You may want to read the introduction to this series here
In a mansion on the outskirts of a Welsh mining town, Professor Mather (Edward Mulhare) has advanced the science of genetics. Out of guilt for his part in the creation of the nuclear bomb that now threatens to wipe out all life on earth, Mather has invented a machine to speed up the evolutionary process of humanity in a desperate attempt to “make war impossible.”
Young Gwyllm Griffiths (David McCallum) jumps at the chance to be the first human subject for the machine, anything to escape the mining job and town that have condemned him to insignificance. The experiment succeeds. Evolved 20,000 years into the future, Gwyllm emerges with a much larger head and the bud of a sixth finger on each hand, denoting a human future of vast intellect and greater manual dexterity.
But the machine unleashes the self-perpetuating forces of evolution and Gwyllum continues developing at an exponential rate. Eventually he evolves into a being with near god-like capabilities, complete with twelve fingers, a massive head/brain, and (for reasons unexplained) pointed ears. In the script, he also becomes translucent and lives now by photosynthesis, thus no longer requiring food or sleep; but none of these characteristics (except no longer needing sleep) are clear in the television episode.
Having evolved the equivalent of well over a million years into the future, the only thing remaining of the original Gwyllm is his hatred for the town and, in general, for the ignorance, prejudice, and unreasoning destructive hatred of “man.” He is set on destroying the entire town with a mere thought (and afterward, to teach the entire world a similar lesson?), but then he evolves past the need for revenge or power, and indeed all things material.
Impatient to wait for the completion of the human evolutionary process into "Vortex" -- the non-material transition into cosmic being of pure "intelligence in space" -- Gwyllm returns to the lab and enlists the aid of Cathy (Jill Hayworth), a poor bread delivery girl who loves Gwyllm deeply and first introduced him to Professor Mather. Gwyllm enters the machine but, afraid to lose him, Cathy reverses the process and brings him back to his original state, exhausted, but "glad" to be back, says Cathy.
When "The Sixth Finger" first aired (Oct 14, 1963), America was engulfed in two raging conflicts, one foreign, one domestic. On the foreign front, the early 1960s was the height of the Cold War. Exactly one year before, the Cuban missile crisis (Oct 1962) illustrated the Cold War era madness that threatened at any time to bring the world to thermo-nuclear annihilation. Indeed, the previous OL episode, "The Architects of Fear," dealt with the nuclear war paranoia by weaving a tale in which altruistic but misguided U.S. scientists secretly manufactured an extraterrestrial harbinger of invasion in the attempt to unite the world's two main antagonists -- the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. / China -- to overcome their differences in order to repel a common threat.
American children were taught to head for a bomb shelter if they heard a civil defense siren, or to "duck and cover" if they saw a flash in the sky, as if hiding beneath a wooden school desk could protect them from the equivalent of a small exploding sun.
Ironically, while the U.S. lectured the world on liberty and was prepared to vaporize the earth in defense of it, on the home front, America was far from the model of democracy. For the legacy of slavery and racial segregation finally erupted into the protests and conflicts of the Civil Rights Movement.
1965: Police break up a civil rights protest,
ironically in front of a U.S. symbol of democracy: The White House.
ironically in front of a U.S. symbol of democracy: The White House.
Meanwhile the feminist, youth, and sexual revolutions were also creating tensions and resentments with the traditional holders of power. Finally, about a month after this episode aired, the United States would lose its president, John F. Kennedy, to assassination (Nov 22, 1963). Thus, while America saw itself as the world's physician, it was a physician much in need of a doctor.
There are always things one can find to critique in fictional drama such as "The Sixth Finger." One glaring problem for me is when devotees of the inductive science of evolution (who have often criticized deductive philosophy and religion for making unprovable claims about the divine origins and final non-material state of humans) themselves speculate on a final non-material destiny of human evolution that is just as unprovable. Evolution can only attempt to trace the material origins and development of biological life. It has absolutely nothing to say about what, if anything, happens beyond the vale of biological death. Nor can it track or prove any species development that includes non-material factors or states of existence. This utopic ideal of humans evolving to pure non-physical intelligence absorbed in the cosmic all, may be standard fare in many a science fiction novel or film like "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," or "The Outer Limits."
