By Anupama Bhattacharya
Our singing shall build in the void’s loose field; A world for the Spirit of Wisdom to wield; We will take our plan from the new world of man, And our work shall be called the Promethean.
– P. B. Shelley
First things first. Evolution, as we know it, is over. We are what we are, for good or for bad. ‘If you want to know what utopia is like,’ says Professor Steve Jones, of University College, London, ‘just look around. This is it.’
So, we can forget about growing wings, enlarging our heads, exhibiting an extra digit on our hands a la David McCallum of the sci-fi serial The Outer Limits, getting superhuman strength, disappearing into thin air in one blast of psychic energy or generally doing away with encumbrances such as the appendix, wisdom teeth and body hair.
From here till all eternity, we will remain as we are, as human as human can be! Dismal? You bet. Except for the rider. We will not evolve unless we choose to.
‘I don’t think we are going to see any changes,’ says Peter Ward in his book Future Evolution, ‘apart from the ones we deliberately introduce.’
Because, when we decided to play God and took over divine concerns such as diseases and survival of the fittest, we also allowed the weak a chance to distribute its gene-pool into humanity at large. Result? We changed nature’s preset course, and began to chart our own evolutionary path.
Thus, nature washed its hands off us, and gave us what we always desired: free will to decide our destiny. Unless, of course, gods step in. Most visions of human evolution also have a role for a highly developed, benevolent alien race-be it beings from another universe, or ascended masters from higher dimensions. And the gods can always return. Perhaps to tighten a few screws. Pull out some wires and modify the design.
Where does that leave us? Helpless in the throes of a cosmic tug-of-war. Masters of a new world that we have the potential to create, if the will were willing. Or somewhere sandwiched between the two, not quite helpless, but unsure of what lies ahead.
WHEN THE GODS RETURN
And because, in all the Galaxy, they had found nothing more precious than Mind, they encouraged its dawning everywhere. They became farmers in the fields of stars; they sowed, and… they reaped. And sometimes, dispassionately, they had to weed.
-Arthur C. Clarke
Perhaps this is where science fiction and spirituality meet. Arthur C. Clarke, sci-fi author, had a poignant vision of the end of humanity-and its beginning, in Childhood’s End, where the Overlords, guardians of races that have the potential to unite with the Overmind (a kind of universal consciousness), come to earth, and prepare humanity for its leap into the infinite.
There lay the Overmind… bearing the same relation to man as man bore to amoeba. Potentially infinite, beyond mortality… Now it had drawn into its being all that the human race had ever achieved. This was not tragedy, but fulfillment. -Childhood’s End
The same theme plays in Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey where a man is pulled into a cosmic vortex and is metamorphosed into the Starchild by a superior, almost omniscient, alien consciousness, paving the way for humanity’s evolution.
Erich von Daniken, author of Chariots of the Gods, believed that humanity is a hybrid species created by alien intervention. ‘The spacemen artificially fertilized some female members of this species,’ he wrote, ‘put them into a deep sleep, and departed. Thousands of years later the space travelers returned and found scattered specimens of the genus Homo sapiens. They repeated their breeding experiment several times until finally, they produced a creature intelligent enough to have the rules of society imparted to it.’
Whitley Strieber, author of Communion and Majestic, and a self-proclaimed alien abductee, believes that alien beings are even now trying to create a hybrid race that will unleash the hidden human potential. If that sounds too much like X-Files, replace the aliens with angels or ascended masters, and you’ll have the same story repeating itself in New Age terms.
The 2012 Unlimited, a website on human evolution from the New Age perspective (www.2012.com.au), has this to say about Lady Agape, an entity apparently from the 800th dimension who oversees all aspects of evolution: ‘Lady Agape has recently been anchored on Earth and is overseeing the evolution of all species on Earth at this time, including the plant, animal and mineral kingdoms along with conscious species such as humanity and the dolphin and whale kingdoms.’
Or, the gods could come from within. Somewhat like Colin Wilson’s Faculty X. An innate superconsciousness latent in all humanity, Wilson believes that it is, ‘the key not only to occult experiences, but to the whole future evolution of the human race’.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, theologian and paleontologist, had a somewhat similar vision: ‘The outcome of the world, the gates of the future, the entry into the superhuman-these are not thrown open to a few of the privileged nor to one chosen people to the exclusion of all others. They will open only to an advance of all together, in a direction in which all together can join and find completion in a spiritual renovation of the earth,’ wrote de Chardin in his book The Human Phenomenon.
