Modified Biological Entities Or Cybernetic Man – A 1963 Discussion On Space Travel

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Must Tomorrow’s Man Look Like This? (Popular Science, Nov, 1963)

Must Tomorrow’s Man Look Like This? (Popular Science, Nov, 1963)

Dehumanized and drugged, transistorized and plugged with electronic replacements for natural parts, a spaceman might survive. But would you still think of him as human?

The illustration above is from the November, 1963, issue of Popular Science magazine. The article is credited to Toby Freedman. M.D., and Gerald S. Lindner, M.D.. It’s a discussion about adapting man for space travel and exploration, and it’s remarkably dramatic. Below are the last few paragraphs from the article. If you’re curious enough to read the full article this link will take you to the terrific Modern Mechanix webpage for your enjoyment.

More profound is the biological approach, which seeks to understand adaptive mechanisms in other forms of life and apply them to man. Instead of hooking up a transistorized organ, the object here is to enable the subject to grow one. This is not as inaccessible as it sounds. Remove one kidney and the other one grows large to sustain the load.

Wonders or horrors? What guide can we look for to direct us in the development of these new powers? For if we can raise people’s general performance with stimulants, we can also reduce them to automatons with depressants, and dissociate them with hallucinating drugs. We can interchange their organs or intercept their heredity by scrambling their DNA. In short, we can alter them in any direction, letting loose in the world forces more powerful and menacing than anything that came out of the atom.

As in the case of the atom, are we going to back into this and find ourselves facing catastrophe without a policy? I have no answers to this question – simply a plea that we start thinking about it.

Let us plan to improve man as we modify him. Let us, while taking over from nature, follow her lead. The keynote is gradual improvement. We should try to optimize those capacities and abilities man already has, by all means available, but avoid radically tampering with the basic mechanism.

In contrast to the astronaut who accomplishes his space mission at the cost of trading most of his physiological systems for electronic ones, whose mouth is sealed, his lungs collapsed, his body wastes recycled through himself, his neural pathways partly severed, and his emotions dissected out we see another. We envision a man who looks quite normal, but who has been adapted to the oxygen requirements of a Himalayan Sherpa, the heat resistance of a walker-on-coals; who needs less food than a hermit, has the strength of Sonny Liston, and runs the mile in three, minutes flat while solving problems in tensor analysis in his head. We call him Optiman, and we think we can make him in the near future.

It we don’t, the Russians will.

(h/t to Sweet Dreams‘ Tumblr for the tip)

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