Legends of the golem, usually sourced as an archetype in Kabbalah, are actually found in Talmud, but may stem from the same magical traditions. According to these stories, sometimes presented as cautionary tales, a rabbi could create a crude, humanoid being, in a travesty of God’s creation. These monsters had no will or intelligence of their own, but could be used as the rabbi desired, against the enemies of the Jews, for instance, or of the rabbi himself.
According to one story, the rabbi would shape the golem out of soil, and then walk or dance around it reciting certain letters from the alphabet and the secret name of God. To de-animate the creature, the rabbi would walk in the opposite direction, saying the same letters and words in reverse order. Another way to bring a golem to life was to write the name of God on parchment and stick it on the golem’s arm or in his mouth. One had merely to remove it to terminate the golem.
Other sources say that once the humanoid creature had been physically shaped, one needed to write the letters aleph, mem, tav, spelling the word EMET, meaning ‘truth’, on the golem’s forehead to bring it to life. In order to destroy the being, it was only necessary to erase the aleph, creating the word MET, or Death.
In Hebrew the word golem means ‘shapeless mass’. The Talmud uses the word to mean ‘unformed’ or ‘imperfect’; Adam is called ‘golem,’ meaning ‘body without a soul’ (Sanhedrin 38b), for the first twelve hours of his existence. A golem has no will of its own; that is the point of it. It carries out instructions – in some versions, these have to be written on rolled up pieces of paper inserted into the creature’s mouth.
It has always been the dream of mankind to be able to create para-human creatures, it would seem, with human capabilities but no soul or will, and therefore no ability to rebel. And there, maybe, is the difference between God and humanity. God, according to our theologians, gave us choice, even if the wrong choices were punishable by damnation. But man, if he replicated himself, would reproduce everything except his own free will.
It has been said that the origins of robotics are in science fiction. But in fact the roots of the robot dream are much deeper than this distinctively modern genre. A robot is merely a high-tech golem.
A quick survey of the state of the art of robotics reveals that we are on the verge of something very big, with unknown consequences and implications. In robotics, as in genetics and nanotechnology, there is a revolution going on of dizzying proportions, such as makes the industrial revolution, with all its social consequences, look like a tiny foreshadowing of the main event. This revolution is occurring without much fanfare – the media takes a very muted, not to say kitsch, view of the potential applications of these new technologies. For instance, in robotics we hear about fembot reception droids, simulant patients for training doctors, and human assistance robots for the disabled. We know all about the use of robotics combined with virtual reality to revolutionize human surgery. We applaud the development of robotic prosthetic limbs. We wait hopefully for the day when microscopic nanobots will clean out our arteries for us, or repair the spinal cord of a loved one.
The multiple scientific revolutions which are occurring simultaneously stem from massive advances in computing power. In robotics, this has enabled engineers to solve the riddles inherent in animal and human movement. Now, robotic fish, reptiles and insects are approaching the level of naturalism imagined by Philip K Dick in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? with mammalian and humanoid robots not far behind.
Baird Dynamics’ military quadrupeds BigDog and LittleDog reveal how solving the problems of balance have given the military an indefatigable carrier, gun platform, an inexorable jungle and rough-terrain tracker that can jump streams and correct a slip on ice without falling. From here it is an eyeblink to conceive of the robot soldier of the future, superior in every way: remorseless and superhuman, requiring no food, no sleep, no training, no brainwashing or censorship, no medical evacuation or court martial, no pension, and no pay.
It’s not here yet. Honda’s android Asimo, if it trips on the stairs, doesn’t put its arms out to break its fall, just clunks over like a toy. The military exoskeleton, no doubt, will evolve into a fully fledged humanoid robot. But those quadrupeds and other multi-legged stalkers, tank-tracked crawlers and winged drones, the Scorpions, Swords, Reapers and Predators, Samsung killerbots and Dragonfly surveillance ornithopters – they’re with us already.
The name most closely associated with fiction about robots is Isaac Asimov. In fiction, you can invent a technology by inventing a word, or lifting it from its original context. That’s what Asimov did. Most of Asimov’s robot stories are set in the first age of positronic robotics: ‘positronic’, in this context, means – absolutely nothing. Asimov was no scientist, but went beyond the science to envisage the social consequences. The best-known feature of his robot stories are his Three Laws of Robotics, which are hardwired into the ‘positronic’ brain and ensure that the robot does not turn against its creators. The Three Laws form an organizing principle and unifying theme for Asimov’s fiction. Fully introduced in his 1942 short story ‘Runaround’ although foreshadowed in some earlier stories, the Laws read as follows:
1 A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2 A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3 A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Incidentally, in outlining his three laws, Asimov coined the word ‘robotics’. Asimov was not initially aware that this was a neologism; he assumed the word already existed by analogy with mechanics, hydraulics, and other similar terms denoting branches of applied knowledge.
However, Asimov did not invent the idea of robots or the word itself. To find these origins we have to go back a decade or two, to a Czech writer Karel Capek, who introduced and popularized the word in his 1921 play R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robots), set in a factory that creates artificial people. The play introduced the word robot, which displaced older words such as android or automaton. In its original Czech, robota means labor, cognate with German arbeit.
