Science Fiction and The Future of Human Beings: Imagination, Evolution and The Anthropocentric Myths
‘[…] And even when the external world
has granted all it can, there still remain
the searchings of the mind and the longings of the heart […]’
From ‘Childhood’s End’
Though our contemporary world still enjoys the favours of Enlightenment, people from every kind of scientific and philosophical discipline seem to have been defeated in the task of excavating our human origins. And it took a long way down. The Antique World, the Medieval World and all the following eras found themselves among the quest of trying to answer this most vital question: what does it mean to be human? It had been nearly a myth. I think this is why religion precedented science. Yet this myth evolved. Every period encouraged their own replies, but they have proven to be unsatisfying. We, in 21st sentury, still long for an appropriate reply but are still in search, because our imagination and curiosity feeds us with an overcoming hunger to define and know. Never the less today, ultimately civilized culture’s wonder, science fiction, like a rescue-boat sails amid the daunting waves of human imagination and curiosity to help our seemingly finite minds. Through this agent do we inquire and search, do we cling hard to it presently.
But in any case, in order to judge upon the preliminaries which makes us human and to decide on what it means to be human, we initially should think on the quintessence which makes us human, connoting an enquiry on human nature. It is a primitive question. Yet, inevitably any study associated with the same topic ought to derive its own line of thought. Then comes the big question mark: What is the essence of our very nature? Presenting itself as an almost theological, scientific question as it is a philosophical question, science fiction as a genre dictates the same investigation. Ergo, we would have to re-shape our first question accordingly: What does it mean to be human in relation to the ‘artificially’ created lives such as robots, cyborgs, simians, cylons etc? Are they more human than we are or are they not equals in respect that we being their superiors? Is the word ‘human’ a posted label? I prefer to assume that human nature can not and ought not to be conceived as a fixed identitiy laid upon us. Because the way we define ourselves, projects itself on our understanding the ‘others’. Although humanity has not reached to a proper and absolute definition concerning their own nature, there are proposed ideas which continue to develop as we add to our universal mass of knowledge. Hence, the evolution of humanity and of the notion of humanity.
Consequently, in an environment which never stays the same and adds up day by day, this paper assumes-as a starting point- that in a Darwinian sense the development of an automaton is nothing but the true natural core of evolution. At this point how sane would it be assume that our traditional perception of evolution could be left unchanged? Along with the continuously altered perception of human nature, even the definition of evolution evolves. And when I say the production of a robot is the natural outcome of this chain, there pops up one difference: in this evolutionary process there is human interruption being merely the result of the power of human imagination and human’s innate desire to create- and this paper’s central thought it is. I think, perhaps, it was the sole gift we have brought down from ‘heaven’ and contrary to the meta-narratives human beings have struggled against for so long, we would whole heartedly appreciate our self-created narratives and myths opening the causeway for our inventions of robots, cyborgs and everything. Hence the completion and a cycle of a creation myth beginning with our ancient gods but including separation from them, our trial to tear away ‘Imago Dei’ away and create our own ‘Imago Homo Sapiens’. Because, to be human means to be able to imagine and create, thus asserting self-decisiveness and imposing the humanely free-will on fate and nature and universe which is most likely to change consdierably the human future: an evolution no longer imposed upon us from ‘nature’ nor from our ancient gods, but from our own selves. Unless we dream of reaching to the stars, there is no evolution of any kind, nor any freedom nor any humanity.
