Remember Dolly? I do. I was twenty years old in July of 1996. Back then, I spent most of my free time smoking marijuana, hiking and recording music in my tiny bedroom studio. You might say I was on a spiritual quest of sorts (think: Frodo). So it must have been one evening, feeling more than a little frustrated with the progress I was making on a particular song, when the announcement came across the television that researchers in Scotland had successfully cloned a sheep, named Dolly. I remember grabbing the first thing I could find and tearing it up- it was my mattress. Needless to say, I was against cloning.
Ever since, I’ve been trying to understand why I reacted so strongly to the news. My wife jokes with me now, “Don’t go tearing up our mattress” when I get enraged over some bit of disturbing news, and there is a lot of that out there. Yet, I’ve never quite matched that peak of intensity. I haven’t become desensitized, just more tempered. If not, this blog would be full of insane ranting, and there is a lot of that out there, too. It wasn’t so much a reaction to Dolly herself, I’m sure she was a very pleasant sheep, completely oblivious of her artificial conception, it was the realization that if they could now clone sheep, soon they would move to clone human beings. In fact, since Dolly, scientists have been successful at cloning other mammals, like horses and bulls and it is fairly routine now for scientists to experiment with chimeras, or creatures made up of elements from more than one species. For example, mice with human brain cells or pigs with human blood, all in the name of advancing science and medicine. Surely somewhere, somebody, in a top-secret lab, is experimenting with human cloning right now. Human curiosity, especially under the manipulation of unscrupulous benefactors, frequently outstrips our sense of morals, with unforeseen, sometimes grave consequences.
There seemed to be a buzzing in the air
The barnyard creatures settled off to bed
All at once they heard the sound
Soft vibration filled the ground
Now it came as they were sleeping
Now the magic science knife
Is cutting up the molecules of gold
Now the magic scientists
Patching up the fabric of the soul
A slip of the coil
From “Clone” by The Meat Puppets 
The line, “a slip of the coil” from the Meat Puppets’ song “Clone” might be referring to the double-helix structure of DNA, with the “slip” forcasting a mistake. Knowing the Meat Puppets, it could also mean nothing at all. But the message seems clear enough; science is continually unveiling a universe so complex in its simplicity that we would be foolish to assume we understand any of it, much less seek to control it.
I can’t help but be reminded of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We all know it. Is this not like eating from the forbidden tree? In the book of Genesis, Satan appears to Eve and lies:
And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
In the Qur’an, the story of Adam and Eve is similar, except that Satan claims Adam and Eve would become like the angels or immortal by eating from the tree which God forbade:
Then began Satan to whisper suggestions to them, bringing openly before their minds all their shame that was hidden from them (before): he said: “Your Lord only forbade you this tree, lest ye should become angels or such beings as live for ever.”
It is understood that “bringing openly before their minds all their shame that was hidden from them” means their reproductive parts were revealed to them. In fact, some versions of the Qur’an translate the Arabic as such. Might we speculate that becoming aware of their private parts, while causing them to feel shy for the first time, also made them aware of their mortality? Angels are immortal spirit beings whom God created prior to creating human beings. They do not possess reproductive parts because they do not need them. I’m not a religious scholar, but perhaps the shame came not from modesty about their nakedness, or guilt from their disobedience to God, but from knowledge of their inferiority to the angels and Satan (who is not a fallen angel in Islam, but another being called a jinn, made from fire). In the Islamic account of creation, Satan would not bow down to mankind, whom he considered lesser beings, made of clay, more akin to the animals and susceptible to instinctual drives. He was jealous of Adam and Eve and vowed to lead them astray. Part of Satan’s strategy was to make humans feel lowly and then manipulate them though their desires. Yes, first he damaged their self-esteem, then through careful persuasion along the way, caused them to choose bad relationships and ruin their lives- sound familiar?
In both religious texts, it is recorded that Adam and Eve became ashamed of their nakedness- of their humanness- by listening to Satan and responded to their new awareness by covering themselves. So, while Islam places no more blame on Eve than Adam and there is no concept of original sin from which a redeemer is needed to free us, it is clear that in Abrahamic thought, evil has its origin in Satan’s defiance of God and his mission to disgrace God’s favorite creation- us. The creation story is an allegory of the human condition. Our very existence, at times, seems like an experiment dreamt up in heaven. Our moral struggles are reflective of a greater struggle going on in the spirit world. Regardless of your religious tradition, there is a mystical truth concealed here that binds all of humanity together.
It is also taught that Satan is a deceiver. Christians say that Satan disguises himself as an “angel of light.” To shed light is to illuminate, to give knowledge. And who has made “Don’t be evil” their motto? Google of course; the same company that seeks to create artificial intelligence that will “be like the mind of God”; the same company that recently appointed Ray Kurzweil, the renowned trans-humanist, as their director of engineering. As a proponent of trans-humanism, Kurzweil believes that we can transcend our own humanity by controlling the aging process:
“We have the means right now to live long enough to live forever. Existing knowledge can be aggressively applied to dramatically slow down aging processes so we can still be in vital health when the more radical life extending therapies from biotechnology and nanotechnology become available.”
– Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near
The September 30, 2013 issue of Time Magazine featured the cover story: Can Google Solve Death? In it, the article discusses Calico, Google’s new venture into life-extension technology. Trans-humanists believe human beings can, through the aid of technology, control our own evolution. They envision a time where human beings merge with technology, becoming post-human, essentially a new species. If that doesn’t disturb you, then perhaps the announcement that Google has acquired Boston Dynamics will. Boston Dynamics is an engineering and robotics firm which sprouted from MIT in the early nineties. It is the eighth robotics company Google has snatched up in recent months. With funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Boston Dynamics has developed some of the most advanced robots and AI software in the world, much of it for military use. For example, BigDog is a quadrupedal robot meant to accompany soldiers in battle. It is capable of carrying up to 340 lbs. of gear while traveling at 4 mph. Atlas is a six-foot-tall humanoid robot designed to cover rough terrain and assist in search-and-rescue operations. Google’s emerging robotics division is being overseen by Andy Rubin, the executive responsible for the development of Android, the world’s most widely used smartphone software. Regarding Google’s acquisition of his company, Boston Dynamics founder Dr. Marc Raibert said in a recent New York Times article, “I am excited by Andy and Google’s ability to think very, very big… with the resources to make it happen.” The internet giant has been suspiciously quiet about what it has in the works, however.
I think I’m on the brink of another “Dolly” moment. Trans-humanists and proponents of a world increasingly reliant on technology might refer to me as a Neo-Luddite, because of my resistance to these sorts of “advancements”. Well, sticks and stones. I’m not against scientific reasoning or human advancement, but with each scientific endeavor, should we not be carefully analyzing our motives, especially considering prior advances in technology which almost always result in more inequality and de-humanization? Always under the guise of helping people or making life more convenient, technology masquerades as a savior, but really only increases the scope and influence of the power-elite.
I am convinced the true power of human consciousness lies dormant, forgotten. Only a few enlightened ones throughout history have glimpsed the possibilities of the human mind and have understood our role in the universe. Technology will never solve the problem of death, because it is not a problem to be solved. Technology will never succeed at traveling through space or time or contacting alien intelligences, because, these are not puzzles technology can piece together. I believe we will not advance through better and faster microchips, but through complete freedom from material limitations. But I’m just One American, what do I know?