Humanist or post-humanist?


The New Humanist has an article on genetic modification of human beings, addressing some of the reservations of critics. John Harris is primarily taking on Jurgen Habermas, who seems to think genetic engineering is yucky.

Habermas has two objections to letting prospective parents tinker with their child’s genes:

  • The child doesn’t have the opportunity to give consent — “the power of those living today over those coming after them, who will be the defenceless objects of prior choices made by the planners of today”. I don’t see the objection, myself. Every parent makes lots of choices in which the child has no say, and even the choice to have a kid is a major one (I suppose teenagers will, at some point, complain that they didn’t ask to be born, but that’s the kind of choice it was physically impossible for them to make.) This is an utterly useless complaint. I’d much rather have a child come back to me years later and get cranky that I had that genetic error predisposing her to cancer excised without her permission, than to have her wondering why I didn’t have that gene corrected after she’s diagnosed with cancer.

  • The second problem seems to be a narrower version of the first: “Eugenic interventions aiming at enhancement reduce ethical freedom in so far as they tie down the person concerned to rejected, but irreversible intentions of third parties, barring him from the spontaneous self perception of being the undivided author of his own life.” Having your genes modified before birth deprives one of moral autonomy, somehow. This argument both overrates the importance of genetic variation in ethics and behavior, and again ignores the fact that these differences are normal consequences of reproduction without technological intervention. Does the fact that the role of chance is being replaced with choice somehow change the conscious state of the child?

Anyway, Harris wallops on those two arguments in his short article, and also has a book on the subject: Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), which I may have to pick up. I agree that there is an interesting future ahead of us in which at least the wealthy will be able to be able to sculpt the genetics of their offspring, and I’m not dead-set against it — in fact, I’m probably fairly radical in considering rather extreme consensual (by the parents, obviously) genetic modification to be an important experiment for humanity to carry out — I look forward to our genetically enhanced post-human future, frightening as the possibility of profound biological change may be.

However, pounding on Habermas’s arguments isn’t very challenging. Going into an embryo to fix genetic errors that will strongly impair post-natal life is a no-brainer to me. Who wouldn’t want to be able to excise the possibility of Huntington’s disease from their kids, for instance? I hope the book has more to say on the challenging issues, though. What if a modification to reduce the risk of schizophrenia also reduces the risk of creativity? What if paring away a gene that puts them at risk of early heart disease also makes them impotent at an early age? Most phenotypes are the product of multiple genes, and the diversity of possible allelic interactions may make it impossible to predict the outcome of a modification to one with any certainty — genetic manipulation may be very much a gamble, and those in favor of modification may be right back to playing games of chance, just like those of us who reproduced the old-fashioned way.

These are also experiments on our children that will take multiple generations to resolve any unexpected side effects. That’s not an argument against doing them, but does emphasize the importance of informed, aware participation in the process. Unfortunately, given human shallowness, I expect the more likely process for testing the wild possibilities will be more like a mad stampede by the over-privileged to give their daughter’s Paris’s nose in utero, and similar fashionable trifles.

Comments

  1. Cappy says

    Not that I’m against genetic modification myself, but the long term consequences do merit consideration. Modified genes might not pair up well during meiosis with unmodified, “natural” genes rendering the second generation less fertile. What if there is a limited stock of “custom” genes available so that modified people are too genetically similar, virtual inbreds?
    Not to say that we shouldn’t attempt such procedures, but we shouldn’t be surprised when unintended consequences jump up and bite us in the arse.

  2. says

    Well, I suppose to me the question is what constitutes something that requires modification?

    Suppose, for instance, there’s a sufficient number of genetic factors that predispose toward homosexuality.

    That’s not the same thing as, say, being prone to breast cancer or diabetes; but to some people, it most certainly is.

    Which is why I guess it’s good that we’re talking about this before we know how to fuck with our genes on such a level.

    I guess what I’m saying is that, until we know what we mean when we say “human”, maybe we shouldn’t be improving the model.

  3. says

    I wonder how the folks who hammer against genetic engineering in other areas (such as crops) would react to GE humans. Can you ban a GE human that already exists? Restrict their reproduction? Slash and Burn?

    I think I agree on the rebuttals of the two arguments given above. The consent argument is impossible to reconcile – As giving consent to take out or leave in disease genes can go either way – couldn’t a person complain that they didn’t give consent for a disease-risk gene to be left in? (As in, “I didn’t give consent to subject myself to the higher level of risk.”)
    Also – limiting ethical freedom – that has to be the dumbest argument I’ve ever heard on this topic. That’s like saying that embryo screening (for compatible blood types for operations, for example) or cloning doesn’t allow the resulting human being from being the originator of their own actions? And that also applies to “conventional breeding” of humans. I can just see the argument right now: “Hey, you can’t discriminate against me as a potential mate because I have disease-risk genes and a high tendency toward violence. That would prevent your offspring from having ethical freedom.”

    I think there are a great number of questions that need to be addressed that are more important, one of which is the site of insertion. If you insert a gene into a human embryo, is the location of the newly inserted gene going to be the same from person to person? If they’re not in identical loci, what happens when two people with the same tailored gene have kids together, and the kids start inheriting two or no copies of the gene? Random insertion sites are just asking for bad things to happen in future generations. Maybe everyone should get a Multiple Cloning Site put in the same location? :)

  4. says

    ‘Post-humanist’ sounds so ominous, I’d like to find another term for that. I don’t know how anyone could really be against researching a genetic preventative measure for things like Huntingtons. Even when you get into greyer areas like preventing homosexuality, who am I to deny such research to those who might want it? Is it my decision whether a cure for schizophrenia is worth a loss of creativity? Certainly not. I think our moral imperative is to do the research that will give such options to parents in the future, and let them decide whether or not to use it.

  5. says

    There’s always the fascinating possibility of speciation…

    That was one of the underlying issues in a book by David Brin and Gregory Benford called Heart of the Comet. Two different groups of people – “Orthos” and “Percells”, referring to “natural” and “modified” humans. It was like a Red-Blue politcal split, too.

  6. says

    I don’t know how anyone could really be against researching a genetic preventative measure for things like Huntingtons. Even when you get into greyer areas like preventing homosexuality, who am I to deny such research to those who might want it?

    What’s going to be really fascinating/troublesome is when people start intentionally inserting troublesome genes – like wanting to have deaf, blind, or midget genes. At the same time, we risk the crippling of future humans on the whims of their parents – if a parent can’t surgically remove the eardrums of their kids (unilaterally), how can they purposefully insert a gene that makes them blind?

    Then there’s always the possibility of genetic fads – like if they invent a “blue hair” genetic construct. Weirdness.

  7. Christianjb says

    It’s apparent that many artistic and scientific geniuses have/had severe mental problems in other areas (e.g. depression, schizophrenia, autism disorders). This raises a few questions. 1) If we selectively eradicate mental disorders, are we running the risk of also eradicating the next Van Gogh? 2) Are we running the risk of eliminating political dissidents? 3) If we select for ‘genius’ are we also going to be seeing a side-effect of increased mental disorders?

    To some extant we’ve already had this debate with Prozac, so I don’t know if this is anything new.

  8. says

    At last we will have real Intelligent Design, and there will be no controversy about the term. You would think this would make the creationists happy, but noooo. You just can’t please some people.

  9. J Myers says

    There’s always the fascinating possibility of speciation…

    Nurse: Congratulations! It’s a mutant!

    Mother: He’s beautiful, let me hold him!

    Baby: Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!

  10. TomDunlap says

    That teenager is still going to complain. Why am I a brunette instead of a blond? Why blue eyes, not green?

  11. Che says

    I believe it’s illegal to give your child a name with numbers or a name that could cause harm to him/her in the future. For example, you couldn’t name your child “Idiot.”

    Similarly, it’ll probably be illegal to negatively modify your children. So for example, fury fetishists will probably not be able to have cat children or something like that.

    Most likely individual modifications will have to be cleared by some FDA-like government organization for legal use in America as well.

  12. Russell says

    Tom, you could have stopped with the first sentence. “That teenager is still going to complain.” ;-)

  13. GallileoWasADenier says

    Genetic engineering like many other society-shaking inventions is a tool, morally neutral in itself, that can be used for good or evil. And of course it is right to use such a tool for good. The problems have always been first on agreeing what is good and what evil, and second, unintended consequences.

    I have no doubt it will be used, and that it will lead to enormous benefits eventually, but I am also sure that as ethical fashions change, as they always do, that some of the consequences will be such as would horrify us. (I can invent possible examples, but the details are not the point.) Many pioneering scientists and thinkers of past centuries would have been horrified to have known that their work would eventually lead to spreading atheism. Now that we are here, we consider it a good thing of course, but that is only a product of our current ethics. Why would things stop here? The ethics of our great grandchildren will be as different from our as ours is from our own great grandparents, as different as ours are from the eugenicists and religious fundamentalists, and I am sure we will not like all of it. That’s fine by me, but this is what really scares the anti-science crowd. All the crap about faults in evolution and Biblical literalism is a distraction which I don’t think even they really believe – what they believe in, and are so afraid of is our moral evolution.

  14. says

    These are also experiments on our children that will take multiple generations to resolve any unexpected side effects.

    That would also be an evolutionary process!

  15. Spaulding says

    PZ, I’m surprized to find you so much in favor of genetic manipulation beyond correction of simple genetic diseases. But I’m very much in agreement. Fetishization of randomness is a curious reactionary tactic that pops up around a number of topics: the issue raises some of the same questions and attitudes as other family planning questions.

