Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What makes a human a human? Reproductive universal solvency. (Repost)

    One common challenge of writing Sci-fi or fantasy is the addition of the multitude of humanoids. Elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, orcs, vampires, werewolves, gods, grays, space elves, space orcs (some of whom are spelled with a K), shape changers, clones, sasquaches, warrior teddy bears, and a thousand other humanoids start filling your worlds quickly. It soon becomes hard to find a definable trait that makes the humans human. Elves are long lived, gracefull, wise, magical versions of humans.  Orcs are big, strong, brutal versions of humans. Grays are little super intelligent versions of humans. Gods are super powered humans.

    Often this isn't much of a problem because the humanoids are either rare or divided away from the humans, but eventually there comes the question, If all of these humanoids are unique, what is the human uniqueness?Compared to the elves it is often our vitality and intensity that is pointed to. Compared to orcs it is our stability and rationality that sets us apart. Compared to robots we are shown to be flexible and compassionate. Compared to a bestial species we are intelligent but weak. Each discription of humans is just the discription of the other race in inverse, which is natural since we are the baseline from which they are discribed. In games humans are often the best generalists. We aren't the best at anything in that setup, but we are rather good at everything. Other settings make us the most varied and versatile. I guess that works, but it kind of feels like a cheap answer to me.

    One tendency of humans, in myth as well as fiction, I have noticed is that we are portrayed as a genetic universal solvent. We are shown as being able to mix with anything. This is even being found in real world anthropology. It was long assumed that whenever homo-sapiens entered an area with other hominids, such as neanderthals, that the hominids were killed off. We now are finding that we just interbread with them and assimilated their genes. To use the phrase from the Star Trek Borg, "Resistance is futile."

    No matter how much enmity there is between two groups of humans, if it is at all possible for them to genetically intermix, they will. It takes incredible social and religious pressures to convince people not to go sleeping on the other side of the tracks, and often those pressures just make it more tempting to do so. If you think your herritage is entirely just one race, it is possible you may be right; but it is much more likely you just don't know your family tree as well as you think. Myths are full of heroes, monsters, gods, and godesses who sprung from something more or less than human joining with a human. The best known Vulcan from Star Trek was half human. Aragorn from Lord of the Rings was part elf. In folklore vampires that impregnate a living woman result in a dhampyr. Hercules and Persius were half god. The Spartans considdered themselves the descendants of Hercules. Countless rulers clamed to be direct decendants of one god or another. Those who believe they have been abducted by aliens often say they were impregnated and gave birth while on the ship. Even men who claim to be abducted sometimes say they carried a child, and on the whole we tend to primarily discount the notion of their abduction and seem almost accepting of the idea that if there were near humans out there, even a lack of a womb couldn't stop us from having their babies.

    Biology of whether humans and humanoids could actually reproduce aside, as it seems millenia of audiences take the possibility as a given, there is also the factor that humans would at least try to reproduce with anything. Any one individual human might not be tempted by any given creature, but somewhere out there is someone who will do anything to be with them in a reproductive way. If you have any doubts as to what some people can find attractive, you havn't spent much time on the parts of the internet where they don't block the icky stuff. Some people's ideal romantic partner isn't even humanoid; or plausable under our understanding of physics. If we ever make first contact or discover the entrance to Tyr Na Nog; whatever shape those we meet take, someone of our species will be chomping at the bit to welcome their genes into our pool.

    Really, if you think about it though, that isn't too bad of a trait for a species. Being able to pull the genes of other humanoids into our collective would be likely to have innumerable positive results as time went on. I think it would be cool for my decendants to have super cool magic powers or alien abilities. Also, hidden world fantasy becomes much more plausable under the assumption that long ago all the supernatural people interbred with us. Colonization of distant worlds becomes much more interesting if we integrate with the natives instead of fighting them. Make love, not war.

(Repost from 12/6/2011)