Is it for better or worse that Star Trek has (mostly) avoided transhumanism?

Discussion in 'General Trek Discussion' started by eschaton, Sep 9, 2019.

  1. diankra

    diankra Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    A good point: Eugenics as practiced in the 20th Century wasn't about genetic engineering, it was about preventing reproduction by 'inferior stock'.
     
  2. Nightdiamond

    Nightdiamond Commodore Commodore

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    Have you noticed the catch 22 with the ban on genetic engineering?

    In the 24th century, humans are supposed to have evolved beyond being war mongering, the need to conquer, and according to Picard, even need or want. They also believe in economic equality, class equality and racial equality.

    So you'd think genetically engineering a 24th century person wouldn't change that. They'd still be products of the enlightened 24th century Federation.

    Yet, Dr Bashir, I Presume, says that the reason the ban is in place is because every other person who undergoes it is going to turn out to be the next Khan.

    So they banned it, even if it meant abandoning the potential to help repair illness or ailments and threw the baby out with bathwater.

    This thinking makes sense only if law makers in the 23-24th believed that the only reason humans behaved so advanced is because it mainly they're supported by technology that keeps them full and comfortable--and not because their society actually "evolved".
     
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  3. Nightdiamond

    Nightdiamond Commodore Commodore

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    Agreed, it was likely unintentional, but the images in that scene didn't sit right and the director's enthusiastic description of their attributes and abilities as perfect in every way brings up some nasty images some of them historical.

    The director also didn't really seem all that concerned for the 'ordinary' humans as she did for the engineered ones.

    Probably wasn't intentional, but it reeked of exclusiveness.

    But one problem with this is, in Unnatural Selection they created these children from scratch and they may have been even more engineered than the 20th century ones. They were described as "perfect".

    I don't see how creating perfect designer children from scratch would aid humans who are already have illnesses. As matter of fact, their immune systems would have attacked "lesser humans" and wiped them out, leaving only themselves unharmed.

    If they were created from scratch and only by reproducing can they pass on their genetic gifts--it was lightly implying eugenics, just not as strongly.
     
  4. Rahul

    Rahul Commodore Commodore

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    Can I just say I love this whole conversation? Amazing thread! Now please proceed.
     
  5. Nyotarules

    Nyotarules Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    TOS treated humans like humans, TNG treated humans as the evolved species. I do call bullshit on that, its possible to be socially and culturally progressive as a human society but still have all the other human negative attributes, but choose not to use them or struggle with them (just as we do today compared to our ancestors from 300 years ago). As Kirk stated, 'We choose not to kill TODAY'. Stiles in Balance of Terror expressed bigotry. McCoy was a borderline racist IMO. The TNG Trek writing was inconsistent about evolved humanity, Picard might consider himself evolved and above certain negative attributes, like revenge until the FC movie, Wesley might pronouce to the alien of the week 'We're Starfleet, we don't lie' (what a cringeworthy comment). However DS9 and VOY thankfully, showed humans as humans.
    Compared to the past , in our society, we have advanced culturally in some areas, we no longer go overseas to kidnap other tribes for free labour (slavery), we no longer think its a great idea to takeover a piece of land because we need more space or natural resources, (imperialism/colonialism), we no longer start wars in the name of some deity, we no longer legally treat a human with breasts as a larger version of a child. We are not perfect, far from it, but we did not make whatever social progress that has taken place over the last 50 years due to genetic transformation of humanity.
    Star Trek humans continue to struggle with war, seem pretty intolerant sometimes, express prejudice and now again even commit crimes. The only difference is most of the targets are aliens and Terran privilege seems to rule the UFP.
    Blame GR's vision of TNG for this Utopia, a reboot of Unnatural selection would have the plot be about those scientists fighting for the children's rights to be treated and accepted as either a new race of transhumans or accepted as humans like everyone else. Rather the writers went for the usual 'playing god with human DNA leads to bad things happening' trope. The UFP banning genetic engineering because humans might turn into meglomaniac monsters was utter nonsense. I am surprised the Vulcans let that law pass.

    Quark sums up 24th century humanity perfectly
    "But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers, put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time, and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people will become as nasty and violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon. You don't believe me? Look at those faces."
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2019
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  6. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Exactly. It doesn't make any sense. Especially when you consider that Vulcans are innately every bit as "superhuman" as Khan's Augments -- not only superstrong, supersmart, and really long-lived, but telepathic -- and nobody in the Federation is afraid of them becoming dictators. Whatever the DS9 writers' reasons for inventing the ban -- whether to handwave the lack of transhumanism in the shows or just to find something new to do with Bashir as a character -- they didn't think it through in the larger context of the universe.


