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LORCS Abound
Mike Treder   Sep 19, 2009   Ethical Technology  

Continuing our extraordinarily popular series of LORCs (Links Of Required Clicking), we’re back again with a new quartet of links that you simply must click.

A few months ago, we posted an article about The Difficult Questions of ‘Personhood’. In that piece, we proposed that some highly intelligent animals, such as cetaceans and great apes, should be considered for inclusion as ‘persons’ and therefore have certain recognized rights.

Since then, new evidence has emerged to suggest that humans may not be entirely alone in being metacognitive, i.e., self-aware and able to think about thinking. From this link, we learn that:

...there is growing evidence that animals share functional parallels with human conscious metacognition—that is, they may share humans’ ability to reflect upon, monitor or regulate their states of mind.

J. David Smith, Ph.D., a comparative psychologist at the University at Buffalo, has studied the question of whether or not non-human animals have knowledge of their own cognitive states by testing a dolphin, pigeons, rats, monkeys and apes using perception, memory and food-concealment paradigms.

“The field offers growing evidence that some animals have functional parallels to humans’ consciousness and to humans’ cognitive self-awareness,” he says.

He and his colleagues pioneered the study of metacognition in non-human animals, and they have contributed some of the principal results in this area, including many results that involve the participation of Old World and New World monkeys who have been trained to use joysticks to participate in computer tasks.

It turns out that we humans may not in fact be the only persons in the world.

Our recent piece on “How Atheists View Religion” discussed the difficulties that secular society can have in resisting deleterious incursions of faith-based laws and practices into spheres of education and governance. This seems to be especially true in the United States.

For example, this link reports on an effort launched in Florida to outlaw all abortions and certain types of birth control, including oral contraceptives and the morning-after pill.

The religion-infused movement, called “Personhood Florida,” would define conception in Florida’s constitution at the “biological beginnings,” supporters said—when the sperm meets the egg.

The amendment seeks to outlaw all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest. Also criminalized: the morning-after pill and oral contraceptives taken by women, known as the pill.

This seems to us to go way over the line in proscribing personal behavior based on religious beliefs. It’s the kind of thing you might expect from a theocracy, but certainly not in a country founded on the principle of strict separation between church and state.

Next, we turn to the virtual pages of h+ magazine for this link from biologist and former IEET Fellow Athena Andreadis, who writes:

So what about those glowing reports which purport to have demonstrated that caloric restriction doubles the lifespans of mice and rhesus monkeys, as well as giving them glossy pelts? Surely we can put up with a bit of mental confusion, even failing erections, in exchange for a longer life, as long as it’s of high quality—otherwise we’ll end up like poor Tithonus, who was granted immortality but not youth and dwindled into a shriveled husk before the gods in their whimsical mercy turned him into a cicada. And it does seem that caloric restriction decreases such banes of extended human lifespan as diabetes and atherosclerosis. Well, there’s something interesting going on, all right, but not what people (like to) think.

In biology, details are crucial and mice are not humans. In Eldorado Desperadoes I: Of Mice and Men, I explained at length why non-human studies are proof of principle at best, irrelevant at worst. Laboratory mice and monkeys are bred to reproduce early and rapidly. They’re fed rich diets and lead inactive lives—the equivalent of couch potatoes. The caloric restriction studies have essentially returned the animals to the normal levels of nutrition that they would attain in the wild. Indeed, caloric restriction of wild mice does not extend their lives and when caloric levels fall below about 50%, both lab and wild mice promptly keel over. . .

Human lifespan has already nearly tripled, courtesy of vaccines, antibiotics, clean water and use of soap during childbirth. It is unlikely that we will be able to extend it much further. Extrapolations indicate that caloric restriction will not lengthen our lives by more than 3% (a pitiful return for such herculean efforts) and that we can get the same result from reasonable eating habits combined with exercise. Recent, careful studies have established that moderately overweight people are the longest-lived, whereas extra-lean people live as long as do obese ones.

So what can you really do to extend your life? Well, as is the case with many other quality-of-life attributes, you should choose your parents carefully. Good alleles for susceptibilities to degenerative age-related diseases (diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and dementia) are a great help—as is high income in a developed country with first-rate medical services, which will ensure excellent lifelong nutrition and enough leisure time and/or devoted underlings to make it possible to attend to suchlike things.

That might not be exactly what we want to hear, but it’s important to keep our feet fastened to the ground of scientific reality even as we contemplate a future of fantastic advances.

We’ve written a few times on this blog about global warming and the most sensible responses to it (most recently here.) One of the common objections against making significant reductions in carbon emissions is that it would cost too much, that it would be too great of a drag on the world economy.

But now we’re finding out that climate change could cost nations 19% of GDP by 2030. This link tells us that:

The bad news, according to the Economics of Climate Adaptation Working Group’s Shaping Climate Resistant Development report, is that by 2030 climate risks could cost nations 19% of GDP, with developing nations most vulnerable. The good news: Existing cost-effective measures exist that can prevent 40-68% of expected economic losses.

The report looked at estimated economic losses in eight different case study regions (China, United States, Guyana, Mali, United Kingdom, Samoa, India, and Tanzania) and under three different scenarios—under today’s climate (no further climate change impact), moderate climate change (middle of the road climate projections), high climate change (the outer range considered possible by 2030).

In all cases the study found that cost effective measures exist to reduce economic losses due to climate change, with adaptation measures on average costing less than 50% of the avoided economic loss.

In other words, the price of inaction would almost certainly be greater than the cost of implementing recommendations to reduce the impacts of global warming. By a lot.

Start your required clicking!

Mike Treder is a former Managing Director of the IEET.

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