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“Human Nature” and its alterability

Past, present, and future of human becoming
March 13 & 14, 2009 Einsteinsaal, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities
Workshop of the research group Neuroscience in Context (http://www.nic-online.eu) within the European Platform of the Life Sciences, Mind Sciences and the Humanities funded by the Volkswagen Foundation (Hannover) Organisation: Jan-Christoph Heilinger, Lambros Malafouris, Saskia K. Nagel

Programme Friday March 13, 2009=
9.00 9.30 9.45 Registration Opening, introduction Human Nature and its Alterability: The Human Enhancement Continuity Thesis (HECT). Human Nature: Work in Progress? Lambros Malafouris/ Saskia Nagel/ Jan-Christoph Heilinger Andy Clark Andreas Roepstorff Chris Gosden

Section I: Human Evolution

10.45 11.45 12.15 13.15 14.30 15.30 16.00 17.00

Coffee break
Brain Plasticity and Mind Technologies

Lunch break
Material Tensions – the Plasticity of the Human Body versus the Stability of Artefacts

Coffee break
Super-plasticity: Implications for the Definition of Human Nature Merlin Donald

End of first day

Saturday March 14, 2009 Section II: Current ethical issues
9.30 10.30 11.30 12.00 13.00 14.00 15.00 15.30 16.30
17.00

Anthropological Arguments – Can they be useful in the Moral Debates about Human Enhancement? Schools vs. Recombinant DNA as ways of enhancing the human genome

Jan-Christoph Heilinger John Dupré

Coffee break
What Do—and Should—the Two Sides of the Debate about Technologically Shaping Humans Share? Erik Parens

Lunch break
Human Dignity as a Criterion of Neural and Other Forms of Human Enhancement Dieter Birnbacher

Coffee break
Final discussion Nicholas Humphrey (comment)

End of event
(Internal meeting, Neuroscience in Context-group)

“Human Nature” and its alterability Past, present, and future of human becoming
March 13 & 14, 2009 Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Einsteinsaal Jägerstr. 22/23, D-10117 Berlin Workshop of the research group Neuroscience in Context (http://www.nic-online.eu) within the European Platform of the Life Sciences, Mind Sciences and the Humanities funded by Volkswagen Foundation (Hannover) Organisation: Jan-Christoph Heilinger, Lambros Malafouris, Saskia K. Nagel berlin2009@nic-online.eu

Recent developments in the brain sciences and new applications in biotechnologies such as neuroprosthetics and brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) offer new possibilities for altering and manipulating human biology and brain functioning. This rapid growth of neurotechnologies and cognitive enhancement not only raises many ethical and social concerns but also challenges our understanding of what it means to be human, or, in other words our idea of “human nature”. What, however, is “human nature” and how precisely, if at all, can it be changed or threatened by neurotechnologies and cognitive enhancement? The task of the workshop will be to explore the concept of “human nature” from an interdisciplinary perspective. Our aim is to set the notions of human nature and (cognitive) enhancement in their appropriate anthropological dimension and coevolutionary background. To this end, in the workshop, we will consider what happens at the intersection of cultural developments and biological evolution. Tool use and cultural practices have permanently and directly influenced modern human development. Current biotechnologies might just add another step to this. Or are the new technologies qualitatively different, and if so, what are the implications? Given the accelerated developments, the need for critical, “anthropological” selfreflection rises, ultimately adding to the question “What is a human being?” the aspect of “What sort of people should there be?” We hope our workshop will help us elaborate new ways of balancing scientific, sometimes overly reductionist explanations of human behaviour and biology, with richer, cultural self-interpretations of human beings.

