This one was sent to me by my co-author in Transhumanism: A Grimoire of Alchemical Agendas, Dr. Scott D. de Hart, and it made me think even more just how prophetic Percy (not Mary) Shelley’s 1818 Frankenstein really is:
One really doesn’t know where to begin here. Dr. de Hart and I wrote at some length in Tranhumanism, and I have commented here on this website often enough, about the DARPA-esque combinations of emerging technologies. We are familiar, of course, with the implication that each emerging technology – genetic engineering, nanotechnology, robotics, information processing – is on its own and independently driving human progress at ever more geometrical rates. But it is when these technologies are used in various combinations with each other, that the vistas become truly breathtaking, both in the good, and bad, potentials. Here is a case in point: the combination of 3-D printing with genetic engineering, and an implied Frankensteinian implication – we are tempted to call it a “temptational imperative” – indicated by the following paragraph:
“Biomedical engineer Utkan Demirci, of Harvard University Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has done pioneering work in printing cells, and thinks the new study is taking it in an exciting direction. ‘This technology could be really good for high-throughput drug testing,’ Demirci told LiveScience. ‘One can build mini-tissues from the bottom up, using a repeatable, reliable method, he said. Building whole organs is the long-term goal’, Demirci said, though he cautioned that it ‘may be quite far from where we are today.’
“Others have created printers for other types of cells. Demirci and colleagues made one that printed embryonic stem cells from mice. Others have printed a kind of human stem cells from connective tissues, which aren’t able to develop into as many cell types as embryonic stem cells. The current study is the first to print embryonic stem cells from humans, researchers report in the Feb. 5 issue of the journal Biofabrication.”
Permit me to take a moment and record my reaction to these paragraphs. I must confess, I sat for some time in a rather stunned silence, particularly at the very last word in the above citations: “biofabrication.” Erasmus Darwin. Percy Shelley. Viktor Frankenstein pouring over his manuscripts and studying alchemy. Biofabrication… not just a word, but an actual scientific journal!
And lest we be in any doubt: “Building whole organs is the long-term goal.” But I suspect that here the good Dr. Demirci is being a bit disingenuous: if one can build whole organs – and not, pace Viktor Frankenstein, slinking about laboratories and morgues looking for “leftovers” – then why indeed not whole bodies? After all, that is determined, so to speak, by the kind of biological “context” in which they develop:
“In a lab dish, hESCs can be placed in a solution that contains the biological cues that tell the cells to develop into specific tissue types, a process called differentiation.”
The same cells with the same information, developing differently depending on contextual biological clues… indeed, a kind of new alchemy, with “biofabrication” the new, jazzed-up DARPA-esque word for a very old alchemical idea: the homunculus, developed in a flask of all things, with – if one reads the texts a certain way – its own bio-contextual clues.The pattern seems, by now, all too familiar: the basic ideas have been around for a very very long time. The technological particulars – the filling in of the details – comes with time and technological advancement. But the memes themselves, the very basic kernel concepts, seem to be, in this case at least, unchanged, leaving us to wonder, once again, at the genius – or lack thereof – of the ancients, and what they might have known. And leaving us to wonder again, at Shelley, reading those same manuscripts, and prophesying of a future that is now unfolding before our very eyes.
See you on the flip side.