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Immortal since Feb 28, 2009
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A space wanderer, striving for a freedom that would invite a future of boundless, fearless possibilities. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.
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    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.
    From Yang's personal cargo

    Life, Liberty and Enhancement?
    It's interesting to think what the world of today would look like to a visitor from the 19th century. Most likely it would seem nothing short of a science fiction story, if such a visitor was familiar with the genre well enough. It is safe to say that within a period of little over a hundred years, the world has been altered to a degree of being hardly recognizable.

    It is an age of fast moving, far reaching changes, the majority of which have occurred in the fields of science, technology and information. It has been observed that some human capacities or intelligences have developed faster than others. We live in a world where technological means outweigh our capability to incorporate them into our understanding, much less description, of what a human is. Is the human an entity belonging on planet earth, or an aspiring dweller of the stars? Is she here to make the best of an 80 year life-span, a 90 year life-span? A 100? Or can she be immortal? A product of blind natural selection or an agent capable of self guided design?

    Questions of different sizes provoke us on various levels and bring about a conflict of objectives that translate into a succession of arguments in favor and against far reaching changes.

    The topic of human enhancement and the discussion that it brings about are key reflectors of this conflict. When it comes to utilizing emerging technologies for the purpose of enhancing the human, a range of attitudes and arguments come about in attempt to determine whether this possibility is deserving or not. Among other things, these attitudes demonstrate something of the vast variety in human thought and assertion, often with each claim pulling to a different end.

    As it goes, many technologies that emerge in the expanding field of human biology are first executed as technologies for aiding the physically or mentally challenged. It seems that new technologies have a better chance of being widely accepted if they first succeed in the process of aiding to make the physically less capable person into what society considers "normal". The option of utilizing these new capabilities in order to enhance the "normal" body, make it surpass its physical and mental limits, is less freely spoken of. It seems we are more inclined to invest resources in fixing our limitations, and much less interested in investing efforts in order to surpass our limitations.

    The range of attitudes on the topic begins with the blatant objectors who are usually more conservative in view. The claims vary between issues of social status- it will make the gap between the rich and the poor wider- to claims that say enhancement upsets the "natural order of things" and could lead us to a state of utter disorder. Can we allow ourselves to take so much power into our hands? How can we trust ourselves to use it right? And what is right?

    On the opposite side of the scale stand those who are in favor of enhancement and claim that it is unethical to deprive ourselves and our future generations from becoming more capable on both the physical and mental level. If technology can make us stronger, less prone to illness and even more intelligent, then it is morally wrong to prevent it.

    Somewhere in between these attitudes are people who are not so much for or against bio-tech medicine and enhancement until the ball lands in their home field. Once the need comes for PGD or for bionic limbs, the potential users of these technologies are for the first time faced with the question of utility . Thus many life-aiding or even life saving, technologies become acceptable; the immediate practical need becomes so imminent that it cuts through the deeper and more general ethical implications. Could a morally sound parent refuse a procedure of genetic engineering, neural implants, or other, to aid his sick child?

    The conflict has diverse extensions and claims that arise at every instance a new technology is introduced to the world of medicine and possible enhancement. And yet, the act of dealing with each argument in an ad-hoc fashion does not suffice in a world where technology advances at such high speed. Considering that questions and conflicts of significant size meet us at every crossroads, can there be a unifying voice, a unified description that would accompany and guide us as we walk towards the future? Has there been such a voice in the past? Most importantly, can such a description come about in a world so diverse with perceptions?

    "It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be."
    ~ Isaac Asimov

    Human diversity extends far beyond the easily discerned and mostly superficial differences of race, gender, culture, age and class. Diversity is a matter of perceptions, sensibility and worldviews, as well reflected by the human enhancement debate. The human psychological landscape includes a vast variety of types, all contained in the definition of what it means to be human. In the futuristic sense- a future which is drawing nearer, we are becoming creatures of extended possibilities. The human of tomorrow may have the option of genetic engineering, bionic replacements for body parts, sharper senses, and even enhanced cognitive abilities. Such possibilities may lead to even greater diversity in the human landscape. Some may choose to utilize new technologies and some may not- some may have the option available while others might not. What will happen to the definition of being human as the landscape changes to contain greater potential for difference?

    The recent "Cyborg Athlete" story of Oscar Pistorius, raises questions having to do with the future in the light of a growing diversity. It is one of the first cases brought to mainstream, where bio technology crosses the thin line between medicine and enhancement. It touches upon the issue: has technology, in this case, aided to turn the physically disabled into a "super-abled" human? Pistorius, known as "the fastest man with no legs" is a double amputee runner holding the world records for the 100, 200, 400 meter events in the Paralympics. Running with the aid of Cheetah Flex-Foot carbon fibre transtibial artificial limbs, Pistorius underwent a long, much debated struggle to win approval to compete in the Olympic games.

