The prevalence of superheroes, mutants, aliens, and other humanoid beings with enhanced or “evolved” abilities in twentieth and twenty-first century fiction and media has fueled a near-endless debate in pop culture as well as academia. X-men, sentinels, guides, augments, mutants… is the appearance of fictional characters with enhanced traits we now know to exist in reality a result of the authors and artists creating stories to express their own experiences? Was Stan Lee a “sensor” or “empath”? Did Gene Roddenberry have friends with “superhuman” abilities? Was George Lucas really inspired by spaghetti westerns, or was he playing out his own personal fantasies on screen, imaging a world where people who could bend your mind, perhaps overwrite your thoughts, were persecuted heroes rather than unknowns and outcasts? For that matter, were Jules Verne and his Nineteenth century counterparts examples of homo sapiens with hyperacute senses (those commonly known as “sensors” and hyper-developed empathy (“empaths” or “emos” in modern slang)?
Evolutionary biologists will tell you the mutations responsible for the traits associated with the sensor and empath populations (and don’t risk calling them subspecies or you’ll just spark another debate) have been in the human population for at least 1000 years. They’ll also tell you individuals with the phenotypical presentations of modern day sensors and empaths have been showing up in human populations for at least 400 years. So, there is every possibility that your favorite nineteenth, twentieth, or early twenty-first century sci-fi or comic writer really was a sensor or empath, or knew someone who was.
But if that’s the case, someone always asks, then why did it take so long for sensors and empaths to be recognized? (And had they been recognized sooner, would integration of these “classifications” have been smoother? Or would the period of discovery be an even darker time in our collective consciousness?)
And that’s where the debate moves out of the province of hard science and into the realm of sociology—at best—or metaphysics. Was it critical mass? Did we not see the mutants right in front of us because isolated cases were easy to ignore or explain away? Or was it the inverse? Once we give a condition a name, it was easy to identify those who fit the diagnosis?
Or, others ponder, did critical mass play a different kind of role? Did these abnormal abilities gain strength through numbers? Anecdotal evidence suggests empaths’ emotional and thought projection abilities increase by an order of magnitude for every dozen empaths in a given population. The now mostly discredited Azazel–Zachariah studies also strongly support this possibility.
On the other hand at least two non-discredited studies suggest sensors become less comfortable with using their special skills in the greater concentration of sensors in their vicinity.
Of course the Campbell-Shirley Accords of 2065 outlawed “experimentation on mutants,” and a combination of volatile political climates and vocal activist groups and anti-mutant movements have made reputable, peer-reviewed studies into psychosocial characteristics of hyper-humans almost impossible, so we may never know the answers to these complex and fascinating questions.
So, for the time being, the debate will continue.
Instead, I pose these questions to you. What do you believe? Why do you believe it? What would you like to learn about your fellow inhabitants on planet Earth?
Now look to the people around you. Remember, while you may not know your classmates’ registration status, statistically one in ten is a sensor or empath. What would you want your classmates to tell you?
—From Everett Crowley, Director FBI Psycho-Evolutionary Analysis Task Force, Graduation Address, University of California, Berkeley, June 7, 2075.