07 April 2015

That's So Meta

So, I was sitting at my computer, which was, at that time, temporarily located in a public space.  I was pondering the concept of metahumans.  My aforementioned friend Jean entered the public area to acquire a snack.  I turned to her and said, "So, I've been pondering the concept of metahumans."

She turned to me and said, "This is why we can't have adult conversations."  And she walked out.

Anyway... what Jean didn't understand, and still doesn't, is that I was being completely serious.

So we come to the crux of this particular article.  (Isn't that cute?  How I called my blog entry an "article", as if I'm a journalist?)  What I want to ask is this... Do metahumans exist?

The answer is... "Weeeellllll.... it's complicated."  I'll simplify this answer later, but first let me unsimplify the answer.

First, what is a metahuman?

The term "metahuman" originated in the D.C. Comics "Invasion" miniseries.  It has since been stolen by everyone else.  Simply put, it refers to someone who's human, but somehow more than human.

Superman doesn't qualify, because he's not human.  (Sorry, Lois.)

Iron Man doesn't qualify, because he doesn't really have superpowers.  Just a really cool suit.

Jimmy Olsen doesn't even begin to qualify... he's just a part-time crossdresser with a camera.

BUT... but... The Flash (in some versions), Spiderman, The Hulk, Barack Obama, Professor X - These have all been labeled as metahuman.  Whether they are, and what, exactly, are the criteria for being labeled a metahuman, are matters of debate amongst comics enthusiasts.

And believe me, you don't want to start a debate amongst comics enthusiasts.  Do you know how things get whenever a Los Angeles sports team wins, loses, or schedules a game, and suddenly half the city is on fire, cars and buildings are smashed, and the governor has to declare martial law?  Well, it's like that.  Only without all of the civil discourse.

But, again, I digress.  The point is... these are examples of metahumans in comics.  But my thoughts here aren't just about comics.  Or are they?  Do you see any pretty pictures of well-drawn characters?  No.  No, you don't.  Because this isn't about comics.  Not really.

This is about real life.  Do metahumans really exist?

Let's explore the word just a bit more.... The prefix "meta" means "more than" or "outside of".  Essentially, a "metahuman" is someone who is "more than human", or a human whose capabilities are outside the scope of what humans can do.

This is where it gets interesting.  Obviously, those people out there who can lift cars with their minds, and who can fly, and who can communicate telepathically with animals, those people are keeping well-hidden.  And who can blame them?  Between a government that's reputed to dissect curious specimens and religious groups that want to burn everything at the stake, exposing ones self can be dangerous.  But what about people who aren't so secret?

When I turned 30, I got my first-ever eye exam.  Don't judge me.  Anyway, the doctor was flabbergasted by the quality of my vision.  He said, "You know those people who get Lasik and then their vision is better than 20/20?  Well, your vision is way better than theirs."  Of course, it didn't last, and now I have two pairs of glasses, one for reading and one for driving.  But at one time, my vision wasn't just good, it was beyond exceptional.  And that's just plain ol' me.  What about better examples that we KNOW are genetic?  (Some purists will argue that to be a true metahuman, one has to actually have the genes for one's abilities, not just have the abilities themselves.)

In Germany, in 2000, a baby was born with a mutation that boosts his muscle growth.  At the age of 5, he had twice the muscle mass and half the fat of other children his age.  His mother was a professional athlete, and some other members of her family were found to be unusually strong, so this could be a dominant gene.

Some indigenous people in Siberia were found to have a gene that boosts their ability to handle cold temperatures.

Tibetans have a greater lung capacity than people from lower altitudes, allowing them to take in more oxygen from thinner air, and they have other adaptations that help them survive long-term.  Sherpas, similarly, have better blood flow to their brains, protecting them from problems with the thinner air.

There are people with resistance to HIV.  The gene which, when received from both parents, causes sickle-cell anemia will, when only received from one parent, confer immunity to malaria.  People with mutant feet adapted to climbing trees, eyes that see better under water, and people who can eat all the bacon they want without suffering from heart disease.


The list is pretty extensive.  There are seven billion people in the world, and there are lots of mutations happening, and sometimes a gene pops up that convers an advantage.  Ain't evolution grand?

My point is, these people have characteristics which, in the D.C. universe, would qualify them as "metahumans".  They have abilities that place them outside what's normally considered possible for humans.  And it's not through hard work, lightning strikes in chemistry labs, nor magic potions.  It's built in, hard coded.  So, are these metahumans?

Yes.  Or... are they?  Consider this....

Now, to offend any creationists who might stumble across this blog...

Are we apes?  Let's consider.  I'm not a chimpanzee.  I have the same number of fingers and toes, but my toes are shorter (and cuter).  We have the same general shape at birth, we have hair follicles all over, but my follicles are less active, and I'm taller as an adult.  I'm also physically weaker.  But about 99% of my DNA is identical to that of a chimp or bonobo.

If you think that's crazy... 50% of your DNA is shared by bananas.

Long ago, animals happened.  Some of these became vertebrates, but they were still animals.  Some vertebrates became mammals, but they were still vertebrates.  Some mammals became apes, but they were still mammals.  And some apes became humans, but humans are, like it or not, still apes.  Every characteristic that defines an ape still applies to humans.  Face it.  You're a monkey.  Or at least a great ape, with lots of monkey DNA.

So... humans are still apes.  Extend that.  Eventually, humans will have evolved.  It's difficult to say what we'll look like in 500 million years, because evolution isn't a path, just a process, but we'll definitely look different.  But we'll still be humans.  And apes.  And mammals, and vertebrates, and animals.

Unless we leave our bodies behind and become godlike beings of pure energy.  But that's for another article.

So... Do metahumans exist?  Yes.

But they're still human.  And therefore not metahuman.

See?  It's complicated.

And... regarding the incident with Jean...

It should be noted that, not five minutes later, I was walking past her home office, and she shouted, "Hamcat!"  I stopped, backed up, and looked into her office, and she said to me, "Hamcat.  HAMCAT!!!"  Then she went back to whatever she was typing.

This is how I know I need to move.

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