Designer and futurist Thomas Thwaites recently posed an interesting question. What would life be like in a world where evolutionary science never took hold, but humanity was nevertheless as scientifically developed as we are today? In a series of stories and art projects, he tries to answer that question — and explains why, in this alternate scientific history, it might become popular to engineer your children to have wings.
Thwaites began his project, called "Unlikely Objects: Products of a Counterfactual History of Science," by asking:
How dependent is scientific knowledge on historical accident and chance? Could we have a different, and not necessarily less valid, version of scientific truth if history had played out slightly differently – if certain observations had been made or missed, if individual scientists had been more or less successful, if different accidents had occurred? Or, does the scientific method act to eliminate the effects of historical chance, and our present state of knowledge is somehow necessarily true?
One of my favorite thought experiments that Thwaites imagines coming out of this alternate history is the idea that without a theory of evolution, there would be no stigma attached to altering the results of evolution or attempting to change its course. Thus, designer children would be the norm. Thwaites writes:
In a present where no Darwinian revolution took place, the idea that medical science can and should intervene to direct human evolution wasn't sullied by the horrors of eugenics and genocide.
However, as with all facets of human life, there is some disagreement as to which direction this should be. Certain families have nurtured the belief that the ultimate goal of humanity should be a ‘return to' an angelic form. Children in these families have their upwards growth arrested to minimise weight, and through judicious injection of hormones that control bone growth, have their arm span greatly increased, and their upper body strength greatly enhanced. The elongated arms provide points for the surgical grafting of attachment points for artificial feathers.
The images here are sculptures that fancifully illustrate this idea. What else would change in a world where evolutionary science was supplanted by other sciences? Find out for yourself in Thwaites' "choose your own adventure" style book, called Unlikely Objects.
More recently, Thwaites has put his mind to more pedestrian projects. Just this month, he published a book about his attempts to build a toaster from scratch.