THE TRANSHUMANIST SCRAPBOOK: THE BIONIC MAN COMING TO LIFE: FIRSTS IN ...February 14, 2014
Some of us are old enough to remember the sci-fi television series called The Six Million Dollar Man, starring actor Lee Majors. Majors played astronaut Steve Austin, who was severely injured in an accident. In the opening sequence of each episode, the audience is assured that Austin can be "rebuilt" and be "even better than before," because we now have the technology to do so. In its own right, The Six Million Dollar Man was one of the earliest and most successful cultural airings of the types of alchemical memes in the transhumanist movement that my co-author Dr Scott deHart and I wrote about in our book Transhumanism A Grimoire of Alchemical Agendas.
In the process of rebuilding Austin, the series' scriptwriters give him a "bionic eye" with a "zoom lens" and nightvision, "bionic legs" that allow him to run as fast as an average car cruising comfortably along down the autobahn, and a bionic arm with great strength and various sensing capabilities.
When the series came out, of course, all of these things were far in the future(and still are in some cases), but not that far. Already technicians and engineers have designed artificial retinas, and it takes no great leap of television imagination to envision technological enhancements to allow humans to see much better in the dark, ala Majors' "bionic eye" with its night vision.
But surely one of the more significant things that the transhumanist movement has envisioned is a whole new era of prosthetics, of replacement limbs that can actually feel in a way approximating nature feel and touch.
Wait no more, the first generation of such prosthetics is already here:
The key to the success of the hand is the feedback principle, for rather than trying to mimic the behavior of nerves and sensations, the new prosthetic relies upon an interaction between its wearer and the sensors in the prosthetic:
"In a month-long clinical trial, Sørensen tested the hand, sometimes wearing a blindfold and earplugs so he could rely only on his sense of touch when using the hand. Sørensen was able to control how forcefully he grasped objects, and feel their shape and stiffness. He could tell the differences among hard, medium and soft objects, and identify the shapes of specific objects such as a cylindrical bottle or round baseball. [Images: Bionic Hand That Can Feel]
"Sørensen told researchers that the artificial sense of touch was similar to the natural feeling he experienced in his other hand.
"In contrast with previous approaches to replace a lost sense of touch by, for example, vibrating the skin, the new approach provides "anatomically appropriate feedback," researchers said.
"'By directly stimulating the nerves, it's possible that you can appropriately restore that sensory feedback,' said Levi Hargrove, an electrical engineer at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, who was not involved in the research."
It's still a long way off from the type of prosthetic envision in the series, for the sensors are still external to the prosthetic itself. It is nonetheless a milestone, for it is now in the open literature that a sensation of touch has been restored via a prosthetic limb.
One wonders, then, what medical wonders lie buried in the world of black projects and breakaway civilizations? Perhaps that was what the real point of The Six Million Dollar Man was... the only thing that has probably changed is the price tag.
IN any case, however, this story is a reminder that not everything going on in the world is bad. There is good news. It is what we do with this news, that in the final analysis makes it good or bad.
See you on the flip side...