However, the robots described in the play are not robots in the modern sense. We use the word as Asimov used it, to denote machines. Rossum’s robots are in fact engineered biological creations, like Frankenstein’s creature or the replicants of Phillip K Dick’s fiction. They are biological entities – their skin mixed in a vat, their nerves and digestive tracts spun on spindles. They can be mistaken for humans, and think for themselves.
I don’t know if Capek lived in Prague, but once he had finished the manuscript he made the connection: the play premiered in Prague in 1921 before going on to successful runs in London and New York, where Spencer Tracy played a robot in one of his earliest roles. Capek had conceived a modern version of the golem legend.
One cannot help but see an echo of the legend of the golem in Frankenstein, the story of a scientist who shapes a humanoid being out of dead tissue, and then wants to unmake his Creature the moment he has brought it to life. In a later development of the Frankenstein story, Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie Blade Runner, based on Phillip K Dick’s android theme, the designed replicants have termination fixed in their genes, giving them a four-year life span, hardly enough time for them to work out who they are. These stories are modern inversions of the ‘monster’ myth, in which the created ‘monsters’ are invested with more human qualities than the humans.
To see Frankenstein, or Capel or Dick’s replicant stories, as being in some way about cloning, or indeed about science in any way, is a shallow way of looking at them. On a much deeper level they are about slavery – about the experience of being denied admission to the human race, despite being human; more human, in these stories, than the impostors who create and reject them. They are golem stories; they share basic elements with the Talmudic archetype, and among the most interesting of these is the termination-motif. The stories hinge around the question of being able to stop the power you have unleashed; how to prevent the humanoid creature aspiring to your own condition and developing a will of its own. The most famous story of the golem is that of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the sixteenth century Maharal of Prague, who, it was said, created a golem out of clay to protect the Jewish community from Blood Libel, (and to help out doing physical labor, golems having superhuman strength). Another version says that close to Easter in the spring of 1580, a priest was trying to incite the Christians against the Jews. So the golem was used to protect the community during the Easter season. In both versions the Golem runs amok and threatens innocent lives, so Rabbi Loew removes the Divine Name, rendering the creature lifeless.
This is a factor which Victor Frankenstein has not considered at all when he creates his re-animant. The moment he sees the creature alive is the moment he wishes it dead, and this is the first of three rejections by humanity. The second comes after the creature has rescued a small girl from drowning. As he carries her, unconscious, from the water to look for help, her father comes upon the scene, and seeing his daughter apparently dead in the arms of a huge and repulsive being, he shoots at the creature and wounds it. The third is Victor Frankenstein’s refusal to create a female companion for the feared and despised outcast. These three rejections lead directly to the creature’s orgy of revenge.
In Blade Runner, the termination-problem is solved with a genetically shortened life-span; director Ridley Scott’s drawings for the movie included sketches of an ‘incinerator asteroid’ with perfect replicant bodies disappearing into furnaces on conveyor belts. Nevertheless the replicants, like Frankenstein’s creature, eventually seek out their cold-hearted creator, Dr Eldon Tyrell, the brilliant scientist-capitalist who owns the Tyrell Corporation. Their demands are different – ‘I want more life, fucker!’ says Roy Batty to his maker – but the result of the refusal is just as bloody.
One could multiply examples: the golem archetype underpins so many stories in our era, from Isaac Asimov’s seminal I, Robot to contemporary films such the Jason Bourne trilogy. These stories from legend, science-fiction and espionage thriller might seem far removed from the real world. But they reflect a universal dream of power and control over human or humanoid slaves. Slavery is the omnipresent theme of human history. The golem legend is a dream of sub-human super-slaves. Humans enslave humans because there is no more valuable, capable or adaptable machine than a human being. It is the ultimate device, to the condition of which machines can still only aspire.
But there are huge problems with the human machine. The problem is that it is not machine. It has free will, rogue intelligence, and powerful emotions: it is extremely dangerous. How to control these sovereign powers? Victor Frankenstein overlooks the danger entirely, seeing himself as a god lording it over a new race, and this is his mistake. The Jewish golem legends use a neat magical mechanism, the erasure of the letter Aleph from the creature’s forehead. Even so, as the citizens of Prague discovered, a lot of damage can be done before termination can be effected. Philip Dick solves the problem using a terminator gene, and imagines a huge industry built on the production, sale and disposal of humanoid (‘replicant’) bodies, dwelling on the enormous waste involved.
Of course, these bodies conveyor-belted into industrial furnaces are not ordinary bodies. Being genetically designed, they can feature specific physiological variations, including enhanced intelligence, strength, agility, and endurance. For instance, replicants designed to be used in space will be given a designed-in tolerance of extreme temperatures.
Tyrell, the CEO of Tyrell Corp, the biotech company mass-producing replicants, has learnt from Victor Frankenstein, and is fully engaged in the effort to control the development of emotion and free will in his para-human products. However, the problems are proving intractable. For a start, his products – or at least, some of them – need to have high degrees of initiative. Roy Batty, a combat leader, has initiative and intelligence to spare.
