from the world's big
If We Could Genetically Eradicate Facial Hair, Should We?
Every morning I wake up with resentment about the fact that I have to shave my damn face. The ideas that grew gnarled and twisted in my mind by the end of the previous day have loosened over night. My mind is fresh and agile and I’m already working on new material silently in the shower. I’m ready to burst through the plastic shower curtain. I’ll do a couple of quick swipes with a towel to dry off, throw on a random pick of clothes, grab my coffee, which was prepared with a timer to be ready and waiting the night before, some cereal, and run over to my computer to pound out a few pages of my book proposal, or conference paper, or whatever.
But noooooooooo. Stop everything. I have to spend the next 8 to 10 minutes lathering up, artfully dodging moles, carving into under-nose crevices, turning the water on and off to rinse the razor. It’s torture. And I resent it.
What if we could spare future generations this grievous time suck? Surely facial hair is no longer necessary for human survival (if it ever was). No future person would be worse off for not being able to grow facial hair, right? Wouldn’t we be doing future people a favor? Wouldn’t we take a huge leap forward in human evolution if we genetically engineered all forthcoming infants to grow no facial hair and to produce descendents who would forevermore likewise be incapable of such growth?
Yes. Yes. Yes… is what I want to say intuitively, at first blush. But in what follows I’m going to take some time to think about it. I’m curious to see what emerges in the process. For instance, if it will turn out that I have reservations upon further reflection and if so, what kind of reservations. Let’s see what comes up.
I’ve revealed several concerns and aspirations already in the paragraphs above where I formulated the problem. For example, in thinking about the possibility of eradicating facial hair I seem immediately worried about interfering too much with nature: I am reluctant to tamper with a feature of human biology that has evolved for the benefit of human survival. I don’t want to get rid of facial hair only then to get rid of humanity as a whole inadvertently, to “throw the baby out with the bath water.”
This is tricky, though. The question of facial hair eradication is not very interesting to think about if I have to choose between the sum of all future aggravation generated by shaving and the biological viability of the human species. Obviously I would choose on behalf of the latter. So the question has to be: if we could genetically eradicate facial hair without having a negative impact on any other aspect of human biology or ecology, should we?
Unfortunately, that’s a big “if.” How could we ever know what might arise circuitously as a result of tampering with nature? Remember Will Smith in I Am Legend fending off terrifying post-human mutants who have been mutated by a virus originally designed to cure cancer? We don’t want anything like that to happen.
On the other hand, while I Am Legend is an interesting and provocative cautionary tale, should it really inhibit our zeal for innovative cancer research? Doesn’t every worthwhile act come with the possibility of inadvertent negative consequences?
Now, you might not want to eradicate facial hair because you have an absolute “no tampering” principle: never mess with human genetics. This raises all kinds of concerns, especially when genetic engineering can do more good than merely freeing up 8 to 10 minutes in the morning. What could justify such an absolute principle?
I assume that no one has an “always tamper” principle, according to which whenever you can make a genetic alteration in human beings you should. If you have a “some tampering” principle, then of course you will need to think more about what counts as a good enough reason to tamper.
Back to our specific case. I wrote: “No future person would be worse off for not being able to grow facial hair, right?” Clearly it seems wrong to me to advocate something that would make people in the future worse off. This concern can actually get rather, well, hairy. As philosophers who work on “intergenerational justice” and “the nonidentity problem” will readily tell you, thinking about our moral obligation to “future persons” is not at all straightforward. It would be worth your while to look into these topics if you want to keep thinking about the issues I’ve raised in this post.
The ways in which a person might be worse off for not being able to grow facial hair are quite interesting, as it turns out. It may seem like a “merely stylistic” matter. People wouldn’t be able to grow beards or mustaches – who cares? So much the worse for future hipsters. Maybe by eliminating the ability to grow a hipster beard or mustache we would eventually eliminate “the hipster” from the catalogue of “kinds of people” who inhabit our social world. So what? Fops, poindexters, and Milquetoasts are pretty much extinct kinds of people and this is not generally seen as tragic.
