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Future Imperative

What if technology were being developed that could enhance your mind or body to extraordinary or even superhuman levels -- and some of these tools were already here? Wouldn't you be curious?

Actually, some are here. But human enhancement is an incredibly broad and compartmentalized field. We’re often unaware of what’s right next door. This site reviews resources and ideas from across the field and makes it easy for readers to find exactly the information they're most interested in.

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The future is coming fast, and it's no longer possible to ignore how rapidly the world is changing. As the old order changes -- or more frequently crumbles altogether -- I offer a perspective on how we can transform ourselves in turn... for the better. Nothing on this site is intended as legal, financial or medical advice. Indeed, much of what I discuss amounts to possibilities rather than certainties, in an ever-changing present and an ever-uncertain future.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Eugenic Apocalypse? Or Not? -- Bio

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Some human enhancement enthusiasts have been accused of being obsessed with eugenics as a means of evolving the human species. Others can be caught griping about the genetic "decline of the species" as too many of "the wrong people" reproduce.

Human eugenics, the selective breeding of people to bring out favored traits, is a common scare word in these debates, mainly because of its association with the Nazis. Technically, eugenics doesn't have to be anything like their perverted massacres and human experiments, but that's rather beside the point.

When it comes to altering human genetics in a significant way, eugenic breeding programs (or an unconscious, genetic "decline of Man") will almost certainly be a non-issue over the next generation. Human genetics are apt to change so radically over the next several decades that worrying about long-term breeding trends will seem pointless in retrospect.

Why? Because we're making such advances in terms of genetic technology (particularly the information technology that is an underpinning of so much cutting edge biotech) that before long we'll probably start altering the human genome outright. I suspect researchers will start eliminating major genetic defects/diseases first -- a practice that will not be restricted to just the planned pregnancy or even the unborn child. Rather, gene therapy will reach a high level of reliability and be used to treat kids and adults with major genetically derived problems, especially those conditions that will ultimately kill their victims (e.g. small children affected by Tay-Sachs disease, a particularly painful death).

The need to treat these individuals who would otherwise perish will likely lead to ever-improving gene therapy techniques even as genetic research into the nature of genetically-based "high intelligence" (and other gifts) plunges ahead. Of course, there are presumably many factors involved in superior intelligence, and they can probably vary widely among different geniuses in different fields with different styles. Nevertheless, scientists will no doubt begin isolating genetic keys to better (and worse) memory, attentiveness, etc and use these building blocks to at least say with reasonable certainty how we can improve on the brain without damaging/undermining any of its existing functions.

Admittedly, reaching this level of technology may take some time. But it's doubtful we'll be struggling with these matters for more than a generation. Compare this to how much progress a eugenics program could make, even if it were initiated right now, over the course of three generations. Or how far "genetic drift" could take us in that amount of time. After three quarters of a century, if gene therapy hasn't transformed humanity, then the direct manipulation of pre-natal genes almost certainly will.

The other reason I'm not as concerned about theories of human genetic "devolution" is that I do feel intelligence/brilliance/giftedness has a lot more to do with education, upbringing and basic personality than we're sometimes willing to accept -- and I believe all those things can be improved on.

Also, where genetics has undermined the function of the brain, it may be possible to change things for the better through non-genetically based "treatments." For example, what if the circulation to your brain was slower than the ideal because the blood vessels ultimately supplying it (by feeding your circulating cerebral-spinal fluid and so on) were a bit smaller than average? Or simply a bit smaller than they should ideally be?

Well, guess what? There are ways to increase both that blood flow and the size of those vessels. Your carotid arteries can be increased permanently in size by holding your breath and swimming underwater for a total of one hour's worth of time (in segments, I believe, of at least two minutes or more at a go) per day for three weeks. (Which has been found to also permanently increase measured IQ by a small but significant amount.) You can also temporarily increase blood flow to your head by lying down on the floor and positioning a chair under your lower legs in a way that comfortably supports them about a foot off the ground.

And there you go -- you've now physically altered the state of your brain, whatever your genetics may have to say about it. Alternatively, all this research into nootropic drugs may be able to influence the function of our brains, and some substances may prove more effective for individuals with serious deficiencies (that a particular drug addresses) than for those with no real limitations. Nootropic nutrients may be even more promising in this regard, since there seem to be fewer issues of side effects.

All of these advances suggest to me that common concerns about genetics are not as dire as they may seem. The two most frequent apocalypses (that we'll be buried under a tidal wave of idiots and incompetents or that we'll be replaced by a new master race of genetic supermen) don't seem as plausible given bio-tech research in a number of promising directions.

Then again, perhaps I'm being optimistic about the supermen. =)


Author's Note: I wrote the original version of this article before my recent posts on brain development being markedly effected by the manipulation of protein levels. What discoveries like that one illustrate is that we really don't know what course biotechnologies -- or any of the other human enhancement technologies -- are going to take over the next decade, much less the rest of the 21st Century. So, aside from giving us reason to be humble in our comments, we're also reminded that one or more major discoveries could easily vault a particular method for human evolution far ahead of the others.

