Can humans adapt to mechanical wings and other cyber implants?

mechanical wing by Leonardo da Vinci, circa 1490

How could our bodies evolve new senses and grow nerve endings to control bio-mechanical augmentation like artificial wings?

Our brains have plasticity and can adapt to the loss of a limb, but also remarkably will adapt to “sensing” a tool as an extension of the arm, called peri-hand extension.

enter image description here

Put in simple terms, while using a tool the brain believes the tool is an extension of the arm. Remove the tool and the brain has a lingering distorted perception of the body’s shape. Scientist Alessandro Farné has published his research but unfortunately I only found it behind a paywall. A google search leads to pop-science articles and summaries of the research.

The brain creates a dynamic bodymap for motor control, and this map will update to include a sword at the end of your arm, Crutches as an extension of your “legs”, and the full size of a car when you are driving (“Car Body” Phenomenon). FWIW, the location of this map in the brain is likely the cortical homunculus.

“Awareness” of the wings will be in the brain, not in the wing’s nerve endings. As when you drive a car, the actual mechanics of pulling levers and pushing on pedals becomes unconscious. You just focus on “driving” – that is, you just think about maneuvering through traffic using your spatial awareness and senses, no different (at least consciously) than running through a crowd. Learning to operate a bicycle, is mentally very different from riding a bicycle. Once you learn it you don’t think about it anymore.

Meanwhile your brain has broken down dozens of arbitrary mechanical activities into motor control (rotate a wheel counter-clockwise to turn left), and is adapting your sensory information to the specific task (safe visual distance to the next car is adjusted according to the engine sound, vibration of the tires on the road, how quickly objects enter and leave peripheral vision).

With cyber wings, the flyer’s brain has to learn to operate the wings and interpret the sensory information for the task, but creating artificial nerves may not be a problem. Nerve signals are simplistic (like a repetitive creaking noise), and there might not be much difference in the signal when feeling the tip of the wing graze against furniture or the wing vibrating from an updraft during flight, but the brain will interpret those nerve signals very differently while walking around the room or flying.

Other senses play an enormous role in confirming sensory information too. Your flyer’s brain will be interpreting the feeling of wind on the skin, the sound of the air rushing past, the pull of muscles on the wings, as well as visual cues to determine speed, height, balance, etc. The whole brain works together to coordinate the sensory information.

SaveSave

The Un-manning of Worldbuilding

I’ve been injecting Feminism into a worldbuilding discussion community. It’s a bizarre pseudo-creative space where you ask one question about the world you are building, then other members answer. Everyone votes up or down on the questions and answers, so everything is ranked by social voting. It’s the only online space I’ve ever seen that allows anyone to edit other people’s posts (it’s more like a wiki, in some ways). The question does not belong to you, but to the community. Editing is actually encouraged.

The Milgram Experiments famously proved that you can always find a man willing to harm someone he cannot see.

Its value cachet is a bank of creative knowledge. It operates on a point-currency system, and up/down votes from other members add/subtract to your points…. Asking a question earns half the points as answering (better to give…). Point tiers are rewarded with superficial badges, but also unlock admin privileges. Once you accumulate points you can spend them on reward bounties…. It’s a complex system with lots of caveats, and I briefly thought it would make a good template for a future economy based on social-participation, but last week I gamed a niche/flaw in the system and have been earning maximum allowed points daily ever since with only a few well-positioned answers.

It’s a male dominated space – with a noisy minority of the mindset that sabotaged the Hugo Awards a few years back. Their ideal is Asimov: very dry, very hard, very MALE *science* fiction. They were invaded by “magic” authors a while back and they lost the war (old debates preserved in the admin were epic LOL) so now “magic” is allowed if it’s properly tagged as such. There are daily admonishments to stop sarcastically answering with “Just use magic…!”

Instead the community doubled down on sci-fi purity – this is the interesting aspect (to me). Since they can no longer have site-wide realism they will dogpile on any sci-fi question that waivers from hard science (FYI, basically *all* tropes of pop sci-fi are pure fantasy: warp speed, teleporters, force fields – they will never exist). Fealty to realism is such a dogma they chastise anyone who does not kowtow with the proper genuflections to “hard” science – some genuflections are so common they have insert words to cover entire concepts because they are acceptable psuedo-science with a proper pedigre (see: Alcubierre drive). They even tried to make a science purity rating but of course only the hardliners stuck to it. It’s comparable to a 3D community and focuses on photorealism as the “true” form. It is a male-power dogma, like belligerent atheism.

Jane Goodall takes better notes than I do.

