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Atomised


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I just finished reading Atomised: Elementary Particles by the author Michel Houllebecq.

 

I would have put this in the reviews section, but the topic, while fiction, fits much better in the science category. Like his other book Platform, Atomised is an excellent read, but the profound nature of this book lay not in his ingenious prose, but in the ideas he proffers.

 

This book it seems is the 21st Century equivalent to 1984 in that it imagines the future in a unique, insightful, and profound way. For the first time I see the potential for the new age claims that we can be "gods" as perhaps having some merit.

 

In case anyone thinks I've lost my skeptical marbles, give me a minute to explain.

 

The book follows the life a a molecular biology scientist named Michael Djerzinski and it is written from the perspective of a historian some 50 odd years in the future.

 

Without going into too much detail, Djerzinski identifies the ability to isolate individual genes that can be perfectly mapped to specific traits. Genes can be isolated from any mutations and with the genome mapped out in full detail, he figured out the process by which humans could safely modify their own genetics.

 

In the Epilogue, the historian narrator described how Djerzinski's discoveries started a revolution in the field of molecular biology, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

 

The implications offered by the author are profound. That is that mankind can someday be in complete control of the genetic evolutionary development and that they could design their own evolution, bypassing natural selection and choosing the traits that humans decide are most beneficial and deleting those traits that are assumed detrimental.

 

Getting back to the epilogue. In the fictional future, mankind in the form of the homo sapien is a race that is quickly moving toward extinction. New man is a genetically modified, cloned life form that is highly intelligent, feminine, a-sexual (though with much more sexual sensitivity due to the isolation of the nerves found primarily on the glans and clitoris, now more widely distributed for greater pleasure and satisfaction) that can theoretically live forever. They live forever due to their mastery of the cloning process and ability to select out any harmful genetic material.

 

In a sense, they become gods.

 

 

Thoughts?

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While my initial reaction is "living forever? sweet!" I think that if aging and natural death were halted, people would become a lot more paranoid, which would suck a lot of the joy out of life. After all, when we're faced with dangerous situations, we often realise that hey, we're gonna die eventually, right? If aging is stopped, suddenly the stakes become a lot higher...

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It sounds like the old old story, Subdue the Earth, to me.

 

I think that it has a falacy, but before I get to it I must say that I don't doubt that the senerio of controling genetics is possible.

 

The falacy is that understanding and controling one feature of nature will produce some better world. The trouble is that there is more to nature, the universe, and everything than genetic code. I can't imagine that even an inhanced human mind can foresee the trail of dominos leading from this possibility or any other new tecnology. How would we design an ideal human when we can't design even design an ideal zoom lens?

 

For humans as a whole there is something that I think of as comfort entropy. That is, an increase in comfort for a minority of humans here and there neccesarily causes an increase in misery for the remainder of the population. This is simply eugenics taken from the breeding pen to the labratory. We've seen plenty misery from that idea in the past.

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The falacy is that understanding and controling one feature of nature will produce some better world.

 

The author actually paints the picture much more dark.

 

Nevertheless, I think the possibilities he raises do have some potential to become reality and much, if not all of these issues may be a matter of when, not if. Contemplating this blows down the doors of contemporary philosophical thought I think and means that it may be necessary to take those thoughts in another direction as we contemplate not only the morality of the issue (which we may not be given the choice to debate), but the implications of such a future.

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In fiction, immortal characters always end up paying some sort of price for their immortality. I can't think that it would be any different in real life.

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True Am.

 

Here's another thought though. Currently we base all projections about future development of humanity necessarily on the past. Human beings have certain traits that carry over from their ape-man past and even further, back to their reptilian past.

 

However, say highly intelligent humans engineer in traits that they consider positive and productive and engineer out traits that they determine counterproductive. This engineered new species would then not have the same evolutionary past to use as a predictive model. We can guess at the outcome, but the guesses at this point would be completely random.

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