    In reference to the ongoing debate and its implications with regards to the future of sports, Professor Gregor Wolbring, of the University of Calgary envisions "a future Olympics with its own classifications. Division I might allow steroids and human growth hormone. Division II might ban drugs, but allow special shoes or fins on uniforms. Division III might allow prosthetics and extra-skeletal devices. 'Luxury editions,' (Imagine a pole-vaulter or high-jumper with a bionic leg.)" Pistorius eventually won the IAAF approval to compete in the Olympics but missed the 400-meter qualifying time of 45.55 seconds. He is currently training for the 2012 Olympic Games.

    One needn't go very far in order to find demonstrations of human co-existing and even collaborating within society, in spite of diversity. It exists in organizations and in communities, from sport groups to academic institutions, often relaying on a unifying point of conscious voluntary consensus.

    On a larger scale, where humanity has faced the imminent need to find within itself a way for co-existence in spite of diversity, spaces for unifying descriptions have surged. The opening lines of The United States Declaration of Independence demonstrate such an instance:

    "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
    From the US Declaration of Independence

    A more recent yet similar example is shown by this excerpt from the Preamble of the EU Charter:

    "Conscious of its spiritual and moral heritage, the Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity; it is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. It places the individual at the heart of its activities, by establishing the citizenship of the Union and by creating an area of freedom, security and justice."
    From the EU Charter

    Perhaps one of the greatest works of collaboration undertaken by a large group of people was demonstrated through the creation of the Constitution of South Africa: "…the process of drafting the Constitution involved many South Africans in the largest public participation programme ever carried out in South Africa. After nearly two years of intensive consultations, political parties represented in the Constitutional Assembly negotiated the formulations contained in this text, which are an integration of ideas from ordinary citizens, civil society and political parties represented in and outside of the Constitutional Assembly."

    We, the people of South Africa,
    Recognize the injustices of our past;
    Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
    Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
    Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
    We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to ¬Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
    From the Constitution of South Africa

    These descriptions have in common the agreement on a point of unification, relaying on a greater, universal principle. At many points throughout human history and today, governments have utilized brute force in order to maintain the stability of a system. Still, these instances exemplify that co-existence can be promoted through common grounds and the upholding of democratic values. Such statements can serve to define the present as well as draw a directing sketch for the future.

    There is not one particular answer that can resolve the many issues around human enhancement. As is the case with complex matters transpired through the course of time and human progress, no resolution can be made that does not take into account a larger picture to its finest details. There is no definite yes or no answer that can suffice in a debate of this size. But debates of this size can invite the opening of a space for us to listen to each other's notions and to seek for our own capacity to accommodate them. If issues of diversity are to be addressed in any fertile fashion, it is through the ability of one to listen and to contain the other's view.

    Years after The Declaration of Independence was drafted, Jefferson recounts:

    "Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion."

    As expressed by Jefferson, whether his sentiment of "life liberty and the pursuit of happiness" was ever expressed previously or not is irrelevant. What matters is that this description served to give a direction to a nation at the brink of a revolution; one of outcomes entirely unknown at the time. Such words engrossed those taking part in the moment, and touched upon something deeper of the spirit. It is characteristic of such statements that they often come to life and carry their impact at times of uncertainty, when the old forms of thought and action no longer suffice.

    The agreements quoted above may not answer the question of what the human is, but they do display what we can or wish to agree to be shared and valued by all humans. These values hold true today as they are reiterated and re-expressed at new points in time. Still, the contemporary human stands at the verge of a future of far reaching possibilities, never known or experienced previously. These times may call for an additional guiding principle to stand along the values agreed upon.

    Much of our acceptance and effort to push technology forward these days occurs through the need to "normalize" our current states. This notion is closely displayed through the topic of bio-tech, where often the wish for aiding the sick leads the way, rather than a desire to enhance the existing. It seems that advancement is dependent on the immediate need for stabilization and survival. Yet, we do know of a love for life which is free from the need for survival. It is the type of daring love for life that accompanies the human striving to achieve more, to know more, to feel and to taste more. The same kind of striving that has compelled the human to fly the first airplane and travel to the moon; it may even be the driving force that will have the first bionic man compete on the Olympics.

    This sentiment was expressed by JFK on the US space expedition efforts:

    "Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, 'Because it is there.' Well, space is there, and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there."

    The human striving for surpassing currently known limits is as self-evident as the rights described by Jefferson and upheld in preambles to constitutions and charters since. It endows life with an added-value through which one is free to challenge himself or to re-invent her currently accepted grounds. In remembering and living such a value, we can walk towards the future with open arms.

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