The Choice of Non-Enhancement

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This topic contains 8 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  JWV 7 months ago.

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  • #5811

    grovell
    Participant

    In chapter 7 of Bess’s I was particularly struck by his vision of what life would be like for people who voluntarily opted out of the use of bioenhancements. The more I read, the more it seemed clear to me that, if bioenhancements became equally available to everyone, people really wouldn’t have a choice but to buy into the system or be effectively ostracized from the world community. Of course individual would still have the option to refrain from using enhancements. However such enhancements would completely alter society and the world as we know it today, adding to the consequences of opting out. We all would have to choice whether or not to modify ourselves, but we wouldn’t have a say in the enhancement of the world around us. Even if people disapproving of enhancement developed their own “Amish” community and economy, they would no longer be active, connected members of the world. In such a scenario, the choice of whether or not to use enhancements goes further. It becomes a choice of whether or not to be an active, productive, and competitive person in the new modern world. Those who do not enhance themselves face the challenge of living life on the outskirts of society and risk the quality of their lives as this restricts their potential to be active members of the world.

  • #5812

    acoyle
    Participant

    What really struck me in this particular context was the concept “appearing” to have a choice versus actually having the opportunity to make a decision for oneself. Obviously no one can be forced to make alterations to one’s biology, cognitive ability, or appearance. Yet, action to enhance oneself usually comes about as something other than the result of a well-thought out decision. It seems to be more of a “reaction” than a choice”. What I mean by this is that one may choose to enhance themselves as a reaction to a changing shift in society. (An athlete observes their competitors becoming stronger and quicker and more composed, and she too feels the “need” but not necessarily the “desire” to adjust herself to compete fairly on their level). In many ways this idea of decision making correlates to the story of the robo-rat. Indeed the robo-rat isn’t forced, in the typical definition of the word, into responding to the sensations delivered by the scientists. But at the same time, the robo-rat is not acting based of his desire to take the action that he does. He is influenced and this influence disrupts his ability to choose for himself. Yet for most, the rat seems to maintain his sense of free will. Bioenhancements take these implication to a much larger and more serious scale. For if humans are not truly choosing to engage in these modifications, then their whole life trajectory is being flipped upside down by technology without their true consent. This concept is indeed very frightening.

  • #5821

    blrosent
    Participant

    Bess discusses the key arguments both in favor of and against bioenhancements that overall leave society with the determining questions of whether or not the modification contributes to society’s flourishing or not, which forces society to make difficult trade-offs; and furthermore, bioenhancements raise the question of who gets enhances or not, where some citizens jump at the opportunity and some refuse, which will divide society to the most basic level of immune system differentiations. Such a notion leaves society with the choice of whether or not to be for or against bioenhancements, to partake in the phenomenon or to protest against it. There are several pro’s and con’s as discussed, but in the end, it is a question of autonomy and what each individual chooses to believe.

    In contrast, there is also the question, as previously mentioned, of who gets enhancements or not and who chooses who gets them. This is where the line is undefined and creates major conflict for the area of bioenhancements, because if one gains power over all, then that one person has power over everyone and everything. Technology is a powerful thing.

  • #5827

    Michael Bess
    Keymaster

    What all three posts above are saying, in effect, is that the “choice” to refuse enhancements will always exist, but it will be a choice that carries a high cost in terms of economic, social, and cultural consequences. The only way this could be avoided is if a significant percentage of persons around the planet joined together in refusing bioenhancements. I suspect that, at least in the next four or five decades, there will be plenty of people who choose the “non-mod” route. But beyond that point, it’s quite possible that a growing majority will embrace various kinds of self-modification.

  • #5840

    acoyle
    Participant

    I actually find it very unlikely that “plenty” of people will choose to go against the current. (Even in the short term) While this may be a pessimistic view, history has shown us that often when faced to go against the norm or defy the status quo, humans often choose not to do so. The holocaust is a clear example of this. As is the psychologic experiment at Yale where people were willing to inflict pain on innocent people simply because they were told do so. If humans are willing to stick with the norm even when the horrific results are very clear, I find it unlikely that they will reject bioenhancement options when the results are much more ambiguous. There simply would be so much pressure to participate and the fear of falling behind the rest of the population would be incredibly influential on their decision.

