Experimentum mundi

With the emergence, through the separation of sexuality and procreation, of the nativistic Hiatus the perpetuation through procreation of the modern cosmopolitan has taken on the character of an experiment. The gaily-painted kindergarten, the shabby old-people’s-home, or the hospice made less oppressive by coats of bright paint can no more hold at bay than can phrases like “home birth”, “underwater birth” or “early education through music” the truth of what children are actually born into: namely, a gigantic experimentum mundi into which parents more or less arbitrarily thrust their children as said experiment’s “guinea pigs”. The philosopher Sloterdijk has attempted to provide a definitive characterization of this experimentum mundi. Here, we shall supplement Sloterdijk’s account by pointing up the experimental character that procreation has taken on in our global Information Age. Sloterdijk writes: “The experimentum mundi is no longer something that goes on merely in the minds of mystics, philosophers, princes of the church and great statesmen; the terms ‘global war’, ‘global mission’, ‘global politics’, ‘global economy’, ‘global travel’ and ‘global information’ now refer to explosively real things and point to processes of great complexity, unpredictable wilfulness and extreme disruptive power.”  (Sloterdijk, Versprechen)

 

Guinea-Pigs in God’s Laboratory (Williams, Tennessee, 1911–1983)

In his play “Camino Real” Tennessee Williams formulates the insight that we are the guinea-pigs of a divine experiment. But with the driving of God out of the world, it is clearly now human beings that thrust other human beings (their children) into this world-laboratory:

Where we replace Williams’s “God” with the nativistically-enlightened individuals that make up the species Man we find ourselves faced with a criminal experiment carried out by human beings on human beings: “We’re all of us guinea pigs in the laboratory of God. Humanity is just a work in progress.“ (Williams, Camino Real, Block Twelve)

Experimentation carried out on human beings is indeed usually looked upon as a criminal activity. But where the experiment is one performed on one’s own children it becomes something that is approved of: people are eager to see what it is that one or another child may one day become and it is left carefully out of consideration that what a child will become most certainly and above all else is, in the end, a person who declines and dies.

 

The Bloody Laboratory of History (Koeppen, Wolfgang, 1906–1996)

In Koeppen’s novel Death in Rome, published in 1954, the experimentum mundi is frankly and forthrightly described as “the stinking, bloody laboratory of history”. Of the novel’s protagonist it is said: “He did not wish to procreate. The thought of being the cause of another life, a life which would be exposed to unforeseeable encounters, fortuities, actions and reactions and which might also itself be the cause of many future eventualities through deeds, or thoughts, or through further procreation on this living being’s own part – the thought, in short, of becoming the father of a child, of this challenge thrown down to the world – this was a thought which truly appalled and horrified him” (Koeppen, Death in Rome). Koeppen does not neglect to make mention here, however, also of that àThirst for Existence on which the moral imperative of universal natal abstinence tends always to founder: “it seemed deeply disgusting to him, this ravenous greed for life to which we all are damned, this addiction to procreation by which even the poorest are beguiled, this appearance of eternity which is really no eternity at all, this Pandora’s Box of distress, terror, and war…” (Death in Rome)

 

The World-Experiment (Bloch, Ernst)

Nevertheless, that most renowned and prolific among all the philosophers of “hope”, Ernst Bloch, feels able still, despite Auschwitz and the GULAG, to arrive at the conclusion that the “world-experiment”, even if it cannot be said to have been a successful one, cannot for all that be said to have definitively failed either: “The world is indeed a single vast experiment conducted upon itself: an experiment which has not yet proven successful but has not yet proven a definitive failure either” (Bloch Tendenz-Latenz-Utopie; a similar passage is to be found in Experimentum Mundi) Bloch is fully aware not only of the great species-catastrophies of which our “world-laboratory” has been the scene; he also explicitly thematizes the contingency of every sort of hope upon the inevitable death of the individual and on the end of the cosmos itself. Where, then, does he draw his hope from? Perhaps – like Leibniz – from the fact that our earth represents only a tiny dot in the vastness of the universe and that other regions of the cosmos might offer more reason for this hope. As Bloch puts it: “the processual course of the world is not yet concluded, with all its setbacks on the path of life’s self-determination both on our difficult dark earth and beyond it” (Experimentum Mundi) We have to do here with a pseudo-anthropodicy: here on our “difficult dark earth” the history of humanity, which has long since entered an “experimental” phase, may well have proven to be a failed experiment; on other planets, however, the experiment may not have proven such a failure. The anthropodicy in question here is a pseudo-anthropodicy because there is no way to derive from this merely hypothetical success of the experimentum mundi on other worlds the conclusion that it is not morally imperative to put an end to procreation here on earth. 

 

Micro-Experiments and Macro-Experiment

Each human being is a walking micro-experiment. His experimental character consists in the following: humans mix the stuff of human-ness (genetic material) together and observe what emerges and whether what does is that which was wished for. It does not help at all to claim that this experiment with the stuff of human-ness is a “natural” one. Because “natural-ness” is not a characteristic apt to endow actions – actions which might also not have been engaged in – with moral dignity.

Although they came to the world as “micro-experiments”, human beings find themselves thrust into an open “macro-experiment”. This “macro-experiment” is history, with its billions of experimenters (parents).

It is to be expected that bio-technichal modifications of the human species will not, prima facie, be refused or rejected by those who give their consent to the experimentum mundi. At least not in the case where bio-technical procedures might succeed in making it possible to establish some degree of reliability: a reliability by which the experimental character applying hitherto in each case (the uncertain outcome of every act of procreation) will be to some degree diminished.

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