Anyway, there’s probably a whole Jane Goodall thing I could fill notebooks with my observations of male power dynamics (and how I am compelled to subvert them). Cut to the chase, my feminism was outed because of a series of questions about tweaking voter laws to favor “high IQ” and various other so-called meritocracies including “education”. Naturally I answered the shit out of those with my woke-self (that’s self-depricating sarcasm, people), and even posted a sample IQ Test that was used in Alabama to prevent African Americans from voting in ’64, and linked it to last month’s SCOTUS decision that declared proxies for gerrymandering look like racially-motivated voter suppression. While most answers talked about the fallacy behind IQ tests I actually found a real life incident where IQ test meritocracy was abused and I identified the vicims: African American voters.

But Heinlein wasn’t sexist…, he LOVED sex…

There was a small dogpile of downvotes and a Heinlein pushback (literally: How Dare You Question Heinlein! If that seems like a non sequitur, now you know what it’s like), but a larger number of upvotes and a long discussion in comments where people were explaining this *is* the answer.  An actual historic incident trumps all maybes and hypotheticals…. I might have “won” the question without the backlash, but instead was 3rd place by votes.

That debate launched 3 other questions, trying out variations of “IQ” with other privilege meritocracies, but by then I understood my answer and was able to answer first (one of the gamed quirks is the order your answer displays, first responders have an advantage) so I easily “won” those questions, and even snuck a bit of creative writing on top so those answers scored well…. One of my downvoters started an admin protest thread saying he didn’t want to hear about “black people” in an IQ thread, but that was downvoted and put “On Hold” as unclear, hahaha….

I told you about the “genetic ark of manly-men and nubile breeding women” that I skewered by explaining why the only survivors should be Lady Geneticists and frozen sperm, LOL! And just as my answer was winning they voted to put the question “On Hold” as unclear….

Selma Labat – “sexy Amazon”

Latest answer was about Amazon Warriors and I didn’t get the first reply but “won” the question anyway with a hyena answer. “Hyenas and testosterone” blasted to the top and is still earning me points, despite some protests in the comments that Amazons wouldn’t be “sexy” enough because they would be “androgynous muscular freaks”…. YAY! That would be TOO SEXY for you, Dudebro.

I have no idea why I do this shit… I *do* feel it’s important to invade manspace with feminism (not “girlpower” but actual Intersectional Feminism), but I’m also experienced at navigating male power dynamics (even when refusing to kowtow, I am navigating). Most of these men are not real writers, like me they are working at becoming creative writers, so I can’t even claim I am influencing influencers…. Maybe there’s a small chance I become a better writer myself, or that less aggro feminist flowers might sprout in the garden I helped to clear. While there’s a small intellectual Gen-X bonus-round for scoring highly with a controversial answer, now that I’ve figured out how to game their point system the Virgo/Aries analyze-then-destroy aspect is over – it feels like I already won.


Clearly I haven’t won anything. I’m using my skills to score points in a creative logic arena. Unfortunately I’m only proving that an exceptional person can win on her own terms, but I’m not holding any territory. I’ll have to stick around to make an impact, even then I don’t know if it’s possible to make any lasting difference.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Sapient Cats

What evolutionary steps would be required to have a house cat evolve sapience?

Cat’s already have developed brains based on how folded the cerebral cortex is (estimated twice as much surface as dogs, with features comparable to about 90% of humans), but to make them on par with humans their brains would need to enlarge significantly.

Humans have had at least two evolutionary leaps in brain size. No one really knows why. One of the leaps coincides roughly with evidence of fire. Cooking with fire allowed humans to get more nutrition from the food they were already eating, but it’s debated whether fire led to bigger brains or bigger brains led to fire.

There was another evolutionary leap in human brains, and it’s assumed that people began living in larger communal groups around that time. Some theories suggest that as social groups became more complex, human brains expanded to track important people and extended family relationships. How would tracking social connections effect evolution? When you are more likely to die at the hands of others in your own species than from environment or predators, keeping track of who your friends are might be very important to survival, as well as having a good idea of what others are thinking (called Theory of Mind).

So you have a good chance with cats. They rank among “intelligent animals” but there is much debate about how intelligence should be compared (it’s important to take studies that compare human and cat intelligence with a little skepticism, and many online articles are playing to a willing audience). If you own a cat you’ve no doubt seen them display an understanding of mechanics they cannot operate (like doorknobs). It’s hard to imagine they will grow useable thumbs and start building complex machines.

