[Paleopsych] Transterrestrial Musings: Biting Commentary about Infinity, and Beyond!

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Sun Apr 24 20:10:44 UTC 2005

Biting Commentary about Infinity, and Beyond!
Transterrestrial Musings

                               More Than Human
    That's the title of a book I read recently. No, it's not the
    [150]classic science fiction tome by Ted Sturgeon. This one is (I
    think) non-fiction, and new, just having been [151]released this week.

    A first book by Ramez Naam (a software developer who claims to be one
    of those responsible for Internet Explorer, though I won't hold that
    against him), it's a highly readable survey of the current and
    projected state of the art in various life-extending and
    life-enhancing technologies, including life extension, cloning,
    prosthetics and neural implants, most of which are already here, but
    in their infancy. These are subjects about which he's both
    enthusiastic and optimistic.

    Many [152]critics of these technologies, particularly [153]Kassians
    and other worshipers of ultimate death, will find them quite
    disquieting. Regardless, whichever camp one is in, as Naam points out
    (and as I [154]pointed out last week), these technologies are going to
    happen, because that's the history of such technologies. They are
    being developed to solve real human problems that are causing real
    human suffering, and once they become available, there's no
    sufficiently bright, unambiguous line between their uses for therapy
    and their uses for what some, like Dr. Kass or Frank Fukuyama, will
    consider unnecessary enhancement, to a state beyond that which they
    currently (and subjectively, and arbitrarily) define as human.

    It's not a new problem. To take a mundane example, a plastic surgeon
    can do reconstructive surgery on a mastectomy patient, to restore her
    shattered sense of womanhood at the loss of one of the features that
    biology and society have defined as a key component of that state. Few
    argue that there is anything wrong with this. But the same surgery can
    also change a 32B to a 36D. And some women are naturally unendowed,
    and would like an artificial solution to what they view as nature's
    mistake. Who is going to be the arbiter of which are allowed such

    Naam leads off each chapter with similar examples, of radical new
    therapies currently in work, that have natural potential for
    non-therapeutic use. Beyond that, the military is developing some of
    these deliberately for the purpose of enhancing troop performance.
    Imagine the possibilities of a pilot able to fly an aircraft, and
    sense hostile activity, directly with her mind, with no need for
    intermediary appendages. Imagine in particular the utility of such a
    system in which this can be done remotely.

    One particular insight from the book that hadn't struck me before is
    the disingenuousness of the Godwinized argument that many use against
    proponents of cloning, or life extension, or body enhancement, by
    accusing them of attempting to revive the [155]eugenics movement of
    the early twentieth century, offshoots of which were indeed adopted by
    the Nazis.

    But such comparisons are ludicrous. It wasn't the goal of the eugenics
    movement that was necessarily odious (they were, after all, only
    seeking an improvement of humanity)--it was the means by which they
    wanted (indeed would have had to employ and, in Germany, in fact did)
    to achieve it. They could only achieve their goals through government
    coercion and ultimately totalitarianism. The irony is that proponents
    of these technologies are seeking them for use by the free choice of
    individuals, while this time it's the opponents, those who (by their
    spurious association of them with the eugenicists) wish to implement
    government policies to prevent the use of such technologies. In
    Virginia Postrel's formulation, the dynamists are those who want to
    allow individuals to decide, and the stasists are the King Canutes who
    want to hold back the tide through the force of government (though,
    unlike Canute, they don't seem to recognize that the tide won't be
    held back).

    Naam's ultimate message is that these technologies are coming, ready
    or not. If we can't accommodate our definition of humanity to them,
    then the future will indeed be post human, but I suspect that it will
    be a future much more free of suffering and pain than the present,
    with much more opportunity for growth of those things--art, science,
    love and laughter--that make being human so precious.
    Posted by Rand Simberg at March 07, 2005 08:05 AM
    TrackBack URL for this entry:
    Listed below are links to weblogs that reference [156]this post from
    [157]Transterrestrial Musings.
    [158]Two New Reviews
    Excerpt: Two new reviews have posted in the last 24 hours! Yesterday,
    Rand Simberg posted this review over at Transterrestrial Musings. And
    today I see that the LA Times has posted their own positive review of
    the book.
    Weblog: More Than Human
    Tracked: March 8, 2005 11:04 PM
    [159]Why Yes, It Is An Offensive Agenda...
    Excerpt: This just in from Virginia Postrel, via The Speculist... The
    WaPost reports that Leon Kass and friends are promoting what they call
    an "offensive bioethics agenda....it looks like they want to separate
    their anti-research agenda from the convictions of...
    Weblog: Classical Values
    Tracked: March 9, 2005 09:46 PM

