Golems Among Us

Golems Among Us

by Byron L. Sherwin


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Imagine a world where the normal human life span is 150 years, where worn-out vital organs are routinely replaced by spares, where after death you will retain consciousness for eternity in cyberspace, where nanotechnology will enable you to transform a plastic bottle into a filet mignon for you to share with your android spouse. Scientists anticipate such a world within a century. Even now many signs of such biotech "progress" are with us. Accelerating developments in genomics, reproductive biotechnology, bionics, artificial life, genetic engineering, and related fields are compelling us to reexamine our most deeply held beliefs about ourselves and our world. As we do, the figure of Victor Frankenstein and the monster he created looms large: many people today see our predicament through the lens of the Frankenstein story, whose lesson is that humans should not "play God" or tinker with the toolbox of nature, at the risk of tragedy and catastrophe. Yet there is an available alternative both to the Frankenstein vision and to the ebullient enthusiasm of those who anticipate a riskless future. It is the most famous and influential post-biblical Jewish legend, the story of the golem—the creation of an anthropoid by mystical and magical means. Retold and embellished in twentieth-century literature, art, music, drama, film, science, technology, and popular culture, the golem legend has become a metaphor for our times, a resource for applying the wisdom of the past to the perplexities of the present and the challenges of the future. In Golems Among Us, Byron Sherwin briefly traces the fascinating history of the golem legend in Western culture, then shows what lessons it holds for us in navigating a safe journey—philosophically, theologically, ethically, and in public policy—through the minefield of social and biological engineering in which we now stand.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781566635684
Publisher: Dee, Ivan R. Publisher
Publication date: 01/28/2004
Pages: 258
Product dimensions: 6.24(w) x 9.24(h) x 0.78(d)

About the Author

Byron L. Sherwin is a Distinguished Service Professor of Jewish Philosophy and Mysticism at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago. Born in New York City, he studied at Columbia University, New York University, and the University of Chicago, and was ordained a rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary. He is an internationally recognized authority on Jewish theology, ethics, and mystical traditions, and the prize-winning author of twenty-three books, including Crafting the Soul, Why Be Good?, and Jewish Ethics for the Twenty-first Century. He lives in Chicago.

Table of Contents

Grandmother's Tales3
1Golems 'R Us7
2The Golem of Prague18
3Creating a Golem27
4Golems Among Us35
5The Past Meets the Present: The Golem and the Genome47
6Organic Golems: Frankenfood and Designer Genes66
7Test-tube Golems: Stem Cells and the Cloned Arranger94
8Mechanical Golems: Toward a Postbiological Human Future?123
9Corporate Golems: The Supreme Court Creates an Artificial Person156
10The Honey and the Sting: The Golem Meets Frankenstein192
A Note on Sources and a Personal Note213

What People are Saying About This


Its style of writing is accessible to lay people as well as scientists and scholars in the humanities. A nice critique of different religion-based approaches to bioethical decisions.

Martha B. Holstein

...Provocative because it uses a legend about the creation of new beings as means for assessing all human power and potential.
and Rabbi Peter S. Knobel, Lancet


Byron Sherwin's compassion, humor, and intellect provide a moral compass to help us navigate through astonishing, promising, and sometimes perilous developments in biotechnology.

Jewish Book World

...Enchanting... A captivating and significant book that is appropriate for the layperson as well as the scientist.

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