Speakers Dieter Birnbacher (Dusseldorf), Andy Clark (Edinburgh), Merlin Donald (Case Western), John Dupré (Exeter), Chris Gosden (Oxford), Jan-Christoph Heilinger (Berlin), Nicholas Humphrey (London), Lambros Malafouris (Cambridge), Saskia K. Nagel (Osnabrück), Erik Parens (New York), Andreas Roepstorff (Aarhus)

“Human Nature” and its alterability
Past, present, and future of human becoming
March 13 & 14, 2009 Einsteinsaal, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities
Workshop of the research group Neuroscience in Context (http://www.nic-online.eu) within the European Platform of the Life Sciences, Mind Sciences and the Humanities funded by the Volkswagen Foundation (Hannover) Organisation: Jan-Christoph Heilinger, Lambros Malafouris, Saskia K. Nagel

ABSTRACTS

Andy Clark Human Nature: Work in Progress? I have argued that we humans are profoundly embodied agents: creatures for whom body, sensing, world and technology are resources apt for recruitment in ways that yield a permeable and repeatedly reconfigurable agent/world boundary. For the profoundly embodied agent, the world is not something locked away behind the fixed veil of a certain skin-bag, a fixed reasoning engine and a primary sensory sheath. Rather, it is a resource apt for active recruitment and use, in ways that bring new forms of embodied intelligence into being. Such agents are not helpless bystanders watching the passing show from behind a fixed veil of sensing, acting and representing, but the active architects of many of their own bounds and capacities. In this talk, I!ll briefly present that perspective, and raise some questions concerning its implications for the very idea of human nature. Just what does it mean for a kind of agent to have extensive plasticity as one of their most distinctive traits, and what (if anything) determines the scope of that plasticity?

Dieter Birnbarcher Human dignity as a criterion of neural and other forms of human enhancement

1. The first steps towards Cyborgization An article in Science, entitled “Part man, part computer” of February 2002 reports Kevin Warwick!s project to have a computer chip implanted in the nerves of his wrist and to connect the impulses detected by the chip to a computer. The operation was carried out in March 2002. The background of this and similar experiments is the vision of a symbiosis between man and computer that allows for a substitution, compensation, or enhancement of bodily functions by a machine. Among the voices commenting on the project was also a sceptical voice, that of the New York based political scientist Langdon Winner. Winner objected to the experiments on moral grounds. His argument was that a technology enhancing man!s natural capacities for information processing by connecting the central nervous system to a computer would be wrong because it would constitute a fundamental change of “man!s essence”. With these reservations, Winner does not stand alone. There have been quite a number of voices in the last years who think that it is morally wrong, and even incompatible with human dignity, to deliberately change the nature of man, either by manipulations of the genotype or, if substantive, of the phenotype. Among the group of “bioconservatives”, as they are called, there are well known authors like Jeremy Rifkin, Frances Fukuyama and Leon Kass, the chief bioethical advisor of the American government.