But it has far more to do with Plato, or (ironically) religion, or plain wishful thinking, than with the science of evolution itself.
Scene: Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Captain Decker "joins" with the entity known as "V'ger" and evolves to pure intelligence in space.
Nevertheless, in the paranoid and uncertain Cold War context, "The Sixth Finger" very deliberately attempted to illustrate humanity still in its developmental infancy, driven by primitive and petty motives of ignorance, hatred, lust and the quest for power. Technologically entering the space age but developmentally not essentially different from Neanderthal, humans seemed doomed to self-extinction unless something could render us "intelligent."
That something, it was assumed, was the progress of evolution. And why not evolution? Neither philosophy nor religion had as yet been able to render humanity intelligent enough to avoid the horrors of slavery, racism, sexism, war and holocaust. But, evolution is too slow. The fear is that humans are likely to destroy themselves long before reaching that state of blissful intelligence. Simply put, we cannot wait millions of years to grow up.
Wouldn't it be great, therefore, if someone could invent a machine to do it all at once? Zap! Problem solved. That is the stuff of dreams and science fiction movies. The writers of "The Sixth Finger" of course knew that there was no such machine in reality that could come to our rescue. So all they can do is close the TV episode with the following narration:
"...And yet, may we not still hope to discover a method by which within one generation the whole human race could be rendered intelligent: beyond hatred, or revenge, or the desire for power? Is that not after all the ultimate goal of evolution?"
"Within one generation." Why the hurry? Because WWIII (or today, some other Weapons of Mass Destruction conflict, environmental disaster, water wars, etc.) could ruin our whole day. We cannot wait for "the ultimate goal of evolution".
But, if I may be so bold, there is hope for the wisdom we need, and we need not wait for the distant future. It has always been right here. We have all known people from ancient times down to our own day that have imparted to the world just that wisdom. Moreover, it is a wisdom that has nothing to do with the mechanisms of evolution, nor with advancements in science, technology, or futuristic material progress at all.
The wisdom that is selfless, other-oriented, and at peace (neither afraid about things one cannot control like Hurricane Katrina, nor withdraws from things one can ameliorate, like human poverty and injustice) have found expression in many cultures. Socrates of Athens, Gautama Buddha of India, Jesus of Nazareth, Sor Juana de la Cruz of Mexico, Mahatma Gandhi of India, Mandela of South Africa.
These and other sages have shown us the heights of human wisdom, love, and fraternity. Ironically enough, much of this wisdom has been around since ancient times: so much for modern progress and final evolutionary scenarios. Indeed, this kind of wisdom actually violates the basic evolutionary impulse of self-preservation and species propagation.
For there is a wisdom without which human life is simply another animal species competing for domination in the food chain. Without such wisdom, the human, dare I say it, may not be worth preserving. And it is our only hope, lest our scientific knowledge and inane pursuit of material success so far outpace our human wisdom and character, that we render life on this planet a purgatory, or end ourselves altogether.
That would be most tragic. For if there is a great cosmic record of all things -- an Encyclopedia Galactia -- there will be but a tiny footnote on one of its countless pages that reads:
"Human Race, Earth, Milky Way Galaxy: Extinct from stupidity."
Or, the human race can become an inspiring and important part of the galactic story.
But for this to occur, we must acquire and live by the ancient wisdom that is not motivated by nor captivated to mere "animal" impulses and pursuits.
It is a wisdom from the Outer Limits, and it has long taught us such timeless principles as:
--Examine your lives and question what you think you know. (Socrates, paraphrased)
--"Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely." (Buddha)
--A good idea put to action is better than just an idea. (Buddha, paraphrased)
--"Treat everyone as you would wish to be treated," "You cannot love both God and money," "The greatest commandments are these: Love God, and your neighbor as yourself," "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." (Jesus)
--"Be the change you wish to see in the world." (Gandhi)
Nothing of this wisdom is dependent upon or proven by the mere progress of science or evolution. The Wisdom from the Outer Limits is available to us all, here, now.
O ME! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1900.