Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Countdown to Hallowe'en 19: Return of the Dead

Image Source: Byte Size Biology.

For this month's Countdown to Hallowe'en blogathon, I am writing horror posts which relate to themes on this blog. However, some Millennial Bad Ideas I cover are so horrific in their own right that they are a horror story or film waiting to happen. No one has fictionalized them yet.

Some archaeologists and Prehistory theorists imagine that the history of advanced humans runs back tens of thousands of years earlier than thought, with environmental disasters such as Ice Ages and Atlantean flood events periodically wiping humankind's collective memory of what came before. (See my regular posts on Prehistory here.)

Others, however, look to a future in which the secrets of the deep past may simply be brought back to life and studied. I09 recently dismissed the cloning of Woolly Mammoths, but with new specimens turning up in Russian permafrost, that possibility persists. The horrific Millennial reality for today is the debate on the DNA research on, and potential cloning of, the Neanderthal. Apparently, the feat could be accomplished for about $30 million. By contrast, sending astronauts to Mars would cost somewhere between $40 and $80 billion.

This is a Millennial take on already popular zombies and immortality of the resurrected: a separate human species became extinct, but could be revived by modern science. While there is nothing wrong with the work to decode the Neanderthal genome, the misapplication of that knowledge would be another matter.

Skeletons, from left to right, of a chimpanzee, a modern human and a Neanderthal at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Image Source: NYT.

Never let it be said that modern science and technology possess the capacity for resolving the moral quandaries they create! There is no doubt that if cloned Neanderthals were miraculously revived post-extinction, Millennial humans' most brutal and savage impulses would appear, and initiate a great overhaul of world societies. After all, the way in which Neanderthals became extinct is a mystery; but it could have to do with competition with modern humans. We would restart an ancient conflict. There is also a question of whether extinction is somehow bound up with a fateful destiny in evolutionary terms. Did Neanderthals become extinct because the conditions to which they were best suited gradually disappeared?

Certainly, with the return of the Neanderthal, there would be few qualms about reviving the institution of slavery. We have learned little from the history of slavery and its abolition. Modern trends confirm this: in the United States alone, there are today between 14,000 and 18,000 slaves annually entering the country. Despite the likely resort to slavery in the possible case of widespread cloning of Neanderthals, there would also be star-crossed love affairs and interspecies offspring. And given Neanderthals' possibly superior cranial capacity, there would be slave rebellions. I discussed other potential implications of cloned Neanderthals here.

Here are a few links on this brewing debate:
Mike Treder of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies puts the debate to the online public in a simple poll:
So, what do you think? If we can create Neanderthal clones, should we? A new IEET reader poll asks for your opinion, with these possible responses:
  • No, their existence in a modern world would be untenable.
  • Yes, we owe it to them since we killed them.
  • No, because they might kill us.
  • Yes, it would be an interesting experiment.
  • No, because that would be “playing God.”
  • I have mixed feelings and can’t decide.
Please give us your input!

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  1. This idea seemed so bizarre that I looked up a bunch of stories. I came upon this link:

    where it says:
    "In northern Spain 49,000 years ago, 11 Neanderthals were murdered. Their tooth enamel shows that each of them had gone through several periods of severe starvation, a condition their assailants probably shared. Cut marks on the bones indicate the people were butchered with stone tools. About 700 feet inside El Sidrön cave, a research team including Lalueza-Fox excavated 1,700 bones from that cannibalistic feast. Much of what is known about Neanderthal genetics comes from those 11 individuals."

    One can really see the H.P. Lovecraft plot mimicked by reality here: rebuilding a neanderthal using the DNA of known cannibals.

  2. Thanks for the link, Anon. Would it not be reconstruction from DNA of known victims of cannibals? I agree that it is very weird and cloning a being who lived naturally under such circumstances would spell disaster in our times.