There are 7 Billion of us on the planet. Its hard to wrap one’s mind around that many people. In a world with that many people how does one stand out? Certainly, the different type of humans varies widely – tall, short, fat, thin, brilliant, mundane, black, white, hairy and on and one. But we are all pretty much have the same abilities and characteristics. Juxtapose that with the fundamental desire of the human ego to be different or be special in some way – to stand out. This desire has manifested itself in many different forms ranging from the simple tattoo which is a physical expression to the desire to dominate other humans like a Napoleon or Hitler.
Since ancient times man has sought to be more than man is. The stories of the demi-gods such as Perseus and Hercules in Greek and Roman mythology elevated a mortal man to lesser divine status than a god but higher than the lowly human. The thought of the elevated man has captured the human imagination and filled the heads of children with dreams of being the “super hero” and standing out.
In the modern era, we started to see the popular culture occurrence of the hyper human in The Phantom and Superman in the 1930s. The depression was raging and people wanted to escape for a little while to a better and different place. This trend continues later in the 20th century where your average “human” in the movies and television begins to grow in our popular culture. Comic books move off the page into cartoons which started to feature super heroes like the Justice League and campy TV shows of Batman and Superman. Eventually we moved to the big screen with the force powered Jedi, Superman movies, super spies and more.
The heroes in our action adventure movies start to take an un-real beating that would hospitalize a real person for a month but they get up and keep going. Or the character has abilities that are “super” while presented in “normal” human. In the 60s the super spy James Bond came on the scene. He was suave and debonair but also able to do things that other men couldn’t do and take more than most men could possibly survive. Exactly how much physical beating can a Tom Cruise or Daniel Craig actually take in real life? How long can they really hold their breath under water? Do they ever actually go to the bathroom? Eat? It just seems to only get more and more fantastical and impossible and hyper human.
Today we see the hugely popular Marvel movies doing enormously well at the box office with multiple TV spin offs. The comic books, movies and TV offerings are filled with characters like Iron Man with his exo-skeleton, ability to fly and numerous weapons. He can take shot after shot and not have his brains rattled to mush. All the Marvel characters in some way are about the hyper-human. They are all enhanced in some form or fashion. A few are truly alien/non-human in nature but most represent the hyper-human prototype. The TV show Agents of Shield has the “in-humans” who are infused with alien DNA through the Terrigenesis process and gain incredible powers. We see the same thing with X-Men and the gene mutations. DC Comics has the same super hero types including the super suited Batman, the ring powered Green Lantern and the genetically modified Flash.
The legendary Stan Lee of Marvel fame even had a documentary TV series called “Stan Lee’s Superhumans” which documents people from around the world with unusual abilities. Titles included “Supersight”, “Powerlifting Pastor” and “Spider Power”. One episode features Hu Qiong who both can resist spears to his throat metal drills to his head. Another is Mikhail Vasilyev who skin is adhesive and can hold non-magnetic objects. Or Stig Severinsen who can hold is breath 20 minutes. Even the US Presidency has seen the office holder take mythical hyper-human status in film (e.g. Harrison Ford in Air Force One). UFC is becoming hugely popular with epic beatings of super-men and super-women.
Today we are witnessing an emerging new era that will be dominated by automation with robotics and artificial intelligence. There are two emerging trends happening in this era that are going to cause us to confront the idea of the hyper-human head on:
- The first trend is the inevitable march towards replacing human labor with robotic labor and human computation with artificial intelligence. The trend has only just started and is going to accelerate as our technology advances.
- The second trend is the enhancement of the physical human. We have already seen this with the advancement of prosthetics, knee replacements and more. One could argue the smart phone is just the first step in fulltime real time enhancement in our daily lives for every owner of a phone.
This new era is going to challenge us to consider several questions such as:
- Is machine better than man? The super smart robot that can outperform any human. The extended version of John Henry and the race against the steam hammer.
- To what extent should we modify man? Do we go full cyborg?
- What does it mean to be human? As robots and AI become more human like we will strain to see the differences that still make us unique. Technology likely will give us more ways to be unique but will that make us less human?
In some ways, the technology which may revolutionize our lives will challenge us to consider our very humanity. Will we start to seek the hyper-human for all of us? Will we become a society of unique iron man – perhaps hyper beautiful, hyper strong, hyper smart and hyper anything will become critical to make us stand out. Will the hyper human become the norm?
This trend towards the hyper-human both in fiction and in the future via technological enhancements will also force us to consider our humanity via the lens of religion. Are we divinely created with a divine soul or just something to be enhanced and improved? Are we more than the designed machine that begins to meet your physical and mental abilities? As a Christian man, I believe faith will become the key to not losing our selves to the lure of the hyper-human mentality. We can look to scripture to give us guidance:
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:12
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:3-8
In Matthew Jesus specifically speaks about our goal is to humble ourselves to not sorry about exalting ourselves. We are mortal but there is a life beyond our mortal existence. This is true even if we are somehow hyper-humanized. In Philippians Paul instructs us to look beyond our selves and notes that Jesus who was God lowered his existence to that of a man – the opposite of the demi-god example. If we follow the example and instruction of Christ, then the siren’s song of seeking to more than we are – to be hyper-human – will not have its effect. That’s not to say you can’t pop some popcorn and put your feet up and enjoy the next super-hero flick or spy thriller!