What if they gave a war and nobody came? That was a popular slogan for peace demonstrators of the Vietnam era (including me). It might be repeated, with a slight revision, at some point during this century: What if they gave a robot war and nobody came?
[Warning: Contains spoilers for the Battlestar Galactica episode No Exit] One of the most important issues regarding human enhancement is determining what novel traits we should seek to acquire, as well as which traits should be preserved, emphasized, limited, or discarded. It is particularly difficult when it comes to the many traits that exist along a continuum, for while if we eliminated our strong ingroup versus outgroup tendencies it would be refreshing to see the end of racism and xenophobia, at the same time we would lose some of the bonds that contribute to family closeness. That does not mean, however, that we should not attempt to eliminate our most detestable characteristics, and where they exist in a continuum with an admirable trait, we should carefully limit them along that continuum.
Anti-liberal actors in the international arena, such as the Muslim states of the Middle East, are pursuing a path of attempting to suppress what they call “defamation of religion”. Their campaign is achieving some success, and I believe we must take it very seriously.
The Wall Street Journal published an article last week on the topic of human trait selection—a pending reproductive procedure that’s more commonly (and pejoratively) referred to as designer babies. In the article, “A Baby, Please. Blond, Freckles—Hold the Colic”, writer Gautam Naik describes those laboratory techniques that screen for diseases in embryos and how those techniques will soon be offered to prospective parents.
Between the approach of Valentine’s Day and recent discussions in a forum where a lot of stale sociobiological doctrines about women were put forward, I thought I’d put this up… planting a flag, as it were.
We live on a small island. We have not yet ventured much beyond our immediate locale on this small island; even our own inconspicuous location still holds great mysteries for us. It seems that we find ourselves near the mountain peak on our island, but even that is uncertain. Only recently we have discovered that there are other islands besides our home scattered in a vast (possibly infinite) ocean. And the ocean is dead. It is not just devoid of fishes, algae or anything similar – it is empty of any conceivable form of life, it epitomizes the absence of life itself. But recently we have made our first attempt at mapping our surroundings and, in particular, sketching the outline of the ocean shores. In this, some of us bear similarities to the great adventurers of the European Age of Exploration in XV and XVI centuries; only in this case the explorers are not sea-captains and conquistadors, but theoretical physicists, cosmologists and philosophers.
[Warning: Contains spoilers for the Battlestar Galactica episode Blood on the Scales] A lot of stories have fairly simple, obvious morals. These can seem like a clear guide for illustrating a moral rule, but they present moral dilemmas in an artificially isolated way. The problem is that in the real world, nobody lies, cheats, or kills for reasons that, at least in their own mind, aren’t important. I would argue that more complex, realistic narratives are more useful for exploring our ethics as they present moral dilemmas that are genuine dilemmas. Only by examining what we should do when faced with two unpalatable choices, which both present horrific consequences, can we really parse out what our values are and which ethical principles we must stand by, and what we must be willing to sacrifice.
Decentralization is the key to the survival of humanity. This should be common sense. We all know that you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. There are many examples one could point to. With industrial farming we are now beginning to realize that monocultures are especially susceptible to disease or changes in the environment. Fitness is a fluid concept because environmental conditions are not static. This is true on a civilizational level as well.
We are pleased to announce the release of “Human Enhancement”, edited by IEET Chair Nick Bostrom and Julian Savulescu, with contributions from many important leaders in bioethics, including Arthur Caplan and Peter Singer.
Abstract: After covering the basic tenets of Transhumanism, I discuss what I take to be the most important philosophical element of the transhumanist picture—its unique perspective on the nature and development of persons. Examining the enhancement issue through the vantage point of the metaphysical problem of personal identity presents a serious challenge to Transhumanism. Indeed, this is a pressing issue for any argument made for or against enhancement.
The IEET does a lot with very little, and a lot of that little over the last couple of years has come from Dr. Martine Rothblatt. We are delighted to acknowledge her most recent gift of $5000. Her support means a lot to us, and we’re looking forward to the release of her new film Transbeman.
Attention-deficit drugs like Adderall and Ritalin have helped millions of ADHD kids get along. For a new generation, they’ve also fed a black market in college dorms and high-pressure labs, where off-label use by the non-ADHD gets term papers written and lab reports done. Now, pharmaceutical companies — and some scientists — are saying maybe we should consider “cognitive enhancers,” drugs like these, for the general population.
Some call it “cosmetic neurology,” and say it’s time. Others say it’s a bad, bad idea.
This hour, On Point: The debate over drugs for the mind.
Joining us from New York is Ellen Gibson at BusinessWeek magazine. She recently wrote the article “Mental Pick Me Ups: The Coming Boom.”
From Philadelphia, we’re joined by Martha Farah, professor of psychology and director at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. She is co-author of a commentary in the December issue of the journal Nature, “Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy.”
From Garrison, N.Y., is Thomas Murray, president of The Hastings Center, a bioethics think tank. He was formerly the director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics in the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University.
And from Washington, we’re joined by Nora Volkow, director of the National Insitute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health.
As with any medical discovery, an in-depth look needs to be taken regarding the impact and effects on society. The Internet offers a new world of communication and opportunities for individuals to be in touch with one another. Andy Miah and Emma Rich do a commendable job with this in their recent publication The Medicalization of Cyberspace.
Social Ecology is a philosophy which states that environmental, social, and economic problems all have the same root: namely, the way people treat each other. By this same logic, if we can establish new structures and norms by which to operate, we can alleviate many of these problems.
Universal mind uploading, or universal uploading for short, is the concept, by no means original to me, that the technology of mind uploading will eventually become universally adopted by all who can afford it, similar to the adoption of modern agriculture, hygiene, or living in houses.
Our conceptions of intelligence certainly aren’t what they used to be—and they’re continuing to evolve. Prior to the advent of computers it was thought that number crunching and pure logic was the penultimate measure of intelligence. But after the invention of the calculator, which could suddenly do math thousands of times better than we ever could, we were forced to shift our definitions of intelligence to other seemingly more intractable cognitive functions.
[Warning: Contains spoilers for the Battlestar Galactica episode The Oath] It can be easy when experiencing an engaging story to be wrapped up in a world where problems seem much bigger, much more exciting, and more a matter of life and death than real life. The fast-paced action seems to involve much more important issues than our trivial day to day problems. But that impression is a mistake, because even though the major problems we face aren’t as immediate, we all face problems just as big and important, and it is our responsibility to take action that affects them.
(First Congregational Church of Berkeley, CA - Jan 21st, 2009) Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and director of the Greater Good Science Center, demonstrates that humans are not hardwired to lead lives that are “nasty, brutish, and short” - we are in fact born to be good. He investigates an old mystery of human evolution: why have we evolved positive emotions like gratitude, amusement, awe, and compassion that promote ethical action are the fabric of cooperative societies? Born to Be Good is a profound study of how emotion is the key to living the good life and how the path to happiness goes through human emotions that connect people to one another.
The article The radiative forcing potential of different climate geoengineering options is now out and available for download and discussion. As expected, it offers one of the first useful comparisons of different geoengineering techniques.