Enhancing Evolution Phase II
"The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking." -Albert Einstein
The human species moves at incredible speeds relative to the time it has occupied the planet Earth and, even more amazing, in comparison to the evolution of their fellow occupants. It truly is astounding when you take the time to think about it. Of the planet's 4.54 billion years of existence, the genus homo has only been around for 2.5 million years, and that is the very beginning, actual homo sapiens have only been around for 500,000 years. Actual "modern humans" have only occupied our tiny speck of a corner of a massive universe for 200,000 years. That is, if you look at your keyboard as the whole of Earth's life, we have occupied the equivalent of that little squiggle that no one uses in the upper left under the escape button.
Yet here we are, prosperous to the point of our own destruction, prolific to the tune of our own demise. We represent the pinnacle of evolution on this planet and we are poised to make the next leap in our evolution, either by necessity or design.
In my very brief description of human enhancement last week I mentioned the inevitable conflict that would arise with the advent of said enhancements. As I was thinking further into the subject, I began to realize that my assumption of conflict may be the problem. As a species, we have become so inundated with the idea of conflict at any sign of change, we don't even question the fact that it will happen. As we stand on this precipice of human evolution, we must focus not only on the body, but the mind as well.
With that being said, I would like to take a look at some of the possible conflicts that could arise when human enhancement takes hold and some possible ways to avoid said conflict.
The first conflict, and the most fundamental, that will come about is the reason why an individual would choose to enhance themselves.
For those that choose to enhance there will be two very "simple" reasons: curiosity and necessity. The latter being those who live with crippling disease or deformation and are looking to restore a sense of normalcy to their life. Their major roadblock will come when they realize that true human enhancement has very little to do with normal and everything to do with transcending the idea of normal. The former will latch on to the idea of transcendence, driven by a curiosity for the unknown coupled with the desire to take that next step. For those that embrace this path, looking back has never really been an option anyway and adaptation is the name of the game.
Those who stand firm in the idea that human enhancement is an affront to humanity will do so on the basis of a complicated belief system. Undoubtedly the word "pure" will play a large part in the argument against human enhancement. The purists would look at the human body and mind as a whole that is slowly eaten away at by enhancement. The more that is replaced with tech, the less that can be called truly human. There will most definitely be a religious aspect to this argument, something along the lines of deconstructing the perfection of their deity's creation and that the changes would have been made if that deity had wanted them to.
There is a reason this conflict can be seen as both fundamental and, unfortunately, inevitable. When broken down to its most basic elements the conflict arises in the definition of what it means to be human. Are we merely an assortment of molecules spinning through the ether of existence, living in cohabitation with the countless other molecules that create what we see as reality? Or, has our development been a critical step in the design of something beyond our understanding? These questions have plagued our species since the beginning of our time on this planet and, until we can see past the pettiness of difference in belief, will continue to do so.
You Know You're Right
Yet another of the many aspects of humanity that has plagued us since time immemorial is the rights of the individual versus the rights of the whole, the "greater good" scenario. More specifically, in this case, regulated enhancement versus autonomous freedom to enhance.
As Americans (sorry universe, you know how we are, selfish and all that) there are certain "unalienable rights" that were set down in our Declaration of Independence, specifically "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." As to whether those rights still exist today is a discussion in itself, but one that holds a lot of weight in our current evolutionary ideals.
Personally, in our current mode of thinking, I don't see any form of autonomy ever existing as it would pertain to human enhancement. Our culture is regulated more than any really dream to consider and, while the company line is that regulation is for the safety of the people, most can see that it is to make as much money as possible from goods and services. I have no doubt that initially rules and regulations existed to protect the people, but they involve money and money corrupts whatever it touches.
I understand the want for regulation in a very short-sighted view, it protects and allows for checks and balances so that one person, or a collective of people, don't gain too much power. Unfortunately, humanities natural rise to power causes what originally started as the opinion of the people to become the opinion of the elite few. As we see very plainly today, the power presented to the few corrupts just as easily as money (odd how that works).
Regulation comes from the fear of autonomous masses and fear is never a great base to start building anything. Don't get me wrong, autonomy in human enhancement scares me as well, but not half as much as never being allowed to fully live a life of my choosing.
I don't know if there will ever come a time when humans stop letting their fear of the unknown rule their judgement, but I know that as long as it does we will never grow as a species.
As has been stated many times, human enhancement would contribute directly to the evolution of humanity. This presents a very dangerous scenario: the haves versus the have nots. Simply stated, some will either not be able to afford enhancement or will disagree with it completely. In a classic evolutionary scenario this actually separates humanity into two distinct species. While I would love to say that we share our planet well, we don't. Thousands of species are on the brink of extinction because of our gluttonous consumption of natural resources and our insane rate of reproduction.
To prevent this massive rift in eventual species, two very hefty changes need to be made.
First, human enhancement must be made available to all. This is an absolute must in order to prevent the conflict of thought. If the choice were given directly to each human, and not through some governmental agency, the decision would lay squarely on the shoulders of each person (as a side note, enhancement should be free as well...a stretch, I know).
This leads to the second change; a massive movement of our perception of difference in our society. The movement toward autonomy would help with this, but it would still take each person responding with something other than defiance and hatred, as we tend to do far too often today. If, as individuals, we actually begin to enjoy being who we are, seeing someone different would elicit respect for the difference, not fear.
The consequences that would be faced if this change could not be made would be catastrophic, as natural selection tends to be. That's right, evolution has proven time and again that once a dominant species rises, the species directly under it tends to bear the brunt of that rise. The only way that we could avoid this is by fully accepting the difference between the enhanced and the "normal."
I end this part of the discussion fully aware of the amount of speculation involved, but secure in the fact that this future is coming. If we don't start thinking about it now, we will find ourselves wholly unprepared for what lies ahead.
See you next week...