Questions About the Future: What Is Human -- and, by the Way, What Percentage?

What percentage of a human being can be replaced before we can no longer describe the total product -- the composite of replacements -- as actually "human"? "Percentage" might not be the proper term. It's to get your mind wrapped around proportions. What is human? It's a question that ethically needs an answer, before we go too far in genetic manipulation. Who will get the goodies, in the future, and who will be relegated to the comparative salt mines, when it comes to genetic enhancements that add to one's length of years? We see the state of the native American Indians and the aborigines in Australia, trapped between cultures, left behind in so many ways. Meanwhile, technology marches on. The frayed fringe of humanity will not be pulled up to the top of the curtain rod for genetic enhancements to add thirty or three hundred years to their lives. The Paris Hiltons and the Donald Trumps will be ahead of them. We might assume that the brain itself, with its complex neuronal network, can be kept young by adding stem cells to create new brain tissue that can replace the old. But that's just the primitive beginning. We already have machines that can tell us what parts of the brain are functioning better than other parts. We already can discern essential differences between "old" brains and "young" ones -- between "smart" brains and "dumb" ones. Technology is advancing faster than we are as ethically grounded creatures. Nanotechnology is on the verge of being able to deliver messages, drugs, or even mind control gadgets to the brain with or without our knowledge or consent.

Here are a few examples of what's going on right now: Cornell Dots "By surrounding fluorescent dyes with a protective silica shell, Cornell University researchers have created fluorescent nanoparticles with possible applications in displays, biological imaging, optical computing, sensors and microarrays such as DNA chips."

Virtual Vermin Saves Lab Rats. "This month, the American Diabetes Association and biopharmaceutical company Entelos completed a virtual mouse that will be used to study cures for type 1 diabetes. Running on a server, the non-obese diabetic virtual mouse will allow researchers to test the effects of new drugs on the virtual animal's cells, tissues, organs and physiological processes..." (Wired News) HULC exoskeleton system ready for soldier tests ³The HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier) allows soldiers to carry weights of up to 200lbs (91kg) with little effort and is designed to reduce the strain of carrying heavy equipment. It works by transferring the load to the ground through the exoskeleton¶s titanium legs and uses an onboard computer to sense and mimic the user¶s movements. The battery powered device, which can fit different body sizes, also allow for jumps, squats, crawling and slow-speed running.´ (see more interesting "Trends" at: ) The brain that is created to live on, and on, gathering who knows how many memories and what kinds of knowledge, may evolve into something that itself is not quite human anymore. But one benefit of death is that it makes life precious. We are not pieces of rock or chunks of slag. Though we do not want to die before we feel we should, some limit -- say, several thousand years --should be acceptable. I doubt it will be acceptable to some types of people who will lust for life at any cost, and who will insist on living "forever" --a definite possibility in the future. Whatever is added to create a human body --whether we're talking about enhanced DNA engineering, or, inevitably, if we continue as we are going, without ethical boundaries, we will witness the emergence of superbody/super-brain specimens. Some will surely be created to "want" to compete in who knows what kinds of sports. Some may be the product of genius parents who do not even like each other (sperm and egg banks have already allowed such creations to occur). Whatever is coming, "human" as we know it is about to become obsolete. There will be pills developed not only for birth control, but to make sure only the best possible genetic product will see life on the planet. Who will make those decisions? Some will be made "for" us by the wise people we call scientists, religious leaders, politicians, warriors and judges, who also brought us the atomic bomb, apartheid, jihad, race riots, the Holocaust, and biological warfare? Let us hope some religious leader with a fanatical following doesn't get the opportunity to eradicate "nonbelievers" along the way. Let us hope that a White Supremacist doesn't get nanotechnology on his or her side. Let us hope. Mostly, life trudges on. Some people still live in some parts of the world today as if they were in the middle ages. They are about to become those oddities that are kept on a reservation, as in Huxley's Brave New World- odd pockets, here and there in the world, of specimens allowed to survive because of their cultural or genetic distinctiveness, much as zoo specimens. Only mere distance--always decreasing as the world shrinks under the assault of high speed transport -- has kept these strains of human beings separate from the rest of us, with their