To define human nature and origins might be useful as as starting point. First a little history: Human origins and when we have become human has almost always been controversial because not always biological existence and cultural existence could be equated to each other. So, there is a useful timeline provided by Harry Elmer Barnes in his ‘An Intellectual and Cultural History of The Western World’ portraying the difference between the time line covering the biological existence and ‘civilized’ existence of man. Lets have a look at two of his diagrams:
It is almost hair-raising to discover that there different data on our ‘human history’ and origins which is utterly relative and bound to your perspective. Dividing history into twelve hours, the first diagram strikes the physical existence of man on the face of earth and the other the civilized history, the recorded human culture. Human is the subject of both, whichever you would choose depends on your angle. The plenitude of theories concerning the human nature continue to be discussed. Whereas, in my opinion, human nature can not be traced back continuously to somewhere as though a mere chronological count down would make us find the true human origin- well, biologically it could be useful. But, the humanitas– as in Latin used first by Cicero- does not necessarily connote the bodily existence of human beings, but the civilized, cultural existence of man. Human beings were exactly beings depending not on their physical appearances but depending heavily on when they have begun to create, imagine and change the natural course of static facts being the essence of human culture. Therefore, it would be much more meaningful to assert a conceptual rather than biological quality on human nature and follow a more contextual path which as put forth in this paper is human imagination and its offspring, evolution.
In his highly inspiring article A History of Transhumanist Thought, Nick Bostrom, a highly acclaimed Oxford philosopher, seems to center his whole discussion in his very first sentence. He says;
‘[…]The human desire to acquire new capacities is as ancient as our species
itself. We have always sought to expand the boundaries of our existence,
be it socially, geographically or mentally. There is a tendency in at least
some individuals always to search for a way around every obstacle and
limitation to human life and happiness. […]’ ( 1 ).
This human desire to ‘acquire new capacities’ echoes the present study’s very idea. Whilst I am talking of human imagination and the desire to create I include every cognitive human activity. Therefore, it can be deduced that imagination is both very archaic and modern. It is humanity’s most sacred fountainhead from which we acquire our ‘human’ identity whether it be fatal or beneficial.
Why, I assume it might be from this source humanity needs to develop. We need ‘the need’ to go forward. From Judaic mysticism to Ancient Greece and Medieval Period, Romanticism to Enlightenment it has always proved itself nearer to an instinct. Das wenige verschwindet leicht dem Blicke/ Def vorwärts sieht, wie viel noch ubrig bleibt’ says Goethe which translates in English as ‘the little that is done seems nothing when we look forward and see how much we have yet to do.’ However humanity deems itself to be highly-civilized or developed, human imagination and her/his desire to create never ceases. I ought to indicate this is no Romantic frame of thought which I specially introduce, but rather a commentary upon human nature, which is that humanity has never given up its ideals, thus the self- invented urge to perpetually move forward. Hence the birth of transhumanist thought and later Aldous Huxley’s brother, biologist Julian Huxley, named it in Religion Without Revelation :
‘[…]The human species can, if it wishes, transcends itself- not just sporadically an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way-but in its entirety, as humanity. We need a name for this new belief. Perhaps transhumanism will serve: man remaining man, but transcending himself. By realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature. […]’ ( 27 ).
In this transhumanist context (and inevitably posthumanist), I think, human imagination and human desire to create is relevant to the ideal of putting universe in order. From this point, there goes a chain: At first there is this human imagination, then transhumanist thought, then creation. So, putting aside the doctrine of der Übermensch (on the grounds that it is more concerned with freeing man from religious and cultural ties, though ‘the sf sense of wonder is distinguished from that of religious faith by its desire to find wonder in understanding’ ) for a more sophisticated opportunity of technological transformation, most naturally humanity evolves its own race via the power of imaginative fire in the search of creating order. Well besides, indeed, ‘Order is born from the renewal of generations’, which is undeniably how nature works, and it is never possible, I think, we utterly detach ourselves from her.
If human beings desire to create and imagine a transcendental evolution for themselves, then it means what we understand now form being human will evade gradually and naturally in a Darwinian sense and as pointed out in The Origin Of Species;
‘[…] New species are formed by new varities arising, which have some advantage
over older forms; and those forms, which are already dominant, or have some
advantage over the other forms, in their own country would naturally oftenest
give rise to new varities or incipient species; for these latter must be victorious
in a still higher degree in order to be preserved and survive.[…]’ ( 353 ).
