What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

A Real Scientist Agrees with ME (on the Designer Baby Dispute)!

February 26, 2011, 3:46 PM
Peter2

The blogging scientist Minerva agrees with ME against the transhumanist on the future pressure to design or enhance your offspring or else.  She's surprised that it's possible to agree with someone who was on Bush's Bioethics Council, but that may be because nobody told her there were lots of prolific and highly respected scientists on that Council. 

Minerva--so that I don't feel the love too much--begins by agreeing with my critic that the enhanced folks of the future won't necessarily be athests.  But as I said before, I'm sorry if anyone misunderstood me on that point.  Let me make it clear that, because I believe that studies show that very, very smart people can be religious, I believe religion has a bright future.  It also has a future, of course, because it's far from clear that the genetically upgraded will necessarily be happier than we are.  I'll have more to say on this soon.

But for now, let me give you a taste of the wisdom of Minerva:

He argues that there will be no mandate for enhancement by the state, so we won’t have “godless achievement machines,” but he fails to see the point that state pressure is not the only pressure that will be experienced by people in an age of genetic enhancement. Social pressure, Brad, tell me you’ve heard of it? It is dangerous to assume that governmental or economic pressures are the only ones that act upon parents in relation to decisions about their children. Cultural norms and beliefs about “what makes a good life” will make much more of an impact on the perceived necessity of “enhancement” than any governmental mandate could.

Also, he argues that “enhancement” will lead to a “flush of inventive, moral, empathetic, charming, attractive and beneficent people.” I’m sorry Kyle, but you also assume that those individuals who choose to have their children enhanced will value traits such as empathy and beneficence. Maybe they will, but that’s a big assumption, because arguments supporting “enhancements” have pretty much focused on physical capability and not moral character. Also, the opportunity to alter a relatively “simple” trait such as height will be available long before we figure out the soup of probable genetic determinants of “empathy”, so physical trait enhancement will surely precede character trait enhancement.

And lastly, what about nurture, Kyle? If you want more charming, empathetic, innovative, beneficent kids, it sounds to me like you might try to raise them to engage with other people regularly (instead of the PSP) and teach them to view themselves in the shoes of others before they make judgments. I’m just saying.

One problem Minerva points to, of course, is that empathy and beneficience might be, in themselves, "risk factors."  They can turn people into suckers and even cause them to put their personal survival on the line for the good of others.  Our designer personal goal, first of all, seems to be something like indefinite longevity, which is not the literal immortality some transhumanists misleadingly promise.  And so my personal qualities--physical, cognitive, and emotional--should be reconfigured, most of all, with keeping ME around as long as possible in mind.  Accidental death will remain possible, and we won't be able to stop working to fend off the nature out to kill each of us.  So people might well be--and seemingly have to be--more self-obsessed than ever.  Nothing seems more horrible than dying when death itself has become avoidable through perfect pesonal prudence.

My own view is that we might readily figure out how to make people smarter and stronger and in many ways less physically vulnerable (by, for example, using nanotechnology to wipe out disease).  But it's far from clear that we will know how or even intend to make them more virtuous--or BETTER PEOPLE in the crucial sense.  Yet it will remain the case that folks will have TO BE GOOD in order to reliably FEEL GOOD.

I also like Minerva's shot against Kyle about putting himself in the shoes of other before being so intolerantly judgmental.  Many religious people, after, do a great job raising their kids with the old-fashioned virtues like courage, charity, generosity, humility, moderation, frugality, and even chastity in mind.  Meanwhile, sophisticated Americans really do have a hard time aiming higher than middle-class productivity and autonomy.  Autonomy--or being one's own person, having one's own point of view--suffers as a result

The point about social pressure is too obvious to emphasize: It'll be impossible to have the only unenhanced kids on the block or in school etc.  I will also say more about that issue later.

Minerva concludes by saying that she's still all about the promise of science.  Well, I am too.  But, as usual, our future is likely to be full of both promise and peril.

 

A Real Scientist Agrees wit...

Newsletter: Share: