On December 23 (2012), many keralite (people hailing from Kerala, a southern state of India) viewers both home and abroad anxiously glued their attentions to their Television sets, for their favourite singer, Mr.Sukesh Kuttan in the finale of the hit reality TV show on Asianet channel called “Idea Star SingerSeason 6”. However, Sukesh did not sing much to the disappointment of the viewers.
Sukesh Kuttan singing in Asianet Idea Star Singer
In fact, he wouldn’t sing due to reasons known only to him as he could never express himself in a way that normal society could interpret as effective communication. However, whenever Sukesh did sing in the past episodes of the show, he sang like none other; beating all other traditionally trained contestants as if they were mere wisps of somebody’s imagination of grandeur.
However, Sukesh is known to normative society as “Autistic”. He is extremely sensitive to external stimuli and could sing only when his doting mother was beside him to calm him. However, despite his mother’s presence; Sukesh Kuttan could not sing probably owing to the tremendous noise of the crowd and the intense studio lights which might have disturbed his otherwise serene musical world. Somebody else won the competition and that was that. But deep down and from the amount of spectators who had voted for him (through SMS), it was obvious who won the real competition. It was an inspiring moment in Indian television to feature a differently abled person and give him a sporting chance.
There seems to be a widely accepted common denominator for a normal state of human consciousness amongst individuals within any given society. For years, people who are differently abled and showing remarkable traits (sometimes known as “Savants”) have lived and continue to live amongst us. The “normal society” has never quite accepted nor tried it’s best to understand them. If the ability is exceptionally higher than what normative members of the society can achieve, the possessor of the trait is hailed as a prodigy. If not, the so called normal people outcast the child as differently abled and is treated as a burden only to be tolerated to uphold the loosely held dictums of personhood and ethics (both of which are fundamentally flawed systems seeking continued evolution). Some of the names used to describe such individuals are Dyslexic, Autistic, Savants and many others. I would rather think that there is a general problem with the entire human society that identifies itself as “civilized”. It tries to rationalize common behavior as being normal. Children are repeatedly taught to adhere to certain norms and cultures without any specific justified reason offered to them. Pressure from Parents, Peers and behavioural psychologists force otherwise talented children to become proficient only in areas which the “normal” society deems as worthwhile pursuits. Thus, may potential artists, musicians are forced into “fitting in” to a dull society that has already proved it’s uselessness by way of mindlessly unsustainable consumption of resources. In “The Drama of the Gifted Child”, Alice Duer Miller rightfully writes “It is among the commonplaces of education that we often first cut off the living root and then try to replace its natural functions by artificial means. Thus we suppress the child's curiosity and then when he lacks a natural interest in learning he is offered special coaching for his scholastic coaching for his scholastic difficulties”.
Whenever the inherent genius in the child refuses to oblige and retaliates violently, the parents and most often the society labels them as differently abled. When we see a child being overly sensitive to stimulation that others perceive as normal; we take it to be a sign of a neuro degenerative disorder. Could it not be the other way around that it is we who have lost our sense of sensitivity to all that surrounds us? How do we know that it might be us who are in need of medication and awakening to a new state of altered consciousness?
Their abilities raise an amusing question in my mind. Could it not be probable that the rest of us are actually retarded; and therefore require formal training in music to perform even marginally as these naturally extraordinary singers with no prior traditional training ? The Human brain and the way it functions still needs to be interpreted in a proper way. Our neural perception of this world could actually be limited when compared to the perceptions of a “Savant” or “autistic” person.
There is a Dystopian movie called “Equlibirum” which shows a nation state that defines curbing human emotions such as love through drug intake as normative behavior. When everybody does it, it seems normal owing to the benefits it supposedly offers from a world of crime or disorder.This movie need not be all that dystopian since it is only a futuristic depiction of what has happened in the past and is continuing to happen in the present. How idiotic now do our ancient civilizations seem, where men and women were bought and sold as slaves much like commodities in a market. How equally absurd does it seem now that we humans once regarded people with black skin as inferior! When such things have happened, it is little wonder that the dystopian movie scenario might happen as well.