March 13 & 14, 2009, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities

Is there anything morally problematic about attempts to enhance natural human functions by artificial means? Or should we follow philosophical “transhumanists” like Jonathan Glover who simply cannot see why we should refrain from making use of the possibilities of biotechnology in the same way we have traditionally made use of the possibilities of education and mental training to improve our own lives and the lives of our children? 2. The natural and the artificial There is striking discrepancy between the way the “natural” is valued by philosophy and by the general public. In modern moral philosophy, naturalness has lost most of its ethical credentials. Metaethical naturalism has been successfully criticised by Hume and G. E. Moore, and normative naturalism hardly fares better. The moral deficiency of naturalism is that only certain pre-selected aspects of nature can successfully serve as models for human behaviour. The theoretical deficiency of naturalism is that it is circular because the pre-selection simply projects antecedent valuations on to nature. Even a theory of natural teleology is no help because the attribution of purposes to nature is likewise problematic. Furthermore, even if purposes could be attributed to nature, the crucial question remains why we should follow these purposes. In contrast to philosophical scepticism, everyday moral thinking continues to rely heavily on the dichotomy between the natural and the artificial. Negatively valued states regarded as artificial are regularly disvalued more intensely than corresponding natural states, natural dangers are feared less and are more easily accepted than corresponding anthropogenic risks. This asymmetry is manifested also in the attitudes towards innovative procedures in biomedicine, especially in genetics and reproductive medicine. In this field, human interventions are often thought to be illegitimate not although but because they aim at states which would be welcomed if brought about by the spontaneous working of natural forces. 3. Human dignity and the “yuk factor” One of the symptoms of this positive valuation of the “natural” in biomedicine is the increasing “naturalization” of the concept of human dignity, especially in German speaking countries. The core of the concept of human dignity is increasingly identified with the biological aspects of human existence and no longer with the intellectual, moral and emotional capacities by which humans differ from other animals. By this tendency, the problem of the semantic emptiness of the concept of human dignity (identified by Schopenhauer in his criticism of Kant) is exacerbated. It seems that the invocation of “human dignity” is little more than an “apotropeic” gesture keeping anything uncanny, monstrous, degenerate, or simply “unnatural” at a distance. Psychologically, it might be interpreted as a symptom of emotional stress and loss of orientation caused by too rapid dislocations of the dividing line between the natural and artificial. 4. What does human dignity mean? In this chapter, I argue that the concept of human dignity (as well as the principle to protect human dignity) is in fact closely connected to biological givens. Each of the three concepts used in current bioethical debate refer to biological factors and not to intellectual, moral or emotional qualities: the normatively strong concept applicable to born humans, the normatively weak concept applicable to all stages of human existence, and the generic concept applicable to the human species as such. I argue, however, that this does nothing to satisfactorily answer the question why an artificial substitution of (part of) these factors should be rejected as a violation of human dignity. 5. “Artificial”, adverbial vs. predicative Artificiality in the adverbial sense means that something has been produced by artificial means. Artificiality in the predicative sense means either that something differs from its natural analogues by being of a different substance or by having different functions. A paradigm of an artificial man in the adverbial sense is a potential clone resulting from an artificial process of nuclear transfer. A paradigm of artificial man in the substantial sense is a prosthetic man or half-robot (the substantial variant), paradigms of artificial man in the functional sense an athlete enhanced by gene doping, a superbrain realised by systematic breeding, or a line of offspring with a resistance gene introduced by germ-line intervention. Why is it that only
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“Human Nature” and its alterability – Past, present, and future of human becoming

the first and the last variants of artificial humanity are rejected with reference to the principle of human dignity? The answer seems to be that only in these cases man is overstepping natural limits and not only substituting natural functions. Only in these cases is he “playing God”. 6. Artificial production of human beings and human dignity The principle of human dignity underlies most of the arguments by which reproductive cloning is at present rejected all or over the world. The Additional Protocol to the Convention on Biomedicine of the Council of Europe rejects cloning as contrary to human dignity for the fact that it involves an “instrumentalization” of human life. I argue that this argument is inconclusive for each of the three concepts of human dignity distinguished. 7. Is technological self-transcendence a violating of human dignity? It seems difficult, if not paradoxical, to base a rejection of technological enhancements of human nature on human dignity because one of the constituents of human dignity is man!s relative independence from biological constrains. The freedom of the Freigelassene der Schöpfung (Herder) consists, among others, in the freedom to make his own nature an object of systematic change and intentional design. There seems to be no reasonable sense of “essence of man” that justifies a categorical verdict on human self-improvement. Neither an empirical nor a normative explication of “man!s essence” supports such a verdict. The leading normative definition of man since the Enlightenment is based on the ideals of autonomy, individuation and responsibility. Technical ways of self-improvement cannot be morally objectionable as long as they respect these ideals or even open up new avenues to their realisation. 8. Risks of discrimination There are, however, risks in technological self-improvement, and some of these risks might go so far as to jeopardise human dignity. One of these risks is discrimination by heightening the standards of what counts as “normal”. Heightened levels of normalcy have in their wake heightened risks of failure, of social discrimination, and of reduced self-esteem. Relevant examples are, in many industrialised societies, high standards of physical fitness, physical attractiveness, and achievement motivation. Thus, the social effects of further human selfimprovement might be a mixed blessing. These risks, however, do not justify the bioconservatives' categorical verdict on changing human nature.