    A lot of scientific experimentation relies on using models and surrogates for the thing you're studying, so that you can study particular aspects of them in controlled conditions that you don't get in nature. It lets you control the variables and clear away the noise, make it easier to tell which factors cause a certain result.

    So humans created from scratch and raised entirely in controlled lab conditions -- "perfect" humans representing an idealized model of the real thing unaffected by the stresses and damage and illness the real world inflicts on the human body -- could perhaps provide insights into how human biology innately works independently of outside influences. Like the extent to which human aging or illness is influenced by innate biological factors rather than external ones.

    Although that's hard to reconcile with the "super-immune systems" the Darwin staff gave the kids. So maybe the idea was to study the workings of those immune systems in controlled lab conditions, exposing them only to selected pathogens one at a time, and use that to build a model of human immunity that could give insight into how to fight disease better. Or by confirming that the souped-up immune response worked in the synthetic humans, that would've helped them learn how to engineer it safely into regular humans.

    Of course, even granting all that, it still requires raising sentient, essentially human children as captive experimental subjects their entire lives, which is pretty horrific. It does beggar credibility that the Federation would've let them go to such extremes, even if genetic engineering in general had been legal.


    Isn't that a contradictory premise, though? If the genetic technology existed to synthesize entire human genomes from raw biomolecules -- literally to create life from the ground up -- then using gene-editing techniques to introduce some of their traits into other humans would be immensely simpler. So they certainly wouldn't be limited to conventional reproduction as a way of passing on their gifts.


    That's unfair to TNG. "The Drumhead" made it quite clear that 24th-century humanity's advancement was learned, not innate, and that there was always a danger of falling back into old habits if we didn't maintain eternal vigilance.


    Actually I think DS9 got it backward with that "It's easy to be a saint when you live in paradise" premise. In my experience, it seems that people who have fulfilled, contented lives and want for nothing often become self-absorbed, petty, and prone to superficial hostilities. Millions of years of evolution have conditioned us to expect threats and hardships, and so when we have no real ones, we manufacture imaginary ones, often by scapegoating people who aren’t like us and might threaten our cushy lives. Whereas you often find saintly behavior among people who live in poverty and hardship, people who understand what it’s like to suffer and have no desire to inflict it on others. People who are used to their very survival being at stake and thus don’t waste time on petty sources of conflict with other people.
     
  7. Nyotarules

    Nyotarules Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    This is because in real life they live in a world where millions of people are in want or just managing to get by. However if you live on a planet or system, i.e the Sol system, where billions of beings are living very good lives because socially, society is more like a square then a triangle, then its easy to be a saint. I do not need to steal your fancy Rolex, I can just replicate one at the push of a button. Maybe everyone at legal adulthood gets a decent basic income from the state so they do not have to work but if you want to live like a billionaire you start an intergalatic company, importing Risian sex toys and watch the credits roll in.
     
  8. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    No, I don't think that's it at all. It's not about actual need, it's about the perception of need, the reflex to fear losing what you have. When there's no real threat to your cushy way of life, you start imagining ones to fill the void, and you get paranoid and mistrustful of your neighbors. Or you start to mistake your prosperity for intrinsic worth and rightness and start bossing around other people who aren't as privileged.
     
  9. Nyotarules

    Nyotarules Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Or you become bored and leave the Sol system to become a Federation imperialist er colonist until you meet someone whose backyard you shoud have avoided..hello Gorn, hello Cardassia!
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2019
  10. Damian

    Damian Commodore Commodore

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    Star Trek has never been perfect. Was TNG too Utopian--was DS9 an attempt to dial that back---was the ban on genetic engineering (or at least enhancements) thought out?

    I think sometimes a specific writer of a story may have failed to look at the bigger picture of the Star Trek universe. They wanted to do something different with Dr. Bashir. They created a ban on genetic engineering as a result (or at least perpetuated past a time people thought reasonable). Now the larger universe was sort of stuck with it and perhaps they realized that ban was a bit short sighted so they created episodes like DS9's "Statistical Probabilities" and the Augment related episodes of Enterprise to at least try to offer an in-story explanation of why that might be. Not perfect, but at least it seems they acknowledged they had a problem they had to try to address.