"quaint" but workable ways of coping with a nature inside us that remains red in tooth and claw, though carefully hidden under polite terms and surface manners. That Veblen veneer of gentility that obscures what lurks underneath, that the human being still fights to control: a temper, an appetite, an urge to mate with an unavailable other. There are two very close relatives to the human not yet extinct: they share with us some 98% or more of our genetic heritage. One is the chimpanzee -- a very political kind of animal that screams, has tantrums, and beats up inferiors or rivals. War and trouble are middle names for many chimpanzees. . In contrast, the bonobo, which so closely resembles the chimpanzee that its existence is overshadowed by its more dramatic and naughty cousin, is cooperative, peace-loving, likes to negotiate, and has all the characteristics we prize among "good" human beings. Human beings, in fact, seem to carry both kinds of genetic strains within the strands of their muddled chromosomes, insofar as we seem to have both chimps and bonobos among us.

The chimpanzee can be a muscle-flexing bully Being human means to carry a lot of evolutionary baggage that creates a flood of emotions and fears, causes us to make mistakes and errors, and also, to its advantage, to feel triumph, joy, and pleasure. Even today, roller-coaster emotions are considered a problem in society. Nobody should scream "FIRE!" in a crowded theater. Nobody should be killing bulls in an arena, either, to satisfy some primitive urge within. We should be rising above such flaws in human nature.

The comparatively gentle bonobo often mates face to face, as do human beings. But will we become better human beings? Further, will we be forced to be something "better" -- whether we like it or not? Could a whistleblower exist in a future where passions are controlled to keep the status quo? Will "I like you" be as far as our passions will be allowed to go? Could the thrilling passion between Romeo and Juliet be judged as obscene in the future, if it

occurred in real life, since it's actually just "sex" and some hormone flows going on between two personalities attracted to each other because of the way they smell and behave? In the not-that-distant future, unless humanity's penchant for war and uncontrolled greed thrusts us back to the province of the native American Indian's culture, or that of the Australian aborigine, what difference if your head gets cut off, if it can be replaced in a few seconds with a new one, if that is still 'you'? But how will you know (if you've been engineered) what you have become, will become, wish to become? What if one could replace one's own head with a brand new one -- including face, personality and brand new memories, made to order, and tough it's genetically "your" flesh and blood, it's enhanced, of course, to perfection by your neighborhood engineers and your latest lover's expressed new desires. What will you really be? Tired of being the person you have most lately been? Imagine twenty, thirty, a hundred different "lives" being led by the same "person" -- shades of Total Recall for people who might even choose to be built like Arnold Schwarzenneger, who might choose to have a personality everyone will "love" -- with all the nasty stuff removed. No more ADHD kids! No more serial killers (except on special, secret order, or for 'reality shows' where you can be a 'killer for a day'?). No more plastic surgery--everyone will have a perfect nose. You'll be forever slender, with no flaws in the skin. You'll have lovely, big eyes, your ears won¶t be too big or stick out, and there will be no lumps, bumps, or pimples...

Makes me think we'll all end up looking like this:

What if memories and thoughts were replenished constantly, updated constantly, so that at worst, only a few minutes' time is lost when you decide you want a new look and get yourself a new head that's waiting for you when you tire of what you're now using? "Use your head" could have a whole new meaning. Anything's possible. The roll of the dice may be over. Misfits, teratomas, Elephant Men will vanish. What about our capacity for compassion? For sacrifice?

One can imagine being wired to feel less pain so one can experience more kinds of adventures, or being created to withstand tremendous pressure underwater, or to be able to breathe in water without needing air. Imagine walking around on the moon without a space suit, because your body can withstand such extremes. I

repeat, anything is possible in the future, unless we wreck the onrushing train of "progress." The question is... What Is Human? It is the question I have asked my students to consider for three decades, and I ask you, now, to consider it as well.


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