A famous movie from India called “Taare Zameen Par” tells the tale of an extraordinarily talented boy who sees the world in an extremely different but creative manner. The story is about how he is outcasted by the regimental academic system until a talented teacher discovers and inspires him to unfold his colourful interpretation of the world once more[Youtube link : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9o6smDsoOE ]. It is very rare that such things happen in the non-celluloid world. But, it should happen more often. The celebrated Mathematician and game theorist John Forbes Nash [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Forbes_Nash,_Jr. ] was the subject of the Russel Crowe starrer “A Beautiful Mind”. He suffered from paranoid Schizophrenia and yet displayed remarkable genius. I have always believed that if there was one sane person in a room full of insane people, it would be the the sane person who would be perceived as insane and outcasted.
This is the nature of things and becomes even more important in the consideration of a posthuman/transhuman world where we expect human evolution to advance beyond it’s current limitations. How would we resolve our conflicts in the future if we are not able to contend with our own behavioural diversities. In her article “The Misbehaviour Of Behaviourists Ethical Challenges to the Autism-ABA Industry”; Michelle Dawson has this to say about Applied Behavioural Analysis…”Autism equals tragedy, suffering, and doom. Either autistic children are successfully treated through early intensive behaviour interventions or they are condemned to a life of isolation and institutionalization. Autism is incompatible with achievement, intelligence, physical and psychological integrity, dignity, autonomy, and learning: either you are autistic or you have access to these possibilities. Either the autistic gets ABA, and comes to resemble a non-autistic, or the autistic is doomed. Autism equals a nuclear bomb, a stroke, diabetes, a terminal illness, being "riddled with pain from a terrible accident", and again, always, cancer. If you are against ABA then you are for institutionalization. If ABA is criticized then children will be destroyed. Autism is incompatible with humanity: either you are autistic or you are human. If an autistic is deprived of ABA then he will end up being thrown to the floor and sat on by four large attendants in a group home”. This clearly demonstrates the amount of discrimination prevalent in society for so called “differently abled” people.
Human societies throughout history have always resisted any deviation from what is commonly perceived as normal behavior. Society has time and again felt threatened by individuals whose wisdom and independent viewpoints are so profound that they shake the very foundations of existent power structures. More famously; Galileo Galilei, the father of modern science (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_Galilei); was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life for supporting Heliocentrism. From Galileo to Ablert Einstein, there is a long list throughout human history of discrimination and prosecution for thinking differently[http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/06/famous-persecuted-scientists/].
I think we have a long way to go before we upload our consciousness into supercomputers. I also think we are not all that noble as we assume to be; unless we acknowledge equal worth in the diversities that exist between our species in terms of culture, race, religion and most importantly; behavior. We humans have an extremely bad habit of wanting to change all the beauty and diversity in this world to suit our stereotyped and narrow perceptions. Why is it that we cannot let things be as they are? The yearning to evolve radically is very nice. However, such an evolution must be complemented with acceptance of diversity; however radical it may seem. The path to enhanced drugs that increase cognitive capacity must be thoroughly examined for slippery slopes. In fact, I would suggest that transhumanist enthusiasts be very careful when treading on issues of behavioural corrections, interpretations and techno-biological upliftment for humans and animals.
I find the current behavior of ourselves as unacceptable. What are we angry at ? Why do philosophies such as Transhumanism exist ? Do they exist merely to answer the frustrations of mortality and the physical limits of hedonism ? Our brains are already evolved to do wonders even without cognitive enhancement. People like Sukesh Kuttan or James Durbin have repeatedly demonstrated that the brain is capable of incredible feats that defy conventional explanation. I think it is time that society that yearns for a radical change into a postmodern world first realize and rightfully recognize the Superhumans who already exist amidst us; instead of suppressing them.
In "The Dream of Scipio", Iain Pears writes “Was not Hypatia the greatest philosopher of Alexandria, and a true martyr to the old values of learning? She was torn to pieces by a mob of incensed Christians not because she was a woman, but because her learning was so profound, her skills at dialectic so extensive that she reduced all who queried her to embarrassed silence. They could not argue with her, so they murdered her.”
V.R. Manoj has a Ph.D in Environmental Biotechnology/Sciences from Anna University, Chennai, India. He has worked in the Renewable energy industry and currently teaches Environmental Sciences and Engineering to Engineering grad students in India. Dr. Manoj was an IEET Affiliate Scholar for 2010-2012.