Apes to Gods
Written by Geoff Aikens (@OhArd215)
Throughout history, humankind has always fought for something greater. Whether it was land, wealth or influence, humans have sought to enhance their life experiences and understand why they were here. After searching for so long, one begins to wonder if there is something beyond oneself. Can you experience something greater? Here we will begin to delve deeper into the future of man, and hope to begin to understand just how we can get there.
Origins of Homo Sapien
The Missing Link
Australopithecus Afarensis, an early hominin, is the earliest discovered human ancestor. The most famous case, Lucy, offers us a brief glance into the origin of the Homo Sapien. Emerging from East Africa around four million years ago, Australopithecus gives insight into the bridge between humans and other great apes. To really understand how far humans have the ability to go, we must look at how far we have come. Australopithecus’ physical differences were apparent, but they clearly showed a departure from the standard ape: their arms were shorter, with longer thighs and a pelvis more evolved for bipedalism. It was becoming clear as our ancestors moved from trees into the lowland plains, that these changes would continue throughout their evolution. The ability to chase after more mobile prey and having to travel further distances are both important factors. As time went on, these environmental factors helped to shape the Homo genus; our ancestors Homo Erectus and Homo Habilis emerged during this time.
Appearing out of Eastern Africa barely over two million years ago, Homo Habilis (“handy man”) is the earliest member of the Homo genus. Quite short and with much longer arms compared to modern humans, Homo Habilis shared many physical similarities with A. Afarensis. Known to be masters of using ancient stone tool sets, Homo Habilis was able to adapt to environments that would be too formidable for other primates to thrive in.
A closer relative to us than Homo Habilis — Homo Erectus, also known as the “Upright Man” — existed less than two million years ago. Taller than the average man now, with a slender build along with longer arms and legs, H.Erectus even had later specimens showing similar cranial capacity to humans. Homo Erectus displayed the first cultivation of technology through the use of fire.
Spreading out of East Africa around 60,000 years ago, Homo Sapiens became the dominant Homo genus. We cultivated tools and were able to utilize technology beyond anything our previous ancestors could have. Eventually allowing Homo Sapiens to become the dominant species of the Earth.
Patterns of Evolution
Evolution has been the driving force of life on the planet. Since the emergence of single-celled organisms, evolution has brought forth a plethora of creatures throughout Earth’s history. There are three different ways that organisms can evolve: Divergent, convergent, and parallel. Divergent evolution is when species in an environment develop differently, creating a diverse group of life forms. Convergent evolution occurs when species of different origin exhibit similar traits due the same environmental pressures or habitat. Finally, parallel evolution is when unrelated species live in the same environment, but do not occupy the same niche within it. This means they maintain a similarity, but are specialized in different ways.
A New Way to Evolve
Each of these types of evolution have their own positives and negatives. All three follow a basic tenet: The environment dictates the changes in the species. But, as discussed earlier, humans have a control over their environment never before seen in nature, thanks to technology. Humanity has bent the world in the shape it requires by moving into cities, taking land for agriculture, forcing competing species out, and domesticating anything we needed from the wild. As we continue our quest for more ways to advance, we hit a wall; our physical bodies cannot hope to evolve at the rate we can manipulate our environment. This begs the question: Should humanity use technology to manipulate our physical selves as we have the world around us?
Development and Attachment to Technology
Ever since the first rocks were utilized to create tools, technology has helped shape the way we have lived. After cultivating fire, our interactions with technology have been increasing at an exponential rate. Many of the most influential changes to society were through technology. From the first printing press to microprocessors, each brought about drastic shifts in our environment. Our relationship with technology has grown to be almost symbiotic. We have technology that has become an everyday staple in our lives, from the first pagers to sophisticated smartphones. It has even taken over how we interact with each other socially. The speed of communication, combined with the ease of access, has made us connected like no other time in human history. As we continue to innovate, technology will begin to take other forms and uses. Medicine is one of the most applicable: today we have technology that can augment processes your body runs to make it more efficient. We have achieved the ability to transplant organs, speed up the healing of damaged ones, and cure diseases. Women even have the ability to choose how they give birth, whether it be naturally or by aid of technology.
Through integration, comes dependence. Our society has been so radically changed by technology that it has altered our way of communication. People no longer need to interact face to face, we can type messages out to one another or video chat anywhere on Earth (provided one has an internet connection, of course). This kind of instant interface has allowed people to organize themselves in a way never before seen.
Technology will continue to push towards integration to make our lives seamless. As we push for greater connectivity, improving our bodies with technology will become the next logical step.
