Comment on Changing our minds

Spaceweaver Sun, Dec 6, 2009
Hello again Starwalker. I appreciate your effort you make here to develop this, critical discussion.
I will take an example from the talk of J. Suvalescu – ‘unfit for life; genetically enhance humanity or face extinction’ – namely the fact that one of the strong arguments used in presenting the proposition of ‘unfit to life’ is what is being called in the talk ‘unfit for love’. The statistical data presented in this point are about rate of divorces in our current society and study of individuals having a personal history of non-successful couple relations. The concept of Love, in my understanding, does belong to the envisioning repository of humanity, while the statistical data refers to our current reproductive habits and social model. I, for one, may not find myself agreeing to this correlation in between love and reproductive social model.

I do see definitely a lot of possible advantages in consciously modulating the chemical balance in our brains, as mentioned in the talk, yet not within this frame of description love = reproductive model, given that this frame will determine what is considered a benefit in the process. I actually find it a dangerously reductive (though very impacting) correlation.

I could not agree more regarding the example you mention. Regretfully the type of bad philosophy demonstrated in the correlation of love with reproductive fitness and monogamy is becoming more and more common especially in those instances where prominent academic figures try to ‘get through’ to lay audience. An important lesson we can learn from this example is how dangerous are the ideas we are discussing here and how easily they might (and actually are) distorted.

So again though the statistical data are valid, the implications and direction of application of incoming technologies, as genetic engineering, do take place in a much wider frame of description, which is where I believe the ethical discussion becomes both critical and complex. What is that we regard as a relevant and positively impacting direction for conscious evolution, considering that the frame of description affects the space of possible actuations in regard to humanity.

Here and later in your comment you express a concern regarding the ambiguous borderline between data that is collected and verified using mathematical tools and the way this data is interpreted and applied to future scenarios and possible avenues of action. The latter of course is much influenced by the world view, cultural biases and value system of the interpreting agent. This is perhaps one of the most difficult issues that underlie the kind of discussion we try to develop here. It seems that any model of humanity at this scale that we can possibly construct will always be a vast simplification. Moreover, though the statistical tools are highly reliable, they are sensitive to the models we construct and the hypotheses we try to test. In this kind of complex situations the descriptive tools, the mathematics and the particular worldview cannot be entirely decoupled. The problem is not the professional reliability of experts but rather their limitations and subjective biases as human beings. The rigor of our tools do not make us impartial since these tools already operate within a complex system of a priori views and values the majority of which are often invisible. Your question therefore stays an open question, a conundrum with no foreseeable solution unless we explore some unconventional options.

My proposition though was the fact that both are not possible. And I would not put it on the regulating processes of our social organism (though indeed a very interesting point for numerous further speculations) as much as to the resiliency of the overall physical and cultural system we are part of.

What I mean is that when coming to the frames of description we select, I do not think that in the description of ourselves as humans entering the territories of guided evolution, i can uphold the solution of one hand taking the decision for an all-encompassing act of interference, neither as realistic (we are, even in our actions, a sum of interactions) nor as a good enough approximation to the complex computation needed to enter guided evolution (applying the same everywhere at once without being able to fully predict neither positive nor negative implications, and without the ability to realistically hold the whole picture) neither to consider the independence of any such act from some consensus processing ethically viable. In that I still think that open information about consciously initiated processes of modulation does bring, together with the gossip scoop:), some substantial difference.
This as a proposition to your why not? question.

The view you express here is a difficult one. The difficulty I experience is not a matter of agreement or disagreement. I can easily find myself thinking on the same lines you propose here. However, my grave concern is that though we favor, ethically and esthetically, the option of creating a wide consensus regarding the critical prospects of the future of humanity, such consensus is a very improbable event. The primary reason, as we already see in our discussion here, is the vast complexity involved. It seems that we must, collectively, become much more intelligent for such consensus to have any chance of taking place. But gaining such intelligence within the shrinking time frame we have available seems to require radical actions we are not ready to take. My concern if so is that the current situation of humanity spells a profound state of ethical paralysis. We will not be able to take the necessary steps that will catalyze the next evolutionary phase of human evolution. In spite of our exploding technological prowess we will be stuck in an impossible and dangerous situation.

The options we seem to be left with is either radically slowing technological progress, an option which is not viable (or affordable) because it also demands a consensual coordinated action of the kind mentioned above, or, that the steps that will take human civilization to the next evolutionary phase will not be consensual but rather the consequence of the actions (interventions) taken by few, perhaps very few individuals.

This line of argument may clarify why the ‘one hand’ scenario is interesting and why it is important to try and figure the ethical viability of a radical act performed by one person that will produce a global effect. Realizing that ethical consensus might be impossible to achieve (an evolutionary dead end actually) and realizing that we operate within tight circumstantial constraints, brought me to explore the less familiar and highly controversial ethical landscape described in my thought experiment. Admittedly, this is indeed a dangerous idea, perhaps very dangerous, but it might not be as dangerous as failing to act because we cannot reach consensus. The apparent failure of international efforts to address climate change is but a toy example of what humanity might very shortly face in managing global crisis situations.

In conclusion let me rephrase the question arising from the argument above. Given that our ethical bias towards wide consensus might become a serious hindrance to bringing humanity into its next evolutionary phase, can we agree that it might be ethically viable for a single person (or very few), under very special circumstances, to act without such consensus of the public or its knowledge (which is a distinct issue in itself) to achieve an effect that will drive humanity beyond this barrier? The point of my thought experiment was to lay out a contour of possibilities within which such question can be positively answered. Exploring this question has, I believe, profound consequences on the future of human evolution.