But It does seem reasonable to imagine a similar evolutionary path of brain expansion that alters how cats co-exist in larger communities (female cats already live communally but male cats are typically solitary roamers), and they would probably need to start cooking their food. Even then you might need 200,000 to half-a-million years of evolution before a cat society starts resembling ours.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Space Opera and Supernatural Magic

Space Opera is more akin to action/adventure than science fiction. Heroes blast their way out of prison, villains become tyrants for the self-serving desire to have power, and politics resemble Greek tragedies: all about personal grievances and family bloodlines. Space Opera is a mash up of pop futurism and traditional storytelling.

She’s holding a space pistol. She is defending him, not the other way around.

In Space Opera technology is just a story mechanic to service the plot. Consider one of the grandfathers of pulp sci-fi Flash Gordon. The science (if you can find it) is nonsense, but these are larger-than-life characters doing exciting things. It’s not that the science is too lazy or “soft”, it’s actually irrelevant. Don’t worry, you don’t have time to think about what makes the hawkcycle go, you are too busy dodging death rays and being seduced by gorgeous amoral princesses.

FlashGordon.com

The downside is with no consistent world rules technology comes and goes as needed Deus ex machina to get characters from A to B, or to resolve impossible conflicts instantly. Star Trek is among the worst offenders for casually discovering or inventing a world-breaking technology on a weekly basis and just as quickly ignoring it.

Technobabble is used not to inform the viewer but to talk over their heads. That isn’t science fiction, it’s just trying to awe with pseudo-intellectual wordsalad.

Another unfortunate staple of Space Opera is reductively amplifying every conflict to an ancient battle of Good verses Evil (looking at you, Babylon5). I think this is more a case of reductio ad absurdum, or just bad writing. How old is this conflict? Since The Dawn of Time…, wait no, before that even…

Why rely on dry technology infodumps to explain the setup if you can have a juicy prophecy with built-in foreshadowing to get the action moving? (Also why develop characters with believable motives when you can just have space nazis?) Most genre clichés probably have a grandfather that did it well, followed by hundreds of derivatives that did it to death.

Supernatural magic is NOT inherent to Space Opera, but it’s the corollary to Clark’s Third Law “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Only in this case it’s actually magic but we’ll say some technobabble so it sounds like advanced technology.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Who Gets Selected for a Post-Apocalypse Ark?

Men over-estimate their value. How many male sci-fi writers imagine a post-apocalypse scenario where intelligent men and “young breeding females” are locked in an ark for generations, destined to revive the species…? Hold up there, Son. Your penis will not save the human race. You cannot fuck your way to a better tomorrow.

Only select women… and sperm.

There will be no men on the Ark. Women work co-operatively and are far less violent. Sperm can be frozen and transported easily. Men would consume resources without providing a useful womb (assuming there are no artificial wombs). The women can easily be trained to fill all science and technical positions. You can’t afford to have a man-rage incident that would jeopardize lives or the longevity of the mission.

With frozen sperm you can also bypass all inbreeding issues for generations to come, maybe indefinitely. They can easily select for sex while they screen for genetic problems. All pregnancies will be artificially inseminated anyway. The oldest verified mother was nearly 67, so there is no reason to worry about age. Exercise, science, and hormone treatments may be able to extend that age even more.

You certainly wouldn’t allow a couple to have TWO children with the same zygote donors, and you wouldn’t leave such decisions up to random Friday night dates and mood lighting. If your entire population is women, they could pair off into couples (or triples) to co-parent. Some women might actually enjoy pregnancy while others would delay or abstain, but with an all female crew you’ve doubled your capability for pregnancies.

If you also bring frozen eggs, the scientists and engineers are not necessarily reusing their own DNA. The 1st generation could have maximum diversity with every individual being no genetic relation to any other – although you would still screen for genetic disorders so I’m not sure how useful this would be (maybe very useful if you suspect future generations will not have the same invitro or screening technology).

Barbara McClintock (June 16, 1902 – September 2, 1992) was a pioneering American scientist and cytogeneticist.
enter image description here
Y chromosomes are not Y-shaped. The misnomer implies they are larger than they really are.

They should not create any male births until the crisis has safely passed (when they reach a new planet, or however your ark works). Men carry less genetic information – most people are surprised by how much less – and the whole point of a breeding program is to be able to safely select for recessive genes. You need two complete pairs. Y chromosomes would compromise that.

People actually might not feel as bad about being left behind if they believed they would live on in some way, by contributing to a future human colony. I would hard sell the sperm/egg bank idea upfront to the general population, and tell everyone they are accepted. It would be up to future generations to decide if and when to use the gene bank anyway (and they might actually use it as spare parts for gene-splicing).

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

How many people fit in an Arcology?