    Why is random recombination better than deliberate trait selection? Brush aside the insubstantial, mystical aspects and the luddite aspects, and the best argument seems to be “we just don’t understand the biological ramifications well enough for the risk to be acceptable.” Right now that’s a fair assessment for some technologies, but our understanding will improve and this objection will weaken.

    Also, the question of genetic control is technologically broad. Transforming an embryo with novel synthetic genes is probably riskier than transforming with cross-species genes, which is riskier than transforming with human genes. Embryo selection would be even less risky.

    Prof. Lee Silver offers a good take on it in his book “Remaking Eden”. Basically, there’s an inevitable pattern of parents trying to provide the best for their children, from homes to education to advice to food, etc. Given another means of improving the prospects of their children, many parents will take advantage of it. And yes, some parents will have greater means of providing for their children than others (in turn perpetuating economic advantages and disadvantages for another generation), but that’s no change from the status quo.

  16. silence says

    There’s a third major problem, not discussed in the article: social problems which result from a large fraction of parents making the *same* choice about their children. India and China today have significant gender imbalances as a result of parental decisions to not give birth to girls.

  17. Frank Oswalt says

    It seems to me that until we understand exactly what each human gene does and how it interacts with all other genes, modifying our children’s genes would be exactly the kind of arrogance that has given us thalidomide, asbestos and the ozone hole.

    @Che: “Most likely individual modifications will have to be cleared by some FDA-like government organization for legal use in America as well.”

    Oh, in that case I guess we have nothing to worry about…

  18. Frank Oswalt says

    @Spaulding: “Why is random recombination better than deliberate trait selection?”

    Because evolution works. Never touch a running system.

  19. antihumanist says

    “India and China today have significant gender imbalances as a result of parental decisions to not give birth to girls.”

    How is that a problem?

  20. woozy says

    I dunno… If factors like musical ability and intelligence are genetic I imagine some personality types (shyness, emotional quotionent, moodiness) are too. I’m not sure as a parent I’d want to be held to task for wanting and deliberately having a moody, intelligent, poor EQ child because I think such people are simply better.

    It’s a cliche to say adversity “builds character” but there are aspects of being “damaged” such as gay, autistic, schizophrenic, color blind, deaf, short, or, heck, a minority that can become self-defining and even enlightening, and I’d be loathe to through them all away. Then again, I’d be just plain perverse to want to make a child autistic, schizophrenic, on purpose. But then I’m not crazy about a world where it’s assumed intelligence, happy-ness, emotional quotient, etc. etc. or naturally to tinkered for end it’d be perverse for me to want my shy, moody child to be shy and moody.

    There’s a definate comfort in having such out of one’s control.

  21. Moses says

    There’s a third major problem, not discussed in the article: social problems which result from a large fraction of parents making the *same* choice about their children. India and China today have significant gender imbalances as a result of parental decisions to not give birth to girls.

    Posted by: silence | November 9, 2007 6:33 PM

    How is this a problem?

  22. Spaulding says

    The problems have always been first on agreeing what is good and what evil, and second, unintended consequences.

    Unintended consequences are certainly a risk. But we don’t need to agree on what is good and evil. If we leave decisions about this stuff to prospective parents under consultation with specialists, then a detailed moral consensus is not required. In the U.S.A., parents are given tremendous leeway to screw up their kids – through poor parenting skills, poor educational choices, poor ideologies, etc. Intervention is reserved for very extreme cases of abuse, not for choices that simply deviate from the norm.

    But yeah, some of the extreme cases may be still me morally unplumbed areas. I’m oversimplifying. Still, “leave it to the parents” is still less ominous than gov’t regulated modificaton guidelines.

    On a separate note, be careful to read the fine print before you consider having Monsantoâ„¢ brand kids.

  23. Alan D. McIntire says

    Reading this thread, I was reminded of the Science Fiction story “Beyond This Horizon”, by Robert Heinlein, one of the few “far right” utopias. In that scienc ficton future, most people were healthy, had quick reflexes, were relatively strong and good looking. The society maintained a certain percentage of “naturals” who were subject to bad backs, rotten teeth, etc. The “naturals” were awarded bonus pensions by the future society as compensation for maintaining the genetic reserves of humanity. You never know when a bad gene may have protective side effects- A. McIntire

  24. dogmeatib says

    I can see some serious pitfalls to this one. Mommy and Daddy got-bucks genetically engineer little Tommy and Sally to be stronger, faster, smarter, resistant to disease, and longer lived. Over generations the wealthy are able to do this to the point that they dominate the universities, sports, business, politics (even more than they currently do). Imagine that future, two human races, a genetically perfect uber race and unter Männern drones.

    I realize that the technology itself is neutral, and could do some wonderful things helping those parents with the possibility of serious birth defects protect their children, etc., but do we really need to have yet another technology that greedy bastards can use to screw over the rest of the world?

  25. John Morales says

    Interesting topic.

    I don’t think there’s much doubt that the science and technology allowing for deliberate human genetic modification will mature within a couple of decades, so it’s timely that the ethical issues arising from that are being discussed now.

  26. silence says

    Moses: Would you want to live your life knowing that you didn’t have a chance of finding a spouse?

  27. Kyle Huff says

    Sounds like Francis Crick’s position. That seems to be an unpopular position to take these days. IIRC he got smeared with the Eugenics brush in his later days, references to Nazi’s included.

    Anyway, it’s too late for me to get superpowers, so I’m against the whole thing.

  28. Chris says

    Anyone seen the movie Gatica?

    Boy, did *you* miss the point of the title. It’s Gattaca. Think about what four letters that title is made up of…

    Anyway, I think the really difficult problem is who decides what’s a “defect” and what isn’t? Homosexuality, mental differentness and non-standard appearance have already been raised on this thread at 3, 10 and 14, but there are other cans of worms too. If one couple can have their kid modified to remove genes for homosexuality, another could have theirs modified to insert them… Well, of course I actually mean “replace with a different allele”, but you get the point.

    Sooner or later those problems will arrive whether we want them to or not, though.

    P.S. A really horrifying thought: how many parents would have their kid modified to be more likely to obey their parents, if they could? (It’s in their best interests, after all, since the parents know better.) What if this turns out to make them more obedient to authority in general? A recipe for dystopia… at least I think so. Some people would *like* that kind of society.

  29. Spaulding says

    Frank Oswalt:

    Because evolution works. Never touch a running system.

    Yeah, but selection is what makes it work, not randomness. Randomness is a noise generator, but we could also get some that noise via deliberate tinkering. Throwing in some lateral gene transfer and introducing artificial selection on the level of individual genes does not sidestep evolution at all, it just complicates the equation by involving human intelligence.

    And yeah, we’ll make mistakes, just as mutation makes mistakes. But we’ll also reap benefits of eons of evolution in other species. And some day we’ll introduce novelties that might never have appeared in the context of incremental evolution. As the original post suggests, a few generations ought to suffice to eliminate each generation’s error. (Yes, back to evolution!)

    On a separate note, financial iniquity leading to genetic iniquity is a popular objection to human genetic engineering. But the cost of these technologies has been (and likely will continue) dropping at a somewhat rapid pace. I suspect that when the knowledge is in place to start confidently messing around with this stuff, affordable biotech will already exist.

    Today, I’d estimate that a person with $20,000 – $30,000 and the relevant skills could insert a small number of genes into some embryos. Don’t have any idea of the cost of getting the embryos in vitro in the first place. Anyone able to correct me or add to the estimate?

  30. Stuart Ritchie says

    #23, #26: It’s a problem because if nobody gives birth to girls, you have millions of single men with not enough women. To quote Dan Dennett: ‘What are all those young men going to do with themselves? We have a few years to figure out benign channels into which their hormone-soaked energies can be directed.’ (Breaking the Spell p.333)
    This sort of imbalance tends (among other things, of course) to lead to huge armies, which in my opinion are never a good idea, whatever country they’re in.

    Oh and #10: Come on. It’s hardly as if you can say every genius (just what is a genius, anyway?) has been affected by mental disorders. Look at Bach, for example. Totally normal guy by all accounts, just happened to create the best music imaginable (and loads of it, too!). Eradicating mental illness, while making sure we don’t turn everyone into zombies, should be a priority. We shouldn’t worry about wiping out geniuses – they have a habit of popping up regardless of mental health, social status, nationality, etc etc.

  31. Sam says

    silence:
    “Moses: Would you want to live your life knowing that you didn’t have a chance of finding a spouse?”

    So there will be pressure to move from monogamy to polygyny, and/or prospective parents will see that sons suffer because of the problem of finding a wife, while daughters have many suitors, and so having only sons won’t seem like such a good idea. (Memetic evolution in action.)

  32. Moses says

    Moses: Would you want to live your life knowing that you didn’t have a chance of finding a spouse?

    Posted by: silence | November 9, 2007 8:09 PM

    .

    What would my personal tragedy have to do with it? Nothing. So those kind of appeals just ring emotional and intellectually hollow.

    And, BTW, there’s a lot of misleading information to the extent of the problem. The sex ratio distribution in the adult range the is 1.06 men to 1.00 women (compared to the US that’s 1.00 to 1.00 in the adult range). This should work out to, off the top of my head, roughly 21 men for every 20 women. Considering many people don’t get married and men die faster than women in China (by 65 the ratio is 0.91 men to 1.00 women) I can’t see any real problem at all.

    What I see as a problem in China is the annual 13.45/1000 births compared to the 7.00/1000 deaths. Which isn’t, actually, as skewed as our growth which is 17+ (14+ births and 3+ immigrants) and a death ratio of 8.3/1000.

