Human Exceptionalism

Transhumanism: The Early Years

A reader sent a funny old story to me from Modern Mechanix (“Yesterday’s Tomorrow, Today”), circa 1956. The article is about transhumanism, long before the term was coined, and it ponders some of the ways that science might “redesign” the human body. Here’s an excerpt:

Man’s shape, then, would be altered rather drastically: The head would be a mere conning tower, probably be cylindrical, and the chest would have to be bigger. While redesigning the thorax Mr. Rowland brought forth another fairly radical suggestion: “Why is it necessary to have individual ribs? Why can’t man’s internal organs be protected with a device resembling a giant clam shell which can be opened easily for surgical purposes, be flexible enough to permit breathing and which would protect the vital organs a good deal better than the present lattice-work arrangement?”

Well, that sure gives the notion of “post human species” a vivid imagery, doesn’t it? There’s more:

Robert M. Wolff, an engineer and vice president of the Wolff Appliance Corp. of New York came out for an extra set of eyes in the back of the head. “At present,” he said, “a human being’s range of vision is at most 180 degrees and it’s often much less than that. Why shouldn’t man’s vision be increased to a full 360 degrees?”
Ben Fromkin, a designer with the Burdick-Rowland firm, points out that man has trouble picking up small sounds emanating from the rear. Thus footpads, automobiles and falling objects may strike from behind without warning. Why, asks Mr. Fromkin, couldn’t antennae be concealed in the head? These could pick up sound waves, lights and shadows, and relay them to the brain. The suggestion is not plucked from the blue–grasshoppers and other insects have them.

Adding wings was also suggested, bringing us closer to contemporary transhumanist thinking. However, the good people at the long defunct Popular Mechanix never considered going for immortality. That would hardly be Yesterday’s Tomorrow, Today: It would be Never-Never Land.

HT: John Lochridge