On BioScience and Life and Such

The slope is only slippery when dictated to be so

In Uncategorized on March 22, 2010 at 9:33 am

post to news.thinkgene.com

Frankenstein's monster
Image by Steffe via Flickr

In a democracy, are there any reasons to fear the horror-scenarios of our biotech-future ?

I am listening three audiobooks by Dean Koontz. The books are called Frankenstein (apparently there’s no copyright on that name), and I bought them based on a recommendation from Mary Meets Dolly. In her blogpost she makes the point that the books are about transhumanism. Of this I am not so sure. The story is about how Frankenstein, still alive and going strong, is making enhanced humans to replace the existing, and in his eyes flawed, human race. Consequently, the story distinguishes itself from transhumanist thinking. Transhumanism is not about replacing anything and it is certainly not about diminishing the value of life. On the contrary, transhumanism is about valuing all life equally, even to the extent that entities harboring artificial intelligence is considered to have equal value to any biological life form. My self-declared transhumanist values gives anyone (and hopefully everyone) the right to enhance their own life as they wish. It is essential that a choice to do such enhancement is a free one. If these choices are forced, we are not talking about transhumanism anymore, we are talking about tyranny.

It struck me that all these scenarios of a future dominated by improved humans are all based on some crazy person dictating their view of “the correct human nature”. I wish someone would write a book on how genetic sorting and human improvements would play out in a modern democratic society with respect for individual rights and freedom of choice. Now that would be interesting to read. It would also give us a literary reference a lot more useful than the horror-scenarios everyone is using today, when discussing genetic engineering and human enhancement.

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  1. I posted on the books before I read the entire series. I agree they are not strictly about human enhancement on an individual basis but more about the idea that humans need enhancing. That somehow we are not good enough in our natural state and that we need enhancing.

    I understand that you believe that transhumanism is about freedom and personal choice. Do you support transhumanism if it is an inheritable trait? I think inheritable modifications are in direct conflict with that ideal because subsequent generations are given no choice as to the enhancement. That would go for enhancing your children as well.

  2. That is a very good question. I have alway regarded the right to enhancement as something not involving germ-line genetic manipulation (I do not consider egg-sorting prior to IVF “enhancement”). I must admit that I am uncertain of how I would react to germ-line genetic engineering. Mostly because I do not think anyone can guarantee to know the full range of effects from such changes at this point in time, but partly also because of the point that you raise.

  3. Here is somewhere we can agree. Unfortunately I think many people see genetically enhancing their children with a germ-line enhancement as no more problematic than getting them piano lessons. This is an area that we all need to work on educating the public about the implications of genetically enhancing future generations.

  4. Right. But, are there any examples of such germ-line enhancement or even plans to perform such enhancement ? I haven’t read anything anywhere so I am assuming that such manipulations of germ-line dells is far in the future, and the need to educate the public not very critical right now. Correct me if I am wrong on this though.

  5. There is no such plans at this exact moment but the time will come quickly. I think the time to get clear about what we want to and should allow is BEFORE it occurs. The kind of enhancement I hear people talking most about is adding a chromosome in gametes prior to IVF or through cloning. These would necessarily create a germ line mutation. I have read many people who advocate that this would be just like getting their kids private lessons. They have no understanding that these are inheritable changes they will be affecting multiple generations with their coice of enhancement.

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