The Post-Modern Prometheus

My mind has been bothered somewhat over the last few days by some of these “hot-button” issues, and as always, I seek the roots of the malaise. One of the most powerful and accessible articles I have seen recently is Surpassing Man, a dialogue between Dr Sam Vaknin and one of his friends. Dr Vaknin seems quite a high-powered character, but at the same time interested in exposing the narcissistic personality. His approach is partly scientific but mostly philosophical. This page on Nietzsche’s Ubermensch is profound and thought-provoking, misrepresented in the twentieth century and now at a crossroads between the life of the spirit or the ultimate nightmare. Nietzsche lost his Christian faith, but had a spiritual vision that is capable of the most sublime interpretation.

Even my reflections on euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide have their place in this vast Babel’s Tower of human pride. It is a comprehensive and terrifying vision of man’s future, captured two hundred years ago by Mary Shelley and today in science fiction cinema, the campaign for material immortality and a world order that would make Hitler look like a choirboy. The dystopian (utopian?) vision is that of the man-machine, the cyborg, the present-day version of Frankenstein’s monster.

Before long, humans will design and define nature itself. Whereas until now we adapted very limited aspects of nature to our needs – accepting as inevitable the bigger, over-riding parameters as constraints – the convergence of all breeds of humanity will endow Mankind with the power to destroy and construct nature itself. Man will most certainly be able to blow stars to smithereens, to deflect suns from their orbits, to harness planets and carry them along, to deform the very fabric of space and time. Man will invent new species, create new life, suspend death, design intelligence. In other words, God – killed by Man – will be re-incarnated in Man. Nothing less than being God will secure Mankind’s future.

It is, therefore, both futile and meaningless to ask how will Nature’s future course affect the surpassing of Man. The surpassing of Man is, by its very definition, the surpassing of Nature itself, its manipulation and control, its re-definition and modification, its abolition and resurrection, its design and re-combination. The surpassing of Man’s nature is the birth of man-made nature.

The big question is how will culture – this most flexible of mechanisms of adaptation – react to these tectonic shifts?

This is the stuff of Star Wars, but perhaps – theoretically – possible in a century or two if the “evolution” continues.

The  transforming of earth by technological means. It is the old dream of the titans: to overthrow the gods. But they always lose and are punished, will they win this time? Will this be the century of the titans? It seems so…

History has, at least until now, given the same answer as nature itself, that man’s pride is met with defeat and downfall. We have to surpass ourselves spiritually. We have, each one of us, to meditate on this Promethean nightmare and make of it that fear of God that brings knowledge and understanding – and wisdom.

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One Response to The Post-Modern Prometheus

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I have not yet followed the link, but in your quotation, I was struck by the suggestion of ‘the abolition of Nature’ and wondered if he is deliberately interacting with C.S. Lewis’s lectures, The Abolition of Man, where Lewis considers Man’s ‘conquest of Nature’ as, paradoxically, in an important sense, in fact ‘Nature’s conquest of Man’ – part of the givenness of ourselves and the cosmos prevailing over other aspects.

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