Or how different ideas from science fiction become reality…
There are already ideas from science-fiction stories that have become reality, such as, for example, the numerous inventions of Star Trek, which media writes about often. But here I have in mind non-physical artefacts -thoughts and concepts that are quite possible to materialize as a social reality, even if we do not live to see them; it’s not about the warp drive and the robot-home assistant. We often find the naivety in the notions of specific artefacts of the future when they come to fruition and the future as a whole excites more with its horizon than with the supposed commodities and objects it promises. It is true that intergalactic social points (bars, prisons, etc.) in which every cosmic creature speaks grammatically acceptable English is a favorite for most commercially fantastic storylines, but this persistent concept will also be skipped at the expense of deeper predictions about our future as a species that the genre encodes.
Based on the essence of the collective unconscious, the term archetype is often linked to our evolution and biological past. However, the more we have an in-depth understanding of humanity based on the concepts of Carl Jung, the more it is being associated with the transcendental roots of life, with our spirituality and our ability to manifest primary collective wisdom. Therefore, this knowledge that lies implicitly in humanity, whether it concerns the present, the past, or the future, can be thought of as an archetype. In this case, this is an archetype of the future: idea-prognoses that permeate cinema and literature and gain wide intuitive support for the story. Even if we live in an individualistic world, our collective nature has the potential to anticipate its paths and to know where they would bring us. Here I will deliberately skip the storyline with the fantastical experiences of the consciousness under the influence of spatial-temporal phenomena. Their place I see somewhere in the main discussions about the nature of consciousness, not so much in the preconceived notions of the future. And so:
Technological development and inability to reproduce
Whether in the form of a much advanced humanity that has lost the ability to continue its existence biologically, or through the encounter with extraterrestrial beings that have reached this point in their development, fiction has repeatedly told the same story. This is the story of an advanced biological species who has many years in its life, is mature and capable, knows ways from our point of view to curb the elements and to extract energy from them, but no babies. Of course, science itself is not to blame for it. The reason lies in its uses, in the fact that these horizons have reached the boundaries of knowledge, and in that the movie characters have decided that they are already able to cross this horizon and return, manipulate it, and redraw at its discretion. In parallel, we can also reflect on the social phenomena in the advanced world that gives birth to such stories. The biological beginning, of course, has always influenced social structures, so there is no reason to reject the opposite: it is not impossible that the social situation of late capitalism, combined with the global technological boom, will affect our biology with less or more irreversible consequences. The unstable, reversed pyramids of the population are a fact in most of the developed world (in my view) as is the boom of reproductive problems. How and whether the population self-regulates by psychological and/or physiological phenomena is clearly unknown, and it is also the consequences of the poor functioning of natural selection*. If we assume that many civilizations arose and disappeared in the universe, it was inevitable for some among them to have had their own biology destroyed before they managed to develop enough technology to save themselves. Whether critical minimal functioning biology is not a mandatory requisite of consciousness could also be argued (but this is the third paragraph). Related to all this, and why not its cause, is the next consistent storyline that can be found futuristic science-fiction: self-regulation through gene modification and experimentation.
Genetic experiments have catastrophic consequences
As we all know, most genetic experiments in science fiction mainly focus on modifying humans or the corresponding predominant intelligent species, analogous to the human of the respective planets. The purpose of the experiments is, of course, improvement, but the catastrophic consequences are both biological and social. The options range from bad “first crops”, causing acute discrimination between ordinary and upgraded, to ghettos of deteriorated humanoids. I do not think I have ever met a picture of successful genetic improvements that have led to more health and social harmony. Maybe there are examples among books and films, it’s just that I have not met them.
Interestingly, gene modification is a pathway that we have already stepped on, and I’m not referring to genetically modified soy, whose lecithin overflows the chocolate industry. Take mosquitos, for example. US health authorities are already struggling with whether or not to use genetically modified versions of these varmints in combating various diseases, despite thoughts that previous versions of the GMO mosquitoes had a finger in the boom of infestations. Though much of this work is about making educated guesses it is difficult to predict the magnitude of our influence over time, considering that numerous interrelations in ecosystems are invisible, unrecorded, and unrecognized until they are violated. Somewhere in ourselves we know that it is wrong to take our genome into our own hands, and we say it over and over again in art and culture. Similarly, in the individual psyche, nightmares make a symbolic dissection of our daily standing choices, but neurotics who have trained their minds to these choices persist every day. We can take this to the next level with the plot of human cloning, both as a way to try to improve humankind but also as an omnipresent last resort due to an inability to reproduce as discussed above.
