Reimagined humanity

At least someone found my idea of reinventing humanity inspiring: Nemo Ramjet rendered this version of of my hexapodal sapient.


It’s different than I would have pictured it—the way I juggled about the functionality of the head, I think the face would not have been at all recognizable as human—but the cool thing about imaginations is that ours are all different.

By the way, Nemo says he’s drawn him in the midst of a religious argument, railing against the possibility that humanity could exist in anything other than this divine form, modeled on his God.


  1. Rieux says

    So the symbol on the book he’s holding is a multi-crucifix, isn’t it? The kind of apparatus you might use to nail up a creature with six limbs?

    (Actually, I suspect the job could be done with fewer crosspieces.)

  2. Fred says

    Lord!! Is he naked??? Now you know we can’t have any of that!

    I guess that Nemo wanted to show Hex’s anatomy.

  3. says

    He did say it was a bit blasphemous, since he’s exposing his face.

    I was just thinking, if we added bird-like lungs with pneumatic sacs, crucifixion (which impairs respiration) wouldn’t work.

  4. NelC says

    He could still bleed to death through the wounds, or just die of exposure and thirst. Though I guess that the Romans of his world might add an embelishment or two to speed it up a bit, like causing extra wounds or drawing the condemned’s entrails or something.

  5. plunge says

    PZ, I think a lot of people didn’t quite get your article. They all seem to imagine you saying that you should take the brain as it evolved today and move it into the chest. There are any number of reasons that would be a bad or sub-optimal idea. You should have made it more clear that by having such a change be a primordial and ancient, brains wouldn’t have developed in the direction that modern brains have in the first place: they would have developed to the best advantage of their different position.

  6. Christian says

    I must say that the illustration reminds me of my nightmares of fundamentalists….

  7. Peter Ellis says

    TNG – with regard to the Ringworld series, you’re thinking of Pierson’s Puppeteers.

    Most major difference to pharyngula’s version is that instead of having a “head” and two manipulative arms, the puppeteers instead have a mouth, an eye and an ear on each of the two arms. Humans interpret that as being two heads, but that’s not really accurate – it’s really two feeding/sensory tentacles, with the brain being centrally located within the trunk.

    Three legs rather than four, hooves, and lose the tail, but that’s basically decoration.

  8. Nathan Myers says

    Consider John Varley’s version, from “Titan”. He never says where the brain is, but he provides two-and-a-half sets of genitalia. The front bits, at least, aren’t involved in excretion.

    Nerves are pretty slow, so it would be surprising to find sensory processing anywhere but next to the sensory organ, at least for vision. That doesn’t mean the whole brain needs to be there, though. I think PZ must have just forgot about providing eyes in the back of, well, himself. (Sure, B movies would be harder to write.)

    It seems clear Niven had the right idea about combining hands with smell, taste, and ingestion, but it seems silly to put something so fragile as eyes out there. Furthermore, the signal processing load for eyes and ears that are not in a fixed geometric arrangement would be prohibitive. Maybe the ears would better be on the shoulders or hips (or whatever you’d call ’em — withers?); then the head only has the eyes, and probably a little pre-brain with just the visual cortex. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason for each eye to swing much less than 180 degrees, so the head doesn’t really need more than two or three degrees of freedom: up/down and tilt. With three eyes in a triangle arrangement, the eyes wouldn’t need so much individual mobility — Asimov had a creature like that, and with the brain in the chest, and breathing chlorine if I recall right.

    Probably a central gizzard for chewing would be better than combining jaws and hands.

    As for incidentals, antlers could be pretty handy; ask any jackalope. They could double as electric-field sensors. (Who knows? Maybe they do, on real deer.) The tail might as well have a claw/stinger on the end. Otherwise soldiers would need to have it bobbed.

  9. says

    It looks an awful lot like the description for the Hrule in Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series (definitely in Across the Wall, but also possibly in Lirael). Love it!

  10. says

    PNH: Hexapodia *as* the key insight. Geez, you must have read the book only four times at most :)

    I too was reminded of Niven’s puppeteers.

    I’d like to see elimination of aging as part of the new design of humanity. Cells don’t have to die (look at stem cells; they’re immortal).

  11. QrazyQat says

    You might be interested in the Contact Conference, which has been going annually for 19 years I think. (Their web site seems to be down temporarily right now.) It gets some fairly big names in science, especially anthro, and scifi, as well as just folks. (Nancy and I went a few times in the 80s.)

    On of the ongoing things they do is to make two teams for a contact scenario which plays out late in the conference. One team is the humans and one the aliens — each sits down separately and creates their teams and method, which for the aliens involves creating the aliens and their culture and behavior. They get some interesting ideas — the concept being that the aliens have to be, as near as we can figure, something that could evolve and be intelligent, but beyond that it’s anything goes.

    The contact, as a rule, ends badly for one or the other teams.

    Google for “Contact conference” and you’ll get the link to their site — hopefully it’ll be up and running again soon.

  12. David Harmon says

    Hmm. In line with PZ’s comment on the face, I think the musculature might be a bit too humanoid, but whatever. Interesting, though — you chose a retroactive reinvention of humanity, but you focused almost exclusively on the gross physical aspects. For the original question, I would have gone for social changes and structures, though not the ones you might think. For reinventing humanity, I immediately think of various things that don’t even make sense as retroactive changes, and they’re mostly internal:

    A modular immune system, with the ability to consciously suppress false alarms, to purposefully “register” a sample as friendly or hostile, even real-time alerts to the conscious mind. (Naturally, you’d want it preloaded for the current “rogue’s gallery”.) Improvements to brain development, repairing or moderating some of the “miscalibrations” we’ve collected from our evolutionary history. Voluntary control of fertility — and perhaps other autonomic functions (endocrine system?). Bring back a bunch of odor receptors, and maybe give us taste receptors for heavy metals and other modern poisons. How about electric/magnetic senses?

  13. says

    “Furthermore, the signal processing load for eyes and ears that are not in a fixed geometric arrangement would be prohibitive.”

    Alternatively, that’s part of why the Puppeteers are the smartest aliens outside of Pak protectors.

    Brain in chest: not just better protected, but can afford to be larger.

    I have the impression PZ was going for “reinventions” which could have been different evolutionary choices. A lot of the suggestions by others seem like possibly desirable engineering changes, but changes that *would* have to be engineering, deliberate design. E.g. no aging.

  14. Nathan Myers says

    There are (at least) two biological limitations on human brain size: birth canal size, and energy budget. The first seems trivially fixable, within charter. The second is more fundamental. Brain efficiency has long been as strongly selected for as you could ask for, so you’d need fundamental design changes to get much improvement. Of course in a calorie-rich environment, energy efficiency isn’t so critical as in most of our evolutionary past.

    I doubt nerve cell improvements are in the charter, but there seems lots of room for architectural improvements. Swapping much of the cerebellum for more cerebrum seems like a win. Putting bits of what are in the cerebellum and brain stem at major joints seems like another.

    On second thought, combined mouths/hands is insane. But there seems little reason to put jaws in the head, given hands. Best place for the nose and jaws, both, is between the front legs. (Crabs figured this out long ago.) Of course combining alimentary and respiratory canals would be insane. Less obviously, combining inhalation and exhalation paths is pretty silly, as are the two phases. Fish got it right, originally, but we lost that.

    Is there any value in a trunk, between the front legs and arms, not better served by longer arms? Of course we want extendable claws on all limbs, and opposed digits besides, for climbing.