Sunday, 19 August 2007

what sort of human being would you create?

Graphic taken from the Emergence lab website.

I read about an interesting new "show" on the weekend (I put "show" in inverted commas because that might not be the best word - "experiment" might be equally applicable).

It's called Emergence, and it's an "interactive audiovisual performance" coming to the Sydney Opera House this week. In the show, each member of the audience takes on the role of parent and decides on the characteristics of a human being they create, and then watch to see how it works out.

Before each performance. audience members log in to the Emergence lab, and decide on traits for their developing embryo. At the performance, they discuss and then vote on their being's emotions and characteristics, then watch film clips and live theatre, even interacting with their creation, and see the consequences of their choices. It sounds simple, but reports suggest that the outcomes are emotionally engrossing and thought-provoking.

The most interesting thing for me is the types of choices people have tended to make during the show's initial season in Canberra.

  • The majority of people would not choose for their creation to always be happy, but would prefer them to be able to feel sadness. However most men would prefer they never could feel pain.
  • Only half of people, and even less of females, would like their being to always be honest.
  • People would generally prefer their being to be more critical rather than more empathetic, if they have to choose between the two - I find this very surprising.

It may be that, before too long, the choices faced in this show will be faced by real people. I wonder if we have any understanding of the implications of tinkering with the balance of what it means to be human?

Read reviews of Emergence in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Program.


  1. that is really funny. as an idealist, i would definitely choose a happy, honest, empathetic person...but i guess the key in all these things would be balance. i would love to see how this one turns out. i get the feeling they would show us the downside of all the seemingly good qualities, and vice versa.

  2. Yes, interesting. One of the articles said that it was school kids who most resisted taking away sadness, because they recognised that we need a balance of sadness and happiness. For example, take away pain and you take away a lot of warning, and a lot of motivation to self-improve or seek help.


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