Because progress is change, and as a species we are at the heart of this breakthrough. It is inevitable that this happens. Therefore, we face the newly-bred existence of new generation, beings. Philip K. Dick whom is counted among ‘the academic canon’ ( Introduction, 10 ) of science fiction, in his cult novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? plays with this idea very fruitfully. Whilst introducing the reader with a postmodern dilemma concerning the authentic versus the fake, he is also tap-dancing at the high frontiers of human imagination, something which will hi-jack Rick Deckard to the point of a delirium who can not or would not accept any other thing than an ‘alive’ human- owing to, I think mostly, the allegorical equivalent of Stalinist, Nazist or any other totalitarian regimé, Mercerism, turning out to be no other thing than an delusion. The book, is authoritative due to its style of portraying how human imagination and creation could be used, how humanity may try to transcend themselves, how they will label ‘Made-By-Human®’ myth-stamp on the new generation they have created and what it will cause at the end. Well, initially a group of lifelike androids human beings, the Nexus-6 units, having been created as in fact slaves for humans, flee to Earth searching for freedom. Indeed, the production of these units were to put human life to some ease and also to see their own human capabilities due to the fact that perhaps average human intelligence seemed not to satisfy humankind and needed to be transcended. And exactly they had, here: ‘[…]the Nexus-6 did have two trillion constituents plus a choice within a range of ten million possible combinations of cerebral activity. […]’ ( 22 )and here, ‘[…] The Nexus-6 android types, Rick reflected, surpassed several classes of human specials in terms of intelligence […]’ ( Do Androids, 23 ). This had happened to be what human beings imagined and created, complex and organized forms of organization. It was the necessary human creation which was trying to seek a wayout to replace human-labour-force with replicant-labour-force. The colonists, though I do not ignore the commercial needs they had created via the Rosen Association, is the source of such an imagination so that humanity would also benefit from this substitution. Therefore, never the less, this caused a separation from a Godly-imposed mandatory situation for self-production and ‘self-harvesting’. Good. And this parting away from humanly obligations is evolutionary. Bad, because ‘[…] It’s artifical he said, with sudden realization; his disappointment welled up keen and intense.[…]’ ( 33 ). On the verge of directing our attention from this point towards the wider transhumanist context, there appears a vital question: is this evolution imposed by human imagination fatal? Or as Francis Fukuyama has identified, is really ‘transhumanism the world’s most dangerous idea’? ( Transhumanism, 17 ). Why should it be named necessarily as dangerous, when it is our choice to create? Why a threat as in here: ‘[…] Huxley was right, that the most significant threat posed by contemporary biotechnology is the possibility that it will alter human nature and thereby move us into a “posthuman” stage of history […]’ ( Our Posthuman, 7 ) If free-will is the antecedent to our cognitive faculties, why be it fearful? In any case, the offspring is totally human and we evaluate our own race, we interfere with God’s work for our own benefit, which is much more divine. Every human being is obligingly a revolutionary-priest if you would like to name, in this sense, and whatever we create is ‘divine’ not any slave. After all, if not anything, this is a free spot at which anthropocentric myths begin abandoning the holy myths and meta-narratives. Why not use technology through this canal and appreciate its results rather than throw a stone in the face of it ? Yet, it is Rick Deckard’s dilemma not being able to decide whether he favours this novelty or not. From this aspect, the bounty killer is quite human, so humanely tragic, being stuck up between desiring inanimate life and at the same time rejecting it. He both wants the sheep ( or Rachel ) passionately and when he does not rejects: ‘[…]But, Rick interrupted, ‘for you to have two horses and me none, violates the whole basic theological and moral structure of Mercerism […]’ ( 7 ) and seems to be disgusted by replicants ‘[…] Do androids dream? Rick asked himself. Evidently, that’s why they kill their employers and flee here […] ( 145 ). The last quotation is also a great investigation about the meaning of being a human. Are they really what we insult as the other, something really other than human or is there a recurring cycle? As N. Katherine Hayles so beautifully explains it is ‘[…] Dick understood that how boundaries are constituted would be a central issue in deciding what counts as living in the late twentieth century. […]’ ( How We Became, 161 ). The shape may have changed, yet Darwin proves right and the Promethan ambition is transferred to the ‘iron and steel’ genes of our children. Humanity is shared, develops itself to be a mutual identity, thus. Still, after all these, what does it mean to be human at all, when the ‘fake’ is real enough?
Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, equally dystopian with Dick’s Do Androids Dream, takes an inequal turn in tone. While Dick focuses on a more psychological and sociological aspect, Clarke tends to be more religious and scientific. But, the novel equally accepts that humanity is face to face with a ‘problem’; ‘[…] The human race was no longer alone.[…]’ ( Childhood’s End, 5 ). The Overlords have begun to govern masses, and they are no longer free though individuals seem to be in possession of everything, while on the other hand humankind provides itself with the long-awaited freedom, through telepathy, kind of a mind connection to each other. From this aspect, I think, by placing human being, transparently, in the center of a process of evolution which is gained through imagination ( telepathy, it is in the novel, of course ) Childhood’s End is an exquisite example to my argument on how people imagine and evolve. Even the Overlords, capable in many things, but saying ‘[…]-we envy you.[…]’ ( 178 ), and standing as an outer force throughout the book, do not feel themselves to be compatible with human-beings in this spoken sense, because they have never imagined, but prefer logic-based deductions and calculations. The main focus, however as pointed out, is that through imagination first, Jean then her children become something ‘other’ than human; it is from this arrival of a new form of existence that George at last cries out: ‘[…] You mean?..” he gasped. His voice trailed away and he had to begin again. ‘Then what in God’s name are my children?”.[…]’ ( 166 ). Therefore, once at the moment Jean taps the knowledge of future through her individual source, she becomes the fountain of the process of evolution. And then children, who are to be last generation of humanity, start to be affected gradually.
What we see throughout these scandalous events first, is that the Overlords, agents of the Overmind or some other ‘big-brother’, clothe themselves with such a discourse that they seemingly have brought everything human beings have long desired. But the fact is that the Overlords, cramped up human imagination as though it was a piece of blank paper and throwed it into the dustbin of history. The result? Very ironical:
‘[…] Man was, therefore, still a prisoner on his own planet. It was a much fairer, but
A much smaller, planet than it had been a century before. When the Overlords had
Abolished war and hunger and disease, they had also abolished adventure. […]’ ( 85 )
Or quite as sad as in here: ‘[…] The world’s now placid, featureless, and culturally dead: nothing really new has been created since the Overlords came. […] ( 135 ). Why I discuss these passages is with the aim to outlay the fact that human imagination and the desire to create is what makes us human and when we are banned from this facility, we strive and yearn for it, half-mad to get it back. Next, freeing themselves from the bondage of these Satan-like angles, humanity-beginning from George’s wife Jean- develops and re-dicsoveres what used to be very innate in its own nature, via a different canal. And all this yearning, regaining of the anti-mortem abilities reappear. It appears to be a Darwinian ability and getting close to an instinct. For, secondly, quoting from The Origin Of Species an instinct is;
‘[…] An action, which we ourselves should require experience to enable us to perform when performed by an animal; more especially by a young one, without any experience, and when performed by many individuals in the same way, without their knowing for what purpose it is performed, is usually said to be instinctive.[…]’ ( 230 ).
For these reasons it comes to be plausible for our young ones to imagine, imagine so heavily that they succeed in evolving themselves altough it means the extinction of the human race
from the face of earth. Because by imagining, instinctively and collectively, while drawing the curtains of one race they open another’s. And as the small, massive table around which Rupert Boyce and his guests gather to, says ‘[…] BELIEVEINMANNATUREISWITHYOU. […] ( 92 ). We ought to believe in man and its lay-outs. It is totally as I have indicated in my introductory passages, the true natural core of evolution, and man do reach to this point by imagining and evolving, funnily in return. In the novel, imagination is the major power from which the change appears to grow. Now that it happened, there is a topsy-turvy story going on and on:
‘[…] Their minds were ten- perhaps a hundred- times as powerful as men’s.