    I agree, in the early going of TNG perhaps it was a bit too perfect, a bit too utopian. Christopher cites "The Drumhead" as a good example of TNG trying to dial that back a bit. Lily in FC even declares BS on Picard when he tries to highmindedly say they have an evolved sensibility (quite literally). DS9 added a bit more to the mix.

    Ultimately the way I see the Federation in the Star Trek universe is an organization that generally moves in a positive direction, but sometimes takes a step back. Over the 2 centuries of existence that we have seen it has moved in that way--though you can point to specific points where they maybe took a step back. Section 31's actions on the Founder plague and the Federation's actions after for instance. The coup attempt by Admiral Leyton in DS9 is another (though Starfleet officers did come through and do the right thing).

    Humanity in the Star Trek universe has come a long way. But we are still imperfect beings, and never will be. I think it all goes back to something we were discussing on another thread. We had hit rock bottom in the 21st century after WWIII. Things had gotten about as bad as they can get (without total Armageddon). Finding out we were not alone in the universe gave humanity a new vision and mankind started to right the ship. First by realizing we were unique in our humanity and more alike than unalike. Then solving the problems once and for all that had plagued us. Is it unrealistic? I'd like to think it's not--that if we ever started realizing how alike we all really are instead of focusing on petty differences that perhaps Star Trek might foreshadow a brighter future for us. But that event put us on the right track and humanity, and later the Federation, tried to move in a positive direction.
     
  11. valkyrie013

    valkyrie013 Captain Captain

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    Which is what a chunk of Humanity is doing right now.. western countries anyways.. There bored so they make up a problem..

    The Troupe of Star Trek in Euginics is that.. whenever it is tried, usually on Humans.. that the "Evolved" humans develop meglomania and think that THEY are better than standard humanity, and that they think they can lead humanity better..
    Well "Technically" they are better than standard humanity.. but if you look at humans today, you have plenty of people are smarter, healthyier, bodys.. that are better than general humanity, and some do look down on humanity.. look at the history of nobles and serfs..
    Have a whole comic book series called X-Men that deal with "Homo Superior" and how some see themselves as better.

    Now I would think that Genetic Engineering for genitic diseases, birth defects, maybe even abit of "Designer Baby's" would be okay in 24th centery, maybe even a bit of prolong life. That usually doesnt make someone superior!
     
  12. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Except the Augments arc on Enterprise disputed that. Arik Soong argued that the only reason Khan's Augments were conquerors was because their genetic engineers made mistakes and inadvertently made them too aggressive and sociopathic. Malik argued that they were made that way on purpose, but either way, it wasn't "superior ability" that made them conquerors, it was heightened aggression and reduced compassion. So the problem wasn't with genetic engineering in general, just the bad decisions or flawed techniques behind this specific genetic upgrade attempt. Augments made with increased empathy or decreased aggression would be a whole other matter.

    Look at Bashir. He's an Augment, as "superior" as Khan, but he's so loaded with empathy that he became a doctor and dedicated himself to helping people. Augments don't have to be conquerors. It's not inevitable. It only happens if they're bred specifically to behave that way, whether by accident or design.
     
  13. Nightdiamond

    Nightdiamond Commodore Commodore

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    Whether this is all because of technology meeting humans needs or because humans organically evolved has always been the elephant in the room. And I noticed recently, that even Trek fans are more skeptical about this. They used to be so optimistic about human evolution before (te way Trek portrays it).

    I suppose one question is does it really matter if the evolution is due to technology fulfilling everyone's needs, or does it have to come from within regardless of technology?

    You could say that technology eliminated racism and classism, because it's hard to feel superior to another human if that other human can get the same things as you at the push of a button on a replicator.

    But the problem is the other stuff-- humans aren't offended by insults at all anymore, aren't afraid of death anymore, don't feel need the need to seek revenge, don't judge by appearance anymore--none of that is technology related.

    --The problem is Trek doesn't really come out and say "we evolved because technology solved a lot of our problems" they just say in a generic way "we solved our problems" and heavily imply it was organic, that it came within.

    So trek is saying humans are more morally and socially advanced no matter what, because of their determination and values. But why the ban on genetic engineering then?
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2019
  14. Rahul

    Rahul Commodore Commodore

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    I always thought the "evolved" humans of TNG were the result of better education, mental health care and such.

