Friday, November 23, 2012

God's Idea of a Joke?

Breakfast with Neandertals was inspired by a conversation with the latina who sits outside the nearby Church of Latter Day Saints. I asked her if she could change singles for a five one day. She asked me how all the wonderful and varied things on earth could have been created without God. I asked her in turn why humans carried Neandertal DNA, and whether it was God’s idea of a joke. I regretted my comment instantly. Not everyone reads the paper. Her eyes were huge, unblinking. We never spoke again.

Was it blasphemy or the image of the abhorrent act that startled? Procreation between a human and the strange sub-species undermines Christian mythology. Its significance outweighs the union of Adam and Eve. Irregardless of religion it’s a shocking proposition. It was impossible not to speculate about the circumstances under which this act might have taken place. My acupuncturist speculated the female humans went after the Neandertal males. We laughed about it, but indeed this very pattern – female humans mating with Neandertal males – was found to be predominant, though one can only speculate as to why this pattern occurred.

I wondered how Neandertal DNA might affect us today. What remnants of the Neandertal body and mind persist through us as humans? And might we one day resurrect specific features of the Neandertal and reintroduce these traits back into a hybrid modern human/Neandertal Mars dweller? The Neandertal’s ability to withstand cold and fear were superior to that of modern humans, and these traits would serve future Martians well. And Mars will serve as the frontier for experiments not feasible legally or otherwise on Earth, including cloning. So the idea arrived that the next story will be set on Mars and involve a Neandertal resurrected on mars through cloning, for the purpose described above.

For a practical look at the human-neaderthal sex issue see this link to Live Science article which aggregates some compelling recent information on the issue. According to the article these unions seldom resulted in offspring, based on the low percentage of Neandertal DNA found in humans. But why? Implicated here is the inability to fertilize or gestate, but there could be other reasons, such as the intentional interruption of pregnancy or the cannibalization of resulting offspring post-birth?

We know that humans lived in close range to both Neandertals and Denisovans and interacted with them. We know that Neandertals engaged in cannibalism. We know the flesh and bones of Neandertal offspring were treated no differently than the large game prepared and eaten in the same caves.

We also know that shape of the human cranium is more upright and globular than the Neandertal’s, which accommodates more neurons (and more thought complexity). There is speculation these cranium and brain differences are what enable the fear of one’s own death in humans – but not in Neandertals. Did we also acquire an irrational fear of death at that same time? Why do thoughts of death, and a desire for death, appear spontaneously in Schizophrenics, Bipolars, Depressive patients?

Did human neurologic or psychologic affliction arrive via Neandertal or Denisovan interbreeding? Consider the role of genetic mutation in Neandertal’s adaptation to warming weather prior to their demise. Consider how this adaptation could have come at a price. Consider that Neandertal’s inner ear differences; it is speculated their balance was inferior to humans. And because of the proximity of the inner ear to the brain, is impossible to disassociate ear dysfunction with brain dysfunction.

In the story “Breakfast with Neandertals” (and in the story story to follow “A Compromised Subject”) a strange affliction is described known as Cutis verticis gyrata. insert here picture of verticulus caption God’s idea of a pun? It is an often benign superficial condition wherein a pattern of ridges appears on the outside of the skull. The pattern looks eerily similar to the brain – as if the surface of the brain appears on the outside of the head, visible to the world. God’s idea of a pun? The invisible becomes visible. As neuropsychological afflictions are invisible afflictions, I was fascinated with this disorder – all the more so when I discovered its co-occurrence with schizophrenia and mental retardation.

The Dysautonomia Short Story project is meant to make the invisible visible. It is meant to confront the origins and complexity of patterns in human thought. How will the way we think change on Mars, when we are unmoored from the only planet we’ve ever known for the first time? Will we become used to switching between different facets or models of reality, in order to fit our highly specialized and evolved needs on Mars – including our need for sanity?

Although the Russian space agency has concerned itself with mental health maintenance in Outer Space, NASA retained its military-like orientation toward short missions, rather than sustained phases. But if we don’t anticipate the toll of neurologic and mental health breakdowns on Mars, our best preparations will be useless.

Monday, November 5, 2012

“Breakfast with Neandertals” Final Installment

She’s blind.

“Your wife was blind?” I spilled my drink as I watched his hands. The Neandertal and I sat at the front of the cavern watching the sun set.

She still is, he signed.

“But she's no longer your wife,” I pointed out.

You are, he acknowledged.

“I must be. I feel like such an asshole.”

Its ok. She survived.

I touched the back of my lover’s head, and caressed the odd, soft ridges of skin that formed a coil pattern beneath his scalp. “Why do you have these?” I asked him.

The Neandertal shrugged. He indicated the ridges formed when he was young.

“Does it hurt?” I asked.

He was silent for awhile. “Sometimes,” he said. He described others in his clan with the same ridges. The Neandertal got up to turn the spit of smoking meat inside. I followed him inside with my drink. I asked him how he lost his children. He looked intently at the spit, slowly turning it, while picking his teeth. Their time had come, the Neandertal signed.

The End. From the short story project “Dysautonomia”The next short story, “A Compromised Subject”, will appear soon in this blog.