  33. Dan says

    As someone with a neurotic Catholic mother, I think I can safely say I’m extremely fucking glad parents do not have the ability to tinker with their kids’ psyches genetically. Apart from the fact that I’d probably fall under the schizophrenia risk/creativity blanket gene category and I’d deeply miss being me, I feel fairly confident I’d be modified to be a sweet, trite, soulless little pious Catholic bastard if it had been possible.

    So, consider this one, PZ: Catholic parents, fucking loco, would like to make their children into religious automatons. This is the possibility that has always terrified me about childhood gene-tweaks, because it’s something my mother would very likely have done. Instead of posting on Pharyngula, I’d be arguing Catholic theology in a seminary and trying to net a nice, white, non-Jewish Catholic girl of similar disposition. My mother would be happy, happy, happy.

    Ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh. The way people define “good traits” in children is by definition going to become Orwellian, psychotic, and fucked up to them- possibly a massive majority of them, given that piety continues to be a virtue and there is (hypothetically) most likely some fairly reliable ways to bring it about. Transmetropolitan, that is the comic, had a few pages once dedicated to the kid whose parents took a “fashionable” naivete gene-tweak that made him imagine and see God and the Devil arguing over his every decision, including whether and when to cross the street.

    This is terrifying. I take the position that parents in general are too utterly stupid to be allowed to directly shape the brains of their children, or the future gene pool for the brains of the human race.

  34. Moses says

    #23, #26: It’s a problem because if nobody gives birth to girls, you have millions of single men with not enough women. To quote Dan Dennett: ‘What are all those young men going to do with themselves? We have a few years to figure out benign channels into which their hormone-soaked energies can be directed.’ (Breaking the Spell p.333)

    Nobody? The difference in China is 1.06 to 1.00. In India it’s 1.061 to 1.00. Those differences are pretty small.

    And, FWIW, humans don’t necessarily pair-bond for life. I know too many straight men that have never married. Same with straight women. They’re just not able to commit for whatever reason, including perfectionism, delusional beliefs about themselves, grandiose expectations, revulsion of sex, etc.

    And, worse comes to worse, there are Russian brides… :)

    http://www.elenasmodels.com/press/08082006release.htm

  35. Ryan says

    I’d tinker with the genes of my own kids like fixing some genes that are broken in most “normal” humans, like the blue photoreceptor and the gene that codes for the enzyme L-gulonolactone oxidase (to cure scurvy), etc. I would caution against going nuts though because there could be unintended consequences.

  36. Moses says

    Ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh. The way people define “good traits” in children is by definition going to become Orwellian, psychotic, and fucked up to them- possibly a massive majority of them, given that piety continues to be a virtue and there is (hypothetically) most likely some fairly reliable ways to bring it about. Transmetropolitan, that is the comic, had a few pages once dedicated to the kid whose parents took a “fashionable” naivete gene-tweak that made him imagine and see God and the Devil arguing over his every decision, including whether and when to cross the street.

    Posted by: Dan | November 9, 2007 8:44 PM

    We don’t need to use genetic manipulation to do that crap. We just need William Donohue’s parents… They did a fine job of making a malodorous Catholic creep out of him without genetic manipulation.

  37. ScentOfViolets says

    Has anybody else read Egan’s ‘Distress’? I think he nailed it in one when he said the Big Issues of the 21st century will be health (and perhaps humanity.) I have this rather unimaginative suspicion that being a policitcal/cultural conservative has a lot to do with heritable brain architecture and behaviour. What if future clinicians find out this is actually the case? What if we find out that these people have built-in hostility, lack of empathy, and fear of the new? An unreasonable respect for authority? Do we call this a health issue? Do we screen for it, advise the prospective parents of the risk? Do we legalize gene theorapy that can ‘cure’ this condition?

    I suspect that there are a lot of other behaviours and preferences, perhaps not so dramatic, that have a lot less to do with ‘free will’ and environment, and a lot more to do with phenotypical expression of a particular genotype, everything from what type of food one likes to degree of introversion, to use an old-fashioned term. While a lot of them seem culturaly neutral right, it might be the case that later on, certain traits will be seen as ‘unhealthy’. And that word will be used with the same quotes around it that people use when they talk of having ‘issues’.

  38. Dan says

    You don’t NEED genetic modification to do religious conditioning, its’ true, but it’s not like it wouldn’t help.

    Also, I’m annoyed that I mangled the grammar in one sentence in my last post.

    Violets: They wouldn’t call it a disease. They’d call it virtue. There’d be entire clinics full of doctors selling these sets of traits to parents, so their kids would be “right-minded Christian Americans” instead of godless pinkos.

    And that is what, not to be redundant, scares the shit out of me.

  39. Stuart Ritchie says

    Moses, I’m not making this up or anything… this is (or will be) a major issue, no matter how much hand-waving you do. http://www.guardian.co.uk/china/story/0,,1997109,00.html

    Anyway. Off-topic alert.

    Dan, that does sound extremely scary. You’d have to have strict government controls on exactly WHAT parents can tinker with – like only allowing them to adjust genes related to future medical complaints/conditions. But, as PZ pointed out originally, it’s a wee bit more complicated than that.

    The ethics of this situation are just too wild for me at the moment; I’m going to take more convincing. I’m open to it though!

  40. ScentOfViolets, Columbia, MO says

    You misunderstand me, believe. I think it is a _bad_ idea to frame these sorts of differences as health issues. Particularly if they’re ‘mental health’ issues. Even if it’s true that a prototypical conservative has just these sorts of differences, saying that they’re ‘unhealthy’ is an attempt to cloak a normative judgement as a dispassionate scientific observation.

  41. John Morales says

    I sort of agree, Dan. I find it entirely plausible that those who currently oppose such modification on moral grounds would easily switch to requiring it on moral grounds as soon as it would seem to benefit them.

    Note however that I find the Gattaca scenario most implausible.

  42. Dan says

    Well, it’s the same issue from a different angle. I’m afraid of what will be marketed and then tampered with, you’re thinking about it taken from a “health” perspective. The value judgments involved are basically the same.

  43. says

    Habermas seems to be saying that because future enhanced individuals have not chosen their enhanced nature they cannot conduct their lives autonomously. But we are all in the position of having had “the way we are” determined by a combination of the acts and omissions of our parents and others with whom we have interacted since conception. If this is inimical to equality or autonomy then neither equality nor autonomy exist, nor have they ever existed.

    He’s wrong here, this isn’t what Habermas is saying. He is saying that it is wrong because it is impossible to separate the value of the trait we want to impose from the social aspect of that value in terms of success in the world. It relates more to what we see as good. Like when people in China choose to abort female fetuses. They are imposing their conception of the good upon the next generation. Moreover, that sort of selection, aborting females, causes other problems, like perpetuating a patriarchal system given that there are less females to challenge it.

    Another example is when people earlier in the thread said that it should obviously be illegal to genetically engineer your kids to be deaf, but that imposes value judgments with which the next generation might not agree.

    I thought his point that:”Our freedom is no more threatened by the possibility of human enhancement than by the myriad of other prior decisions that have determined the nature of the world we have inherited and the bodies and minds we possess.” is exceptionally wrong. I think that our freedom most certainly has been threatened by the actions of previous generations, for example the reliance on fossil fuels and cars. I don’t think that necessarily makes those previous generations morally culpable, mainly because they often didn’t know what effects their actions would have, but that doesn’t mean that our freedom hasn’t been restricted.

    All in all I think it completely justifiable to alter someones genome if you know that there will be significant physiological problems if you don’t, but it is questionable further.

  44. says

    The most insidious weapon the West could deploy would be a cheap pill that effectively selects for male children. Cultural imperatives would depopulate vast tracts of the earth in a generation.

    Now I feel all evil and stuff…

  45. says

    PZ, #2:

    There’s always the fascinating possibility of speciation…

    Lee Silver described that in almost comical detail. Not only does he expect the engineered to become reproductively distinct from the “gen-poor,” but he even predicts that different brand names in the reproductive genetics market will become separate species.

    Inoculated Mind, #7:

    What’s going to be really fascinating/troublesome is when people start intentionally inserting troublesome genes – like wanting to have deaf, blind, or midget genes.

    Already happening.

    Che, #14:

    Most likely individual modifications will have to be cleared by some FDA-like government organization for legal use in America as well.

    Again, something similar is already happening, and regulators are silent. There are a lot of cowboys out there doing genetic screens without bothering to provide professional medical interpretation of the results to customers who might not understand the difference between an increased risk of preventable disease and a death sentence.

    Spaulding, #18:

    Fetishization of randomness is a curious reactionary tactic that pops up around a number of topics

    I’m tempted to say it’s because they want to make sure God can still intervene in the process, but somehow I think that’s not even it. Some people take extreme actions to avoid having to think about difficult ethical issues.

    Frank Oswalt, #20:

    It seems to me that until we understand exactly what each human gene does and how it interacts with all other genes, modifying our children’s genes would be exactly the kind of arrogance that has given us thalidomide, asbestos and the ozone hole.

    The same “arrogance” that gave us those things has given us everything else like penicillin and computers; “creativity” is a better word. This is the “we shouldn’t invent the internet until we know how we’re going to deal with online identity theft” argument. We can’t sit on new technology and wait for science that doesn’t exist yet to contradict the things we already know that say it will improve our lives. That’s just stalling.

    Frank Oswalt, #22:

    Because evolution works. Never touch a running system.