But what about future Hasidic Jews and Sikhs? I suspect some conservationist intuitions will bubble-up when we consider these cases. Isn’t the elimination of an essential part of what it means to be a particular kind of person, gulp, genocide? If the extinction of “hipster” as an available kind of person is ok, but the extinction of “Hasidic Jew” as an available kind of person is not ok, then we need to know precisely why.
What about the fate of a future person who might feel called to play Grant or Lee in a reenactment of the surrender at Appomattox?
Is there a part of the human body that we could tamper with that would have no negative impact on the essential qualities or practices of any current kind of person or group? What if we could eradicate fingernail growth? What if we could engineer all future people to have the same skin color? (I vote for mauve). What if we could prevent all future farting?
Even if no current kind of person or group requires the ability to grow fingernails or fart, maybe genetic tampering would preemptively foreclose the emergence of a future kind of person or group that does require one of these abilities. Would that be bad?
It looks like we have a lot of questions to answer before we can in good conscience eradicate facial hair. And I haven’t even mentioned the gender issues involved here, the impact on the facial grooming supply industry, the question of eyebrows,.….
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
How can we promote the creation of new neurons - and why is it so important?
- Neurogenesis, the birth of neurons from stem cells, happens mostly before we are born - as we are formed in the womb, we are generating most of what we need after birth.
- After birth, neurogenesis is still possible in two parts of the brain: the olfactory bulb (which is responsible for our sense of smell) and the hippocampus (which is responsible for memory, spatial navigation, and emotional processing).
- Research from the 1960s proves creating new neurons as adults is possible, and modern-day research explains how (and why) we should promote new neuron growth.
Two parts of the brain can continue growing through neurogenesis<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkyMzk2NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwOTAwODc1MH0.4GDLlZmkwuD0-pJ0s0UWcUoYXMy95a-AM61a_QAlAeA/img.jpg?width=980" id="2e77e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4e23499fdf3b2185533979083fd02db7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="brain made of twigs and plants concept of neurogenesis" />
Neurogenesis is still possible well into adulthood in two very important parts of the human brain.
Image by EtiAmmos on Shutterstock<p>Although most people are aware that aging or bad habits such as heavy alcohol use can contribute to the deterioration of our brains, not many of us give thought to how we can generate new brain cells.</p><p>Neurogenesis, the birth of neurons from stem cells, happens mostly before we are born - as we are formed in the womb, we are generating most of what we need after birth. </p><p><strong>After birth, however, neurogenesis is still possible in two parts of the brain:</strong></p><ul><li>The olfactory bulb, which is a structure of the forebrain that's responsible for our sense of smell. </li><li>The hippocampus, which is a structure of the brain located within the temporal lobe (just above your ears) - this area is important for learning, memory, regulation, of emotions and spatial navigation. </li></ul><p>Of course, when this information first came to light <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13860748" target="_blank">back in the 1960s</a>, the next natural question was: How do we promote neurogenesis in those areas where it's still possible? </p><p>Researchers today believe there are activities you can do (some of them may be things you already do on a daily basis) that can promote neurogenesis in your brain. </p><p><strong>Why is it important to promote the growth of new neurons in adulthood?</strong></p><p>We produce an estimated 700 million neurons per day in the hippocampus - this means by the time we reach the age of 50, we will have exchanged the neurons we were born within that area of the brain with new (adult-generated) neurons. </p><p>If we don't promote this exchange with the growth of new neurons, we may block certain abilities these new neurons help us with (such as keeping our memory sharp, for example). </p>
4 ways to promote neurogenesis in your brain<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkyMzk2Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTE3NjczNH0.qyzh_AIUPKfaQIa1QEq4yTNCAAK9nYkH3HFV9vWXwww/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C104&height=700" id="64a68" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee1307fe2dd61ae425552da56db3c5ff" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="child playing trumpet concept of learning a new instrument neurogenesis" />
Learning a new instrument helps promote neurogenesis.
