Humanity at the Edge:
The Rise and Fall of Humankind? By Winfried Karl Rudloff
Governors State University, USA Humanity at the Edge: The Rise and Fall of Humankind? Prologue The two faces of Janus: Atomic energy or atomic destruction.
Genetic Engineering: Homunculus or a way to improve our quality of life?
Programming the mind for good or evil?
The world: Clashing of the cultures or a melting pot of humanity's ideas?
Epilogue: Is there a future for the human dinosaur?
We are at a decisive crossroad. Human knowledge has reached heights never thought possible before. One should recognize that knowledge in itself is neutral. However, it is the dualism in humanity that forces us to apply our knowledge for good or for evil. In this lecture we will discuss the dualism in nature and in human behavior that are important in the assessment of humanity's future survival.
We find dualism all around us; it is in our understanding of true or false, good or bad, yes or no, plus or minus; it is in our sexuality. It, certainly, is in our binary computers with their “on” and “off” switches as the basic mechanism to communicate with them in “machine language”. Our world of dualism is reflected in Einstein’s equation,
E = mc2 where there is a relationship between the energy, E, and matter, m, and where the velocity of light, c, is supposedly the limiting speed that can be attained although this has come recently into question by experiments conducted at the CERN Supercollider1.
But then, there is always some fuzziness in between. There is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle2 that states that our experiments in quantum physics exploring the microcosm can only be as precise within the limits as given by Planck’s constant, ħ = h/2π, or expressed as:
ΔxΔpx ≥ h/4π or ΔEΔt ≥ h/4π
There is fuzziness in nature; many plants are bisexual, so are humans, “Hermaphrodites” as the Greeks termed persons with gonadal anomalies. There is fuzziness in our political systems as politicians distort the facts to their own personal gain. Our legal system is fuzziness at large when the US Supreme Court declares corporations to be persons.
Lofti Zadeh developed the concepts of “Fuzzy Sets”3 or “Fuzzy Logic”4 that puts into logical context the observation that nothing is absolute; there are always shades of gray between the black and the white; between the good and the bad, between the beautiful and the ugly; as there are “almost” gates between the conditional “true” or “false” in the “not” gates of our digital computers.
Indeed, there is vagueness in our communications when we misunderstand the intentions of our neighbors. Indoctrination of the young and ignorant has led to global wars and terroristic suicide with almost total destruction. Communication is the most difficult endeavor in human interaction.
The two faces of Janus: Atomic energy or atomic destruction. Human nature is binary; the physical as well as the behavioral, mental or spiritual. The physical nature is exemplified in the differences in sexes. Any new scientific discovery and technological achievement is subject to our inborn dualistic behavior. The two faces of Janus5, the ancient god, look at “the good, the bad, and the ugly”.
Homo Scientificus explores the macro- and the microcosm with the tools of mathematics, the most abstract language of all. Yet it is Homo Technicus, the technician of opportunism who applies such knowledge for good or for bad. The atomic bomb was developed to fight evil with even more devilish evil. Like the plague or cockroaches in a garbage pail, atomic weapons are proliferating all over this earth and Al-Quaida’s dirty bomb is looming over the horizon.
Nuclear power plants were supposed to be the solution to our energy problem; a seemingly positive application of atomic energy. However, disposal of nuclear waste with half-lives of thousands or more years has become an overwhelming problem for our environment; not to mention the disaster in Fukushima. Goethe’s “Der Zauberlehrling, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice“, summarizes it all:
Die ich rief, die Geister,
The spirits that I called upon
werd' ich nun nicht los.
I can’t get rid of them!
We have become slaves of our energy consumption. What has brought us freedom of movement over continents and oceans - that is the good and beautiful - has made us dependent on the greed of oil barons and Wall Street - the bad and the ugly. It has diminished our quality of life as man-made pollution has poisoned our air, water, and soil. Global warming is here as we observe flooding all over the world. Having passed over Greenland almost every year during my travel to Europe and back, I saw the ice cover melt away at an alarming rate.
The transition from alchemy to modern day chemical science has brought about quantum leaps in medicine and polymer technologies. Pharmaceuticals can now help us to overcome pain and suffering; they can help us in prolonging ours lives. That is the good. But chemistry can also be used to poison whole populations with chemical warfare and terrorist attacks. It certainly can be used to kill humans on death row; an act of legalized murder that is the bad and the very ugly.