Will we suddenly have genetically enhanced superbabies? Gene therapy optimized adults? Accelerated learning derived savants? Nootropic wunderkinder?

Who knows. What we do know is that we're getting more hints all the time that everything in our world could change at the drop of a hat, and that it's better to know what's going on than to simply get caught flat-footed.


Future Imperative

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November 30, 2005 2:12 AM  
Blogger cylon said...

I am sure you have heard the song "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club but have you ever given much thought to its meaning? While on Earth, you are living in a world of reincarnation which is governed by the law of karma. Karma begins to propel you as Soul on a personal journey through the universe. Karma ends when you have reached enlightenment and fully realise that this physical reality and the Universe itself is just an illusion. When you reach a state of knowingness that there is but One all pervading essence and that essence or consciousness is You!
So what is Karma and how does it work? While in the illusion you have a soul. This soul lives past, present, and future lives. To grow in love, joy, and awareness, you reincarnate into a series of physical bodies to experience different existences. This road leads to the experiences of being both sexes, all races, religions, and ethnic types throughout many lifetimes.
Karma in its simplicist terms can be described by the biblical statement "as you sow, so also shall you reap". Karma is the principle of cause and effect, action and reaction, total cosmic justice and personal responsibility. It brings 'good' experiences as well as 'bad' - a debt must be repaid and a blessing rewarded.

A more indepth esoteric look at karma gives us the following distinctions: Sanchita Karma: the accumulated result of all your actions from all your past lifetimes. This is your total cosmic debt. Every moment of every day either you are adding to it or you are reducing this cosmic debt. Prarabdha Karma: the portion of your "sanchita" karma being worked on in the present life. If you work down your agreed upon debt in this lifetime, then more past debts surface to be worked on. Agami Karma: the portion of actions in the present life that add to your "sanchita" karma. If you fail to work off your debt, then more debts are added to "sanchita" karma and are sent to future lives. Kriyamana Karma: daily, instant karma created in this life that is worked off immediately. These are debts that are created and worked off - ie. you do wrong, you get caught and you spend time in jail.
As a soul, you experience a constant cycle of births and deaths with a series of bodies for the purpose of experiencing this illusionary world gaining spiritual insights into your own true nature until the totality of all experiences show you Who you really are - the I AM! Until you have learned, you will find that pretending that the rules of karma do not exist or trying to escape the consequences of your actions is futile.
Although it may often "feel" like punishment, the purpose of karma is to teach not to punish. Often the way we learn is to endure the same type of suffering that we have inflicted on others and also rexperience circumstances until we learn to change our thinking and attitudes.

We are all here to learn lessons as spiritual beings in human form. These lessons are designed to help us grow into greater levels of love, joy, and awareness. They teach us our true nature of love. Where we do not choose love, show forgiveness, teach tolerance, or display compassion, karma intervenes to put us back on the path of these lessons. Quite simply, the only way to achieve a state of karmic balance is to be love.
Before you incarnated into your present personality, you agreed to put yourself in the path of all that is you need to learn. Once you got here, you agreed to forget this. Karma is impersonal and has the same effect for everyone. It is completely fair in its workings and it is predictable - "do onto others as you would have them do unto you" is a way to ensure peace and tranquillity in your own life as well as the lives of those you come into contact with. The law of karma is predictable - "as you sow, so shall you reap" what is done to you is the net result of what you have done to others!
Karma gives you the opportunity at every moment to become a better person than you are and to open up to the realization that you are the master of your own fate.

The goal of karma is to give you all the experiences that you need to evolve into greater levels of love, joy, awareness, and responsibility. Karma teaches that you are totally responsible for the circumstances of your life. They keep you on the straight and narrow until you have mastered your vehicle and can ride freely on your own. Once you understand that you are the master of your own circumstances and that everything you experience is a direct result of your past actions due to your thinking and emotional responses you can overcome its seeming negative effects by creating only 'good' karma.
Karma forces us to look beyond ourselves (oneness) so that we can see ourselves as we truly are Whole, Complete, at One with everything. Once we truly understand ourselves, we can see our divinity and our unity with all life.
Karma drives us to service. Love means service. Once you accept total responsibility for your life, you see yourself as a soul in service to God. Once you do, you become a fully realized being, allowing God to experience the illusion through you.
Belief in karma and an understanding of its workings will lead you to a life of bliss. Only your own deeds can hinder you. Until the time comes when we release ourselves from our own self-imposed shackles of limitation and fully understand who and what we are we will live under the mantle of karma. So until that day why not create some wonderful experiences for ourselves by "doing onto others, as we would have them do unto us". personal development

October 17, 2006 4:13 AM  
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