On the Origin of Androids

Editorial cartoon depicting Charles Darwin as an ape (1871)Woke up this morning imagining that there were no more animals in the world. No natural animals anyway: rather, they had all been replaced by mechanical devices, which worked devilishly better than nature’s invention. At least this is what everyone thought at first. But the absence of animals and their replacement by machines soon made itself felt in an unexpected way: suddenly there was nothing to aspire to anymore. To be top dog there had to be a real dog. An automatic puppy that only rolls around, does what you say no matter what you ask and guesses what you might’ve wanted to say in an inbuilt desire to satisfy all your needs, won’t do. You can’t come clean unless someone else is dirtier than you. I was amazed to find out how many aspects of human life are so tied to the animal condition that they disappeared when the animal proper disappeared. And I don’t mean food here. Steaks, chicken nuggets, and pork chops had all been replaced by things that tasted better, looked better and kept almost forever. I mean epistemology, metaphysics and ethics. We lost our taste for knowledge, our ability to distinguish between what was real and what was not, and the difference between good and bad. Death was dealt by philosophy. But one discipline saved the world from destruction: aesthetics. Since all experimentation and risk had long been banned from the arts, here was the space into which the artificial animals could expand and thereby provide us with the competition that our nature needed. In the time that followed the insight that we required an animal kingdom to rule over as emperors, man-made mammals, birds, fishes and insects created art of a beauty never seen before. Curiously enough, the classes of animals divided the arts up among themselves: mammals specialized in writing, birds in painting, fishes focused on music, and insects threw themselves into sculpture.
Poems of the Sea, 1850 - WhalesThere were plenty of transgressions, like the whale who insisted on singing, and transmutations, like the swallow whose paintings consisted of air column density changes made visible only fleetingly by the flutter of wings. Humans could not follow many of these endeavors, let alone surpass them, but the examples bravely set by the beasts, rejuvenated our creativity. Animals and men began to work side-by-side. Eventually, it became clear that our only hope to reach Parnassus was to also rid ourselves of flesh and feelings. So we followed the animal and became androids. And I don’t believe any of us will ever look back.

I’ve got a long-standing infatuation with androids. Over and over again I’ve approached the subject. Finally, this morning, I thought I’d found the solution, even though when I read through it myself now, it seems a tad complicated. But then, when you talk about unhappened futures, there always is an air of the absurd. See also my recent collection of “Android Clippings” in the July issue of Thrice Magazine.

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