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Exploring the edge.
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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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    The great enhancement debate
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    On the ethical approach towards human augmentation: Part 5
    Project: The great enhancement debate

    The evolutionary prospect of an ethical criterion

    Evolution is blind. No scientific theory was objected, rejected, and criticized so fervently and vehemently more than this theory, no matter how large is the amounting body of evidence. The very idea that all life and in particular mankind is shaped by arbitrary blind forces is a devastating blow to the belief that we humans are the crown of creation, the chosen ones, those for whom everything else was put into existence. It is a devastating blow to man’s uniqueness and superiority in creation.

    Mankind, like all life forms has emerged, it seems, out of more primitive life forms. There is no intelligent design, and no preordained destiny of greatness (or fall), and perhaps more devastating of all is the realization that the seat of the designer is vacant and we can take it, that is if we chose to take it, or dare to take it, perhaps we must take it. Maturity bites…

    The forces of evolution are blind yet they finally can be harnessed and directed. There seems to be no preordained destiny yet destiny can be created, or so it seems. Can we overlook such an opportunity? It is my belief that doing so is equivalent to betraying the core of human essence. We are far from understanding what consciousness is but it becomes apparent that the more man becomes conscious to the universe and himself in the universe, the more choices are opened, and proportionally less a priori givens are there for us as we establish our ethical values. Consciousness is the key to the emerging pattern of choices we confront, and in conscious reflection we must seek ethical criteria. Simultaneously, it is our ethical values that carve the space in which our collective consciousness further evolves. Our ethics is the vehicle by which we project ourselves into what we wish ourselves to be in our own eyes.

    This is why the very specific area of bioethics is so critical to the future of mankind. No matter what technology might or might not allow us, bioethics can be perceived as a transition point from blind evolution, to the conscious evolution of mankind, and eventually of life at large. Bioethics is not about legally regulating our methods of procreation, or the distribution and manipulation of our gene pool. It reaches much further than that; it touches the very essence of what we believe that makes us what we are. In freedom starts responsibility and human kind must brace itself to cope with an ever growing freedom. Natural selection has brought us to this point; conscious selection embodied in ethical criteria will set the path from now on.

    A sort of an epilogue

    As a concluding note, I have tried to outline here an approach to the ethics of human augmentation. It seems that augmenting the human biologically or otherwise is still an easier challenge than augmenting the human ethical outlook. Though the latter demands thinking capabilities and creative imagination we already have today in abundance. To augment our ethical outlook, means no less than augmenting our very nature and identity. This is a far reaching vision. I was hoping to stir some discussion in the collective mind space on this highly critical subject. The future is open :-)

    Back to part 4.

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    alborz     Tue, Jan 15, 2008  Permanent link
    I love your conclusions in these last two parts. As much for the thought process as for the content. I love how you've turned the issue on it's head: It's not whether augmentation is ethical but what do we regard as ethical? Not is augmentation anti-human, but what is human? It's startling how all our hangups are a result of the way we define them. Re-phrase almost any issue, and the issue vanishes.

    Ironically enough, a strong current in the anti-technology crowd who view themselves as humanists seems to be a distrust of human nature. The idea that if we go that far, somehow we're gonna screw it all up. Robots will revolt and enslave mankind. Some despot will create an army of supermen to take over the world. These are the stories pop-culture comes up with as if they are the necessary outcomes of our advancing technology. This, rather than pointing to an inherent problem with technology, points to our problematic view of ourselves.

    Additionally, I see a parrallel in some enhancement proponents with their desire to go beyond, or surpass humanity - to become "trans"human. This to me rings of the same anti-humanism as the "we're gonna screw it up" crowd. To strive for transhumanism, implies a desire to not be human. Both camps attach a negative connotation to humanity. Both are ideological and this, I feel, is a mistake.

    There's no need to label our progress. We need to plant our feet on the ground, take a survey of our condition and proceed accordingly. What do we want to change? We can define ourselves in the process.

    Just some thoughts conjured up by your fantastic posts ~ thanks
    Spaceweaver     Wed, Jan 16, 2008  Permanent link
    Human augmentation, I think, is first and foremost a conceptual philosophical issue. As humans, we transform as our concepts evolve and world view transforms. Technology is not where change takes place. Technology is merely the source of the very strong pressures we experience on our current conceptual framework. Remarkably, technology is our own making, arising from the very framework which is under pressure. It might seem abstract, and indeed it is, but it becomes quite clear that the great enhancement debate is a process intrinsic to being human. If we consider human nature as a vehicle to evolution, the anti technologists are strong on the brakes pedal, while the transhumanists are strong on the gas pedal. It seems we should tend to the wheel...

    Am glad you found it interesting.
    rene     Wed, Jan 16, 2008  Permanent link
    Like Al, I'm very impressed with Spaceweaver's extensive inquiry. It's fascinating to realize how even many non-religious people tend to believe that some recognizable variation of our present incarnation will remain in stasis as if we'd reached the pinnacle of our species' evolution, whereas others are eager to radically transcend our existential condition at the earliest opportunity. One thing is certain, as Spaceweaver notes, biotechnology will lead us along a path where the biological foundations of human identity will change in a matter of decades and we will be the ones who'll design this transformation. Now that we can play an active role in the manipulation of our own evolution by merging our technologies with our biological origins we have the potential to consciously enhance ourselves either within a familiar context or beyond recognition as traditional members of our species. With a bit of luck there will be plenty of individual options for customized evolution.

    Here's a quote from the book Redesigning Humans by Gregory Stock.

    Homo Sapiens is not the final word in primate evolution, but few have yet grasped that we are on the cusp of profound biological change, poised to transcend our current form and character on a journey to destinations of new imagination. This will allow us to seize control of our evolutionary future. The road to our eventual disappearance must be paved not by humanity’s failure but by its success. Progressive self-transformation could change our descendants into something sufficiently different from our present selves to not be human in the sense we use the term now. It would not end our lineage. Homo sapiens would spawn its own successor by fast-forwarding its own evolution.
    alborz     Thu, Jan 17, 2008  Permanent link
    You might enjoy this quote from Marshall McLuhan that I stumbled across:

    The answers are always inside the problem, not outside.
    TheUndying     Thu, Feb 18, 2010  Permanent link
    Mr. Spaceweaver, this was one amazing 5 part post. I hope you don't mind that I've actually quoted and cited some of what you said for a school Bioethics project, because your words are golden. My project hasn't actually been turned in however, so if you'd rather I not cite you, or if you'd like me to cite with your real identity (real-life name), then just shoot me a message or something. Alterations to my project are still possible. Thanks for the insight!
    Spaceweaver     Fri, Feb 19, 2010  Permanent link
    @TheUndying Thank you for your words of appreciation. Of course you can cite me as much as you like. Actually, I wish these ideas will reach as many eyes as possible :-) It would be nice if you place in your work a link to my cargo here in Space Collective.