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    Genetically enhanced humans
    Project: The great enhancement debate
    Richard Hayes over at the Washington post has a critique of Ronald Green (Ronald M. Green is a professor of ethics at Dartmouth College. His most recent book is "Babies by Design: The Ethics of Genetic Choice.") entitled :” Genetically Modified Humans? No Thanks”

    The article starts with following:” In an essay in Sunday's Outlook section, Dartmouth ethics professor Ronald Green asks us to consider a neo-eugenic future of "designer babies," with parents assembling their children quite literally from genes selected from a catalogue. Distancing himself from the compulsory, state-sponsored eugenics that darkened the first half of the last century, Green instead celebrates the advent of a libertarian, consumer-driven eugenics motivated by the free play of human desire, technology and markets. He argues that this vision of the human future is desirable and very likely inevitable…. To put it mildly: I disagree.” Says Hayes

    And then come the questions:” Once we begin genetically modifying our children, where do we stop? If it's acceptable to modify one gene, why not two, or 20 or 200? At what point do children become artifacts designed to someone's specifications rather than members of a family to be nurtured?”

    Green in his original article entitled:” Building Baby From the Genes Up” comes to dispel the very ideas that the majority of poll respondents hold in this regard:” Genomic science is racing toward a future in which foreseeable improvements include reduced susceptibility to a host of diseases, increased life span, better cognitive functioning and maybe even cosmetic enhancements such as whiter, straighter teeth. Yes, genetic orthodontics may be in our future. The challenge is to see that we don't also unleash the demons of discrimination and oppression. Although I acknowledge the risks, I believe that we can and will incorporate gene technology into the ongoing human adventure.” (the article is worthwhile reading in its entirety)

    Having read the article and the critique I hold steady the thought that Green is on the right track. I believe, as he does, that the future of genetically enhanced humans on the grand scale of human evolution is not only desirable, it is also inevitable. The ‘so-called’ ethical questions that the opponents raise be it on religious grounds, on social grounds, or on humanitarian grounds are not only fundamentally false but politically self serving and hypocritical.

    The human race is not one entity because of its genetic heritage, though most will desire to find the unity of humanity on these genetic lines, being the lowest common denominator for lack of a higher common denominator.

    It is my view that humanity’s unity may (and should) be based on a higher ground of dreaming and betterment, the total annihilation of suffering, disease, and mortality and finally the total freedom to redesign the human “nature” (body and mind) to encompass all possibilities existing in the phase space of potential evolution that the multiverses allows (and maybe even beyond that).

    The issues at play, as I see it, lay with the vision one holds of the interconnectivity of all life on all dimensions of existence. The total liberty to be whatever and how ever, where ever and whenever in whatever fashion one desires is the ultimate objective of all human aspirations.

    Would love to see a discussion opening on this critical subject sitting at our doorstep.

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    rene     Mon, Apr 21, 2008  Permanent link

    I’m glad this subject is being brought up again. Spaceweaver’s 5 part essay on the “ethical approach towards human augmentation” is still one of the most substantial contributions to SpaceCollective, and certainly hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. The discussion about genetic choice will be with us for a long time, setting off all our conflicting ideas of what it means to be human. Any attempts to protect human identity as we know it will predictably lead to all sorts of Frankensteinian science-fiction scenarios that bear little relationship to today’s actual scientific efforts to understand our biology, our nature, and the physical universe. In an earlier comment on Spaceweaver’s post I referred to biophysicist Gregory Stock’s book Redesigning Humans.

    Stock explains that the “possibility of altering the genes of our prospective children is not some isolated spinoff of molecular biology but an integral part of the advancing technologies that culminate a century of progress in the biological sciences. We have spent billions to unravel our biology, not out of idle curiosity, but in the hope of bettering our lives. We are not about to turn away from this.” He goes on to explain that “the ‘natural’ setting for the vast majority of humans, especially in the economically developed world, bears no resemblance to the stomping grounds of our primitive ancestors, and nothing suggests that we will be any more hesitant about ‘improving’ our own biology than we were about ‘improving’ our environment."

    Stock is skeptical about brain-computer interfaces. According to him, besides “the amplification of miniature speakers and fiber-optic eye glass projectors, such interfaces would bring us almost nothing that our senses could not.” Personally I believe that we should and will explore every possible path that will allow us to evolve for the same reasons Stock uses to support his own advocacy of the genetic option: we will continue our investment in technological interfaces with our biology until there will be no perceptible distinction between the neo-biological and the artificial realm.

    In addition to the debates mentioned above, it's worth checking out the fascinating exchange on intelligence enhancement and the range of experiential and interactive possibilities hinted at in the comments of a related discussion I soon hope to join, which can be found here.

    Rourke     Tue, Apr 22, 2008  Permanent link
    Rarely is the possible influence of 'market forces' considered in these type of debates. It was nice to see it here (all be-it briefly):
    ...libertarian, consumer-driven eugenics motivated by the free play of human desire, technology and markets.

    I don't believe we will have the kind of free-will over our 'destinies' that many transhumanist thinkers imagine. The actions of human evolution have already been influenced by our cultural-augmentation (e.g. arguments about the value of art for instance posit a cultural foundation; the Western 'culture' of consuming milk/lactose affected the genes caucasians carry in their stomachs to digest the stuff). At present the 'free' market is the greatest cultural force in existence. As new technologies become ever more prevalent and integrated into our biological capacities it will be these market forces that - in the long run - will influence the re-definition of homo-sapien. But 'consumer driven' does not necessarily mean 'people get what they want, when they want, how they want'. The market works for itself: the consumer may be the driver, but the engine is most definitely the market, the industry and the corporation and the fuel is money, shares and stock-prices.