Merlin Donald Super-plasticity: implications for the definition of human nature Human beings have evolved a highly plastic brain that is capable of adapting to an infinity of possible cultural environments. When compared to other species, the term "super-plasticity seems apt in the human case. Plasticity has two aspects in human cognition: life-long adaptive learning, and massive cultural variation. Both individuals and societies can learn and adapt, but in this regard, there are very large differences between different societies. This suggests that the full exploitation of super-plasticity is to a degree dependent on cultural factors. The implications (and possible limitations) of human super-plasticity are discussed in the context of fast-changing modern high-tech societies.

John Dupré Schools vs. Recombinant DNA as ways of enhancing the human genome There is a good deal of debate nowadays about the ethical implications of 'enhancing' humans by making changes to their genetic structure. My main point in this talk is that much of this debate assumes a view of genetics that has been thoroughly refuted by contemporary

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March 13 & 14, 2009, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities

molecular biology. In this view, the nature of the adult organism is more or less determined by its inherited DNA sequences. As we learn to interpret this sequence, it is imagined, we will be able to use recombinant DNA technologies to alter the genome sequence, and thereby produce different, and preferable kinds of adult organisms. This view assumes a linear chain of causes running from a fixed genome to a mature phenotype. But in fact the genome is in constant two-way interaction with the rest of the cellular environment. Changes to the genome will either have little effect--the most likely effect as the organism is a highly robust system--or multiple cascading effects that will be extremely difficult to predict or control. The good news, however, is that the organism is extremely plastic and development can respond adaptively to the environment. This is especially true of the human organism, which has acquired the ability to evolve very rapidly through capacities for social and individual learning. Creating appropriate and well-designed environments, therefore, can be expected to produce individuals that come closer to ideals we may construct. It may even be that such changes to the environment will produce adaptive changes to genomes. At any rate, better schools are a far more promising route to enhanced humans than is deliberate manipulation of genomes.

Chris Gosden Material Tensions – the plasticity of the human body versus the stability of artefacts A combination of recent work in neuroscience and older research in archaeology has revealed a key tension in human life. On the one hand the human brain (and its body) are shaped by life experience and activities, so that the neural connections in the brain are laid down in part through our activities. The combination of brain-body-world means that these neural connections depend in turn on the use of material culture, spaces and landscapes through which people act. On the other hand archaeology has shown that artefactual forms can change over decades and centuries, at a timescale way beyond the biographical span of a human life. Although the human organism is capable of rapid change, this is muted to a considerable degree by slower changes in the artefactual world. In my paper I shall look at the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43, which might be seen as a sudden event bringing about rapid change, but from a long-term perspective which shows some continuity in artefactual forms from the Iron Age into the Roman periods. In this case and possibly many others, sudden change is mediated and dealt with through continuities in the nature and use of material culture. I shall balance the definite changes that occurred in the ways in which people acted in the world due to the Roman invasion with the elements of life which gave stability and continuity. I shall finish by making some brief remarks on the implications of this scenario for understanding change in the present.

Jan-Christoph Heilinger Anthropological Arguments – Can they be useful in the moral debate about Human Enhancement? In my paper I will examine the role of “anthropological arguments” in the bioethical debate about human enhancement. Anthropological arguments take a normative understanding of what it means to be a “human being” as a starting point for ethical judgements. Criticising any directly normative conception of “human nature”, I want to try an alternative way of understanding the normativity of the concept: quasi-democratic deliberative processes, based on factual information and mutual engagement, could provide a well-founded normative idea of being human. At the center of this notion stands the human capacity of self-determination.

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“Human Nature” and its alterability – Past, present, and future of human becoming

I will ask whether this conception allows anthropological arguments to play an important role in the moral debates about human enhancement, even if the anthropological layer of the discussion is only one among others (and needs to be completed by risk-assessments and a reflection on the societal outcomes of any intervention). I will conclude my paper with an example.