It made no difference in the final reckoning. They were equally helpless, equally
overwhelmed by the unimaginable complexity of a galaxy of a hundred thousand
million suns, and a cosmos of a hundred thousand million galaxies. […]’ ( 199 ).
I told about Clarke’s novel being little more-if not far more- sounding religious than Dick’s. It is true. Human beings, I think, have torn away themselves from God’s work, yet children seem to reconcile with the Overmind. However, this can not be the cause of any confusion or contradiction with the presented argument. In fact, perfection is not utterly human. And the interrupted course of evolution gave way to a race perfect, more than human, it has been transcended. We might be the work of God, but we bring it to a halt and of course it can not be expected the outcome could still be totally human, in the way we understand it today. We share our humanity with them and proudly, we have been the reason of a greater thing which have turned out to be far more delicate. Their exquisiteness is thus, not necessarily but naturally human. This is true liberation and a favour to our race. Clarke prefers to underline this juxtaposition. Alas, elsewhere, is he not the marker of the words ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’. Perhaps what happens in Childhood’s End is this kind of a magic stemming from human imagination and creation.
Humankind learned and imagined, created and at last evaluated itself, changed her/his own conditions. Cary Wolfe takes an exemplary passage from Michel Foucault:
‘[…] man was gradually learning what it meant to be a living species in a living world, to have a body, conditions of existence, probabilities of life, an individual and collective welfare, forces that could be modified, and a space in which they
could be distributed in an optimal manner. For the first time in history, no doubt, biological existence was reflected in political existence.[…]’ ( What Is Posthumanism, 52 ).
It is matter of transforming her/his own existence. From one type of existence to another. Conclusively, I would rather prefer to name it a human bias if there should be any objection to our ‘transcended’ or ‘post’ forms. A dust of Greek hubris swindles in the air. Similar to these concerns, in an article discussing whether robots are solely machines or artifically created lives, Hilary Putnam is surprised by the same rejections:
‘[…] Yet some astonishing misunderstandings have arisen. The one that most
surprised me was expressed thus: ‘As far as I can see, all you show is that
a robot could simulate human behaviour’. […]’ ( Robots, 671 ).
Provided we accept that these ‘artifical’ lives are based upon every human experience, feeling and human everything, how it comes that people should suppose they could be artifical indeed? Does every human equate in values, manner, understanding, bodily existence to each other? Science and equations are helpful for humanity so that nature and the environment becomes meaningful, but how could we accept the idea that even when human beings appear to differ from each other, how can we be so strict in eliminating robots, cyborgs etc. from the society? Moreover, the only thing that is due to be the same is change itself as the Greek have said and how may we expect a fixed identity for human beings? Why should it be perceived as a unnatural evaluation? In Posthumanism: A Critical History, Andy Miah turns every objection with steady answers, reminding German philosopher Heidegger:
‘[…] For instance, Heidegger’s concept of enframing offers a critical view of
technology, which treats it as a process rather than an artifact. Indeed Heidegger
famously notes that the essence of technology is by no means technological.
And his notion of enframing describes how technology is a process of revealing
specific modes of being. […]’ ( 16 ).
This is a way of perceiving technology indeed, identical with seeing it as an evolutionary process, and elsewhere discussing Frankenstein and ‘artificially’ created lives in general, says:
‘[…] If humans insist on their separateness and superiority in regard to machines
( as well as animals ), viewing them as a threatening new species rather than as a
part of their creation, will they, indeed bring out the very state of alienation
that they fear. […]’ ( 12 ).
