The Lecture

In the latest part of the 25th century, in a stuffy ancient auditorium, in an encrusted old building in the heart of an equally ancient and hallowed University a very senior professor approached the podium. He placed a dishearteningly thick stack of papers on the podium in front of him and began to read.

“In the middle of the 21st century, cloning technology had advanced to the stage where humans could be cloned and their maturation accelerated. At that point a functional adult could be created within six months starting only with a sample, or even just a record of their DNA sequence. This of course lead to the inevitable wars and conflict, culminating in the Third World War in the late 21st century. This war was so destructive that it was a full three hundred years before humanity had recovered to their previous technological level.

Over 400 years after those events, some ten years ago, Professor Thaddeus Wright of the University of Cape Town thought of using the very technology that almost wiped out humanity to explore the causes of those events. Today we have Dr. Wright here to present the findings of his research. And so without further ado I present to you, Dr. Wright.” He gathered his papers and returned to his seat at the side of the stage.

And to this day no one knows what was on pages 2 through 256 of the stack of papers he carried.

Dr. Wright approached the podium. He was also quite senior, though perhaps not as grizzled as the professor that had introduced him. He placed a legal pad on the podium, and took a sip from the glass of water. Nobody ever knew where the glass or the water came from. When asked staff, faculty, and students all denied putting it there. It has been theorized that it is kept there, in place, and half full of water by the spirits of all the cotton mouthed lecturers and students defending their dissertations that came before. That of course was an absurd myth. They didn’t know where it came from either.

Dr. Wright looked out at the audience and after a pause, began. “Thank you Doctor Eccelstone. Ten years ago I had an idea. I wondered if we might get a glimpse into history, into what the people in the past were like, by cloning them. Reconstructing actual people from the distant past and then interviewing them. See how their minds worked. At first we went to the very distant past. Our first attempts were with mummies, either from Egypt, or Peru. We found the DNA of dried specimens was too degraded to be reconstructed. The same was true of the ‘bog bodies’ found in Europe, and the various frozen bodies that have emerged from glaciers. There was just too much damage to produce a working clone.”

“At this point one of my students pointed out that we did have another source of DNA that would be in much better shape. In the latter part of the 20th and into the 21st centuries DNA was routinely taken and preserved by various organizations, both corporate and governmental. Due to the destruction wrought by the terrible period of war and violence most of the records have been lost. However by a great stroke of good fortune some of these archives were sealed in a cave in Antarctica. An expedition was organized and the precious data was retrieved. “

“The difficulty was that we had no context for the samples. None of the names meant anything to us. There were no Presidents, or world leaders, or pillars of industry, or great artists. Indeed we had no record at all of most of the names in the database. Fortunately a few records have survived from this period. One was something called The FBI Most Wanted List. Now we have no context as to why these people were wanted, just a list of names. Several lists actually. It seemed to have changed as the years went by. We can only surmise that these were very esteemed persons as they were ‘the most wanted’. Another list we worked from was from the ancient archive called “Wikipedia”. Once again the data is badly degraded and damaged. However there was one page that referred to a “List of Serial Killers”. Checking with our colleagues in the History and English Literature Departments confirmed something I had heard during my undergraduate work. During this time period saying something or someone was “Killer” meant that they were very very good. There are many records of people discussing a “Killer Band” or seeing a “Killer Movie”, or using a “Killer App”. A Serial Killer must have been, we surmise, a polymath. Someone that was exceedingly good at multiple disciplines. This is corroborated by another fragment of the Wikipedia page on Serial Killers that mentions how they tended to have very high intelligence. “

“We then cross referenced the Most Wanted List and the Serial Killer list with the available DNA samples from the Antarctic archive. By this method we settled on three samples to clone. Three people that would represent the best of the best of the late 20th and early 21st centuries’s minds. It was our hope that these three people could provide us with some insight into what happened in the mid 21st century. Why humanity came so close to destroying itself. This was some three years ago and by the end of that year we had successfully cloned these three individuals and using the Shin-Ye method accelerated their maturation. By October of that year we had three fully grown 20th century adults to question. Not just any adults, but the best of the best. Persons with minds so esteemed that they were preserved in the DNA archive and in the top ten of the Most Wanted List.”

“Shortly after we began questioning the clones something became clear. The three people, for the record a Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy, and Charles Manson, were completely insane. Psychopaths of the highest order. Severely schizophrenic and delusional. In a word they were mad and so of no use to us. We liquidated the three clones, and set about cloning them from three fresh samples. It was clear that something had gone wrong with either the cloning or maturation process. This time we took extra precautions. We double and triple checked every step. As a result it was just this spring that the three new samples were ready to question. Unfortunately, they were just as crazy as the first three. Deeply psychotic, antisocial and cruel.

“At this point we decided to take a step back and reassess our rersults. It was clear that something was wrong with our methodology. We audited our cloning and maturation process and found no issues. We then examined the original samples. They were found to be very well preserved, with no damage. We also verified that these were in fact the people we thought they were. People who had been on The Most Wanted List of superior individuals. We quickly confirmed that the people we had samples for, were the people we thought. Everything checked out, and we were left with only one conclusion.”

“Humanity almost destroyed itself on several occasions in the 20th and 21st centuries because everyone was insane. Somehow there was a rash of insanity that swept through every single person being, from the lowest peasant through these best of the best. Soldiers and paupers, Presidents and Prime Ministers, Titan’s of Industry and these people on the Most Wanted List. Every one was utterly insane. Prone to taking the worst possible choice offered. Doomed to select the nastiest, most short sighted option presented.”

“As to the cause we can only theorize. There seems to have been a correlation between insanity and the practice of smoking tobacco. There also seems to have been a correlation between insanity and the rise of something called Video Gaming. As neither of these things survived the war at the end of the 21st century we cannot be sure. However, it appears we are safe from a repeat of this unfortunate occurrence.”

And with that Professor Wright collected his papers, shook hands with Professor Eccelstone and sat down. There were no questions, because simply, everyone accepted the results. It made sense. It explained so much.

And as a resident of the 20th and 21st centuries I can’t say I disagree with the conclusion.

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