    Its interesting how its mostly the opponents of enhancement that are
    trying to make this into a political issue (should we enhance or
    should we not?) as though we are all of single mind. Some will enhance
    and some will not. Some people will want to make themselves super
    bright and others won't care about intelligence, they will just want
    to live forever young in perfectly attractive bodies. Some will not
    want any personal changes at all and will become the late 21st century
    equivalent of the Amish.

    When push comes to shove, this stuff is really a matter of personal
    choice. These are not "democratic" issues as our detractors would say,
    they are PERSONAL choices.

    Is there any reason why we cannot all make our own personal choices on
    this stuff and continue to co-exist peacefully in an ever expanding
    economy? Rand, you are correct that it is the luddites (both right and
    left) that are trying to use the corrupt force of government to
    enforce a certain range of choices. Their position, not ours, is
    analogous to the eugenics policies of Nazi Germany.

    There are two positions on this; pro-choice and pro-force. I am
    Posted by [160]Kurt at March 7, 2005 09:46 AM

    Who says that if I engineer my body such that I no longer grow old or
    make myself super intelligent, that I am "no longer human"? This has
    got to be the dumbest thing I have ever heard.

    As long as I can listen to good music and dance, drink a pint of
    Guiness and have good conversation, I will always be human.
    Posted by [161]Kurt at March 7, 2005 09:52 AM

    Rand, I'm glad you enjoyed the book.

    Kurt, I agree with you. One of the points of the book is that there's
    no clear dividing line between human and posthuman. We're well advised
    to take a very broad view of what it means to be human.
    Posted by [162]Ramez at March 7, 2005 11:35 AM

    Ramex, thats my point. As a life extensionist who has lived abroad, I
    do not define myself nor anyone else by them living within a fixed
    life pattern (a.k.a. the natural life cycle). I define a human being
    as someone who posesses consciousness and is sentient. It says nothing
    about your race, religion, or life-style choices.
    It is the bio-luddites, of whatever flavor, that are trying to
    narrowly redefine "human" to mean someone with a fixed set of
    abilities and lives a fixed life pattern. I believe very strongly that
    we should not allow the bio-luddites to get away with this.

    Rather, I believe that we should view and present to the general
    public that "morphological freedom" (or transhuman rights or whatever)
    as the logical extension of the civil liberties that we take for
    granted and vigorously defend, at least in Western society.
    Posted by [163]Kurt at March 7, 2005 03:02 PM

    Ramez, are you the author of the book? I have just ordered it through
    a local bookstore in my town.
    Posted by [164]Kurt at March 7, 2005 03:03 PM

    "It is the bio-luddites, of whatever flavor, that are trying to
    narrowly redefine "human" to mean someone with a fixed set of
    abilities and lives a fixed life pattern. I believe very strongly that
    we should not allow the bio-luddites to get away with this."

    Asimov had an excellent template to follow in the story "Bicentennial

    (paraphrasing) The protagonists instigated a lawsuit against a man
    with an artificial heart, claiming the mechanical heart made him no
    longer human (and thus not entitled to certain rights or payments).
    While intentionally losing the case, they were sure to have the
    decision written to take the broadest and most lenient view of what it
    means to be human. They followed with successive cases, 'losing' at
    each step along the way, until the only remaining legal difference
    between a robot and a human was the infinite lifespan.

    You'll have to read the story for the ending...