    A post-scarcity society where people don't just hang around lazy all day, but constantly work towards the welfare of all.

    Now granted, it was always weird how they directly compared themselves to "current" humans (like, "we don't get illness anymore", "we eliminated crime and racism", "we don't strive for money anymore") - like, I personally usually don't run around a plane and say "modern humans have evolved to not get scurvy on large travels anymore". Also, some of it was outright wrong (humans don't grieve the dead anymore? Wtf?) - but then, Trek got a lot of hard science wrong as well from time to time, really depends on the writer on each occasion.

    Just, overall I think Star Trek's "perfect" humans are actually more realistic than portraying them exactly like current day humans in such an utopian world, even if some of the specifics were a bit wack.

    (btw I'd put Kirk & Co. in there as well - despite their bickering they were very much humans at the absolute peak, physically and mentally, and absolute perfect specimen. Though some of it is obviously more the result of how heroes were generally depicted on tv at that time)
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2019
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  15. Prax

    Prax Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    When Picard, etc say "Humanity has evolved," they don't mean biologically, but socially, technologically, etc, that human society has generally as a whole learned from their mistakes, built on their experience, and found a working system that everyone benefits from, and everyone can cooperate with.(Generally). There is a biological component to it as well, I suppose, as inclinations, proclivities, abilities, etc, are to an extent passed down genetically. So it's possible that each future generation, while building on the advanced technology that exists, increasingly has the aptitude to understand it.

    It gets confusing because Trek is often giving us alien species that have "evolved to become energy beings." We've seen this so many times that it seems to be implying that evolving into "energy beings" or "godlike beings" is just the natural course that all advanced species attain. This could be explained away the way Q does in "Death Wish;" that the Q(for one example) are simply operating on a technological level that is beyond the comprehension of 24th century humans.

    Conversely, and unfortunately, Star Trek almost never tackled the topic of entropy and its relation to our dna, what we pass on to our children, etc, as it is far too bleak for Star Treks optimistic future.
     
  16. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Only if greater understanding of technology makes them more attractive to potential mates. Evolution is a matter of reproductive success. If a given trait increases an individual's ability to reproduce, then it will therefore be reproduced in larger numbers from generation to generation until it spreads through the entire population.

    There is such a thing as sexual selection, whereby traits that don't necessarily have any specific survival value get selected for because the opposite sex finds them attractive, so individuals with that trait get laid more and thus pass on more of their genes. This is probably a factor in why different human ethnic populations have differing facial features and whatnot. So if, for instance, a society dedicated itself to peace and aggressive people were deemed undesirable as mates, then aggression would be gradually weeded out over time. Or if a society found intelligence sexy, then smart people would have more babies and the population's average intelligence would go up over time. But the problem with that idea is that it would only work if that cultural attitude persisted across enough generations -- probably for thousands of years. It's hard to believe any culture could retain a single, unchanging value system for so long; if anything, a given generation often has a tendency to react against and reject the values of the previous one.


    Which is, of course, ridiculous. Again, evolution is driven by the maximization of biological reproductive success in a given environment. An organism that turns into a ball of energy loses the ability to pass on DNA sequences to biological offspring, and so there's zero evolutionary incentive to develop in that direction, and plenty of incentive not to. The "energy being" thing is basically woo-woo mysticism about souls and angels and transmigration dressed up with a sci-fi veneer, and blended with the utterly erroneous notion that evolution is an "upward" process rather than merely a stochastic process of adaptation to environmental change.


    I don't know what you mean by that. Looking into it a bit, entropy in DNA seems to result in genetic defects, but they can be corrected and repaired by the processes in DNA that increase enthalpy (opposite of entropy). And defects, I would assume, can sometimes lead to beneficial mutations and drive evolution.
     
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  17. fireproof78

    fireproof78 Admiral Admiral

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    You can thank Gene for that one.
     
  18. JirinPanthosa

    JirinPanthosa Vice Admiral Admiral

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    It’s a more philosophically complex issue than you can do in a shoe targeting a wide audience.

    Their take on transhumanism seems to be we stay exactly the same until we instantly transform into a ball of light.

    I just had a thought for a possible Disco season 3 premise. Humans are gone because they are all balls of light!
     
  19. JirinPanthosa

    JirinPanthosa Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Correction of diseases is stated as the exception to the genetic engineering ban.
     
  20. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    That's posthuman, not transhuman.