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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 3
    Project: The great enhancement debate
    Redefining human identity

    …. By August 3rd 2092, John B. Derrick will be 25 years old. He is just starting his fifth postdoctoral program in bioengineering (after acquiring PhDs in nanotechnology, philosophy, performing arts and archeology). John is also a super athlete gaining thus far 16 gold medals in 3 Olympiads he participated in. He is also a world champion in chess, and an admirable singer. Though being so successful and rich (forgot to tell he is also a very capable and intuitive business man) he always has time to spend with his many friends who describe him as an attractive and charming person full of humor warmth and sympathy.

    John happens to be one of the first humans benefiting from the genetic revolution of the 21st century. His genetic makeup is one of the first that were fully designed from scratch. John was conceived and born from an artificial womb that was already a proved technology in the late forties. His basic genetic blueprint is a combination taken from 9 other people 5 males and 4 females all anonymous. John has no biological parents or family in the sense we understand them today. He was raised by Dr. Edgar Brown, his designer, who took custody on him as a single parent family. John’s physical, cognitive and mental abilities are astounding by any standard we may recognize. The combined germ lines invested in him have created a unique combination to which anything other than superhuman would be an understating description.

    In addition to the 46 chromosomes that were combined as mentioned above, John possesses a 47th synthetic chromosome, loaded with 23 bacterial genes, 5 genes taken from mice, another 10 taken from various primates, 14 taken from various plants, and 29 more from various marine life forms. All these genes carefully combined can be separately switched “on” or “off” by administrating dedicated chemical keys taken as a simple pill. Turning these gene groups on may allow John to survive, if necessary, in extremely hostile conditions including prolonged lack of oxygen, food and water, in the presence of extremely polluted atmosphere, extreme temperatures and more. In addition, his sight hearing olfactory and tactile senses as well as most of his metabolic functions demonstrate swift adaptations to new environments considered well beyond the range of what is safe for a normal human being or any other mammal. Such adaptations carry only minor negative side effects, all are reversible within a few days to a week as soon as the said genes are switched off again.

    Dr. Brown, who is one of the prominent pioneers of the genetic revolution, speaks of his beloved adopted son as “a miracle pronouncing the infinite capability of the human race to evolve”. He also relates to himself as the “first genetic artist”, and to John as “My single most important artistic creation, the epitome of my life” he claims that life and human life in particular to be the primal stuff of beauty and art, through which the ultimate aesthetic expression is due to come forth. In response to these statements John added that he considers himself “a child of humanity”, he believes that in fact all humans whether designed or not are children of humanity. Even at the end of the 21st century Dr. Brown is a controversial figure though besides his undeniable scientific achievements stands a long list of extremely influential works on bioethics and the future of the genetic revolution….

    This excerpt from a science fiction story that was never written, or a piece of history yet to be written comes to make a point and ask a question; Is John a human? Is he a monster, a freak? Or perhaps a piece of art? All of the above? Or none of the above? These are far from easy questions to answer from the stand point of humanity today, but surely they are coming our way sooner or later, perhaps different in form and fashion but with the same underlying essential meaning: the foundations of human identity and its heavy reliance on genetically determined factors. In the above excerpt, it is emphasized that John’s phenotypic appearance and behavior still do not deviate too far from what we still consider today as a normative human form and behavior. However it would take little imagination to take the example of John just a bit further beyond the normative criteria.

    Human form, human capabilities and many human behavioral traits, are all to a smaller or larger extent genetically determined. These are also foundational patterns of human identity by which we recognize our own humanity. Biotechnology leads us along a path where these biological foundations of human identity will in a matter of a couple of decades, become subject to profound manipulation, and design. The most critical problems in bioethics are rooted in the effort to protect human identity as we know it.

    Protecting the biological foundations of human identity is a conceptual mistake. The shift in status of these biological foundations from given facts to designer factors is imminent. Human identity becoming the subject of conscious selection is perhaps the greatest opportunity and ultimate challenge of humanity as sapient species. I believe that such conscious evolution of identity is an essential stage in the maturity of the human species. A new approach to bioethics should strive to develop the conceptual tools by which we can continuously redefine human identity in harmony with the technological means that are becoming available to us. A consciously chosen criteria is to become the backbone of such process of continuous transformation. Such criteria must be flexible enough to include the diverse phenomena that can arise within the horizons of our understanding and capacity to accommodate change. It should also be compatible and integrated with our conception of identity as reflected by our current images, metaphors and values.

    This outlines a borderline to become a first principle in the process of redefining human identity.
    Human identity will become a dynamic concept within a dynamic system of tensions where freedom and diversity of expression are countered by the need for continuity coherency and cohesion. Though being very general it can readily shed more light on an issue such as reproductive cloning. We should first identify if and how reproductive cloning is in conflict with our current understanding of what a human is. Then we can figure if and how we augment our concept of what a human is in harmony with the possibility of reproductive cloning. Conceptual augmentation must become inseparable from technological augmentation. Taking into account conceptual augmentation might need time for adjustment, education and addressing the more profound riddle of our integrity as a species. This will be partly addressed in the following part.

    Back to Part 2.
    Continue to Part 4.

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