To change, to be aware of the change and to be the center of the change might be scary. Yet, it is hard to understand the point in excluding what does not seem to be not human. The basic element of human nature have seemed to me to be human imagination and desire of creation, and if one day if there should be created any robot like Sonnie in Alex Proyas’s 2004 movie I, Robot, who dreams and is real enough to make his dreams real, how will some people respond to it, is a matter concerning grave doubts. Humankind should not get used to the idea of robots’s being ‘these things are just lights and clockwork’ like Detective Spooner ( I, Robot ). Nor ought to try to take precautions as Nick Bostrom suggests in The Future of Human Evolution in that it is also limiting nature and make it face with frontiers.Because human imaginaion and desire to create is also a mutual faculty, we share it with robots. It is a big mistake to ask, ‘Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?’ ( I, Robot ). It is due to again a Darwinian answer which assumes that ‘..geological succession, and other such facts, might come to the conclusion that each species had not been independently create, but had descendedi like varieties, from other species. […]’ ( Origin, 11 ). Inarguably, they can create and imagine, they are not ‘imitations of life’ ( I, Robot ).
Besides, if it will be argued that to be human is to imagine and create and consequently to evolve, in this evolutionary process that nears, it can be simultaneously argued that they may also esaily become a threat to humanity itself, which is what both they learn from their ancestors and do according to their inherited natures. One might ask; what if it intends to wipe out humanity? But it would be useful to ask, has not humanity assumed different roles of power and have intimidated nature cruelly? Or perhaps, if they are simulating (!) human life and experience, they copy suspicion and mistrust as well as the stranger in the canal Commander Adama is trapped with, says ‘suspicion and distrust, it’s military life, right?’ ( Battlestar Galactica, Part II ). Then it can be argued they are following their parents’s steps if they are also they are claimed to be involved in any harmful or destructive behaviour, which is not precisely as harmful in nature as it will be defended, but the nature of what they have learned or carried down through their DNAs, on the grounds that ‘God didn’t create the cylons, man did and I’m pretty sure we did include a soul in them, programming!’ ( Battlestar Galactica, Part II ). Who knows, they are the peripatetic philosophers of the future and ‘I guess you have to find your way like the rest of us, Sonnie’ ( I, Robot ). And yes, it is possible human beings are searching for perfection, cutting down their Romantic nature, so that they feel such necessity of stepping over their inconstant nature, which explains why ‘but perhaps cylons have assumed the role that the Gods once held’ ( Battlestar Galactica: The Plan ), which is also a very human leakage of desire to be immortal and all-pervading.
It is quite ironical that although it has been assumed thoroughly that human nature is the amalgamation of imaginatiın and evolution, it is none the less a document in vain which tries to define human nature due to the fact that human nature has always flied over the Vincian model of man, framed within some perfect ratio. It is human. Yet, the numerous perceptions depend on the fact that human perception is also subject to change. So, human nature can not be cemented strictly to some this or that ideology. But the thing which matters is that, by looking into the cultural history ( not biological indeed ) of humankind, an analysis perhaps is available. And the cultural history points out its finger on the power of human imagination and evolution. I assume, behind all of the great ideas starting from the Newtonian physics to the evolution of Quantum physics, robotical technologies, or the SETI project- which Arthur C. Clarke was also presidenting-, lies all but one historical talent: Human imagination and the ability to transmogrify our own species. To further ourselves. It has been in the character of this short paper to assume that they are also the factors which lie behind our freedom as well.
So, in what way do these contribute to our gradual change and process of transcendence? With the aid of them, we become myth-makers. For the first time our species are advantaging from meta-narratives, whether it be good or bad, in consequence. But they have evolved to be our narratives, which is the satisfactory point. For the first time we have succeded in creating anthropocentric myths, through imagination. Einstein, can not be wrong: ‘Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere’.
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 He says: ‘What kind of intervention would be required to shape social conditions so that they favor eudaemonic types? ‘ ( 351 ). Yet, I think this may cause for a totalitarian point of view. Not everything can be controlled and why should it be? If it is done, should there be left anything to imagine or create for our problems?