The example of mosquitoes the subsequent effects on ecosystems is also applicable at nucleotide level. As we continue to be semi-skeptical about interrelations in ecosystems, our questions about the functioning and expression of genes are disturbingly many for beings who are already “editing.”. Some of these questions we do not even think of, and we tend to say that “science already knows.” No one can say with certainty that a gene known for its function is only responsible for a certain thing, and editing it will in no way detract from the genome or that the reasons for expressing this gene are clear and studied. What is happening in the generation of genetically modified organisms, especially advanced ones, is predominantly the subject of speculation and definitely not of substantiated and proven scientific claims. A recent example shows that it is possible that a gene thought to be malicious actually has an unexpected importance. Moreover, the single application or exclusion of a component, which is in principle a part of a natural complexity, does not generally address the problem that we have begun to fight through this approach, which has been repeatedly demonstrated in the research of living clover. The recheck of this in terms of the genome sounds in particular like a horror of stubbornness.
Technology as a bearer of consciousness / life **
This third topic is too controversial and can not be covered in a short post. The plurality of stories and directions indicate that humanity believes in the possibility of continuing itself through technology but is divided on the question of how. According to some, it would be a gradual replacement of parts of bodies and symbiosis into a common bio-tech body, governed by its ever-transcendental living entity. According to others, the machine can be brought “alive,” and in some cases, it can even “absorb” the surrounding souls and gradually create its own psychic phenomenology. According to a third view, it would forever and always resemble life externally without developing its own subjectivity. In the course of such plots, overexposure to love and abuse is common, and the presence of the feeling itself is used for the last reason to determine something alive or not.
The storyline of transcendence of mind in a machine (Transcendence) or another body (Avatar) is also interesting. In this case, the soul remains a transcendental phenomenon, and we manage to guide the relationship between the physical and the transcend world, but not to create it alone. Personally, the concept of a living robot, 100% hand-made, is mildly naive. I imagine how generous Master Yoda would commend it, and disagree he would have. I would say the same with regard to the ideas of spontaneous self-awareness of the machine, of the Internet as a unified panorganism or something like that. Let us not forget that, although completely unconscious from our point of view, the most primitive living organism carries wisdom in itself from which technology is infinitely far away. And yes, it is not necessary that the next phases of consciousness and life go the same way as the previous ones, but the expectation that, for example, working with a huge amount of data will cause a machine to sink into itself as a star becoming a black hole under the pressure of its mass is a manifestation of arbitrary and groundless structuralism.
And, of course, the summary
What can we expect if we can trust our own collective cultural product? To begin with, a lot of cataclysms. It seems that the wounds of the genetically modified mosquito will not discourage the scientific thought of editing organisms and their admission to ecosystems. It also appears that demand for healthier and more resilient bodies will be undertaken in ways of “working” them in different ways rather than through more cooperation with anatomy and physiology and life in sync with them. The way things happen in society is a process driven mainly by focusing on funding and media attention and, where necessary, regulatory support through different means. The good news is that despite all of the upheavals that have been predicted in the bulk of a cultural product called “fiction,” according to it, at least someone is surviving. Our instinct seems to suggest that we are comfortable to stop immediately after the edge of destruction and yet to remain viable as a species and be better in cooperating with technology in the future. The stories in which humanity wakes up in the 90th minute are many… Fortunately, those in which it misses it, not so many. Our ability to anticipate the outcome of the direction and to forward ourselves the messages does not interfere with any possible system of terms and explanations of the earthly being: whether we think or try to prove that our amino acids and nucleotides come from the cosmos (and have probably been part of another life before), or whether we believe that collective consciousness is a reality (then it would speak through our collective work), or whether we have another understanding, almost every fantastic character that is worth citing would say (though in different words) that the answer always lies within ourselves. That is, if we manage to read our messages on time, we will save a lot of multi-species anguish.
* This is not a human-hating statement; it is a statement that considers natural selection as a mechanism for population sustainability. The consequences of the non-functioning of this mechanism are de facto unknown.
** Terminology and any other difference between consciousness and life is not neglected here. For the purposes of the text, a precise division of whether the technology can be the carrier of one or the other is not necessary.
Text: Kalina Petkova, Ph.D.
The article was originally published in Humanolic.com and translated from Bulgarian language.