He believed that humanity has already entered a new phase of evolution, which will culminate in the creation of a collective higher consciousness, what he calls the ‘noosphere’. This will happen when humanity reaches its Omega Point, and experiences ‘an ecstasy transcending the dimensions of the visible universe’.
Life, according to de Chardin, ‘represents the goal of a transformation of great breadth, in the course of which what we call matter turns about, furls in on itself, interiorises the operation covering the whole history of the earth. The phenomenon of spirit is not therefore a sort of brief flash in the night; it reveals a gradual and systematic passage from the unconscious to the conscious, and from the conscious to the self-conscious. It is a cosmic change of state’. Perhaps like the advent of the Aquarian Age.
FROM MATTER TO SPIRIT
The world was a conception and a birth; Of Spirit in Matter into living forms, And Nature bore the Immortal in her womb; That she might climb through him to eternal life.
When 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer argued that the true nature of man is volition and his will to live, he hit the bull’s eye of the evolutionary spirit. For, in a world where Darwinian evolution of natural selection is fast giving way to volitional evolution, choice is the only faculty that is likely to dictate our future.
‘Evolution,’ wrote Theodosius Dobzhansky, Russian evolutionist, ‘need no longer be a destiny imposed from without: it may conceivably be controlled by man, in accordance with his wisdom and his values.’
And though the choices are many, from blowing ourselves out to letting entropy set in, it is conceivable that we may yet break free from the limitations that nurtured us.
‘Man himself,’ wrote Sri Aurobindo, Indian sage and philosopher, ‘may well be a thinking and living laboratory in whom, and with whose conscious cooperation, nature wills to work out the superman… to manifest God.’
And when we do that, we will reach our childhood’s end. ‘That which is above the mental being is the superman. It is to be the master of thy mind, thy life and thy body; it is to be a king over nature of whom thou art now the tool.’
The emphasis here is on the evolution of consciousness. ‘In the previous stages of the evolution Nature’s first care and effort had to be directed towards a change in the physical organisation, for only so could there be a change of consciousness,’ wrote Sri Aurobindo.
‘This was a necessity imposed by the insufficiency of the force of consciousness already in formation to effect a change in the body. But in man a reversal is possible, indeed inevitable; for it is through consciousness, through its transmutation and no longer through a new bodily organism as a first instrumentation that the evolution can and must be effected,” wrote Sri Aurobindo.
The vision here is not of a major evolutionary shift happening en masse. But a gradual, conscious process of reaching out and tapping the latent human potential.
‘There is not the least probability or possibility of the whole human race rising in a block to the supramental level, but only the capacity in the human mentality, when it has reached a certain level or a certain point of stress of the evolutionary impetus, to press towards a higher plane of consciousness,’ Sri Aurobindo wrote.
He believed that this shift would necessarily result in a change in the mental and emotional constitution. There will be great changes in the physical constitution as well, but they will be the side-effects of mental evolution.
What is a human being, then?’
‘An acorn that is unafraid to destroy itself in growing into a tree.’
-David Zindell, The Broken God
That’s the spiritual aspect of the body. But the body itself, say evolutionists, might undergo changes, though this is likely to be driven by the latest fashion statements and convenience than external evolutionary forces.
‘In this mobile world,’ says John Rennie, editor-in-chief, The Scientific American, ‘genes from all populations are constantly churning together, which works against distinct subgroups emerging with new traits.’
What, however, seems most likely in the burgeoning scientific and genetic knowhow is a technologically induced evolution, for good or for bad. ‘The technology of the late 20th Century has opened two avenues to the future evolution of Homo sapiens,’ writes Prof W. Warren Wagar, of Binghamton University.
‘One is the bioengineering of the human genome to produce improved varieties of our species.’ The second, according to him, is ‘the evolution of computer-minds, which may achieve what is often called artificial intelligence’.
Thus, when we manage to completely map our genetic structure and understand the functioning of each sequence, we may choose or discard aspects of our biological framework that we find convenient or cumbersome. So, cancer and death can be a thing of the past.