The politics and purpose of your arco would significantly impact the number of residents that would be packed into it.

In my mind, the default picture for an arcology is the hippie utopian 1970s Arcosanti, and I immediately imagined a clean city with apartment balconies over a lake. Any untidy industry gets tucked away inside the structure and the residential population is limited only by air/light exposure… Ahhhh.

Paolo Soleri – Dam

No, wait. That’s just an architect’s pipedream…. Those web things are the apartments. I don’t actually know what’s going on with that Swiss cheese slice, is that a walkway? In the top-down view (top right in the drawing) we see this isn’t actually a working dam so much as an crazy facade apartment building in front of a dam…. Or maybe I’m reading it wrong. Those web apartments are actually horizontal compression supports. The dam really is that thin, the structure is like a bridge on its side…

Soleri designed another arco dam he called Veladiga which he estimated would hold a modest 15,000 people.

Simcity2000 pushed arcologies into pop culture, but shortened it to the hip arco. Their populations ranged from 30,000 – 55,000 but were pollution neutral. A secret easter egg involved building over 300 Launch Arcos that colonized space. Many considered it “winning” the game.

Simcity2000 Arcos: Plymouth Arco, Forest Arco, Darco, and Launch Arco

Decide WHY the arco exists.

  • Accommodate a dense population.
  • Self-contained ecology
  • Keep labor close to work

Decide WHO built it

  • An egalitarian society that appreciates nature
  • a crowded city pressing the limits of its resources
  • a mining company, the government, or space aliens.

An actual arco is constructed for a purpose. It’s a machine with a built-in power source. Industry would need the outside wall for venting CO2 or whatever byproduct it produces. It probably has a large industrial conveyor lift to bridge cargo from the lake above to the river below. The population might be limited to only the necessary workers, managers, and their families. The people serve the machine, like an oil rig. The costs to provide for them will push the number of residents to a minimum.

Moloch from Metropolis (1927)

But arcos are eco-friendly, right? What if you take the fragile ecology scenario to opposite extremes. What if the environment can no longer sustain your population? If the goal is to gather all the people into one building there would be pressure to pack as many people as physically possible into every cubic meter of the structure. Workers live in crowded dorms. Only the elite would have private apartments, but even those would be tiny. If the purpose of the arco is to keep as many people as possible alive in one concentrated space, I think we have not seen the limits of where we can go.

 

An estimated 100,000 people in HK live in these conditions. 1,300 Hong Kong dollars ($167) a month for one of about a dozen wire mesh cages resembling rabbit hutches crammed into a dilapidated apartment in a gritty, working-class West Kowloon neighborhood. The cages, stacked on top of each other, measure 1.5 square meters (16 square feet).

Even in a utopian/socialist future where a residential megastructure also serves a utilitarian function, there is a negotiated balance between space devoted to industry and space devoted to community housing. Those needs might change over time leading to overcrowding or reclaiming of industrial space. Was the arco financed by luxury condos, or is this a low-income housing project in exchange for pollution credits?

Hugh Ferris – Metropolis of Tomorrow

It’s not the volume or surface area that defines the population, but the purpose of the arco, and the politics of the society who built it.  In reality humans are not like logs that can be stacked into a defined volume. Humans will adapt to overcrowding, and “personal space” is based on income and real estate values.

 

**Zone your arco’s industrial areas and subtract them from the volume.** The space left over is available for residents and public areas. Depending on where in the world your dam is, it will have different legal definitions of [Overcrowding][5]. If your goal is maximum number of dwellers start with existing overcrowding/zoning regulations and make it more dense. [Kowloon City][6] for example was unregulated but obv not designed as an efficient arco. [Cruise ships can be very dense][7] and still comfortable, but they are almost the opposite spectrum of a self-sustainable arcology. Also look at Chungking Mansions and Mirador Mansions budget hotels in HK for examples of very small private living quarters. After that you have [SRO hotels][8] with shared bathrooms, and then hostels and dormitories. Your arco might have any mix of these with the ability to reconfigure as housing needs fluctuate.

Without some idea of what you consider suitable space for your population there isn’t a hard answer. Social and legal pressures would decide the limits, not architects.
[1]: https://i.stack.imgur.com/0sKta.jpg
[2]: https://i.stack.imgur.com/2W5Bt.jpg
[3]: https://i.stack.imgur.com/lfulF.jpg
[4]: https://i.stack.imgur.com/k6oeW.jpg
[5]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overcrowding
[6]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kowloon_Walled_City#Population
[7]: http://oldurbanist.blogspot.com/2011/09/densest-urban-environment-in-world.html
[8]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_room_occupancy