    So give us back your medicine and rely solely on your genetics to stave off disease. If you lack alleles for resistance to chickenpox or the flu or HIV, surely you’re planning to remove yourself from the gene pool for the good of the species. Right?

    John Morales, #30:

    I don’t think there’s much doubt that the science and technology allowing for deliberate human genetic modification will mature within a couple of decades

    Decades in the future? Try a decade ago, when PGD became available.

    Moses, #40:

    The difference in China is 1.06 to 1.00. In India it’s 1.061 to 1.00. Those differences are pretty small.

    Sixty million is a lot of wifeless young men, and it’s only going to get worse.

  46. Colugo says

    PZ Myers: “Most phenotypes are the product of multiple genes, and the diversity of possible allelic interactions may make it impossible to predict the outcome of a modification to one with any certainty”

    Right – which is why human germline engineering is a bad idea except for debilitating genetic diseases. And as you point out, even then it is risky.

    “genetic manipulation may be very much a gamble, and those in favor of modification may be right back to playing games of chance”

    Not only that it will be chance effects beyond natural “random” variation since these will be novel alleles (either in context or in structure), with wholly novel and possibly unpredictable downstream effects and interactions.

    There are severe restrictions on human medical experimentation for good reason. There must be informed consent and medical necessity. And such experimentation will affect not just the first generation, but all future ones.

    There is much we have yet to know about the function of genome, much less the function of the epigenome, of the larger cellular and organismic information network that determines expression, of cellular communities. Epigenomic programming – in cancer, intergenerational transmission – is largely a mystery.

    Future human generations are not GMO crops. Let’s not conflate these issues.

    Certain corners of the scientific community, both progressives and libertarians, have favorable views of reproductive cloning, non-therapeutic germline manipulation of humans, human male pregnancy, even, in some cases, human-chimp hybridization (no, not embryonic chimeras, I mean viable adult hybrids). Wouldn’t it be fun to scandalize the faith-head rubes. Perhaps the joke will be on us as well.

    Bio-techno-philia is the opposite impulse of Kass-Rifkin bio-Ludditism. It is an understandable but erroneous impulse. I have read the flights of fancy of the transhumanists and extropians since the 90s. Unlike the eugenicists of the early 20th C, we now have the tools to realize some of those fantasies, even though we are nowhere close to fully understanding the full consequences. I used to laugh at bio-Luddites – and I still think they go too far – but now I understand what they are concerned about.

  47. Hank Fox says

    Anything that can increase human intelligence is, in my mind, absolutely necessary if we’re going to survive.

    As far as physical traits are concerned, anyone else think it’s funny that all the other primates are so strong compared to humans? I’d be in favor of splicing genes in to return some of that strength we seem to have lost.

    Longevity? Better vision? More endurance? Immunity to heart attacks? Enhanced creativity? I’m there.

    Perkier breasts? Bigger dick? Umm, well … mayyyyybe.

    I think one answer to any objections is that rich people are going to give THEIR kids certain advantages anyway. On the other end of the spectrum, certain religious people would willingly engineer their children for greater “faith” and obedience, if such a thing turns out to be possible.

    The thing I’d like to see kept in mind during the deciding of whether some of these things were allowable or not is this:

    Parents do not own their children. Not ever. At best, we have custody and mentorship of them during their early lives, but they BELONG to themselves, to the independent adults they will someday be.

    I’d be in favor of a limited menu of positive traits which that later adult could himself/herself see as advantageous enhancements, and a roster of other possible traits which would be marked as “dehancements,” and disallowed.

    Any government leader who tried to meddle with the brains of the citizenry, I’d favor death by hungry rats … after an extended period of torture. And any parent who thought some trait or other was “cute” – in the same way some people think twisted little dogs like Lhasa Apsos are “cute” – would be hit in the head repeatedly with a shovel.

    In the same way that sex change procedures today require extensive psychological evaluation, I’d agree with some type of evaluation for those thinking of tinkering with their future kids. Just to be sure the tinkering was sincerely aimed at the kids’ advantage, you understand, and not the quirky pleasure of the parents.

    To those with objections: OF COURSE it’s going to be misused. Everything is. But overall, I predict some very good things happening.

    To those who imagine genetic Haves and Have-nots, well, hell, short as I am, I think we have those now.

    My advice is: Go for it. Consciously aim for the best. Expect social turbulence, including automatic objection from screaming bobbleheads.

  48. caynazzo says

    I wonder if the New Humanist is paying for freelance articles? I published a feature piece without payment a few years back just for the chance to have something in print. The editors are somewhat helpful and I recommend it as a good venue for scientists to easily get their opinions out there in the marketplace.

  49. Colugo says

    How many commenters on these threads would allow psychosurgery of newborns – maybe something sophisticated like injection of additional stem cells – to give them enhanced abilities. Or to induce Asperger’s to make them like Mom and Dad, or to make them docile, or to make sure that they are heterosexual. Or maybe giving them hormones to make sure that they are homosexual. Probably very few.

    Why not tissue engineering performed on preteens for larger muscles or denser bones, using biomatrix scaffolds, somatic stem cells, and cytokine injections? Sound like a good idea? Surely none of you endorse routine lobotomization. Would you allow the gene manipulation version?

    Have a problem with that? Then think twice about manipulation of the human germline based on parental wishes for the traits of their children.

    What would you like to have done to you during your own developmental trajectory?

  50. Hank Fox says

    Just a little side note: Let’s not get too excited by all the science-gone-bad movie-type scenarios. Plenty of unexpected GOOD things could happen too.

    To me, the greatest potential dangers are those that will come from authority:

    I wonder how many of us realize that all those neat little articles we read about Non-Lethal Crowd Control Devices of the Future — sonic weapons, lasers, gases, things that will make you unconscious or vomit uncontrollably or run screaming in pain, but cause no “permanent damage” — are going to be used against us at some point. The mere deployment of a non-lethal device inevitably lowers the bar on violence against citizens by authority.

    In the statistical universe of cops, there will ALWAYS be those brainless few convinced that a 7-year-old having a tantrum needs a tasing, or that an adult simply raising his voice constitutes a danger to the public, and needs to be blasted with the Pain Cannon.

    And, well, if there were such a thing as a Testicle Exploding Lobotomy Ray, Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzalez would have had them out on American streets five years ago.

  51. Dan says

    Plenty of the nonlethal measures are nifty for torture, too, on a side note. I remember reading about one that uses … I think it was microwaves to directly stimulate pain nerves. Doesn’t that sound lovely?

  52. Che says

    It doesn’t matter anyways since the machines will take over before genetic engineering gets out of hand.

  53. foldedpath says

    Aside from all the other obvious issues… just Google “extreme body modification” and imagine parents who want some of those ideas — split penis, horns, unusual pigment patterns etc. — built into their new little bundle of joy as an artistic statement. Not everyone is going to shoot for the perfectly sculpted, generic Hollywood model.

    I don’t know how you regulate against that kind of abuse of the unborn, and still allow things we might all wish to avoid or “shape” with a pregnancy. Who are we going to allow to draw those lines?

  54. Colugo says

    James Watson
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn3451-stupidity-should-be-cured-says-dna-discoverer.html

    “If you are really stupid, I would call that a disease. The lower 10 per cent who really have difficulty, even in elementary school, what’s the cause of it? A lot of people would like to say, ‘Well, poverty, things like that.’ It probably isn’t. So I’d like to get rid of that, to help the lower 10 per cent. … People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great.”

    Shalini Sehkar
    http://scientianatura.blogspot.com/2007/08/rethinking-eugenics.html

    “If there is indeed a way to breed humans for certain abilities, what’s stopping the next eugenics revolution (this time based on modern science) from happening? Should we or should we not attempt to stop it? What are the arguments that might lead us to conclude that it is or is not a good idea?”

    David Barash
    http://thephora.net/forum/archive/index.php?t-10547.html

    “I … look forward to the possibility that, thanks to advances in reproductive technology, there will be hybrids, or some other mixed human-animal genetic composite, in our future. …(I)n these dark days of know-nothing anti-evolutionism … a powerful dose of biological reality would be healthy indeed. And this is precisely the message that chimeras, hybrids or mixed-species clones would drive home.”

  55. octopod says

    HP@56: The Left Hand of Darkness is the best book ever. Everyone who can read one of the languages into which it has been translated should read it.

  56. RamblinDude says

    You all realize that these conjectures apply only to the short term, right? By the end of the century, humans will all be living in the matrix!

  57. Dale says

    First thing to fix would be our broken Vitamin C gene. It’s there (or at least its remnants are) and if appropriate, the fix could be tested on other primates first.

    No more scurvy!

  58. Doddy says

    To Inoculated Mind (Comment #4), I know Gregory Stock has suggested (although I doubt he was the first to do so) that all genetic enhancements are put on an additional, artificial chromosome. That way they can be easily edited later in life.

    Which brings me to my next point. PZ, you mention allelic interactions after reproduction. However, I can’t even give my iPod to my brother because it’s too old. Why would you give a child your genetics if they are at least 20 years old?

    Surely, we’d start from scratch. Remove the artificial chromosome from your gametes and replace them with the newer model. Only the best for your children.

  59. Alan Williams says

    There are some problems that have simple
    genetic causes that we will probably be able to
    fix in the embryo soon. I can’t see any reason
    not to do this: If we do it wrong, the resulting
    child will likely be no worse off than without the
    genetic intervention. As the unintended
    consequences of this kind of work are ironed out
    we will be able to do more. However, for more
    general “improvements” the current
    random process has advantages:

    Fetishization of randomness is a
    curious reactionary tactic that pops up around a
    number of topics

    The big advantage of randomness in some
    contexts is that a random choice can not be
    biased. In a drug trial, if you knew which drug
    was the best treatment for a patient you choose
    that drug. Since you don’t know (or why hold a
    trial?) a random choice at least gives you
    unbiased results.