Acceptance of Human Limitations
Death is the end point for all living creatures, from single-celled organisms to complex, multicellular beings. Different lifeforms live for varying amounts of time; some a few days, others thousands of years. As humans, we are expected to live to about 80 years old. The aging of our bodies erodes our minds as well, robbing us of our cognitive function in the twilight of most people’s lives. Before the useful application of technology, humanity was bound by the physical limits of their bodies to accomplish goals. While having evolved to fit our environment the best we can, there are still limits to what we can do without technology. Sickness, physical ailments, dangerous conditions, predators, there are a multitude of ways for our bodies to come under duress. All of these things are holding back humanity from reaching its ultimate potential. Death by its definition, inhibits growth. It is important to understand the limits that exist when attempting to alter your environment at accelerated rates, realize that your body will not be able to adapt at the same speed. Through comprehension of the limits that hamper our potential, they can be transcended, allowing us to pursue our greatest ambitions.
“Humanism may be coming to an end as humanism transforms itself into something one must helplessly call posthumanism.” — Ihab Hassan
The idea of merging technology and science with human physiology is not a new one. Transhumanism, a term coined in 1949 by French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his novel The Future of Mankind, can be traced back to the early 1920’s to a British geneticist, J. B. S. Haldane. A section of posthumanism, transhumanism centers around enhancing cognitive abilities, reducing or eliminating aging, and improve our psychological and physical capacities.
Transhumanism talks of a Technological Singularity, an event in which an advanced artificial superintelligence dramatically increases the rate of technological growth. This technology could be utilized and combined with human biology to create “transhumans” along with “posthumans”.
The posthumans can be an amalgamation of technology and man, or in certain aspects, synthetic artificial intelligence. Posthumans would be tremendously intelligent and very technologically sophisticated, to the point that some have taken to describing them as “posthuman gods” shedding their humanity to become something ‘greater’. Posthumans strive to eliminate the idea of human exceptionalism, that we possess uniqueness and superior intellect not granted to other creatures. This breeds the idea of ‘human rights’ that we deserve to be treated to a higher standard than any other animal. The posthuman treats physical human bodies as mere platforms of information, no more important than others, whether they be a machine or another “inferior” animal. Each of them serving to only carry life information and pass it on to the next.
Transhumans will occupy a more broad range of sciences and technologies to enhance themselves. Holding onto their personhood, transhumans look to enhance our already existing faculties rather than replace them completely. Utilizing bioengineering and genetic engineering to improve our sense and to increase our lifespans and brain power. Humans have already made many transhuman strides in technology, with one of the greatest steps taking place in genetics.
“To err is human, to forgive divine” — Alexander Pope
Opposition to transhumanist ideas generally manifests itself into two arguments: human dignity and classism. Human Dignity is often described as our most fundamental right, it is your right to be you. It speaks to self-worth, self-respect, physical and psychological empowerment and integrity. You are a human comprised of all your flaws and gifts granted by nature, something that is different from any other creature. This idea is rejected by transhumanism. Transhumanists do not believe that we should be forced to live with the choices nature has made for us. This is a major point of contention for bioethicists. In particular, Leon Kass, voiced a strong opinion about the dangers of believing technology to be able to push humanity toward ‘posthuman gods’ giving the warning: “And may our children and grandchildren continue to reap their ever tastier fruit — but without succumbing to their seductive promises of a perfect, better-than-human future, in which we shall all be as gods, ageless and blissful.”
Believing transhumanism to be useful with medicine and science, Kass sees no reason to use it to alter the human form. Kass offers some interesting criticism of transhumanism. He iterates that we must have “a particular regard and respect for the special gift that is our given nature.” That we must accept all of the pieces of being human. Humans are made by nature and thus are perfectly flawed. Transhumanism counters with the idea that not all of nature is for the benefit of mankind. Disease, sickness, racism, murder, rape, genocide, all of these are in our species specific nature and are things that we could surely go without.
Kass goes on to warn of the infatuation with enhancement, he doubts that people will ever be satisfied with how much you can “improve” yourself, “…to deal with what is genuinely novel and worrisome in the biotechnical revolution: not the old crude power to kill the creature made in God’s image, but the new science-based power to remake him after our own fantasies.” Kass fears that as people become enamoured with enhancing themselves, humans who choose to remain as they are, will be seen as less special.
Understanding Our Role With Technology
Since the adaptation of the first stone tool, technology has shaped the history of man. No terrestrial creature in history has had the power to mold the world around them like humans have, thanks to technology. It is important to recognize our role with technology. The universe has spent eons manifesting elements; combining them into fire and stone. Our planet, cultivated through destruction, must now have its trajectory altered. Man must use technology to shape this world and its’ future in ways never thought before.
With how we have steadily increased our interaction with technology, it can only be inferred that our next step is to merge with it. As we creep further into the 21st century, humanity will continue to integrate machines into our bodies as we seek to better ourselves. Not all of these attempts will be successful, they can splinter communities and elevate others. Without understanding how these changes will affect our bodies, certain sects of humanity risk getting left behind in the exodus from homo sapien.