  • #5861

    RJB
    Participant

    To me, the most important distinction between adoption of the status quo and the choice not to adopt lies in the inherent nature of bioenhancement. In the past, adoption of new technologies has been external to the self. Think of the automobile or the iPhone. Both of these inventions have inarguably changed the way humans conduct their daily lives. With bioenhancement, though, humans face a new technology that alters who we are at our core. Never before have we been able to so powerfully tweak our innate flaws and imperfections to improve our personalities, cognitive abilities, or our genetic expression. These imperfections, which Bess has argued are critical to our personhood, could be molded or modified with new and powerful technologies. The nature of technology is about to be changed. Never before has the adoption of new technology prompted questions of erasing our humanity. Artificial intelligence and advanced robotics promise to raise similar ethical qualms. Never before has technology given us the potential of creating something that raises questions about whether or not our creations have personhood. These questions and more will need to be answered not only on a national scale, but internationally across all of humanity.

  • #5866

    anon2
    Participant

    One of the main points I have gleaned after reading all of the posts in this thread is that all of the bloggers are treating bioenhancements with a great deal of exceptionalism. That is, everyone discusses bioenhancements as if they should be treated in a different way than any other major technological developments of the past. The reality of it is, however, is that there have been other revolutionary technological innovations in the past that have also exerted remarkable influence on the world. I understand the tendency to treat bioenhancements with a level of exceptionalism, as we truly have not seen anything like them in the world before. To respond to this I would say that I am sure people thought the exact same thing with the railroad, cotton gin, wheel, or other technologies. I am merely suggesting that we be careful in our analysis of bioenhancements, as historically we have seen the introduction of other truly revolutionary and important technologies.
    In addition to treating human enhancements with a level of technological exceptionalism, I have also noticed the tendency to treat human enhancements as deterministic technologies. If one goes back and reads all of the posts it is obvious that people are implying that these enhancements will radically change our species. Is this a legitimate expectation to have? The first week we discussed how technological deterministic arguments are not good historical arguments and if we treat technology as deterministic we may be misinterpreting technology’s nuances.

  • #5868

    Spencer Robbins
    Participant

    In response to anon2, I am inclined to disagree. I believe that bioenhancements must be treated differently than past inventions because this wave of technology does more to alter us as humans than our environment. I believe that to a certain extent humans have always felt like masters of their environment. From the development of cars to travel large distances or planes and boats to cross large expanses of water humans are relatively comfortable with technologies that allow mastery of the environment. Bioenhancements however allow for a certain impact on our inherent humanity and thus can not be considered within the same vein as material technologies.

  • #5869

    JWV
    Participant

    Anon2, I think you make an excellent point. Bioenhancements have the potential to revolutionize humanity and why we view and interact with the world, but countless other technological breakthroughs have had similar effects. As a result, bioenhancements should not be placed on an exalted pedestal simply because they are revolutionary. However, the drastic difference between bioenhancements and the railroad, for example, is that bioenhancements can directly affect our cognition, physical attributes, and sense of personhood. Thus, they have the potential to change humans in a way that no previous technology possibly could have. It is much more than the leap from hunter-gatherer society to agriculture or from horseback travel to the railroad. Bioenhancements could potentially alter the entire human species, creating a new sense of humanity or even a post-humanity. Yet, we should also be slow to conclude that they will have this effect given that it will be decades at the earliest before revolutionary bioenhancements are widely available to the public. Furthermore, the realm of bioenhancements is largely uncharted territory and, while we can speculate, we have no way of knowing what effect bioenhancements will have on the human race. It is not out of the realm of possibility that bioenhancements could eliminate our sense of humanity and personhood, and the non-enhanced will be the benefactors of bioenhancement’s failure. Until that point (which may never occur if bioenhancements are a resounding success), bioenhancements will hold the potential to greatly expand human capabilities and those who refuse enhancement will not be able to compete with the enhanced.

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