Friday, 15 June 2012

Changes In Human Nature

In at least three works, all novels, Poul Anderson envisaged different fundamental changes to human nature. In Brain Wave, everyone becomes significantly more intelligent. Larry Niven's characters to whom this happens think with embarassment:

"I've been stupid." (1)

In Brain Wave, this major change is initially felt only on the intellectual level. Everyone can think more quickly, clearly and efficiently and this can be difficult to adjust to, especially since motivations, beliefs and superstitions are as yet unchanged. Someone now thinks more effectively about how to impose his beliefs on others, for example.

However, a second, more gradual, change is latent. Human history has been a struggle between instinct and intelligence but now intelligence has won so human beings can:

consciously select their desires;
adjust their personalities to intellectually conceived requirements;
end psychosomatic diseases;
control organic illnesses at will;
end pain;
learn enough medicine to make doctors redundant;
extend lifespans;
abolish senility.

In The Night Face, the entire population of a colonised planet is peaceful and harmonious without any governmental or legal coercion but extra-planetary visitors learn that all the colonials become insane for a few days every year, afterwards remembering only that they have had an indescribable experience. During that time, ritual dance and chanting channel otherwise destructive and homicidal energy.

In The Winter Of The World, a new human species has ceased to be herd animals. Each of its members is from birth emotionally self-sufficient, responding to others only as individuals but not regulating behaviour with governments, laws or courts.

It may be more imaginative to conceive of these inner psychological transformations than to anticipate outer technological advances.

(1) Niven, Larry, Protector, London, 1974, p. 213.

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