The question of: “should we take the reins of our future evolution?” is for me a no-brainer, there is no doubt not only that we should, but in fact that we are already taking our future evolution in our hands (though I will submit to you that those so called ”Hands” are at present few and non-representational of the larger part of humanity). The fact that only a few hands are involved in the process is for me the main problem here; it is not only a problem of scale but an issue that glides right into the problem of ethics and values, the fact of change in itself is a simple point compared to the radical deformity a partial, to say the least, transformation implies.
Would you personally (given the technical possibility and actual opportunity) perform such an all-encompassing act of improving humanity without direct consent? (please note that in this gedanken experiment no negative side effects are known to exist at the time of the act, in other words, the consideration should be only on ethical grounds)
Yet when considering the expression “unfit for our future / the future”, I cannot not reflect upon the fact that future is (at least in terms of description) a human construct. Across centuries we conceived our future as something that by definition exceeds us, a repository for our breaking through impossibilities. Thinking of the Utopia of Plato, the machines of Leonardo, the realities of Jules Verne, all the way till the future worlds of Huxley, the singularity of Vinge the ever lasting life of Kurtzweil and the thousands, millions more humans and projections that maybe quoted in this category. Future is a category of mind through which the human challenges itself to be greater, farer, more.
We humans do have quite a historical record of devastating decision-making processes, and implications, in these kinds of circumstances (though of course criticality is always a difficult argument to fend off and one of the few that catalyze both either decision or compliance).
Is the act of delivering our-selves to the work of ‘experts’ (genetic scientists in this case) the way to harvest our potential for evolution? Or is it our current solution to bypass complexity of interaction?
To begin with I believe there may be a problem with the formulation of the gedanken experiment itself. Through the last 30 years of complex studies (and ‘naïve’ experimentation upon entire populations of about anything - from pharmaceuticals, to chemicals, to food, to ideas, etc..) we begin to see that there is virtually nothing which can be applied upon large systems of agents without unpredicted/unwanted implications or consequences. As you clearly mention we have no way to compute the complexity of present and future scenarios. Newtonian rational mechanic, though amazing media for our minds to penetrate into abstract riddles, seems not apply to the world we live in when enlarging frames. We may have to consider this in our current gedanken experiments, as a way to get used to necessary modeling of systems.
In this sense an appliance that will over night raise the IQ or EQ of all humanity even minimally will come with a percentage of negative side effects (mostly unknown). Setting it to a very low rate of 0.1%, in a population of 6 billions will yield 6 millions humans with unknown negative side effects. Though I agree it may still carry quite some predictable advantages upon a population of 6 billions of aggressive, unfit agents, would it still be ethically viable not to open the information?
From a different standpoint, considering myself as one of the uninformed, doesn’t the no-need to know decision, subtly negate the added value of consciousness?
Would you think it to be of advantage to apply this kind of diverse complex computation system to the first tentative steps of our consciously designed evolution?
What I mean by that is allowing diversity and open information in a multiplicity of procedures (and of course variations). Yet this would require all information disclosed. Though the hell-scenarios sustainers do not tire to ‘realistically prove’ us that one bad apple will be more than enough to catalyze human catastrophe, I do find myself at times preferring to take this risk upon paving a reductionist road of compliance to unexposed ‘experts’.
This is not said with carelessness but with the firm belief that if one hand can devastate all humanity, we must allow the possibility that one hand can initiate a transformative beneficial process at the scale of all humanity.
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.
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.
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.
If an effective IQ pill becomes available, are the societal and ethical issues the same as for performance-enhancing drugs in sports, or is there a moral imperative that more intelligence is always better than less? Apparently, many scientists agree with the latter. An online survey of 1427 scientists conducted in 2008 by nature found that 20 percent of respondents already use prescription drugs to enhance "concentration" rather than treatment of a medical conditon. Almost 70 percent of 1258 respondents who answered the question said they would be willing to risk mild side effects to "boost their brain power" by taking cognition enhancing drugs. Eighty percent of al scientists who responded - even those who did not use these drugs - defended the right of "healthy humans" to take them as work boosters, and more then half said their use should not be restricted, even for university entrance exams. More than third said that they would feel pressure to give their children such drugs if they knew other kids at school were also taking them. Few appear to favor the "ignorance is bliss position"
Intelligence is a critical resource for the development of civilization. As the global economy evolves and small countries compete with larger countries, assessing, developing and even enhancing intellectual talent may well become the neuroscience challenge for the 21st century.
“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.”
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?
It seems important to me to note that we are not yet knowledgable as a race or as individuals about brain chemistry thoroughly enough to attempt to 'tweak' their current natural state directly, especially genetically. This is apparent enough by the confused attempts pharmacologically to achieve a desired and specific end result with any degree of consistence. This does not mean that I am completely opposed to experimentation with arbitrary modifications to neurochemistry.
I do know, however, as is mentioned in another of Spaceweaver's posts, that the societal and cultural impact on mind development is direct and appreciable: and this may be our greatest and most immediate avenue towards "brain enhancement", albeit culture is a difficult thing to manipulate; despite intelligent and concerted efforts it often appears to take a course of its own choosing, and this askew to any educated guesses made regarding the course of events.