[Paleopsych] NuSapiens: Biology, Technology, Philosophy: Book Review: More Than Human

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Biology, Technology, Philosophy: Book Review: More Than Human

[I have not seen this book and do not know how it compares with similar books 
on moving beyond the human condition.]

                 Blogging the next stage in human evolution.

       What is great in man is that he is a road but not a destination.
                           -Also Sprach Zarathustra

Monday, March 07, 2005

Book Review: More Than Human

    More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement
    by Ramez Naam

    In More Than Human, Ramez Naam gives an engaging account of cutting
    edge technologies that promise to transform life as we know it, along
    with a reasonable explanation of how they can be used to improve the
    human condition. Naam uses sound economic reasoning and pertinent
    historical analogies to construct a framework in which to understand
    and predict the often staggering technological developments before us.
    The results are sensible, balanced ethical and policy guidelines based
    on consumer safety, education, and equal access, with which to handle
    human enhancement products in a way that collectively benefits
    More Than Human gives an accessible account of new technology that
    sounds almost like science fiction. Some of the products and
    techniques described include: gene therapies to cure disease as well
    as improve memory and athletic ability, drugs that can prolong youth
    and fend off death and old age, techniques that can allow parents to
    pre-select and even design their offspring, and brain-computer
    interfaces that blur distinctions between man and machine. As
    fantastic as developments sound, they are all either available, in
    development, or achievable within the foreseeable future.
    Many of the technologies discussed are under development to cure such
    devastating diseases as SCID, or severe combined immune deficiency
    (also known as "bubble boy syndrome"), ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease),
    full-body paralysis, and Alzheimer's. Yet scientists have found that
    some of the same therapeutic techniques and drugs effective to cure
    disease also can be used to enhance function in healthy people. For
    instance, gene therapy used to treat degenerative nervous disorders
    like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, by preventing muscle loss
    might also be used to prevent age-related tissue loss in the elderly,
    or even to enhance strength and muscle mass in healthy young adults.
    A point emerges that what we define as a disease determines what
    doctors can treat, and that enhancement products are often medicalized
    and reinterpreted in terms of disease treatment according to social
    demand. Newly described disease conditions include Attention Deficit
    Disorder and age-related erectile dysfunction, conditions once
    commonly understood as problematic but normal. The distinctions
    between normalcy and disease, and thus between enhancement and
    treatment, shift along with society's aspirations and expectations of
    itself. Modern arguments that enhancement technology is "unnatural"
    and therefore unethical forget the progressive improvement of human
    life and changing perceptions of "naturalness" in modern history. Naam
    points out that medical advancements such as vaccinations and
    anesthesia were initially met with fear of "unnaturalness," and then
    gradually accepted as they proved their safety and collective value to
    Naam argues that this process of medicalization is important and that
    regulation by bodies such as the FDA should be extended to include
    enhancement products. Government testing of enhancement products would
    include safety trials of the same type currently done only for disease
    treatments. This would ensure safety, weed out ineffective products,
    and give consumers additional information and guidelines on the safe
    use of effective enhancement products. Furthermore, since high demand
    for products to enhance memory or athletic ability is guaranteed,
    sensible government regulation can prevent the emergence of black
    markets for enhancement products, while prohibition would create such
    an underground economy.
    An important part of Naam's argument centers around access. Naam
    submits that to prevent technological elitism, access to these
    technologies needs to be distributed around the world and across
    income brackets. Pharmaceutical and genetic enhancement technologies
    are essentially intellectual property, and display diminishing
    returns: they require immense amounts of initial investment to
    research and develop and are distributed at an initially high cost,
    but eventually come down in price due to economies of scale. Consumers
    pay a premium for early access and obtain an initially large benefit,
    but as the technology improves, it offers only incremental additional
    returns for individual consumer expenditure. With time, the basic,
    highly effective technology becomes affordable to a broad base of
    people, who experience large returns for their small individual
    investment. Just as penicillin was initially available only to the
    wealthy but became affordable to all after World War Two, gene therapy
    and other cutting edge technologies will be accessible to the world
    after a short period of time.
    Naam disputes hyperbolic alarmist rhetoric that claims technologies
    such as enhancement gene therapy threaten to undermine society as we
    know it, and ought to be regulated out of existence before it's too
    late. While bioconservatives routinely invoke the bogey of 20th
    century atrocities, Naam points out that overzealous regulators are
    the ones who want state control over matters as private as human
    reproduction. Instead, Naam argues that sensible regulation aimed at
    ensuring consumer safety, education, and equal access, will allow
    individual consumers to make informed decisions on their own about the
    use of these products for themselves and their families.
    These technologies give people an opportunity to transcend limitations
    placed on us by nature and history. Alarmist opponents fear that the
    quest for human biological enhancement will compromise our humanity.
    With More than Human, Naam makes an eloquent case that the desire to
    become more than human is the very essence of what it is to be human.
    Humanity finds not only empowerment through our exploration and
    investigation of the world and ourselves, but more importantly,
    meaning. Thus, the embracement of these radical technologies is not a
    violation of our deepest human dignity, but instead a validation of
    Publisher's information about More Than Human is available [8]here.

    Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of
    all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation
    distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast
    frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices
    and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated
    before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is
    holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober
    senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind.
    -[14]Karl Marx


    8. http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?0767918436
   14. http://nusapiens.blogspot.com/2004/11/reading-karl-marx-capitalist.html

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