Last week I blogged about the achievement of scientists at Harvard growing a kind of cyborg electrical tissue of sensors out of a biological matrix. Well folks, the transhumanist genie is not only out of the bottle, but appears to be growing week by week, as this article sent to me by Mr. D.W. in the United Kingdom, attests:
Now, as the article notes, all this is being done in the noble pursuit of trying to help stroke victims (with, let it be noted, Stem cells, which brings to immediate mind all sorts of ethical questions, not the least of which is: how were they obtained?). But as I was reading this, I could not but help be reminded of this passage from Percy Shelley's great novel Frankenstein (and yes, once again, I said Percy Shelley, not Mary Shelley, and to all the academics who will object, I respond only: "Get real!"). This passage was pointed out to me by my friend Dr Scott de Hart as we were researching and writing Transhumanism: A Grimoire of Alchemical Agendas, and Dr. de Hart was quick to point out not only the general transhumanist "aura" but even the specific technical vocabulary of alchemy:
"I collected bones from charnel houses; and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame. In a solitary chamber, or rather, cell, at the top of the house, and separated from all the other apartments by a gallery and a staircase, I kept my workshop of filthy creation; my eyeballs were starting from their sockets in attending to the details of my employment. The dissecting room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials; and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation, whilst, still urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased, I brought my work near to a conclusion.
"I wished, as it were, to procrastinate all that related to my feelings of affection until the great object, which swallowed up every habit of my nature, should be completed."(Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, The Original 1818 Text, Boradview Literary Texts, pp. 82-83. Obviously, for sake of academic citation, I cite Mary Shelley as the author, not Percy, though I disagree with this standard academic dogma and maintain that Percy is the real author, a case my co-author Dr de Hart will make in an upcoming book).
"The great object" is, of course, "alchemy's great work," the confection of the Philosophers' Stone, the creation of life, and manipulation and transformation of man from "base metal" to "gold." Within esoteric alchemy, this process of transmutation was, of course, primarily viewed as an interior or spiritual process alone. But in the hands of a Shelley and others, following traditions of the art handed down through von Hohenheim (aka Paracelsus), it was also an actual material technique and technology. Shelley, genius that he was, foresaw the transhumanist future of a century and a half later, and began to write, and in his own way, to warn of it.
With this article, we have a similar alchemist's brew:
- Neurons were grown on top of a computer chip that has an array of electrodes.
- Adult stem cells are added.
- After a month, the "brain in a dish" generated super bursts of activity.
- That activity could one day stimulate quiet areas to reboot after a stroke or other brain damage."
As I mentioned, hovering over this article, as I read it, was Shelley's Frankenstein, for there is no real reason why such a technology would have to be used to aid stroke victims, and indeed, perhaps that is just "the cover story" being put out to assuage a nervous and still very Victorian public. What if this technology - in some deep dark closet of Viktor Frankensteins, working away isolated from public view and scrutiny- was but one of the necessary steps along the way to create the brains of the homunculus of Paracelsus, of alchemy? What if, when all is said and done, when all the stories of geneticists growing human blood in pigs and human ears and hearts in rats, and culturing stem cells, and now, the brain cells of rats on silicon chips, is for the purpose of creating the alchemical homunculus?
If this sounds far fetched, think again, but to see just how deeply alchemical all this "modern" science really is, you'll have to wait for the book... in the meantime, I come away from this article thinking once again of that early nineteenth century literary genius named Shelley, and of his haunting transhumanist vision of the future, a vision that even he, through the mouth of his protagonist Viktor Frankenstein, had to express both the misgivings, and the mania of alchemy.
See you on the flip side....