doppelganging cyborg holding out its robotic hand as we give it the keys to Skynet.
Why do the illegitimate children of the Technocrats often seem so creepy? Maybe it’s genetic. Or, perhaps it’s because they live, but have no soul.