The Next Humans

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In the 21st century, technology is heading in a radical new direction–the merging of man and machine. Smart drugs, nanorobots, and machine-printed organs are just a few of the cutting-edge innovations catalyzing the evolution of humankind into an entirely new species. Transhumanists envision a future in which we become cyborgs, achieving far superior intelligence, the ability to survive beyond Earth’s atmosphere without a spacesuit, and the possibility of immortality. But might similarly superhuman beings have walked the Earth once before? Beings that our ancestors regarded as gods? Ancient Astronaut theorists say yes, and suggest that we are simply following the course they set us on from the very beginning of mankind–to transcend our flesh and become like our extraterrestrial creators.

This week’s episode was about biotechnology, and presenting it as a way in which humans can become more like “our ancient alien ancestors.”  The idea of the “transhuman” is presented – a person who has augmented or repaired their physical or mental capacities by use of technology.  This term is a quite new one, and it is not just about those who have modified themselves voluntarily, but is inclusive of people who utilize medically-required technology (pacemakers, artificial limbs, etc.).  It was identified in the show as something that reaches back to the ancient world in the form of the quest for immortality.

The first issue addressed was the idea of genetic modification.  Just like last week, the first things that are brought up are perfectly reasonable: the question of how such modification is used – to manipulate to cure disease or to make “perfect” people.  The latter allows the commentators to move into the Ancient Alien Theory that this type of modification was done by aliens to create demigods or great leaders in the ancient world.  One of their examples is Hatshepsut, one of a handful of Egyptian women to gain the pharaohship.  Historically, when she gained control of the country, she put out the story that she was divinely conceived, in order to minimize the discomfort of having a woman as the Pharaoh.  Will Durant described it in the first volume of his Story of Civilization, Our Oriental Heritage:

“Since sacred tradition required that every Egyptian ruler should be a son of the great god Amon[-Ra], Hatshepsut arranged to be made at once male and divine.  A biography was invented for her by which [the god] Amon had descended upon Hatshepsut’s mother in a flood of perfume and light; his attentions had been gratefully received; and on his departure he had announced that Ahmasi would give birth to a daughter in whom all the valor and strength of a god would be made manifest on earth.…the great Queen had herself represented on the monuments as a bearded and breastless warrior; and though the inscriptions referred to her with the feminine pronoun, they did not hesitate to speak of her as ‘Son of the Sun’ and ‘Lord of the Two Lands.’  When she appeared in public, she dressed in male garb and wore a beard.”

This story is used by commentator William Henry to claim this as evidence of alien intervention and genetic modification, when it is quite obvious that it was a simple political ploy.  As an aside, I also must comment that Mr. Henry misused the term “Immaculate Conception;” he made the not uncommon mistake in believing that this term refers to the conception of Jesus within the Virgin Mary at the behest of Yahweh via the angel Gabriel.  In Roman Catholic doctrine, the Immaculate Conception refers very specifically to the fact that Mary lacked original sin, that she was immaculate from the time of her conception and throughout her life.

The next issue discussed was attempts at anti-aging, through both chemical and technological means.  Ray Kurzweil and his reportedly life-enhancing and prolonging nootropic drug cocktail is one option offered and the other is the use of nanotechnology.  The Ancient Alien Theorists come in at this point to say that it was these methods that allowed for the ultra-long lifespans experienced by people in the Bible, such as Methuselah.  As usual with the A.A.T’s, they give no possibility of a metaphorical meaning to any of the ancient mythology.  Another aside – as a lifelong Trekkie, the idea of using nanotechnology to perform surgery or otherwise enhance life is nothing new.  Perhaps the A.A.T’s need to be looking at science fiction more than mythology for their ideas.

The show ends with a discussion of attempts to create artificial intelligence and some means of preserving the human brain in computers.

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