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Can We Change Our Natures?

There’s a lot of loose talk about human nature and all that on this blog. But aren’t we in the process of changing our natures?
Isn’t the conquest of death or at least indefinite longevity just around the corner? Isn’t transhumanism an allegedly dangerous idea precisely because it so accurately captures the inevitable post-natural future of our species? And through memory control we might be able to live without guilt or fear, while remembering everything we really need to know to live well. On the downside, am I stuck with being part of the last generation to die? The way to last as long as possible for now, studies show, is barely eating. Burning calories doesn’t work that well; the key is to have nothing worth burning. Maybe NYC should strictly ration the number of calories per resident.

Discussions - 6 Comments

Larry Arnhart (who wrote Darwinian Conservativism) argues that we are in no real danger of changing fundamental human nature, and I agree with him. There is no "aggression" gene, or one "aging" gene. Our proclivities are based on complex interactions of genes, and it will be a long time before we can faithfully manipulate them. He also notes that, given our current nature, it is politically unlikely that we will opt for scientific modifications that "shake the tree." Again, I agree with him.

Peter, you’ve got a bug for this evolution stuff...really distresses you, yes?

dain: On the point you make, I agree with Larry. And of course evolution occured, but it’s ridiculous to think its imperatives can explain all of human behavior.

Oh, but we’ll try. Who wants to wait for the "final" clinical trial, the proof that never came? Science-inspired diets based on the "latest research" -- more red wine, less pork, chew your food 600 times -- mark the road for genetic manipulation based ten times as much in faith as in fact; and sure, it sounds expensive, but you haven’t given it over to the open market yet. Or made it a federal right.

I think Arnhart’s point is that our natures determine our appetites and goals. Any changes we are likely to pursue will make us MORE human, not less. And what do we want? Longer life, success, happiness. It’ll be a cold day in Hell before we turn ourselves into social insects, and any program to create der Ubermensch would encourage such jealousies that it could not be sustained and would be outlawed forthwith.

That may be the intent, that our natural appetites and goals be satisfied and as that is the type of pursuit we have always followed, it is entirely human. The hope and promise that we would be MORE human and enhance the pleasure in being human is inherent in the development of these drugs. Of course, we have no way of knowing where these things will take us. Or it may be that where these things do take us will reveal what it truly IS to be human, and I am not sure we will like the revelation. We humans do not exactly fit in with nature and are always transforming what is into what we wish it to be. As we are natural, this is natural, but we are a transforming species, for whatever reason. I know, ants build anthills and a plague of locusts transforms a landscape, too, but really, it is not the same thing. Is it?

Who says it has to be a "program" that will turn us into whatever we will be as a result of these things? There is not federal program for nicer hair or whiter teeth and yet the marketplace has made the fulfillment of the desire in the improvement of that sort of thing very nearly a "right". There will be a market for these things. I know girls for whom ZIP would be as appealing as ECPs
to eliminate the unwanted from the mind as well as from the body and avoid the discomfort of guilt. Those drugs could effectively be packaged together for the marketplace.

I know this article downplays exercise in terms of longevity of life, but the point of exercise and aging is to prevent other health problems that would make age uncomfortable. Ever since this business of "Nurse Bloomberg’s" health program has come up, I have had visions of the logical end being to force people out of their offices and onto the streets for public exercise sessions. But that is extreme. Perhaps NYC could just demand that taxis and buses not take people on short trips of, say, less than a mile, without a doctor’s prescription or a handicapped pass. Think of the black market for those in the event!


Indefinite longevity seems horrible. I would not like it. Am I in the minority on that point? Since we are in a very prosperous spot in history, the young are willing and able to support the long-lived old. We can hope, but maybe not expect, that such prosperity is perpetual.

I think transhumanism is more along the lines of discovering the fountain of youth...The goal is entropy...or the reversal of extropy. Indefinite longevity conceived as living on a form of life support or cyrogenic freezing is a means to this end. I don’t think transhumanists share a bleak view of what getting old means...they are probably too bullish, and idealistic...basically they are seekers of the fountain of youth Utopia. They want to run marathons and scuba and skydive at the unbrittle age of 250...Makes for interesting science fiction at least.

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