Clifford D. Simak’s 1967 novel The Werewolf Principle really crafts a wonderful little vision of the future. Humans live in flying houses. The woods are teaming with mythical brownies. Oh, and a genetically engineered space traveler returns to Earth after 200 years spent shapeshifting to adapt to life on other worlds.
Indeed, why blast encapsulated pockets of Earth into orbit or terraform other worlds when we could conceivably just change the human traveler instead? That’s the basic idea presented in the 1960 paper Cyborgs and Space by Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline. The authors presented a grocery list of ways that technology and medical science can retrofit the human body for the star-hopping lifestyle. Here are just a few of the more fascinating/horrific suggestions.
1.) Implant osmotic pressure pump capsules with sensing and controlling mechanisms to automatically administer everything from astronaut speed to hibernation-inducing pituitary drugs.
2.) Replace the lung with inverse fuel cell. Why not, right?
3.) Alter the human gastrointestinal system so that waste water goes through a filter and right back into your blood. In other words, still suits are for wimps.
4.) Conduct a little enzyme tinkering to create anaerobic astronauts that don’t require oxygen.
5.) Lower body pressure to facilitate the naked space walks we’ve all been dreaming of.
The list goes on. We discuss the rest of them in the latest episode of the “Stuff to Blow Your Mind,” titled The Werewolf Principle: Adapting Humans for Space. As Simak no doubt agreed, it’s a fascinating subject to ponder. At what point do altered space travelers cease to be human? How far are we willing to go? And is a flatulence-free astronaut possible?
The 1960 paper is also where we get the term “cyborg,” and the more we look back to the original concept, the more we seem to live in a world of cyborgs today. Heck, most of us have been cyborgs for quite some time. Check out this excellent TED Talk on the subject from Amber Case:
So there you have it! I highly recommend reading both Simak’s novel and paper by Clynes and Kline. Now get out there and prepare for your transhuman, cyborg future.
The Werewolf Principle cover image by artist Ian Miller
Robert Lamb is a senior staff writer at HowStuffWorks.com and co-host of the Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcast and blog. He is also a regular contributor to Discovery News. Follow him on Twitter @blowthemind.