    Of course choices we make, as individuals and as a society; a civilisation at large, will effect the outcome of the greatest eugenic experiment in history, but seen from a grand scale, the wax and wane of economics, of social preference and class, of fashion, and other non controllable elements will have the greater impact on the direction our future 'evolution' will take.

    Trying to limit the damage this uncontrollable force will inflict should be our first goal. By setting the laws and limits within which the market can act we will ultimately wield the greater control.
    meganmay     Sat, Apr 26, 2008  Permanent link
    This deviates a little bit from the specifics of this post, but speaking of market forces and genetic modification, I just read an article in the NY Times about the push for a more widespread acceptance of genetically modified foods in response to rising food prices and grain shortages. Though this new found acceptance of "Frankenfoods" would no doubt have as much to do with business concerns as it would with world-wide hunger, it's interesting to consider genetic modification, not just as a means for designing better looking babies, but as a technology that may become necessary to our survival, whether GM corn or GM homo sapiens.
    Wildcat     Sun, May 11, 2008  Permanent link
    Steven Pinker new take on the Dignity issue in bioethics:"Many people are vaguely disquieted by developments (real or imagined) that could alter minds and bodies in novel ways. Romantics and Greens tend to idealize the natural and demonize technology. Traditionalists and conservatives by temperament distrust radical change. Egalitarians worry about an arms race in enhancement techniques. And anyone is likely to have a "yuck" response when contemplating unprecedented manipulations of our biology. The President's Council has become a forum for the airing of this disquiet, and the concept of "dignity" a rubric for expounding on it. This collection of essays is the culmination of a long effort by the Council to place dignity at the center of bioethics. The general feeling is that, even if a new technology would improve life and health and decrease suffering and waste, it might have to be rejected, or even outlawed, if it affronted human dignity.
    Whatever that is. The problem is that "dignity" is a squishy, subjective notion, hardly up to the heavyweight moral demands assigned to it."

    the rest of the article is here
    Robokku     Sun, May 11, 2008  Permanent link
    That Pinker piece is really interesting, unnerving reading. The report he writes about, from the President's Council on Bioethics, certainly seems disturbing - particularly considering its status and significance as a document designed to guide policy at a globally potent level.

    But am I the only one who finds Pinker's own approach - if not his views - tiresome, even counterproductive? Surely the best way for Pinker to respond to the report would have been to demonstrate the strength of his own views and the shortcomings of the best versions of the best alternatives, noting how these relate to the versions in the report. He makes it clear that the versions of alternative views in the report are weak and (often wildly) unreasonable. For that reason, when he shoots them down, he misses his real target.

    What I read was a piece suffering from many of the flaws it was pointing out in others: it is excitable, frenetic even; it is overloaded with rhetoric to the point of untrustworthy partiality; it is childishly critical of the trappings of people's expressions and not of the root of their opinions.

    If Kass is a bad messenger for conservative bioethics, then Pinker is a bad messenger even for his own ideas. Which is not what the world needs, in the light of the existence - and the potential - of the report he's criticising. Is Pinker our best defense? Are we all doomed? I for one am just the sort of human who seriously needs some enhancement, and the likes of me should not be cluttering the Earth any longer than we have to.
    Wildcat     Mon, May 12, 2008  Permanent link
    Pinker (to my eyes a great thinker) is, granted, a 200 pounds Rottweiler, at times, and yet we need such humans, to counter the arguments of Kass and the like. that at times he may miss his target is a condition of counter arguments in debates such as these (ethics). however I'd rather have him make mistakes of partiality than let arguments such as the Dignity issue go unchallenged. Moreover, being that I consider Pinker a positive (and optimist) influence in the world, the very fact that he fights the battle of freedom (see autonomy in the article) is advantageous enough to all forward looking humans to allow him the pulpit of our defense. is he our best? I do not know, but I surely hope that humans of this caliber and capability will take the stand and carry the torch of the freedom of biological autonomy into the future so that humans such as you and me may be able to enhance ourselves without the need of justification.
    Robokku     Mon, May 12, 2008  Permanent link
    I strongly agree that we need people like Pinker. What the world doesn't need is for the most prominent advocate of his stance to push it hot-headedly. Unfortunately, I often feel that that's what he does.
    Wildcat     Mon, May 12, 2008  Permanent link
    Nick Bostrom : "In Defense of Posthuman Dignity"

    ABSTRACT. Positions on the ethics of human enhancement technologies can be (crudely) characterized as ranging from transhumanism to bioconservatism. Transhumanists believe that human enhancement technologies should be made widely available, that individuals should have broad discretion over which of these technologies to apply to themselves, and that parents should normally have the right to choose enhancements for their children-to-be. Bioconservatives (whose ranks include such diverse writers as Leon Kass, Francis Fukuyama, George Annas, Wesley Smith, Jeremy Rifkin, and Bill McKibben) are generally opposed to the use of technology to modify human nature. A central idea in bioconservativism is that human enhancement technologies will undermine our human dignity. To forestall a slide down the slippery slope towards an ultimately debased ‘posthuman’ state, bioconservatives often argue for broad bans on otherwise promising human enhancements. This paper distinguishes two common fears about the posthuman and argues for the importance of a concept of dignity that is inclusive enough to also apply to many possible posthuman beings. Recognizing the possibility of posthuman dignity undercuts an important objection against human enhancement and removes a distortive double standard from our field of moral vision.

    read the rest of Nick Bostrom paper here
    Robokku     Tue, May 13, 2008  Permanent link
    Aaahh... Yes, that's helped me to calm down now , thank you.