    And people have remarkably bad preferences over
    genetic matters. Go to any fancy animal show to
    see just how bad: Look round and ask yourself how
    many animals are better in any real sense
    than a random mongrel. You will see longer or
    smoother coats and exaggerated features, but
    nothing of lasting value. Some animals are
    distorted beyond useful function. My least
    favourite is the ragdoll cat, which has a
    neurological problem bred in so that it is limp
    and floppy. I was told that this is
    “cute” – I nearly puked. Does anyone
    want to open the door to the breeding of cute
    humans? A random process at least eliminates
    stupid biases.

    And can someone explain to me why favouring
    random processes for some jobs is reactionary
    rather than liberal/pinko/commie.

  60. AlanWCan says

    Couple of things I just can’t help:
    (1) Re. Male:Female imbalance because of parental choice. So you have large numbers of horny young men with no hope of ever finding a mate. Do you really think that’s not going to cause problems? Do you really think that means that females will then be worth more as people because of the number of suitors? Women are already classed as chattles in large parts of the world. What’s going to happen to an increasingly rare commodity in that kind of situation? It’s not going to change the cultural practices, we see every day how hard that is. I think you’re missing the very real threat of violence and more violence with women caught in the middle. Basically black market human trafficking.

    (2) Interesting to note the degree of approval to tinkering with one’s offspring’s genome, especially in contrast to the howls of rage over circumcision of infants on here a little while ago (male circumcision that is; not talking about the broken bottle clitorectomy). So it’s OK to screw with a kid’s genome just don’t touch the willy?

    This is an issue like GM crops. It’s not the technology itself that’s the problem, it’s who is going to have control over it, how much money there is to be made from it, and the motivations for doing it.

  61. Leigh says

    Che: “So for example, furry fetishists will probably not be able to have cat children or something like that.”

    This month’s Analog contains a short story about this very topic, and the female protagonist (a geneticist) has cat eyes, complete with nictating membranes . . . a gift from her ailurophile mother. The male protagonist, her physicist husband, is a “natural” who has religious scruples about genetically engineering their offspring.

    The story does not address some of my own deep reservations about tinkering at this point, when we know just enough to be very dangerous. But I was glad to see it nonetheless, since you are all correct in thinking the discussion should begin now, before we’ve begun to screw up.

    Rest assured, the players on the other side are thinking about this. Albert Mohler, a prominent fundamentalist who is the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in March: “If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use as we should unapologetically support the use of any appropriate means to avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin.” article is here

    Some more musings on the topic, these from a moderate theologian, can be found here.

  62. natural cynic says

    #10

    It’s apparent that many artistic and scientific geniuses have/had severe mental problems in other areas (e.g. depression, schizophrenia, autism disorders). This raises a few questions. 1) If we selectively eradicate mental disorders, are we running the risk of also eradicating the next Van Gogh?

    In this sort of a case – who knows? There is a very reasonable alternate possibility to this could be that Van Gough might have produced much more [and better] if he hadn’t been depressed. There is some romanticization of mental illness that says that it is part and parcel of genius. It’s more likely that mental illness inhibits genius. [argument from Peter Kramer – author of Against Depression and Listening to Prozac]

  63. Colugo says

    Shouldn’t evolutionists be the last ones to dismiss the processes that produced the human gene pool as “random”? “Randomness”? That’s creationist lingo. Yes, there is a powerful element of randomness in evolution with mutation and drift, but selection is not random.

    Is natural selection still not in effect? At the very least, selection of gametes within parental bodies as well as selection of the embryo via spontaneous abortion? Sexual selection? The last of which is even more powerful today, in which people are more mobile, widely communicating, and living in bigger communities than ever and able to select from a larger variety of potential mates? Is there not still differential reproduction? Selection has not gone away. Human selection was always in a social context. What randomness?

    Forget the “yuck factor.” Repulsion is not always a reliable guide to ethics. Here is a more pertinent issue: Yes, it is worth manipulating the human germline to get rid of Tay-Sachs, cystic fibrosis, Down Syndrome and the like. But is it worth causing the infirmity, deformity, and death of generations of inevitable failed human experiments in the hope of producing a improved human gene pool – not just one free of major genetic disease but one enabling enhanced abilities? Is any nongenetic analog of such a project – experiments with no medically necessary ends performed on nonconsenting individuals – even conceivably ethical? Then why would it be so in the case of germline manipulation?

    Leon Trotsky, ‘Literature and Revolution,’ 1924:

    “The human race will not have ceased to crawl on all fours before God, kings and capital, in order later to submit humbly before the dark laws of heredity and a blind sexual selection! … Man will make it his purpose to master his own feelings, to raise his instincts to the heights of consciousness … to create a higher social biologic type, or, if you please, a superman. … The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise.”

    I am not suggesting that transhumanists are like communists. At the time Trotsky wrote that, similar fantasies were held across the political spectrum. Rather, the point is that poorly thought through and overreaching aspirations tend to reappear.

  64. Colugo says

    Typo: first sentence of second paragraph should read: “natural selection not still in effect”

  65. Gregory Kusnick says

    As long as we’re recommending SF novels, see The First Century After Beatrice by Amin Maalouf for a rather frightening projection of the effects of gender imbalance on the Islamic world. If you think young Muslim men are disaffected now, just wait until there aren’t enough wives to go around.

    I also seem to recall that one of James Blish’s novels featured a gender imbalance theme, with a new social class of bachelor drones. And All the Stars a Stage I think it was called.

  66. says

    It’s interesting seeing this group of people debating these issues – I usually see a different group of people debating them, while this blog is usually more about godlessness, attacks on ID, and so on (all good things).

    The leading philosophical book in the field is Buchanan et al, From Chance to Choice, for those who really want to get into it. Unfortunately, Buchanan and company don’t discuss the more extreme (or far-fetched) genetic engineering scenarios.

    I have a lot of random thoughts about issues that people are raising here, but no time to get them all out of my system right now. But on the “PGD plus embryonic sex selection would lead to massive sex imbalances” issue … well, I must comment at some length.

    There has been a lot of research on this, all of which suggests that no serious imhalance could be expected outside of specific cultures. There might be a public policy argument for regulating it in a rigorous way in certain Asian countries, but there’s no basis at all to suggest that there could be any compelling state interest in doing so within the continental European countries or the Anglo-American liberal democracies.

    I saw some material the other day that suggested that the current sex-imbalance problem (caused by more primitive and nasty technologies) is already rectifying itself in South Korea, as that country has become more Westernised. There’s even a suggestion on the grapevine that the sex-ratio figures for China are actually inflated – it seems that many of the “missing girls” are in fact alive but just not being reported to the state, to get around the one child policy. That may mean that the one child policy is producing a less dramatic brake on China’s population than thought, but the good news – if this is substantiated in good published research – is that the massive sex disparity expected down the track may be less massive than previously believed.

    In any event, when public policy is developed on the basis of long-term, cumulative, indirect harm (rather than on the basis of banning something that is directly harmful, such as rape or murder) the legislature in the jurisdiction really must be held to account for why the relevant law (with its restriction of individual liberty) is needed in that jurisdiction. I don’t believe that any Western country could do that with embryonic sex selection.

    What has been happening in some Western countries is that embryonic sex selection is being banned, not on the basis that it is able to meet such a rational public policy test, but on the basis that it shows some kind of lack of moral virtue if you even care about the sex of your kids (perhaps, I suppose … but none of the state’s business), or that it is intrinsically wrong, or that it will start us on a slippery slope, or simply because of yuck factor reactions.

    Needless to say, I think these are all very weak arguments.

    While embryonic sex selection may not be the most important issue in the world, its recent prohibition by such countries as the UK and Australia is a terrible precedent. It is a case of governments stopping a practice in the absence of any compelling case that the practice is harmful, and essentially for improper moralistic reasons. I urge anyone reading this to oppose such bans if they are mooted in the jurisdiction where you live.

    In my otherwise sensible article “Genetics, Ethics, and the State” (quite a few years ago, now) …

    http://www.users.bigpond.com/russellblackford/genetics.htm

    …I expressed some sympathy at one point for prohibiting embryonic sex selection. I now repudiate that view – I think we can now be confident that the danger is not sufficiently great to justify state action in the jurisdictions I have in mind. Even if the research to that effect is not conclusive – and really, the onus is on the state to demonstrate the danger – there are methods of effective regulation much less broad than a total ban.

    So, it’s not an issue affecting huge numbers of people. However, it’s a bad precedent for the state justifying legislative prohibitions on moralistic grounds that don’t involve any demonstration of harm. I see attempts – often successful – to encroach on this particular area of individual liberty, based on the grounds actually used, as a prime, precedential example of the New Endarkenment. In that sense, it’s an important issue after all.

  67. David Marjanović, OM says

    I believe it’s illegal to give your child a name with numbers or a name that could cause harm to him/her in the future. For example, you couldn’t name your child “Idiot.”

    It is illegal in Austria and Germany at least, but in the USA…? Where people called Dweezil, Moon Unit, Turok and Apple really run around?

    First thing to fix would be our broken Vitamin C gene. It’s there (or at least its remnants are) and if appropriate, the fix could be tested on other primates first.

    No more scurvy!

    Who has had scurvy in the last 200 years?

