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The Global Brain
"It is not guilty pride but the ceaselessly reawakened instinct of the game which calls forth new worlds." (Heraclitus Reloaded)
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    On the ethical approach towards human augmentation: Part 2
    Project: The great enhancement debate
    The choice of responsibility

    “Natural selection won’t matter soon, not anywhere near as much as conscious selection. We will civilize and alter ourselves to suit our ideas of what we can be. Within one more human lifespan, we will have changed ourselves unrecognizably”

    In these words, Greg Bear, a known science fiction writer, describes best the unprecedented and profound shift in status mankind is going through at the dawn of 21st century. Though this shift has marked our civilization over thousands of years, the technological revolution of the 20th century has accelerated this shift in exponential rate.

    The most basic aspects of human existence are shifting from being “givens”, outcomes of arbitrary influences neither understood nor accessible for manipulation, to “items of choice”. By the power of scientific insight we are able to gain increasing control over these influences of nature and harness them to our interests and agendas. Agendas that are derived from the very ideas of what and how we imagine ourselves to be. We humans, given this availability, are the ones to choose what we are going to become. Only that, as we sometimes painfully realize, the availability of choice does not automatically entail the capability to choose.

    Most apparent perhaps is this shift in the fields of medicine and molecular biology. Curing disease, radical prolonging of life span, accessing the mechanism of reproduction, and soon enough intervening with the genetic blueprints standing at the basis of our biological identity, are shifting many “givens” of our existence to a new status. These “givens” are not given anymore; they rapidly become subject to intentional manipulation and design according to our perceptions of what is appropriate and good.

    In fact such interventions in our biological makeup are as old as the days of antiquity; already the Spartans of ancient Greece were selecting only the strongest babies to live, thus preferring conscious selection over natural one. The Aztecs performed plastic surgery to reshape their skulls. In China, reshaping the ladies' feet according to some aesthetic criterion was a common practice. Medicine along the ages has extended the lives of the sick and debilitated allowing them to have progeny against the forces of the so called natural selection. In a sense, nothing is essentially new. What is definitely new is the extent of modern interventions, and their profound impact.

    It is becoming quite clear that technological advancement pushes mankind into an ever-increasing availability of choice. In the past, living at the mercy of the arbitrary conditions of nature, we were often inflicted with meaningless suffering. Yet, the scope of responsibility that comes with controlling the forces of nature, was not ours. With the choice availed to us by technology, the span of exercising our intentionality is profoundly extended, and with it many questions arise regarding the meaning of our deliberate actions, and of course the motives behind them. Our actions are no longer mere responses to arbitrary natural or godly "givens", they are becoming outcomes of conscious selection, and such conscious selection defines not only who we are but also what we are.

    The recognition of the exponentially increasing relevancy of conscious selection must begin in the choice of responsibility; a profound recognition and acceptance of the state of affairs of the human as a being who must make choices, responsible choices, as an inseparable and irreducible part of what he is both individually and as a species.

    In some not very far future, we will be able to redesign our whole germ line to the extent that perhaps even the human form as we know it today will significantly change or become vastly diversified. How are we going to approach such an opportunity to consciously select what we are? It all starts in the act of recognizing our freedom to choose and its entailed responsibility, as an essential part of what we are.

    While historically the conditions of our existence were dictated by the world we are born into, the appropriate existential question was indeed what a human being is and what befits a human existence. We must now rephrase this very question into something else: What do we choose the human to be? This seemingly small shift in perspective will yield vast consequences on the way we think about ethics and ethical questions. Bioethics in this sense seems to be a critical junction since it has to do with our bodies and the essential aspects of our identity that are determined by our bodies (one example is gender). It is only a question of time till we will be able to effectively apply our choices to our genetic makeup and to most of the physical, cognitive and psychological aspects of our lives that are determined by it. How are we going to make these choices? What are the relevant meanings and values that are to stand at the basis of such choices? These meanings and values are no longer arbitrary conditions or derivatives of arbitrary conditions, they are going to become products of conscious selection, the responsible actuation of the freedom availed to us by technological progress.

    Back to Part 1.
    Continue to Part 3.

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