Tyrell and his genetic designers have assumed they can dispense with and eradicate the emotional dimension. They don’t want their combat models to experience empathy or guilt. They don’t want their ‘military/leisure’ models to experience disgust or humiliation, or their laborers to feel boredom or resentment. But emotion proves impossible to uproot in such a complex and dynamic system. Even starting from scratch, Tyrell cannot create something of that level of sophistication that can function without emotion. The four-year lifespan is a stop-gap measure to hold the gates until a more permanent solution is found. The story situates itself at a transitional stage in the design cycle: a solution has been found, but not yet rolled-out. That solution is the insertion or ‘implanting’ of false memory.
Rachael is a prototype: she has been ‘gifted’ a history, a childhood, the memory of parents, and believes herself to be a fully-fledged human being. This new generation will not even be allowed to know what it is. That cruelty can now be eradicated.
Once having entertained the golem-fantasy, it doesn’t take long to see an alternative procedure to fashioning the golem out of mud, metal or tissue-culture: and that is, to take existing human bodies and remove their conscious will, like an organ. The dreams of military scientists are not so different from voodoo priests in this. As long ago as 1995, the worldwide weekly Defense News, an official military paper, revealed that the Naval Research Lab was working on biotechnology to enable the creation of an ‘army of zombies’. The paper stated: ‘The research, called Hippocampal Neuron Patterning, grows live neurons on computer chips […] This technology that alters neurons could potentially be used on people to create zombie armies, Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said March 16th […] The research has captured the attention of the U.S. Intelligence community.’
In the light of this, the US military’s stated aim of completely robotizing its armed forces within forty years, therefore, should be interpreted as being not exclusively about machines – some of these ‘robots’ may also be programmed human beings: biological androids.
This new wave of golem-technology, as we now know, has been gathering for more than half a century. Research into the creation of robotically-compliant human beings was high on the Nazi agenda, and experiments were conducted in the concentration camps, especially by Dr Josef Mengele at Dachau and Auschwitz. The research was centred, not on cabalistic magic, not on future science, but on hard psychology, specifically the effects of trauma on the human mind.
This was Josef Mengele’s preoccupation and the reason for his sadistic obsession with the torture and traumatization of children, which is well-attested by survivors: children were kept in electrified cages, tortured in front of each other or murdered in the infamous ‘daisy’ game.
Drugs, hypnosis and deprivation are all, of course, important spells in the programmer’s grimoire, but the methodology is founded on trauma. This was because, as the Nazi research discovered, a child’s psyche develops a survival mechanism in the face of trauma that is too horrible to comprehend: it seals the memory of that event in a part of the brain, creating amnesiac ‘walls’ so that the rest of the mind can continue to function. The mind will use this mechanism over and over again. Repeated traumatization of a child under the age of five or six ultimately results in a condition known as Dissociative Identity Disorder, or Multiple Personality Disorder as it was previously called. The mind of the victim can be splintered into so many compartments that the front personality no longer has any control, understanding or volition. And you have your golem.
The Americans, like the Soviets, considered Nazi science and the results of wartime human experimentation to be fruits of victory. US Intelligence, under Operation PAPERCLIP, overseen by Allen Dulles, immediately started rounding up the scientists and technicians who had expertise they could use. It didn’t matter what they’d done – they were given immunity and brought into the US, sometimes via other countries.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his personal approval to exploit the Nazis’ death-camp research. According to Martin and Caul (‘Mind Control’ , by Harry V. Martin and David Caul, Napa Sentinel 1991), there were several hundred medical doctors involved in the SS project, of whom only 23 were tried at Nuremberg. Despite full knowledge of the nature of the project, the Americans courted the experimenters. Among many others, they tracked down Dr Hubertus Strughold, the aviation doctor who was in charge of the cruel pressure and temperature experiments at Dachau.
Within weeks of Eisenhower’s order, many of these notorious doctors were working for the U.S. Army at Heidelberg. Army teams scoured Europe for scientific experimental apparatus such as pressure chambers, compressors, G-force machines, giant centrifuges, and electron microscopes. These doctors were wined and dined by the U.S. Army while most of Germany’s post-war citizens virtually starved. (1 )
Dulles’ round-up of Nazis experts initially brought about 700 propulsion scientists to America – and some 600 psychologists. For the Dulles-Rockefeller faction, as for Hitler, mind control was demonstrably on a par with rocket science in importance.
To the shock of Nuremburg prosecutors, this army of Mengeles was insulated against war-crimes charges and brought to the United States. Authorisation came directly from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who wished to exploit these ‘rare minds.’ Under the leadership of Strughold, thirty-four of them were moved to the Randolph Air Force Base at San Antonio, and as Cold War hostilities began to build, a further thousand or so Nazi scientists were imported into the United States.
Human experimenters, torturers, brain-washers and programmers, all were welcomed to the Land of the Free by the great Masonic statue known as Liberty.
Antony C Sutton, America’s Secret Establishment, (2003, reprinted Progressive Press 2014)
Webster Tarpley and Anton Chaitkin, George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography, Progressive Press (an imprint of Tree of Life Books) 2004.
Cathy O’Brien and Mark Phillips, The Trance-formation of America