Ok... I'll bet you're asking yourself, "What the heck is Russian Cosmism?" It's not an easy question to answer, particularly for a Western audience unfamiliar with Russian philosophy, or for that matter, the huge role of Eastern Orthodoxy in Russian culture. Needless to say, any attempt to summarize an entire philosophical school of movement in a few sentences in a paragraph is doomed to failure. With that caveat in mind, here goes:
Cosmism is a school of thought that developed from - and in some cases, in opposition to - the thought of the Russian philosopher Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov (1829-1903), a man of vast intellect, reading, and influence within Russian letters and thought. Briefly put (all too briefly!), for Fyodorov the Orthodox understanding of the Resurrection, not just of Christ, but eventually, of humanity, was not just a doctrine; it was an agenda to be achieved and applied by the advance of science. It was a task that mankind had to fulfill as a co-worker with God. In this respect, Fyodorov actually believed, and maintained, that as science advanced, one would have to literally collect the dust of all of one's ancestors that was in the Earth, and use it to "reconstruct" or resurrect them. Fyodorov also envisioned this "ancestral dust collecting and resurrection" project coupled with the human colonization - the humanization - of the entire universe. To make it over in man's image was to make it over in God's image. One may, in view of this all too brief summary of Cosmist thought, think of "Cosmism" as a kind of Russian transhumanism without the rejection of religion (in some cases, though there were, subsequently, "secular" cosmists). Think of Fyodorov's "resurrection" and "ancestral dust collection" project as a kind of Jurassic Park, but for people, not dinosaurs.
Well, being somewhat familiar with the movements and currents of Russian philosophy, one can imagine my reaction when Mr. S.D. shared the following article with me; my jaw was on the floor, and the first thing I thought of was... well, Nikolai Fryodorovich Fyodorov, who doubtless would have enthused over the article:
Now, in case you don't have the time to read the whole story, here's the crux of it:
It's no wonder then that a Harvard geneticist refers to a new technique of recovering human DNA without bones, described in a study published in Science Thursday, as a "real revolution in technology," per the New York Times.
German researchers took dirt samples at seven cave sites in Europe and Asia where Neanderthals or Denisovans once lived. Four returned Neanderthal DNA, and one of the four sites contained Denisovan DNA, per a release, which notes many of the sediment samples were taken from archaeological layers or sites that hadn't previously yielded bones.
"It's a bit like discovering that you can extract gold dust from the air," as one geneticist puts it. Researchers had previously taken animal DNA from sediment, but this study describes the first successful effort involving human DNA.
It involved collecting samples at sites where human bones or tools had been found and using molecules that recognize mammalian mitochondrial DNA to "fish out" the material, which sticks to minerals in sediment. (Emphasis added)
Let that sink in for a moment: human DNA - thousands of years old - is recoverable from dirt.
Now let's speculate wildly here: combine this new capability, with that of cloning, the new techniques of "artificial wombs", and voila! Your test-tube baby might actually be - as Fyodorov speculated over a century ago - a long-lost relative or ancestor, at least, physically speaking. Of course, some readers will spot the philosophical problem: is a clone necessarily the same person? Well, not necessarily: identical twins have essentially the same DNA, but can be very different personalities and persons.
Nonetheless, the major outlines of Fyodorov's "ancestral dust collection" and "resurrection" project are beginning to fall into place. And with it, so are the major outlines of novelist Ira Levin's Boys from Brazil...
... I don't know about you, but I'd rather not live in a world of Ivan the Terribles, Napoleon Bonapartes, Pol Pots, Josef Stalins or Mao Tse-Dungs. The current bumper crop of malcontents is bad enough.
See you on the flip side...