Plastic material, glass and carbon fiber is used in the production of cheap computers, cars and airplanes. It has improved our way of life; that is the good. However, we use such material to built stealth bombers and remotely controlled drones for killing anonymously; that is the ugly.
Computers have become household items that help us communicate with our friends around the world. We can shop electronically, tap into a vast pool of knowledge that even includes revelations by WikiLeaks of our politicians’ secret machinations; knowledge is becoming more and more democratized; that is the positive. Yet there are the hackers of mean spirit and commercial intentions who invade your privacy and gift us with cookies that are not sweet but are electronic spies into our personal lives; Big Brother is watching over you a thousand-, nay a million-fold. George Orwell is spinning in his grave and envies at the propagation of evil that he had not foreseen in his novel, “1984”.
Genetic Engineering: Homunculus or a way to improve our quality of life? Homunculus or “little human” was the dream of the alchemists. They wanted to create human life from the basic ingredients of alchemy. The story of Frankenstein’s Monster as the creation of a human abomination has been told over and over again in literature and movies. Based on the galvanic effect on human tissue, the monster was coming to life in Frankenstein’s basement laboratory.
Karel Čapek, the famous Czech-Bohemian author of fiction as well as of non-fiction, wrote a science fiction play in 1920 about “R.U.R.Rossum’s Universal Robot”6. In this play, artificial people are manufactured that serve humans as slaves. Based on a suggestion by his brother, Josef, the word, “Robot” was coined as derived from “Robota” in Slavic languages, meaning “forced labor”. It is an irony of history that his brother died in the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp as slave laborer of the Gestapo.
Genetic engineering has its roots in domestication of animals and cloning of plants over the millennia of humans on earth. My uncle who was a professor of botany directed my curiosity towards genetics when he created “Busch” tomatoes that were grown like potatoes and had no vines to grow up on sticks. He suggested that I study the research of Nobel Prize Winner Thomas H. Morgan, an American evolutionary biologist and geneticist. Morgan had manipulated fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) by subjecting them to irradiation. He was able to create mutations of the flies that had no wings. Upon further research such wingless flies were found to have survived the strong winds over Pacific Islands; an instance of natural mutation. Based on Gregor Mendel’s theory of inheritance, he demonstrated that genes on the chromosomes could be affected by external influence.
In the early fiftieth at the University of Hamburg, I had the opportunity to hear Pascual Jordan lecture on Quantum Biology. In Gottingen, he had been cooperating with Max Born, Werner Heisenberg, and Wolfgang Pauli on Matrix-Based Quantum Mechanics.
He elaborated about how the macroscopic world is influenced by what happens at the microscopic level; how quantum-based interactions such as with cosmic radiation can lead to genetic changes and mutations. He contemplated how electrons are individual entities whose influence on the macrocosm can only be assessed in statistical terms. With tongue-in-cheek he suggested that electrons may, perhaps, have sexual feelings.
Today’s genetic engineering has evolved into a powerful tool in theoretical and applied biological science. “Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification, is the direct human manipulation of an organism's genome using modern DNA technology. It involves the introduction of foreign DNA or synthetic genes into the organism of interest. The introduction of new DNA does not require the use of classical genetic methods, however traditional breeding methods are typically used for the propagation of recombinant organisms.”7
At the market, genetically engineered plants are common place. Our tomatoes are now bigger than they used to be and genetic engineering has made them more resistant to disease. Bacteria have been genetically altered to produce medicines (e.g. insulin) and human growth hormones.
Unfortunately, these technologies
Programming the mind for good or evil? People have been indoctrinated ever since humans have populated Earth. Mind control begins at birth when we try to educate our children. Programming the mind through education can be beneficial if the goal is to enhance our knowledge that is applied to improving our individual as well as collective lives. We should teach our young to appreciate the value of a true democratic society.
Unfortunately, demagogues of all persuasions have distorted the minds of not only the young but of the ignorant and innocent. Hitler and his Nazi gangs had convinced the majority of the German people that their racial ideology would lead them to power and prosperity. Instead, it led to a world war and mega murders.
A deranged Arab, Osama Bin Laden, sent his followers out to commit suicide and kill thousands of innocent people in the name of Allah, the Merciful, with virgins waiting for them in heaven. As revenge, a mediocre, “born-again” president invaded foreign countries sending thousands of his own soldiers and hundreds of thousands of innocent others to their deaths.
