Excerpt from Radical Evolution by Joel Garreau, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Radical Evolution

The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies -- and What It Means to Be Human

by Joel Garreau

Radical Evolution
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  • First Published:
    May 2005, 400 pages
    May 2006, 400 pages

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Print Excerpt

Chapter One

The Future of Human Nature

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.
–Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn

This book can't begin with the tale of the telekinetic monkey.

That certainly comes as a surprise. After all, how often does someone writing nonfiction get to lead with a monkey who can move objects with her thoughts?

If you lunge at this opportunity, however, the story comes out all wrong. It sounds like science fiction, for one thing, even though the monkey–a cute little critter named Belle–is completely real and scampering at Duke University.

This gulf between what engineers are actually creating today and what ordinary readers might find believable is significant. It is the first challenge to making sense of this world unfolding before us, in which we face the biggest change in tens of thousands of years in what it means to be human.

This book aims at letting a general audience in on the vast changes that right now are reshaping our selves, our children and our relationships. Helping people recognize new patterns in their lives, however, is no small trick, as I've discovered over time.

For example, there's the problem you encounter when asking people what they'd do if offered the chance to live for a very long time–150 years or more. Nine out of 10 boggle at this thought. Many actually recoil. You press on. Engineers are working on ways to allow you to spend all that time with great physical vitality–perhaps even comparable to that of today's 35-year-olds. How would you react if that opportunity came to market? There's a question that gets people thinking, but you can tell it is still quite a stretch.

We live in remarkable times. Who could have imagined at the end of the 20th century that a human augmentation substance that does what Viagra does would sponsor the NBC Nightly News?

Discussing this sort of change, however, can be hard. Take the United States Department of Defense program to create the "metabolically dominant soldier." In one small part of that agenda, researchers hope to allow warriors to run at Olympic sprint speeds for 15 minutes on one breath of air. It might be indisputably true that human bodies process oxygen with great inefficiency, and this may be a solvable problem, and your taxpayer dollars unquestionably are being spent trying to remedy this oversight on the part of evolution. Nonetheless, it takes effort to hold some readers with this report. It just sounds too weird.

One fine spring evening, I found myself at a little table outside a San Francisco laundry, pondering how to bridge this divide between the real and the credible. The laundry, called Star Wash, is on a lovely but quite ordinary street. In the window there is an American flag and a sign that tastefully spells out "God Bless America" in red, white and blue lights. It is run by a woman named Olga, from Guatemala City. I was traveling, interviewing the people who are creating the vastly enhanced human abilities that Radical Evolution discusses, and was waiting for my shirts to be finished.

Most of the prospective readers of this book, it occurred to me, are probably like Olga. They don't care about gee-whiz technology. Why should they? Neither do I, truth be told.

Excerpted from Radical Evolution by Joel Garreau Copyright © 2005 by Joel Garreau. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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