    Any halfway fresh or conserved food contains enough vitamin C. It’s often even added as an antioxidant to things like cookies; look for “ascorbic acid” on ingredients lists.

    (Yes, I am a nerd. I read ingredients lists.)

    “India and China today have significant gender imbalances as a result of parental decisions to not give birth to girls.”

    How is that a problem?

    Tens of millions of frustrated and/or desperate young men aren’t a problem?

    (To be fair, a large part of the imbalance is apparently due to infections, not to mention simple lies as explained in comment 71.)

    Anything that can increase human intelligence is, in my mind, absolutely necessary if we’re going to survive.

    As far as physical traits are concerned, anyone else think it’s funny that all the other primates are so strong compared to humans?

    I’ve read why: because one of our myosin genes is broken. This is, for some developmentary reason, why our jaw muscles are smaller than usual, and this in turn is apparently why our skull is so bloated that the jaw muscles don’t meet on its top. No defunct myosin-2 or whatever it was, no bloated brain. Apparently.

    To Inoculated Mind (Comment #4), I know Gregory Stock has suggested (although I doubt he was the first to do so) that all genetic enhancements are put on an additional, artificial chromosome.

    There we have speciation!

  68. David Marjanović, OM says

    I believe it’s illegal to give your child a name with numbers or a name that could cause harm to him/her in the future. For example, you couldn’t name your child “Idiot.”

    It is illegal in Austria and Germany at least, but in the USA…? Where people called Dweezil, Moon Unit, Turok and Apple really run around?

    First thing to fix would be our broken Vitamin C gene. It’s there (or at least its remnants are) and if appropriate, the fix could be tested on other primates first.

    No more scurvy!

    Who has had scurvy in the last 200 years?

    Any halfway fresh or conserved food contains enough vitamin C. It’s often even added as an antioxidant to things like cookies; look for “ascorbic acid” on ingredients lists.

    (Yes, I am a nerd. I read ingredients lists.)

    “India and China today have significant gender imbalances as a result of parental decisions to not give birth to girls.”

    How is that a problem?

    Tens of millions of frustrated and/or desperate young men aren’t a problem?

    (To be fair, a large part of the imbalance is apparently due to infections, not to mention simple lies as explained in comment 71.)

    Anything that can increase human intelligence is, in my mind, absolutely necessary if we’re going to survive.

    As far as physical traits are concerned, anyone else think it’s funny that all the other primates are so strong compared to humans?

    I’ve read why: because one of our myosin genes is broken. This is, for some developmentary reason, why our jaw muscles are smaller than usual, and this in turn is apparently why our skull is so bloated that the jaw muscles don’t meet on its top. No defunct myosin-2 or whatever it was, no bloated brain. Apparently.

    To Inoculated Mind (Comment #4), I know Gregory Stock has suggested (although I doubt he was the first to do so) that all genetic enhancements are put on an additional, artificial chromosome.

    There we have speciation!

  69. Graculus says

    Note however that I find the Gattaca scenario most implausible.

    I found it rather more plausible than most scenarios. Of course, for those who are kicking it old school, there’s Cordwainer Smith’s “underpeople”. The Ballad of Lost C’Mell is one of the true classics of SF.

    Hell, genetic engineering of organisims is an iffy business, but partly that is because of the practices of certain companies and lack of proper controls. Eliminating physical defects is prima facie “a good”, but there are obvious issues with inserting genes. (For instance, one of the problems with inserted genes is that they have no regulation… they are always “on”.. that means that they require resources from the cell. In the abscence of interference -say herbicides-, many genetically engineered crops have lower yields than non-modified crops.)

    It’s a area where I’m not sure the public (including many politicians) are well enough informed about science to make policy. But policy will have to be made.

    *sigh*… we’ll muddle through somehow, like we always have, I suppose.

  70. Christianjb says

    Writing as an ignoramus on this issue-

    If it were possible to improve someone without any side effects by tweaking a few genes, then nature would already have done it.

    There must be costs and trade-offs associated with improving intelligence through genetic manipulation, but what are they? Energy requirements? Cranial size? Socialization skills?

    Also- we as a species are smart enough to have discovered quantum electrodynamics, decoded the genome and to have composed string quartets of startling complexity. Whatever our problems as a species are, I doubt they’re to do with lack of brains.

    However, I’m in all in favor of genetic manipulation if someone can find a way to give Republicans a conscience.

  71. katie says

    I’m not against genetic modification per se… but as a medical intervention. I grew up competing against kids whose rich parents gave them every advantage in life: expensive tutors, vacations to see great museums, hell… a stable home environment. Fortunately, I live in a country where you can get a decent education in public institutions.

    The point of all this is that I imagine the gap between rich and poor will become even more of a closed loop. Right now we have parents with good job pay lots of money for tutors so their kids can get good jobs. Imagine what will happen if we start modifying genes for intelligence or even beauty (which is associated with increased positive attention from teachers)…

    I’d imagine a black market of cheaper modifyers might spring up to service those who wish to give their kids a leg up. We already have large numbers of people who are hoodwinked by advertising for substandard health products like diet pills and even prescription meds over the internet. What would happen if we had a black market in gene manipulation?

  72. cyan says

    I’m late, but PZ in the comments wrote:

    “There’s always the fascinating possibility of speciation…”

    Your tongue firmly in cheek!

    “Fascinating” to specists.

    One little sequence of DNA or even one widdle base pairing change that results in non-viable zygotes could result in speciation.

    Species concept: so important to specists (read creationists), but just a part of the continuum & way to understand relatedness to biologists.

  73. David Harmon says

    First thought is that genetic manipulation does not trump natural selection, or even social selection. The ultimate “standard” for evolutionary success is how well your kids (and their kids, etc.) come out in society. If parents alter their kids genetics, well that’s their own evolutionary legacy they’re tinkering with. Bluntly, if you fu*k up, you’re fu*king up for the long haul, but only for the kids you actually modified.

    — Just because the doctor said “oh, we can make him an Olympic star”, that won’t help if you end up with the kid breaking a new bone every week because their muscles are overpowered. Nor will it convince the Olympic authorities not to ban GM contestants….

    — If your congregation convinces you to “adjust” your kids for docility, don’t be surprised when your faith has no representatation in government. Or no leadership at all…. If you adjusted them for “sexual restraint”… well, good luck with having grandchildren. Let alone if you start combining genes which individually bias towards “religious experience”….

    — What was that SF story where the parents have to call in a robot to help tame their GE kid who’s smarter, stronger, more dominant, and better-looking than the parents are? I remember the legal system wasn’t too sympathetic to their ambitions either….

    — if “fixing all the cancer genes” leaves the kid with a screwed-up immune system and slow wound healing, tough. Shoulda done more research.

    — The “genetic diversity issue” doesn’t come into play unless some or all changes become mandatory. We need to think carefully what goes into the “standard fixup”. Also, if you add new vitamin syntheses, you’ll need excretion pathways too, not to mention appropriate feedback loops to control the works! And the “extra chromosome” idea won’t work too well when dealing with things like Huntington’s : sometimes you need to remove broken genes, or else fix them in-place.

    — Current thinking is that homosexuality and autism are developmental issues. In the latter case, there might be some predisposing genes, but as usual, you’ll want be be real sure just what those alleles do (and don’t do). AFAIK, there isn’t even a known predisposition gene for homosexuality! (And if you get rid of even the tendencies toward autism, who’s gonna fix your computers for you? ;-) )

  74. RamblinDude says

    Genetic manipulation is only one technology we’re going to have to worry about. There’s cloning (to compensate for the lack of women), medical nanotechnology and other forms of bionic enhancement, and the Matrix, (the ability to plug stimuli and experiences directly into our brains. And when artificial intelligence gets thrown into the mix things are really going to get colorful.

    Is there a gene manipulation for wisdom?

  75. Moses says

    Have a problem with that? Then think twice about manipulation of the human germline based on parental wishes for the traits of their children.

    What would you like to have done to you during your own developmental trajectory?

    Posted by: Colugo | November 9, 2007 10:21 PM

    It’s silly Frankenstein-monster of technology/medicine/etc. scare-stories like the post this was drawn from (#55) tend to reinforce my belief discussion of anything relating to the human condition will typically end up pretty close to pointless as the Luddites throw their bombs. The simple answer is that we’ll, as a society, will pass laws against things we see as abhorrent and the practitioners of abhorrent practices will be sanctioned.

    It’ll never be a “perfect” solution, because humans aren’t capable of “perfect” solutions. But it’ll work and the theoretical benefits could vastly outweigh the few tragedies. And cringing in our caves in fear of fire is silly.

  76. Moses says

    Moses, I’m not making this up or anything… this is (or will be) a major issue, no matter how much hand-waving you do. http://www.guardian.co.uk/china/story/0,,1997109,00.html

    Posted by: Stuart Ritchie | November 9, 2007 9:11 PM

    Stuart, so what if a bunch of superfluous males don’t get to reproduce? Do you think it matters a whole hill of beans in a world that’s got SIX BILLION PEOPLE?

    Your whole argument revolves around the “personal tragedy” of not getting laid or finding yourself in a monogamous, traditional male-female pair bonding. So effing what? Personal tragedies are just that, personal. To the gene pool and the great mass of humanity, they’re pointless.

    Not everyone gets married or reproduces. There are lots of ways to get laid that go well beyond the White Wedding. Humans adapt to all kinds of pressures when it comes to reproduction/sexual relief including PROSTITUTION and POLYANDRY.