    Posted by [165]Stephen Kohls at March 7, 2005 04:55 PM

    Kurt, yes I'm the author. I'm happy to hear you've ordered a copy. The
    book is officially on sale tomorrow!
    Posted by [166]Ramez at March 7, 2005 05:29 PM

    Eugenics didn't just sterilize people in Nazi Germany. Nazi Germany
    got its laws and eugenics ideology from the US, where eugenics was a
    major component of the Progessive Movement (Woodrow Wilson signed into
    law New Jersey's eugenics law, the author of which was later convicted
    of war crimes, which he committed as an _inmate_ at a Nazi
    concentration camp. See Black's _War Against the Weak_ for the gory
    details.) In the US eugenics was fasionable and well funded by the
    Carnagie people among others. Alexander Graham Bell was a proponent of
    'positive' eugenics, and left the movement only after he realized that
    if they had been in power a century before he would never have been
    born(his mother was deaf)! I have H. G. Wells's views up on my web
    site -- go to the Erle Cox page -- from his 1901 book Anticipations.
    Utterly unreadable, which is why no one put it up at Project
    Gutenberg. Cox was among the few writers to attack the idea in his
    book Out of the Silence. Chesterton was another. The Inklings Press
    website has a lot more information as well. In the US, more than 60K
    people were mutilated in the 'progressive' states from around 1911
    through the seventies.
    Posted by [167]John H. Costello at March 8, 2005 07:12 AM

    The fact that Woodrow Wilson supported positive eugenics does not
    supprise me. When he became president, he fired all of the African
    American employees of the federal government. He also got us into WWI
    (the stupidest war in human history) as well as pushed the federal
    income tax up from 3% up to nearly 70%.

    Yeah, Woodrow Wilson was a real statist with a capital "S". Funny how
    statism, positive (coercive) eugenics, and restrictions on allowing
    people to enhance their own bodies and minds as personal choice seem
    to run together. The common denominator of all three is STATISM.
    Posted by [168]Kurt at March 8, 2005 09:47 AM

    i's down yonder to the funral home tuther nite an sumbodie said, 'at
    aint ol ned its jes his bodee." i reckin so.
    Posted by [169]bubba at March 23, 2005 01:47 PM

    Market forces and social imperatives have been moving biotechnology
    forward for a number of years. Breast implants, advanced prosthetic
    devices and other cosmetic and functional equipment are commonplace.
    Teen-aged girls are getting tummy tucks and facelifts at rates unheard
    of in past generations. The technology will soon allow for not only
    brighter students, but for more socially acceptable ones as well.
    Prozac has partly seen to that. The difference between these various
    current trends and the eugenics movement of the past is that it is
    individually motivated and not a result of government coercion.

    Since the author is participating in this discussion, I would be
    interested in hearing his predictions about how the personalities and
    temperaments of people who live 100 years from now will differ from
    those we see today. In my mind, this is a far more potentially
    interesting topic than whether blind people are equipped with
    cybernetic eyes.
    Posted by [170]JT Michcock at March 23, 2005 02:05 PM


  152. http://www.billmckibben.com/
  153. http://www.classicalvalues.com/archives/001389.html
  154. http://www.transterrestrial.com/archives/004930.html#004930
  155. http://www.notdeadyet.org/eughis.html
  156. http://www.transterrestrial.com/archives/004947.html
  157. http://www.transterrestrial.com/
  158. http://www.morethanhuman.org/blog/2005/03/new-reviews.htm
  159. http://www.classicalvalues.com/archives/002092.html
  160. mailto:kurt2100kimo at yahoo.com.tw
  161. mailto:kurt2100kimo at yahoo.com.tw
  162. http://www.morethanhuman.org/
  163. mailto:kurt2100kimo at yahoo.com.tw
  164. mailto:kurt2100kimo at yahoo.com.tw
  165. mailto:STKohls at aol.com
  166. http://www.morethanhuman.org/
  167. http://www.FossickerBooks.com/
  168. mailto:kurt2100kimo at yahoo.com.tw
  169. http://electronicbubba.blogspot.com/
  170. mailto:jtmichcock at yahoo.com

More information about the paleopsych mailing list