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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.


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.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Nature Vs. Nurture and Other Misnomers -- AL, Bio, CPS, Psych

While discussing our usual ideas about expanding human potential last year on the Imagestream list, a version of the old nature vs. nurture question came up... This time discussing a huge area affecting human ability -- "innate curiosity, anxiety and arousal, introversion/extroversion, obsessiveness, mania -- all those things that are at least partly heritable and which all influence intelligence to a degree."

This discussion took us away from our usual commentaries on exercises such as monitoring your sidebands of awareness, accelerating learning with Borrowed Genius, the Gravity Position, held-breath underwater swimming, methods for boosting circulation to the brain (from visualization to putting your feet up), etc.

So of course, I had to comment...

"In my opinion, this is probably the hardest area to judge in the 'nature vs. nurture' debate. A great part of my belief in 'nurture' as a potentially stronger factor in intelligence doesn't have to do with how you were raised but how you decide to act. In other words, if you're an obsessive reader and writer, you're far more likely to be a writer than someone with a greater 'natural gift' for language who doesn't take much interest in the written word. Self-evident? Of course.

"But since we can't determine to what degree the impulse to become obsessively absorbed in your work (or art/ writing/ research/ inventions) is inherited, it's still hard to give any kind of definitive conclusion about which aspect of our nature influences humans the most."

Some would argue that the studies of twins reared apart show that while environmental factors have big consequesnces early on, these differences fade with time. And hence, they suggest, while a horrible environment can be crippling, the positive effects of a good environment -- loving parents, SES, literature present, etc have diminishing returns when effecting achievement and intelligence -- the better the environment, the less effect it will have.

I answered...

"Here's where I would differ. I think the positive effects of a good environment can be quite profound -- they simply aren't in most cases, so kids from relatively positive environments are usually bright and/or well adjusted, not necessarily earthshaking geniuses. I believe people can be given enormous advantages if you know how, however, and more importantly, they can actively change themselves. Why don't people try to be as smart as they can be? Or as rich, fit, good-looking or successful? This isn't a question of why people run into walls at the (theoretical) upper limits of their abilities, but why they don't make the effort in the first place. I think you need more than genetics to answer that one."

Many people are willing to accept the negative influence an environment can have. Households below the poverty line which add in the prenatal effects of drug use/ smoking/ alcohol and then perhaps some criminal role models - then yes, most people will admit that a "getting hit over the head with a lead pipe environment" can seriously affect your future prospects. But that still doesn't say anything about the good that better, more nurturing homes can offer.

So I said something myself. "To equal such an environment in a positive sense is (supposedly) very difficult. But honestly, when I was growing up, I was writing stories in my head constantly -- and then acting them out. I had an entire band of (imaginary) shapeshifting sentient supercomputers (actually sentient black holes with perfect control over their gravitational fields and faster than light processing speeds) serving as my actors, musicians, stage managers (they could reconstruct galaxies, so Middle Earth or the Federation was never a problem), FX guys (see previous parathetical comment), directors, auxiliary writers... and also my techs, consultants, researchers, confidants and all around source of feedback and 'non-traditional' information. And as a result of my interactions, I was constantly writing whole novels, plays, movies, comics, albums and TV shows. And why not?

"But as a result, I was highly imaginative as a child and teen, and frequently saw the world very differently than others (who did not, after all, have an optional overlay of alternative worlds in their visual fields, or a reality-warping troop of guards declaiming about their Purpose and using artificial worlds as paperweights). But then, I had a sister who started me off on all-embracing live-action acting/role-playing, I lived out in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do but read and describe fictional realities to my fictional support staff (I'd say writing, also, but I had poor hand-eye coordination and didn't write too quickly) and had a tendency to sit with my feet up against the raised backs of the seats in front of me on the bus for much of the interminable rides (which went as long as four hours before the end). I also had a habit of looking at the world from the physical perspective of the various characters I was reading about, especially if I decided to model or role-play them afterwards (effectively using Borrowed Genius). I listened to some of my sidebands of awareness because there was, after all, nothing else to do.

"Sometimes I'd even get so bored I'd hold my breath, just to see how long I could. A few times I even ran like that, to test my wind. During the one year we had to take P.E. in High School, we spent about half the time indoors, which I spent almost exclusively on Ping Pong. (They did force a little basketball on us, but it was North Carolina, after all.) And during all this time I continued to 'read-saturate-read.' All the way through my senior year.

"My point? I have reason to believe that at the time, at least, my mind was highly unusual in its creative capacities, and probably owing, to a large degree, to the experiences I inflicted on myself. Now imagine someone doing all of that, and more than that (I haven't described my every unusual mental quirk, by any means) and then adding in floatation tanks. Image Streaming to live partners. Borrowed Genius, Beachhead, Toolbuilder. Dr. Wenger's brainbuilding marathon. Perhaps even nootropics or other experimental technologies (whatever you think is best). My impression is that you could create an incredibly positive environment for yourself, or someone else equally devoted. But this motivation, and the strategies to exercise it, cannot be merely an inborn gift. You have to choose it for yourself."

My partner in this three-way debate commented, "Yet if your view of environment is as a more tempered, typical role models versus intellectual role models, I would say that you are wrong. Part of the stickiest problem with nature versus nurture is this blurry conception of environment as absolute worst to best home and the blurry concept of genes as merely being the 'engine' of g rather than also including the conglomeration of personal traits -- all highly heritable that affect achievement yet are considered a result of upbringing."

A good point, I might add...

Still, I felt compelled to argue, "But I think you also see homes on the lower bound of what's possible far more often than the upper (if such even exist). So there are far more hopeless dropouts, criminals and drug addicts than there are Teslas, da Vincis or Ramanujans. But that doesn't mean these hyper-positive alternatives are not possible, or that they're not what we should be shooting for."


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