    So, despite all the “it’s icky” whining about the issue, there’s still no case that it’s a “problem” in a society that is breeding faster than it’s dying. If I had a dog in this hunt, I would encourage more male-offspring selection to reduce the total population of females capable of breeding. Throw in some aggressive birth-control measures to allow women to have better control of their reproductive futures and we might get the FAR MORE SERIOUS problem of over-population under control.

  77. GallileoWasADenier says

    When new technology comes along, what is it used for first? Sex and War, usually.

    Sex, or rather pleasure, will be one of the primary applications of biological technology. None of that erectile dysfunction or inability to have an orgasm, you’ll be able to have one at will. Or turn it off again afterwards. Genetic engineering is at the moment a clumsy way to achieve that when drugs and implants can do it so much more easily, but eventually it will be designed in. Imagine the ability to turn your own emotions on and off? To change your likes and dislikes, to cure phobias, or create them for kicks? To become an emotionless killer, or religious fanatic, or charismatic dictator? Or to just become the equivalent of the heroin junkie with an infinite supply of drugs?

    But war and crime are where it gets interesting. Engineered viruses, parasites, and other diseases will be first, of course, while you engineer immunity into your own troops. But that’s only the beginning. Once we understand and then surpass the body’s immune system, we can make it programmable. We’d have to, anyway, to keep up with the latest developments in viruses. And then of course you’ll need to pay to keep up, the Red Queen race never stops. Body hackers will appear, who make unauthorised changes to other people for mischief and profit. Pay through the nose, or bleed through it. Date rape drugs, paralytics, and memory erasure drugs already exist, but can surely be improved upon. Theft and fraud, impersonation, interrogation, enslavement, what could you do if you could take over someone’s brain, and induce any mental or physical condition you chose? It’s all possible now of course, but not easy, but eventually it will become so easy that anyone can do it, like the publication of ideas did after first the printing press and then the internet. What crimes could you commit if you had an enhanced body, and most other people did not? Do you think there are no people who think that would be a fine ability to give their children?

    Look at the internet. A fantastic advance for mankind that makes all sorts of new things possible. There is no doubt we are better off with it than without. But it’s also full of spam, malware, fraud, advertising, propaganda, politics, sexual perversions, and so on, and its used far more for things like that than for education or curing diseases. Biological sciences are potentially even more powerful. And while I no more believe some of the hype about becoming superbeings, any more than I think the early predictions about computing and robotics have been accurate, I’m sure it will be beyond anything we can imagine.

    Do you think you will be left alone to cure a few diseases here and there, and not get involved? Think you’ll be able to steer it or stop it when the technology starts to go over what you consider the edge? Border conflicts won’t be anything so mild in future. What is a bit of spam, compared to the horrors of the parasitology textbooks?

    If you can look at the modern world as it is now and find it in your heart to love it all anyway, wars and Republicans and everything, then the future is even brighter. If you think there are terrible things that shouldn’t be allowed to happen, be assured that feeling is only going to get worse.

  78. RamblinDude says

    “And cringing in our caves in fear of fire is silly.”

    Of course, it’s all going to happen anyways. We will have to learn to carefully surf the wave of technology that is going to inundate us. But a little cringing at the thought that this technology could, (and almost certainly will), be used for ruthless, self serving endeavors, in any number of ways, might not be inappropriate.

  79. says

    I thought we already had the term “transhumanism” for intentional self-modification of our own species. The extropians have been talking about stuff like this for about two decades (and they weren’t first).

  80. Lance says

    People “pre-select” genes every time they choose a mate. Often the offspring have udesirable, or pathogenic traits. The only way “random” genetic combinations would be obtained is if we bred by lottery selection.

    When two people with dwarfism have children they have a 50% chance that the offspring will be dwarfs, 25% that the offspring will be “normal” and 25% that the offspring will be non-viable. I don’t hear anybody advocating that they be prohibited from reproducing.

    So long as people are making informed choices, even if that information includes the fact that there is a great deal of risk and unkown consequence in the choice, I see no reason they shouldn’t be free to make those choices.

  81. Moses says

    #68

    Couple of things I just can’t help:

    (1) Re. Male:Female imbalance because of parental choice. So you have large numbers of horny young men with no hope of ever finding a mate. Do you really think that’s not going to cause problems?

    You’re the one who thinks they’ll be “problems,” which you’re explicitly making into criminal conduct and some sort of societal melt-down in your argument.

    I think it will cause adaptions and changes. One adaptation will likely be the decriminalization of prostitution. Already liberalized in it’s ‘criminal’ aspect in China, it will (eventually) become a regulated trade. Another will be a greater adoption of porn. These alone will take care of much of the “problems” you seem to think will happen. (BTW, if you don’t understand the porn connection, you can start here and work on: http://www.hawaii.edu/PCSS/online_artcls/pornography/prngrphy_rape_jp.html )

    A reasonably projected beneficial change, in China, will be for women to select from better potential mates. Simply put, falling in love is a complex process and it’s just as easy to fall in love with a successful and rich man, especially when you’ve got multiple to choose from. This, as I see it, offsets any “personal tragedies” on the male side.

    Another reasonably projected beneficial change, in China, will be (with China’s western-like divorce laws) women being able to divorce crappy husbands from mistreatment and adultery. Simply put, the increasing difficulty, for the husband, in finding a new, “better” model (or unwillingness to change his maladaptive behaviors) will end up with better husbands because either the husband will work harder in his relationship, or he’ll find his saddle at the door.

    A third beneficial change could be the “old widow” problem. In China, like the west, male death rates (in every year of life beyond infancy) exceed female death rates. This, like in the west, tends to leave a lot of older women without mates. Especially as the older men tend to chase younger women. With fewer younger women, who are being more heavily courted by middle-aged and younger men, this population will probably find less success and will have to turn back to their generation for companionship. A boon to these widows.

    Do you really think that means that females will then be worth more as people because of the number of suitors? Women are already classed as chattles in large parts of the world. What’s going to happen to an increasingly rare commodity in that kind of situation? It’s not going to change the cultural practices, we see every day how hard that is. I think you’re missing the very real threat of violence and more violence with women caught in the middle. Basically black market human trafficking.

    Posted by: AlanWCan | November 10, 2007 1:13 AM

    Well, besides the “it’ll be horrible and people will become slavers” argument you’re just being one-sided to non-Western culture and human nature. Simply put, HUMANS ADAPT to situations – social, sexual and environmental. To argue the adaptation will lead to some “wild west” mentality is ludicrous.

    In fact, when we look at the “wild west” and sexual conduct, in societies with a massive scarcity of women (sometimes a 50-men to 1-woman ratio) what we found, by-and-large wasn’t what you describe. And that’s not to say they were perfect, they weren’t. Especially in Chinese mining camps that operated at a Feudal level and women were, in those days, chattel. But the more western towns they weren’t as horrible as you project for the Indians and Asians (who are far more “western” now than then).

    All in all though, when I read these arguments based on western sensibilities, and those made by other westerners, I often wonder if you see your cultural imperialism in your arguments. Because, really, it reminds me of thoughts and arguments made during 18th Century British imperialism which boils down to “they’re a bunch of savages who can’t be trusted to act “civilized” and solve their own problems.

  82. says

    When new technology comes along, what is it used for first? Sex and War, usually.

    Also, political control. Various genetic 1984-like scenarios immediately spring to mind.

  83. RamblinDude says

    GallileoWasADenier: Nice comment. Are you a writer?

    “And while I no more believe some of the hype about becoming superbeings, any more than I think the early predictions about computing and robotics have been accurate, I’m sure it will be beyond anything we can imagine.”

    I don’t know, have you seen this little guy? And it’s only the early stages of robotics research.

  84. says

    All in all though, when I read these arguments based on western sensibilities, and those made by other westerners, I often wonder if you see your cultural imperialism in your arguments. Because, really, it reminds me of thoughts and arguments made during 18th Century British imperialism which boils down to “they’re a bunch of savages who can’t be trusted to act “civilized” and solve their own problems.

    They aren’t based on “western sensibilities” they are based on social science. Go read some of the literature on birth rates and sex distribution and the social effects thereof. Why is it that people think that they can pontificate on shit about which they have obviously no more than cursory knowledge. When a philosopher or social scientist makes some stupid statement about evolution the people here rightly lambaste them, but apparently everyone here has a full understanding of demographic effects on social behavior.

  85. David Marjanović, OM says

    AFAIK, there isn’t even a known predisposition gene for homosexuality!

    For male homosexuality, it has been observed that it is correlated to increased female fertility in the same family.

    Evidence for heritability also exists, at least anecdotally, such as Louis XIII and the brother of Louis XIV.

    and we might get the FAR MORE SERIOUS problem of over-population under control.

    Let me suggest education. The state of Kerala in India has a lower birth rate than China, despite being much poorer and not having a 1-child policy. Read Sen’s book Development as Freedom.

  86. David Marjanović, OM says

    AFAIK, there isn’t even a known predisposition gene for homosexuality!

    For male homosexuality, it has been observed that it is correlated to increased female fertility in the same family.

    Evidence for heritability also exists, at least anecdotally, such as Louis XIII and the brother of Louis XIV.

    and we might get the FAR MORE SERIOUS problem of over-population under control.

    Let me suggest education. The state of Kerala in India has a lower birth rate than China, despite being much poorer and not having a 1-child policy. Read Sen’s book Development as Freedom.

  87. GallileoWasADenier says

    RamblinDude,

    Thanks!

    I’m not really a writer, although I have thought about taking it up. I do the odd bit of scientific explanation for those who are curious, and blog comments of course, but nothing formal.

