April 15, 2016 at 6:33 pm #5938
In debating the moral legitimacy of enhancement, the concept of “humanity” is often called into question. Though what constitutes humanity remains murky, it is inextricably linked with our species, homo sapiens. In this anthropological context, it is interesting to consider the impact of enhancements on our genetic makeup and to consider bioenhancement as a possible accelerant of evolution. Historically, of course, the evolution of human beings was extraordinarily slow — homo habilus appeared over 2 million years ago, then was replaced by homo erectus, neanderthals about 250,000 years ago, and finally homo sapiens about 100,000 years ago. However, many anthropologists actually separate homo sapiens into several different evolutionary steps, suggesting that even our current species underwent stages of fragmentation in which the species was extremely altered. Throughout this process, scientists have pointed to several “mating events” in which a slightly dominant species mated with a slightly lesser homonid until the lesser species slowly became extinct. It is rational to assume, of course, that evolution will continue and that the dominant species on earth will eventually be a slightly different homonid from homo sapiens — is it possible that bioenhancement could serve as a catalyst for this event? Could an extensive alteration of our bodies, and even our very DNA, lead to a new type of human being which scientists will someday classify as separate from homo sapiens? This seems a more likely possibility if we consider a timeline of several centuries, and remember that many genetic enhancements may prove to be hereditary. The process, though accelerated from a historical perspective, will still be too slow for humans to perceive, yet it is possible that our inventions could slightly alter the course of evolution, and that the human beings of the next millennium could be “homo sapiens 2.0.”
April 15, 2016 at 6:41 pm #5941
This is an interesting question from multiple angles, and one that requires a bit of nuance to answer well. It is important first to understand that the term “species” has its own flaws, but generally has much to do with an organism’s ability to produce fertile offspring with another organism. If we take Bess’ idea that many different cultures may take on different paths to enhancement, especially genetic manipulation, it seems possible that such a population may so distinctly modify itself that its genetic codes would not work well in trying to reproduce with other modified humans. That being said, we make distinctions that aren’t necessarily separated by reproductive ability, such as with Neanderthals, a separate “species” with whom we combined a significant amount of DNA through mating. Homo Sapiens 2.0 may well come to be, but what sets them apart will be just as arbitrary a distinction as our current set of taxonomic distinctions.
TL;DR arbitrary distinctions are terrible yet rampant, so it’s a likely possibility
April 15, 2016 at 6:48 pm #5945
In response to the OP, I believe there is a high probability that we human beings play a direct part on our own evolution given that we continue researching, advancing, and perhaps testing germline interventions. If germline interventions are used on human beings for the sake of enhancement, the enhanced human beings will produce “enhanced” offspring as well. By altering the child’s DNA, germline interventions can, slowly but surely, produce human beings with DNA that is slightly different from current homo sapiens. Furthermore, if these enhanced human beings decide to mate with one another a bit more exclusively, it can arguably cause the extinction of current homo sapiens bit by bit, much like how other Hominids like the homo erectus died out. Others half-jokingly speculate that this “playing God” and manipulating the DNA of species may have already played out in another planet on another galaxy in such a way that life on that planet has evolved to be robots, nanotechnology, or self-created beings. It is interesting to think about how different avenues in bioenhancements such as nanotech, robotics, AI, bioelectronics, and genetic interventions may eventually create new and different species and beings that totally change what we view as “natural” or “organic.”
April 15, 2016 at 6:52 pm #5949
Taxonomy itself is rather arbitrary and human-imposed. So, I could imagine in the faraway distant future, if we become very distinct from post-humans, that these post-humans would take it upon themselves to rewrite taxonomy to create a qualitative distinction between them and us. This could, then, be considered a result of bioenhancement, as bioenhancement itself could catalyze this decision in the end.
However, I can’t imagine this happening until after these distinctions are already so built into the new societal structures and social norms that will have been built into the fabric of our new bioenhanced community. This means that the implications of this will have already been solidified, but changing the taxonomic definitions will serve to arbitrarily justify these distinctions. Again, this is so speculative that I cannot say it with any degree of certainty, but I could imagine it happening this way.
April 15, 2016 at 6:56 pm #5951
This of course depends on what definitions you are using for speciation. The most commonly used is reproductive inviability, which would takes some very serious alterations to DNA to accomplish. However it appears you are suggesting a different means of speciation, based on the example of dominant hominids mating with “slightly lesser homonids”. While there are certainly alternative means to define speciation, I think it is extremely important to clearly define what different species of hominid actually implies before considering how this might occur. A separation of enhanced and un-enhanced is certainly possible, perhaps even likely if germ-line modifications become the norm, but declaring a new species of new human is a gigantic leap to make without a concretely defined separation of the two classes of hominids.
Another problem with declaring enhanced humans as a different (and presumably better) species is the inequality this will inherently create in society. Presumably both classes will still interact with each other, as we both will inhabit the same environment. It might be worth considering if it would ever be worth declaring different classes of hominids due to the unnecessary disparity that the distinction would likely create.
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