Redesign Humans

January 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

FORGET intelligent design – we suffer from damn stupid design, as many readers noted in response to our seasonal competition, which asked how you would modify the human body if you were not restricted in any way. As Stephan Peters puts it: “The human body is crammed full of messy plumbing, circuitry, scaffolding, dodgy components and building materials, and is riddled with workarounds to compensate for poor initial design as a result.”

Readers who have recently given birth are, understandably, keen on a major redesign. Pouch envy is clearly rife, with genetically acquisitive eyes cast in the direction of the marsupials’ tiny offspring and the comfortable, capacious pockets in which to nurture them. Dozens of those whose offspring are now crawling and walking, meanwhile, plead for extra arms or, in several of the more detailed submissions, for the ability to grow and resorb limbs on demand.

Great minds continue to think alike as competition entries progress through the ages of life. School pupils cause teachers to want eyes in the back of their heads. We wonder how many of the readers who want light-emitting eyebrows are reading under the bed covers on a school night. As readers approach the age at which the phrase “fashion crisis” becomes comprehensible, they want “chameleon” skin – avoiding the cost of re-wardrobing or, for those who have progressed to postgraduate studies, granting the ability to blend into the wallpaper and observe the progress of their funding applications. Very many others want fur instead.

All this surface display leads to mating. We pass rapidly over some of the detailed improvements requested for the act and the parts involved, and focus instead on the socially worthy and ingenious requests for extra steps in the process of conception to ensure that every child is a wanted, nay a determinedly sought-after child.

Dozens want to go green. Literally green, that is, with chlorophyll and photosynthetic skin, so that humans become carbon-neutral over our entire lifespan and no longer need to eat anything. This would have another advantage. Not only global warming but also racism would be much reduced if everyone was viridian.

As life’s rich current moves on we come to requests for the all-day bladder, joints with lubrication points, regenerating teeth, two-way elbows that would make backscratching easier, earlids that could blank out the noise made by those annoying brats that came out of the pouch…and the brain-computer interface with knowledge-storing cards that would deal with the problem of fading, you know, thingy, when you used to know something…

Then there are what we call the meta-entries, such as various forms of genome search-and-replace facilities and the many readers who want a large wardrobe of interchangeable body parts. This move outside the game, like asking the wish fairy for “three more wishes please”, is worthy of a politician or a lawyer – which brings us to our regret that there were several readers requesting a “Pinocchio gene” that would infallibly indicate when its owner was lying – in Arthur Moore’s particularly televisual example, by bringing on an asthma attack.

But our winners are chosen for their originality, not just their wit. Not having a direct brain interface to the whole of human knowledge, we can’t be sure, but they are original in our little world and here they are.

Feedback competition winning entries

HAVE the controlling region of a dolphin’s brain inserted alongside ours so that we can alternate which hemisphere of the brain sleeps at any one time. If this circuitry could be optimised we may never need to sleep fully again.

Michael Cook, Runcorn, Cheshire, UK

INSTEAD of producing fat, the body should be modified to produce a form of oil. This could be drained off at regular intervals. Either a valve could be fitted to the stomach, or for the less squeamish, perhaps it could be “tapped” in the way rubber is extracted from trees.

This oil could be used as fuel for buses, cars, trains, aircraft, power stations and so on. This would simultaneously solve both the obesity and energy crises. People could over-indulge in food and drink, particularly around Christmas time, knowing that they were actually contributing to the greater good of humanity.

Danny Budzak, Hexham, Northumberland, UK

I HAVE always thought it would be nice to have a third eye. The question is, of course, where would you put that eye? I considered having one in the back of my head, but I don’t think I could see much through the hair. The fingertip was also a possibility, but the thought of getting a paper cut on my eyeball soon dissuaded me from that idea.

After much consideration, I realised that eyes are perfectly placed exactly where they are, so I went for a third eye bang in the middle of the forehead. Of course, as I don’t want to look like a freak, it would have to be someone else’s forehead, not my own.

Think of the advantages. Does my bum look big in these pants? “Ian,” – the recipient of my extra eye – “come over here and look at my bum for me.” Oh, I see they do make it look quite large.

There is a wealth of extra experiences that I get to experience through placing my eye on Ian’s forehead. I just hope he goes to Africa, I’ve always wanted to see it.

Craig McGree, Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia

PAIN often outstays its welcome, continuing long after you have worked out that something is amiss. It would be handy to be able to say to your body, for example: “Yes, I know I shouldn’t have picked up that soldering iron by the wrong end, but it’s too late now, so please stop bugging me for a while.”

So how about a snooze button for pain? Pressing the button would stop pain for a few minutes, before allowing it to return. This would relieve us of much suffering, while still allowing pain its function of telling us that whatever is happening to our body is probably not good for it.

Ben Craven, Menstrie, Clackmannanshire, UK

I WOULD replace hair follicles with the basal bodies of bacterial flagella and hair proteins with flagellin proteins, both scaled up to human dimensions. Bacterial flagella are corkscrew propellers that are spun by their basal body motors. On the human head, these flagella would provide all sorts of interesting capabilities.

Underwater one could swim backwards, driven by flagella spinning in the appropriate direction. Similarly a diver could more easily come to the surface by being propelled upward, scalp first.

Hair-combing and perms would be things of the past – hairstyles could be spun into place at will. Hats could be removed by spinning them off onto hooks or hatstands. This could become a new sport.

The velocity, direction and groupings of spinning hair would emerge as a new form of emotional expression, and teenagers would invent a vocabulary to describe different spinning manoeuvres.

Spinning hair has other valuable uses. Your dog wags its tail – you respond with your hair. Need to attract the waiter’s attention? Just spin fast and high…

David Kafkewitz, Morristown, New Jersey, US

IF I could modify my body in any way, I would glue monkeys to my hands and feet, then glue geckos to their hands and feet. Then I could climb up anything.

Robbie Somerville, Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire, UK

A CONVENIENTLY placed reset button – perhaps on the ear lobe – for those moments when I get so confused that I wish I were a PC that could simply be restarted.

Depressing the button momentarily would result in a “warm restart” – taking me back to my mental state of 5 minutes previously. Holding in the button for 2 seconds would produce a “cold restart” – to be used only in the event I am found hanging from a chandelier or become convinced I am Napoleon.

Alan Thomas, Shepperton, Middlesex, UK

ACTUALLY, right now all I’d like for Christmas is a small gauge on the forehead of my 4-month-old daughter. It would simply read from “empty” to “full”. I cannot tell you what a difference that would make to our lives.

Mark Fletcher, Neutral Bay, New South Wales, Australia

A BRAIN-BOOK permeable membrane, so that the act of owning a book (or maybe even of holding a book in an interested sort of fashion) would come with optional download into memory with full search, retrieve and delete facilities. I have long wanted this. My shelves are full of books just waiting.

Danuta Orlowska, Canterbury, Kent, UK

A 5-MILLIMETRE layer of fat under the scalp would serve to make a blow to the head both less painful and far less skull-shattering. I’m not sure why we haven’t evolved this, actually, as if it appeared after birth it wouldn’t make being born any more difficult.

A little more advanced would be a memory card adapter wired to the eyes or optic nerves, so that pictures and videos could be saved for later.

Something like an iPod would allow continuous video viewing for a day or more. You could wire it to run directly into the optic nerve, thus avoiding the need for a video screen and getting the best possible 3D effects and the widest ever screen.

Nigel Tolley, Preston, Lancashire, UK



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