We could clone individual organs and keep transplanting them ad infinitum-perhaps even have a made-to-order body. Do away with diseases. With genetically enhanced food production, we could eliminate hunger and poverty. Live all our lives in the bloom of youth. So far, so good. But where does it stop, if ever? And does it need to?
‘When we learn the function of every strand of DNA in the manufacture of human ability and personality,’ writes Prof Wagar, ‘it will become possible to equip our offspring with all the traits we deem desirable. Despite social and religious objections to such interventions, they will ultimately take place. The result will be one or more superhuman races who may or may not co-exist harmoniously with the unmodified ‘natural’ species.’
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Because, as Prof Wagar correctly says: ‘The power to eliminate genetic defects is also the power to make human beings whatever we choose to make them.’
So, when we start to eliminate ‘undesirable’ personality traits such as criminality, psycho-social imbalances, depression and shyness, would we also not be tempted to add a few enhancements of our own, modify the psychological make-up and create a made-to-order species?
And who would decide the characteristics that a designer human should have? Parents? The government? An elite group of self-appointed guardians of humanity?
Or would it be a random selection based on the whims and fancies of individuals? The fear is there. Of the unknown, the unexplored. So are the risks.
‘The other side of every fear is a freedom,’ wrote Marilyn Ferguson, author of The Aquarian Conspiracy. And that, at the end, may be the crux of the matter. Would we stop being human if we learn how to scan the synaptic matrix of a human brain, upload it in cyber space, and live an immortal life?
Or put our bodies in cryogenic suspension, to be reanimated at a given time? Are the parameters of humanity limited to the body? If not, would a cyborg be any less human if it can be conscious?
Let us look at an excerpt from Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey: And now, out among the stars, evolution was driving toward new goals…As soon as their machines were better than their bodies, it was time to move… They no longer built spaceships. They were spaceships.
But the age of the Machine-entities swiftly passed… They had learned to store knowledge in the structure of space itself, and to preserve their thoughts for eternity in frozen lattices of light. They could become creatures of radiation, free at last from the tyranny of matter.
Into pure energy, therefore, they presently transformed themselves, beyond the reach of time…They could rove at will among the stars, and sink like a subtle mist through the very interstices of space.
Scary? Exhilarating? Perhaps both. Change is difficult. We resist change. We burn shamans for their mystic powers. We ridicule scientists for their innovations. We bury our heads in sand and hope that the change would pass us by. But it doesn’t.
‘We cannot go back to the past,’ says Adrian White, a transhumanist, ‘yet, each time the world seems on the verge of a major change, there is a massive back-to-the-good-old-days sentiment. This is ‘future shock’, a denial of change, of the unknown.
‘The idea,’ says White, ‘is to look the future in the eye, and wisely choose our options. Human beings are curious by nature, and any technological innovation that is possible will eventually happen. Be it cloning, genetic engineering or mind uploads. No amount of bans will stop that. Let’s face the obvious, choose the ethical and sociological guidelines for these experiments, and decide how it can be best utilised for humanity’s benefit.’
INTO TOMORROW, THEN
Create your future from your future, not your past.
So, what will it be? Dystopia or utopia? The science fiction genre seems to have a morbid fascination for highly mechanised, dark, subversive visions of the future. Movies such as Blade Runner and Metropolis portray a world of malevolent large corporations and mechanised androids. Here, the whole view of the society is dark, dingy, disease-infested, where only a select few of the upper classes enjoy the fruits of technology.
There is an increasing sense of isolation. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The whole set-up is quite obviously an exaggerated version of the 19th century industrial age, with a few androids and gizmos thrown in for effect.
‘Most visions of the future,’ says White, ‘especially in fiction, display our fears and not probabilities.’ Thus, you haveLogaan’s Run, where anybody over 30 has to be killed in a highly ritualistic death dance. Considering the fact that the older population is increasing by the day due to better health-care systems and a drop in mortality rates, this does not seem probable.
‘If anything,’ argues White, ‘it seems likely that the future will see more older people, at the prime of their life in their 60s, taking up the reins of the society.’