Photo by DenisProduction.com on Shutterstock<p><strong>Intermittent fasting</strong></p><p><a href="https://law.stanford.edu/2015/01/09/lawandbiosciences-2015-01-09-intermittent-fasting-try-this-at-home-for-brain-health/" target="_blank">A 2015 Stanford study</a> examined the link between <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-ways-to-do-intermittent-fasting#section1" target="_blank">intermittent fasting</a> and neurogenesis. Calorie restriction and fasting can not only increase synaptic plasticity and promote neuron growth but it can also decrease your risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases and boost cognitive function. </p><p><u>Two of the most common ways you can intermittently fast are: </u></p><ul><li>16 hours per day every day - this is a method where you are able to eat for an 8 hour period of the day and fast for 16 hours of the day. Many people begin their "fast" after dinner, pushing their morning meal far enough towards lunch that most of their "off" eating time happens while they are asleep anyways. </li></ul><ul><li>24 hours every week - this is a method where once a week you fast for an entire day. Some people prefer this method because the rest of the week can resume as normal - but for many, this is a difficult way to fast. </li></ul><p><strong>Traveling to new places</strong></p><p>While traveling is something many of us enjoy — scenic routes and new fun experiences — these things also promote neurogenesis while we're on vacation. <a href="https://www.chicagotribune.com/travel/ct-xpm-2014-01-28-sc-trav-0128-travel-mechanic-20140128-story.html" target="_blank">Paul Nussbaum</a>, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Pittsburgh, explains that the mental benefits of traveling are very clear.<br></p><p><em>"When you expose your brain to an environment that's novel and complex or new and difficult, the brain literally reacts. Those new and challenging situations cause the brain to sprout dendrites (dangling extensions) which grow the brain's capacity." </em></p><p><strong>Learning a new instrument</strong></p><p>The mental health benefits of music have long been studied, but did you know that learning a new instrument can promote new neuron growth? </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996135/" target="_blank">this 2010 study</a>, learning to play a new musical instrument is an intense, multisensory motor experience that requires that acquisition and maintenance of skills over your entire lifetime - which of course, promotes the new formation of new neural networks. </p><p>When is the best time to begin learning a new instrument? Childhood, of course. </p><p><em>"Learning to play a new musical instrument in childhood can result in long-lasting changes in brain organization," </em>according to the study mentioned above. </p><p>While learning an instrument in adulthood will also promote neurogenesis, children who began training with a musical instrument before the age of 7 have shown that they have a significantly larger corpus callosum (the area of the brain the allows communication between the two hemispheres of the brain) than many adults. </p><p><strong>Reading novels</strong></p><p>A study from <a href="http://esciencecommons.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-novel-look-at-how-stories-may-change.html" target="_blank">Emory University</a> showed there was an increase in ongoing connectivity in the brains of participants after reading the same (fiction) novel. </p><p>In this study, enhanced brain activity was observed in the region that control physical sensations and movement. Reading a novel, according to lead researcher Gregory Berns, can transport you into the body of the protagonist. </p><p>This ability to shift into another mental state is a vital skill that promotes healthy neurogenesis in those areas of the brain. </p>
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
Paul Krugman on the Virtues of Selfishness<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7ZtAkm6C" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="828936bf6953080e9018307354c0c02b"> <div id="botr_7ZtAkm6C_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7ZtAkm6C-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7ZtAkm6C-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> The Nobel Prize-winning economist on the virtues of selfishness.
Evolution Is Moving Us Away from Selfishness. But Where Is It Taking ...<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cyeqmYCb" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="6c5efecb56456e9acc25cf36935b1826"> <div id="botr_cyeqmYCb_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cyeqmYCb-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cyeqmYCb-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Exploring Morality and Selfishness in Modern Times<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="02eX1Cag" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="45cc6180db791f32683988fb52faff26"> <div id="botr_02eX1Cag_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/02eX1Cag-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/02eX1Cag-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> Philosopher Peter Singer discusses the state of global ethics.
Parenting could be a distraction from what mattered most to him: his writing.
Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa," but what kind of dad was he?