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Daniel Rourke (M, 37)
London, UK
Immortal since Dec 18, 2007
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All things would be visibly connected if one could discover at a single glance and in its totality the tracings of an Ariadne’s thread leading thought into its own labyrinth.
- Georges Bataille
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    Raising Neanderthals: Metaphysics at the Limits of Science
    Project: What happened to nature?
    An extract from a recent article I wrote for 3quarksdaily.com - Go here for piece in full


    A face to face encounter, devoid of the warm appeal of flesh. The eyes are glass, a cold blue crystal reflects the light in a way real eyes never would. A muzzle of hair, perhaps taken from a barbershop floor or the hind quarters of an animal. The painted scalp peeks through the sparse strands: there is nothing here one might caress with fumbling fingers, or, a millennia ago, pick between to lovingly tease out a louse or mite. The figure balances uneasily on stumps for legs. Its waxen surface bears no resemblance to skin. It is a shade saturated of living colour. In another shortened limb the figure holds a wooden spear, with a plastic point designed to take the place of the authentic stone tip. Under its beaten brow this creature forever stands. He is a spectacle, a museum attraction. He is not human, he is 'other'. He is not man, he is Neanderthal.

    Encounters like this, hashed together from memories that span my childhood and adult years, represent the closest many of us will come to meeting a Neanderthal. Encounters built upon out-dated science and the desire of museums to authenticate experiences which, in reality, are as far away from 'true' anthropology as those glass eyes are from windows on the soul. In a recent Archaeology.org article a question was put forward that made me think again about these encounters:

    Should we Clone Neanderthals? : I could not help but probe the proposition further.

    In my own lifetime our understanding of these absolute 'others' has gone through several revolutions. What once were lumbering apes, incapable of rational thought, speech or the rituals of religious reverence, have become our long lost evolutionary cousins. Research from various quarters has shown that not only were Neanderthals quite capable of vocal expression, but in all likelihood they lived a rich, symbolic life. They had bigger brains than we did, or do, and were probably burying their dead with appeal to an afterlife 50,000 years before our ancestors left Africa. They cared for their young, lived in well established social groups and apart from their prominent brow and less mobile, stocky build, resembled humans in most other aspects. More recent evidence seems to show that far from being a completely separate species, it is quite possible that ancient humans interbred with Neanderthals. This astounding revelation, if it were ever verified, would mean that many of us – if not every one of us – carry within our genetic make-up a living memory of Neanderthal heritage.

    But Neanderthals are more than scientific curiosities. They are the embodiment of the 'other', a reflective surface via which the human race may peer upon themselves. Human myth is filled with lumbering creatures, not quite human but every bit an echo of our deepest fears, our vanities, our failings, our memories prone to fade in time. With Shakespeare's Caliban, the feral beast of Prospero's burden, and William Blake's depiction of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who myth says was reduced to animal madness, being only two in a long list of sub-human characters. Along with these mythic creatures the Neanderthal has achieved the status of a linguistic archetype, carrying the weight of our inhumanity when admitting our limitations is too much to bear. For a very long time after their discovery Neanderthals were named as the very embodiment of our ineptitudes. To be violent, or brutally instinctive was to be Neanderthal Neanderthals stood as a fiendish remnant of the days before language, fire or social grace, before the borders between man and nature had been breached by the gift of free-will – a gift bequeathed to us, and not to them.

    This vague notion of a 'gift' came to me after reading the article about the possibility of cloning Neanderthals At first I read with a certain distance, the same reading I might have given to an article about cloning dodos, mammoths or dinosaurs. Soon though, it was clear that "bringing Neanderthals back from the dead" was a far more metaphysically slippy statement than similar ones about long extinct birds or mammals. [....]

    Originally posted at 3quarksdaily.com - Go here for piece in full

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    Spaceweaver     Tue, Mar 30, 2010  Permanent link
    Thank you for a very interesting article on a sensitive subject. Of course there are many lines implicitly drawn in your article that could be drawn somewhere else. I remember reading once an article about IVF babies published when this technology was younger bringing similar concerns to those expressed in your article. It is clear that the problem spills over the territory of ethical problems to something more profound. If we become capable to create a sentient intelligent being in the laboratory and we choose to do so eventually . We will, by this very act, transform ourselves into something else. A different kind of creature of which we know very little indeed. A frightening yet a thrilling prospect.
     
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