How writers explore the human body.

Dixie Flatline
She is a clone

Transhumanism in science fiction


Transhumanism is the idea that humans can use science and technology to enhance their bodies and minds. This includes genetic tweaking, prosthetic limbs, mind uploading, and other biology-altering techniques.

The term was popularized by Julian Huxley, a controversial biologist in the 1950s, who wanted to use a eugenic program to breed a stronger race. His brother, Aldous, wrote *Brave New World* – a story with similar themes.

In science fiction, transhumanism often blurs the line between humans and machines, and challenges what it means to be human. It also raises questions about wealth inequality: would it be fair for the rich to enhance themselves, if the rest of society could not afford it?

Early transhumanism

In Mary Shelley’s *Frankenstein* (1818) the protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, creates an artificial human by reanimating dead tissue. It was probably the earliest transhumanist story, as it explored the intersection between science and human biology.


Decades later, in 1896, H.G. Wells published *The Island of Doctor Moreau*. In this story, Doctor Moreau conducts gruesome experiments on animals, sewing them together into grotesque, human-like hybrids.

Both of these novels serve as cautionary tales: when a human interferes with biology, the consequences are dangerous and bizarre. It is a theme that writers have explored ever since. Should scientists be playing with nature?


In modern science fiction, one of the most common avenues for transhumanist themes is the concept of genetic tweaking. Could humans alter their DNA to become stronger, smarter, and longer living?

In John Scalzi’s *Old Man’s War*, soldiers are grown with genetic enhancements to prepare them for interstellar war. This includes photosynthetic skin, to boost energy, and cat-like eyes, to improve their sight.


Other stories have explored the idea of tweaking other species, such as the books in David Brin’s *Uplift Universe* series. In these stories, humans genetically modify dolphins and chimps to give these species greater intelligence.

The dolphins are used as space pilots in interplanetary wars. Along with *Old Man’s War*, it asks a dangerous question: is it right to use transhumanist enhancements to turn humans and animals into weapons?



In some stories, genetic tweaking is a deliberate, scientific process. In others, it comes about through random events, like a sudden genetic mutation.

This idea is common in superhero stories. In the *Spider-Man* comics, Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider. This causes a reaction in his body, and he suddenly finds himself stronger and faster, and capable of climbing walls.

In the *Incredible Hulk* comics, Bruce Banner receives a dose of gamma radiation, which alters his genetic makeup. He becomes unstable and dangerous, and in many ways, he echoes the story of *Frankenstein* – when a scientist pushes his research too far, he ends up creating a monster.


Prosthetic enhancements have long been a staple in science fiction. From robotic arms, to infrared eyes, characters often use pieces of technology to augment their natural capabilities.

When a person is made up of a combination of artificial and organic parts, they are sometimes called a cyborg – short for cybernetic organism. An iconic example is Darth Vader. After severe injuries, his character’s limbs were replaced by cybernetic prosthetics.


In video games, like *Deus Ex* and *Cyberpunk 2077*, characters are able to play as a cyborg, enhancing their bodies with technological upgrades that let them jump higher, move faster, and see further.

Mind uploading

Mind uploading is a common topic in transhumanist science fiction. This idea explores the possibility of transferring human minds into computers or other bodies.

In William Gibson’s *Neuromancer*, the character of Dixie Flatline is the uploaded mind of a man who died of a heart attack. In theory, an uploaded mind would be functionally immortal, as long as the host computer was never turned off.


In the television series, *Altered Carbon*, minds can be transferred between different bodies called ‘sleeves’. If a sleeve dies, the mind can be moved into a new body – another type of immortality.

Stories like these ask questions about identity. If our mind was stored on a computer, or in another person’s body, would we still be the person we are now?


Cloning is the process of creating organisms that both have the same DNA. For decades, science fiction has explored the implications of creating these genetic duplicates.

In the television series *Orphan Black*, a woman discovers that she is one of many clones. She must grapple with questions of identity and self, while uncovering why these clones were made in the first place.


Animal cloning also plays a role in science fiction, most strikingly in Michael Crichton’s *Jurassic Park*. In this story, scientists use cloning to resurrect dinosaur species, which leads to very dangerous consequences.

Just like other transhumanist works, *Jurassic Park* is a warning: when humans try to meddle with nature, things rarely go to plan.

Transhumanism in real life


In recent years, gene tweaking has moved from the realm of fiction into scientific reality. CRISPR gene editing allows precise manipulation of DNA sequences, with one gene cut out and easily replaced with another.

Meanwhile, prosthetic limbs are more mobile and functional than ever. The DEKA arm is a robotic limb with a dextrous, robotic hand. It responds to electrical signals in the host’s muscles; when you try to move the hand, it moves.

These developments have massive medical implications. Doctors could use gene editing to treat heritable diseases, while prosthetic limbs enable amputees to live a healthy, normal life.

What happens next?


Moving forward, there is a danger that medical technology, like CRISPR and prosthetics, could be developed for other purposes.

There is nothing to stop genetic tweaking from being used to develop stronger, smarter babies. There is nothing to stop prosthetic limbs from being used to enhance a human soldier into a military-grade machine.

Along with artificial intelligence and space exploration, the modern world is feeling more and more like a work of science fiction. Stories once written as metaphors for other topics are now hitting much closer to home.

As we push into the future, it is important to treat scientific advancements with care and respect. It is the only way to make sure our trajectory leads up toward utopia, and not down in the other direction.

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