    Yes, Asimo is a marvellous achievement at a very difficult task, and only the start of many other difficult tasks, but it wasn’t the pace and potential for progress I was doubting, but the ability of the prognosticators. We’ve made progress, but not often in the areas and ways that they thought we would – Giant Electronic Brains and all that. It’s understandable, but the distant future is simply not predictable. If we knew what was going to happen, we could probably make it happen now.

    Waiting and regulating until we understand the implications is a recipe for paralysis, or more likely, being bypassed by history when somebody else does it. But those who express their fears do have a point – some of the sort of things they fear will indeed happen. Horrible things. We will survive and solve the problems as they arise, but it is quite like evolution in this regard in that the problems will never stop coming. You have to keep on running as fast as you can just to stand still.

    When you see something coming you don’t like you can’t, whatever you do, stop – you have to keep moving and remain confident that you will be able to solve it when you get there. It hasn’t always worked, but it has generally been a lot more successful as a strategy than giving up on progress.

  88. Gregory Kusnick says

    Moses: For an argument based on non-Western sensibilities, see the Maalouf novel cited in #73.

  89. says

    We will survive and solve the problems as they arise, but it is quite like evolution in this regard in that the problems will never stop coming.

    Or we won’t survive. Just because we’ve managed to survive so far doesn’t mean that we will always do so. That’s part of the point of discussing this, to figure out if it is generally a bad idea and thus if we should restrict it. Just saying that it will happen anyway is not very useful, nor is it necessarily true. I can not think of a technology that humans have genuinely decided was bad and made a concerted effort to stop. It just hasn’t happened, yet. Not that we necessarily could either, but the point is that we have never decided to forgo a technology, so we can not say whether it would work.

  90. says

    The ultimate “standard” for evolutionary success is how well your kids (and their kids, etc.) come out in society.

    No, it’s how many offspring you have and how many offspring they have and so forth. Evolution doesn’t care a whit about society except insofar as it affects the distribution of genotypes, which it can do only by determining who has kids and how many. And success in society generally does not translate into many children.

  91. GallileoWasADenier says

    “Or we won’t survive. Just because we’ve managed to survive so far doesn’t mean that we will always do so. That’s part of the point of discussing this, to figure out if it is generally a bad idea and thus if we should restrict it.”

    I’m pretty sure that we won’t always do so, but based on past history, I’m also pretty sure that we’re unlikely to go extinct any time in the next few centuries. But that doesn’t much matter. My point was that we can’t predict what will happen or what might be developed, and that regulation of new technology is as likely to prevent the solutions as the problems.

    “I can not think of a technology that humans have genuinely decided was bad and made a concerted effort to stop. It just hasn’t happened, yet.”

    There have been several that large numbers of humans have made a concerted effort to stop, none successfully. (Or if it was successful, it was so successful that we haven’t even heard about it.) The most obvious recent examples are nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, (of which we have some, but many more weapon ideas have been stopped cold in the labs) and blinding weapons using lasers.

    If you mean all humans, then probably not. For some, the ends justify any means. But a large part of humanity does make such judgements and does make the effort.

  92. RamblinDude says

    “We’ve made progress, but not often in the areas and ways that they thought we would – Giant Electronic Brains and all that.”

    I hear ya. We were supposed to have flying cars by now.

    The distant future is indeed not so predictable. For one thing, we keep discovering natural limiting parameters, like the butterfly effect, that keep us from fulfilling a lot of those grandiose predictions. And then, of course, there’s all the complicated human dynamics.

    When I was a kid I read a story by Arthur C. Clarke, (I think), about a boy who lived in the future, like 1997 or so, and one of the things he did in the morning was to see if the weather control people had decided to make it rain or not. We’re a long ass way from making that a reality.

  93. GallileoWasADenier says

    “Evolution doesn’t care a whit about society except insofar as it affects the distribution of genotypes, which it can do only by determining who has kids and how many.”

    Society, and a GE-based biology evolves through the success of memes. A fashionable genetic modification could spread rapidly, and could conceivably do so even causing reduced reproduction, so long as there was always a sufficient pool of unmodifieds to maintain a population into which it could spread.

    Monks survive as a ‘species’, even though they don’t ‘reproduce’.

  94. Frederick Davis says

    Who has had scurvy in the last 200 years?

    Well considering the age of sail proper ended sometime in the late middle of the 19th century, quite a few, especially in the more rural areas of certain countries where the stock food is fresh and doesn’t contain vitamin C at all.

    Think Appalachias and similar places, becuase there isn’t universal access to supermarket focused food distribution networks even in the US, and yes Scurvy occurs still, just outside your very middle class area of the suburbs is all. Of course it occurs to people who won’t be getting the upgrade and who won’t have access to the gengineering tech in the first place so the solution is not going to be found in the manipulation of folks’ sperm and ovums.

    Male:Female imbalance because of parental choice. So you have large numbers of horny young men with no hope of ever finding a mate. Do you really think that’s not going to cause problems?

    Well we could just make all of them bi, and WOOF! problem solved.

    Or we won’t survive.

    After all, we only have to wipe outselves out once for it to become pretty damn awkward for our descendants, who of course won’t actually exist because their foreparents wiped themselves out after underestimating the rank stupidity of humanity when it’s really trying.

    For male homosexuality, it has been observed that it is correlated to increased female fertility in the same family.

    You do realise that it’s entirely possible that there’s more than one thing being bundled under the umbrella of homosexuality right?

    I remember there was this really stupid line from the first book in the Night’s Dawn trilogy where a minor character makes a rather lame hint to the annoying as hell mary sue main character that she might go in for a threesome with another woman (because the main character is SOO manly and shit, he later goes on to fuck a nieve 16 year old virgin and her mom in some of the creepiest sex scenes in sci fi. yes we were supposed to actually like that guy. Yes this I hate Peter F Hamilton,how could you tell?) and the main character thinks something along the lines of “but she’d never given any indication of having the gay gene.” because apparently if a heterosexual person has a gay gene they end up bi, you know, because heterosexuality is the default human sexuality that occurs in the absence of Teh Gay Gene (And all lesbians are bi or something, I try not to think about the full implications of that line too much, because it hurts).

    That of course doesn’t actually address how sexuality comes out in reality, with a wide and often contradictory spectrum, with bi people who like femme women and butch men exist, as do people who like butch women and butch men, as well as people who like femme women and femme men, which muddies the waters once you start thinking in terms of “gay/straight genes”. You have to figure out if “likes butch men” and “likes butch women” are seperate genes, or a variation on another gene that codes for something else about sexuality? What sort of homosexual men does the correlation with fertile mother actually correlate with?

    From what I’ve seen of the subject most of the researchers have gone into the study of “gay genes” with a whole load of heteronormative and cisgender thinking that makes much of the field ridiculously embryonic and under developed, so they’ve gone in with this idea that there’s a distinct and singular gayness quality which is expressed as a result of this bundle of genes and pre-natal hormones. It’s not going to be that clearly digital, and it’s likely there’s going to be a whole load of absolutely fascinating discoveries about what gender and sexuality really are that go along with any true break through into the whole thorny issue of hetero/homo genes.

    Of course it’s very likely that if gengineering does becomes widespread (in the first world of course, because trickle down doesn’t really, and gengineering is the last thing that would trickle down even if it did) then someone would probably eventually make it mandatory to have A) all babies born to be entirely hetero babies, and to conversely make it B) illegal to put any genderqueer, bi or gay traits into babies.

    With of course the side effect that if we can find and select certain genes, and given that the first major gengineering tech that is currently being developed for immediate use in medicine is gene silencing drugs and treatments, that we’ll be able to selectively sterilise certain genes propagated by members of various socially unwanted classes in a few decades if we think we know what genes to target in that manner.

    And of course when people start implementing non-lethal eugenics programs, people will start calling other people nazis, godwin’s will be called and I for one really hope to be dead and/or unable to see any of hte ridiculously lame intertube discussion that such gengineering tech will lead to.

    Which, if you ask me, is going to be true horror of genetic engineering, the discussions will all be non-productive and really lame, and all the conservatives will be bemoaning the turn the net has taken since there youth, when happy go lucky things like goatse and similar were rife instead of all this godwinising all over the place. God it’ll be terrible and embaressingly familiar.

  95. says

    .) The most obvious recent examples are nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, (of which we have some, but many more weapon ideas have been stopped cold in the labs) and blinding weapons using lasers.

    If you mean all humans, then probably not. For some, the ends justify any means. But a large part of humanity does make such judgements and does make the effort.

    I wouldn’t consider a technology that the U.S. government actively pursues to have been tried to stopped. I don’t think it’s necessarily going to happen, but I think that if people and governments actually made it a priority then some of these things could be, or could have been, stopped.

    Society, and a GE-based biology evolves through the success of memes. A fashionable genetic modification could spread rapidly, and could conceivably do so even causing reduced reproduction, so long as there was always a sufficient pool of unmodifieds to maintain a population into which it could spread.

    Monks survive as a ‘species’, even though they don’t ‘reproduce’.

    Yes, but the previous poster seemed to think that evolution was somehow affected by how well my kids will do in society, which is patently not true.

  96. scorebert says

    wugs,

    What about extrons. If the topology of the universe terminates our information in a rupture or a sealed compression, what if Iluvator the Creator (aliens with intelligence version 904.3) put some hot bits into human grits, from a previous “the universe”?

    Introns, I don’t care about.

    Metatron, that’s for loonies. Wordplay, wordsay, ixnay. Who is today?