Some other popular visions of a future society include a world dominated solely by women, or by super intelligent machines, aliens and even self-sustaining, organic buildings! Yet, the visions are never quite convincing. For how does one know something without basing it on one’s present experiences? Could a Neanderthal visualise Homo sapiens?
In Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, the high point of technology lies in hot air balloons, which are used for air travel in the 21st century! The original Star Trek episodes depict alien civilizations and human customs in the mode of the ’60s flower generation. The new Star Treks seem more contemporary in the 21st century, but would they stand the scrutiny of a 24th century society? Doubtful.
Most of what we have today-political structures, family structures, accepted codes of living-may or may not remain as they are. Yet, in most visions of the future, we tend to see variants of the same form.
The family consists of the male bread-winner, the female house-keeper, with a few children in tow-what Alvin Toffler, noted futurist and author of bestsellers such as Future Shock and TheThird Wave, calls the ‘second wave’ or the industrial age family. But, in a society where women are becoming more career conscious and opt for marriage only when they choose to, this model does seem rather improbable.
‘The family structure, or even the whole societal structure,’ says White, ‘seems to be heading towards a more fluid, less confined, mode.’ ‘The frequently asked question, ‘what is the future of the family’,’ writes Toffler in The Third Wave, ‘usually implies that as the second wave nuclear family loses its dominance, some other form will replace it.’
But that may not be the case. ‘A more likely outcome is that… we will see a high variety of family structures. Rather than masses of people living in uniform family arrangements, we shall see people moving through this system, tracing personalised trajectories during the course of their lives.’
And that, at the end, seems to be the crux of the matter. To choose, to customise, to take the responsibility of creating the future we want to see. ‘We must begin with ourselves,’ writes Toffler in Creating a New Civilisation, ‘teaching ourselves not to close our minds prematurely to the novel, the surprising, the seemingly radical.’ For ‘like the generations of the revolutionary dead, we have a destiny to create’.
THE OMEGA POINT
We know what we are, but know not what we may be.
So, where are we going? The visions are varied, from the spiritual version of the human consciousness rising to reach the Godhood, to the technological dream of a highly evolved species that reaches out to the universe. And, come to think of it, are they really that different?
The underlying truth is that we are living at the threshold of change, uncertain of where this may lead us. There is much fear, and hesitation. Yet, we glimpse the possibilities of what we can be in unguarded moments of epiphany. It could be a promise. Or merely a hope.
But somehow, we believe that this is not the end. That there can be no end. Because, as the singers Moody Blues would say, like ‘the wonder of flowers, to be covered, and then to burst up, through tarmac, to the sun again…or to fly to the sun, without burning a wing,’ we seek to reach out, each moment, each hour, each day, to find the lost chord. Perhaps it is right here.
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· By the year 2010, regular offices will be passé. Most of the work will be telework, and those who don’t work from home will go to telework centres in their own locality, reducing work and travel stress.· Computer controls will be handled by voice commands.
· At the end of 2010, contact lenses will use laser beams to draw pictures straight onto the wearer’s retinas.
· Home décor will include screens hanging on walls. You can program these to display works of art, virtual fish tanks, or windows looking out onto a Bahamas beach.
· Insect-like robots will keep your carpets clean, trim the grass, tidy up, or monitor household security. Robotic pets that look like kittens or teddy bears will be the craze.
· Electronic glasses can be worn for work, or for simulated games. You could participate in the plots of television programmes and interact with other viewers.
· With the increasing reach of cyberspace, friendships may get confusing with computer programmes masquerading as people and vice versa. But this socialising with people in other countries will create a mixed culture. It may lead to more loyalty towards network-based communities than local geographic community.
· The power of the government will decline as the cyber communities grow.
· New surveillance technologies are likely to reduce crime at the price of a loss of privacy.
· Age will be an added asset, since experience will count. We can expect to live longer, but also remain healthier.
· Nanotechnology will allow us to put micro-machines living inside our bodies, reinforcing the body’s own defences and maintenance systems.
· Commuting will be easier with advanced road traffic navigation systems. All we’ll have to do, is tell the computer about our destination and the time when we want to reach there, and it will chart out the best course.
With every car having automatic systems that communicate with those in other cars, it will be possible to more than double the capacity of the roads. Taking the human out of the system will increase safety enormously.
Source: British Telecom’s Technology Calendar