Changes in the Human Species

Historian Roger Launius’s talk at this week’s Space Technology and Applications International Forum (STAIF 2007) in Albuquerque is summarized here on It’s brief: I’d recommend a peek to familiarize yourself with the three developments he discusses: biological evolution/adaptation, electronics, and cyborgs.

Launius addresses human births on the moon and Mars. It doesn’t seem realistic that such people would be able to return to Earth. Of course, by the time that settlement happens, we may be able to stabilize the human genome and prevent natural or radiation-induced adaptations. Sort of like the early lungfish hitting the beach with skinsuits full of water.

Then he treats the issue of Cybernetic Organisms, or cyborgs.


“We may already be Cyborgs,” Launius pointed out, looking out into an audience filled with people wearing glasses, hearing aids and sporting hip and knee replacements—not to mention those clinging to their hand-held mobile phones and other communication devices.

Projecting hundreds of years into the future, Launius said he believed that it is likely humans will evolve in ways that cannot be fathomed today, into a form of species perhaps tagged Homo sapiens Astro. “Will our movement to places like the Moon and Mars hasten this evolutionary process? … I don’t know the answer,” he said.

What are the moral implications of such changes? Would we be able to assert that natural adaptation and evolution on the moon, Mars, and in space habitats is part of a natural progression for human beings? Does the introduction of cybernetic components somehow demean or desecrate a human being? If contact lenses and artificial hips are okay, what more can be added or replaced in the human physical form before we reach a moral limit? Or is our spiritual side, our soul what makes us truly and authentically human, and therefore a free will change or alteration morally acceptable?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Changes in the Human Species

  1. Gavin says:

    Perhaps because I grew up on the Borg and The Next Generation, I’m very much opposed to ideas like cybernetic “enhancements” and such. The argument of prosthetics and glasses is severely weak, because the purpose of these is to approach the workings of a fully healthy human body. Nobody chops off their legs so they can get a prosthetic to run faster. I didn’t get glasses so that I can see through women’s clothing.

    What about when people get processors in their brain to increase thinking speed or memory? Or networking done entirely by said attachments to the brain? It sounds like lunacy, but there are people working on it. If we were to go about this a different route, we could encourage selective breeding and maybe even sterilize those who have useless genes. Sound familiar? The cybernetics research is the predecessor of a 21st century eugenics program, as happened in Nazi Germany and elsewhere. Even if it is not accomplished by evil means, the end goal remains just as evil. What happens when you, Todd, become an “obsolete human”? Especially given the Culture of Death rampant today, do you think they’ll let obsoleteslike us stick around? Somehow I doubt it. 20 years ago if I were to say any of this (well… if I weren’t an infant then), people would think I’m crazy. But now, this is the REAL threat facing us from technology. And let’s not forget who will reap the benefits of this research: not the lower classes, but the wealthy.

    This kind of research is something to be VERY afraid of.

  2. Todd says:

    I suspect that selective breeding and eugenics will soon be a scientific backwater, because corrections to genetic defects will be available before the whole cloning thing blossoms.

    My take is that Launius was thinking in terms of cybernetic adaptations for humans living in space.

    The bottom line for me is that our God-given humanity is in our soul, something beyond the touch of the physical world. Even if I were dropped into Asimov’s thought experiment of a 1949 man put 50,000 years into the future, and even if all human beings could out-perform me in any and every measure of physical or mental achievement, I would still be a child of God, worthy of a basic dignity. If my 52007CE compadres couldn’t or didn’t realize that, I’d simply tell them they weren’t so advanced.

    Fred Pohl’s Man-Plus is an interesting fiction of re-forming a human being for the planet Mars. Worthwhile reading, not for affirming any immoral viewpoint, but getting to the personal level of a man who is indeed chopped up and replaced with Martian parts.

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