Another theme found recurring in Science Fiction, is the artificial. The synthetic, the replicant of ‘Blade Runner’ or ‘Screamers’ (both of course from stories by Philip K Dick), the androids of the Alien series, the Asimov robots and their three laws, Data from Star Trek Next Generation and so on.
I was reminded of this last night while watching the pilot of the series ‘Almost Human’ (Executive producer- J J Abrams). Borrowing heavily, in my opinion from both Blade Runner and I. Robot the series has as its main character detectives a ‘synthetic’ and a human, who however, through injury now has synthetic parts (a leg I believe). How we write about these things and how we respond to them tells us much about not only how we view what it is to ‘be human’, but how we view disability, and our spirituality.
The synthetic, Dorian, has been programmed to have emotions (like Data when he has his emotion chip in!), so he then becomes a kind of superhuman in our eyes. Easily recognisable as human and yet, with the added bonus of the kind of things that computers can do. The best of both worlds? Of course the title ‘Almost Human’ really refers to the human, Detective John Kennex, traumatised by his injury and the loss of his ‘team’ and coming to terms with no longer being fully human. Coming to terms with being less than human?
So being different, either as Dorian, or as Kennex, is not on. There is a desire to ‘be human’. To fit, belong, be the same as. It is seen in many films and books through the desire of the synthetic to become more human or to despise what they are, to find themselves disgusting, to want to improve, to prove they have a soul. Just as people with a disability have to prove they are more than they appear to be, striving for some sort of equality that is always slightly out of reach. Why? Because we are less than human and we must either fit, or try to fit. Not be ourselves, not just be. The sum of all our parts. No, that is not enough. We must either be superhuman (Dorian) or we must ‘come to terms’ with our ‘limitations’ and try and be as human as possible, like everyone else (Kennex).
So, a soul? To be more than the sum of its parts? I will admit, this often confuses me. For in most Science Fiction to question the ‘meaning of life’ through synthetics is the quest for the soul, for finding the soul is the ‘proof’ of humanity. With Philip. K. Dick, he looks at this through memory, with others it is the capacity for emotions, compassion uppermost.
But this is what puzzles me. For in the main, Science Fiction does not deal with spirituality, does not search for God, not without pulling it down, refuting, mocking, seeing it as pagan, proof of a lower intelligence, a lower evolved species. And yet, by default, most Science Fiction, especially through the use of synthetics, actually does the opposite, actually says, we are more than the sum of our parts, there is something apart from physiology, biology that makes us human. There is a soul and there is spirit. But that is as far as it goes.
For me, it was easy. As a disabled child, in a body that was different from all my peers, that couldn’t quite do physical things as well as they, I knew I was more than the sum of all my parts. I knew that there was a part, separate, but a part that also connected to the world in a way not everyone could see. A part connected to the divine.
All of these thoughts can of course be explored in much more depth. But it’s just a taster. How much there is around us that can be viewed from a different perspective. Maybe this view you have seen yourself before, maybe not. It is simple, but it is mine.