History of mankind has shown that organized religions contributed often to murder and mass killings, all in the name of God; “an eye for an eye”. Religious fanatics burned “witches” at the stake if they just happened to have red hair or behaved unconventionally. Irish Catholics kill their Protestant neighbors for what? Low-tech suicide bombers kill themselves and innocent bystanders and are revenged with high-tech weaponry.
The world: Clashing of the cultures or a melting pot of humanity's ideas? Epilogue: Is there a Future for the Human Dinosaur? Humankind is at a decisive crossroad; can we ever get from a culture of war to a culture of peace? Observing today’s politics and the machinations of our politicians, we have considerable doubt. The inherent plutocracy in our capitalistic system where we are governed by money and greed has destroyed our sense for social responsibility. Indoctrination, be it religious or mundane, has lead to mistrust, fear, and “clashes of cultures”. It has brought about terror and overbearing financial burdens to the populous at large.
Beyond Technology: High Technologies and Their Social Impact. Scientists all over the globe are trying to find appropriate solutions to current economic, resource-related, political, social, biological, and other problems. As cases in point, here are some themes of current urgency:
1. Identification and promotion of economic alternatives to deforestation of the rain forest
2. Rewarding families for having fewer children or heavy fines/taxes for more than one child (China)
3. What are the issues and problems of genetic engineering?
4. Searching for alternatives to resource distribution
are a few of those problems that have to be solved on a global scale. The following topics reflect some of the concepts of future-oriented significance that can be researched by our students as part of the integrative studies curriculum:
The study of current research in science, technology, and medicine: Beyond the Club of Rome: The Gaia Hypothesis (Lovelock, T. & Margulis, L, 1996).
The emerging science of self-organizing, evolving, complex, adaptive systems: a brewing intellectual revolution; from chaos to order or from order to chaos?
The Mind-Body Problem from the viewpoints of computer science, cognitive science, philosophy, and modern physics.
The past, present, and projected future of science and society: Technology assessment, technological forecasting, and futurology.
Social implications of information technology.
The Problem of Space As far as we know, humankind evolved in an environment that is unique in our galaxy. This environment is very sensitive to man-invoked changes as our recent studies of the ozone layer, and more generally, our biosphere has shown. Desertification of our arable lands is progressing at an alarming rate.
This part of the core curriculum is designed to make the students aware of the potential of an avalanche effect that may flip-flop our environment into a global catastrophe if we continue to destroy our biosphere with unchecked growth and exploitation of our resources. Our students should be trained to think globally but act locally to shape the future of our children. Here are again some intriguing themes:
Humanity's impact on the environment: What have we done to mother Earth!
Are we polluting our lives away: Poisons in the atmosphere, in our waters and our grounds.
Overpopulation, expansion of arid lands through unplanned deforestation. Is world starvation at hand?
Our resources are finite: Recycling as one solution against waste and the squandering of our resources.
The Club of Rome and world models of the future (Meadows, D. H. et al., 1972; Mesarovich, M. & Pestel, E., 1974; Tietenberg, T., 1992)
The chance effect of galactic destruction: Can life on Earth again be destroyed by a collision with a heavenly body? What can we learn from the recent asteroid collision with planet Jupiter?
The ecological balance (or imbalance). Let’s keep it intact.
Resources from the seas: Mining the bottom of the oceans; aquatic biology & chemistry.
1 Randall, Lisa; “CERN or Einstein? Interpreting the Findings”, Huffington Post, September 25, 2011, see also
4 Zadeh, Lofti, "Fuzzy logic and its application to approximate reasoning". In: Information Processing 74, Proc. IFIP Congr. 1974 (3), pp. 591–594.
5 Rudloff, Winfried, “The Two Faces of Janus: Where is High-Technology Leading Human Society?”, published in “Advances in Socio-Cybernetics and Human Development”, Volume IV, pp. 92-97, Ed. George E. Lasker, IIAS Publication, Windsor, 1997. ISBN 0-921836-55-4. See also hyperlink at: http://www3.govst.edu/w-rudloff/publicat/janusfaces.pdf
6 Čapek, Karel (Rossum's Universal Robots) (Rossumovi univerzální roboti), 1920