Lambros Malafouris / Saskia Nagel / Jan-Christoph Heilinger Human nature and its alterability: The Human Enhancement Continuity Thesis (HECT). The rapid growth of neurotechnologies and cognitive enhancement not only challenge our conventional understanding of what means to be human but also raise many ethical concerns about what is safe, fair and otherwise morally acceptable. Some critics would even claim that many forms of cognitive enhancement – in allowing human beings to deeply alter their physical functioning, their phenomenal experience and the material basis of their body and mind – pose a threat to “human nature”. This sort of criticisms and fears are rooted, we argue in this paper, on a number of deeply entrenched and misconceived assumptions about the human mind and human evolution and the concomitant vision of cognitive enhancement that those assumptions entail. Thus one of the aims of our paper is to attempt a crossdisciplinary reframing of our conventional understanding of the concept of human nature and to develop some basic consensus about which analytic scale better encapsulates the distinctiveness of our species (genetic/biological, social/cultural etc.). Moreover, we want to ask what, if anything, is so special about cognitive enhancement and try to embed this notion in a more appropriate anthropological and coevolutionary background. It is certainly the case that anatomically modern human brains are different in important ways from the brains of any other present or past primates. But at least part of the reason that Homo became sapiens lies in its unique ability to alter, modify and change what for other species remained more or less fixed and stable. More simply, if we accept that tool use and enhanced working memory was part of the reason that humans came to develop language and symbolic thinking, then why should we perceive neuro-engineering as a threat rather than as the new stone industry of the 21st century? No doubt a memory enhancing drug or a silicon chip implanted to replace a damaged part of the human hippocampus differ in many important respects from a Middle Stone Age abstract engraving or a Mycenaean Linear B tablet or a Mesopotamian clay token. But their obvious differences need not obscure the far more interesting question about how they resonate. Rethinking just what traits mark the origin and major changes of our species will place us in a better position to identify the traits that mark current changes in human cognitive becoming thus gaining a better understanding about the evolutionary significance and implications of cognitive enhancement. By rethinking the past our aim is to understand the present and project into the future of human evolution. To this end, focusing on the broad category of cognitive and sensory enhancement that we describe as Brain-Artefact Interfaces (BAIs) we survey over different forms and cultural interventions of this type, from the Palaeolithic period to the present. We compare and examine the impact of these alterations on the human organism and their consequences for the meaning of “human nature”. These considerations form the basis for developing what we call the Human Enhancement Continuity Thesis (HECT). That is, the thesis that human becoming necessarily is and has been based on the possibility of alterations (be it through conventional or recent biotechnological interventions). We argue that much of what we call "modern human cognition! is enhanced human cognition and we suggest that the notion of cognitive enhancement works best as a means to blur rather than reiterate the boundaries between brain, body and culture.

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March 13 & 14, 2009, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities

Erik Parens What Do—and Should—the Two Sides of the Debate about Technologically Shaping Humans Share? This workshop seems to react to the concern of some that new neurotechnologies may “challenge our understanding of what it means to be human” or challenge “our idea of human nature.” Specifically, the workshop conveners want to discuss if these technologies may be “qualitatively different” from technologies that have come before. Furthermore they raise the question, whether – if we embrace them – we may impoverish our understanding of ourselves as humans, and thereby may ultimately impoverish our experience as humans. This sort of concern has of course been derided by many (perhaps especially AngloAmerican) philosophers. First, enthusiasts about neurotechnologies suggest that the idea of human nature is empty—and that even if were not, even if we could know what is natural for humans, we would not then know what we should do with a given technology. Second, they answer flatly that these technologies are not qualitatively different from earlier technologies, and thus pose no greater threat to our humanity than earlier technologies. Moreover, they answer that there is no in-principle reason why these techs will impoverish our understanding or experience; indeed, they believe that these technologies can allow us to become more fully human. At the workshop, my (tentative!) plan is to try to offer suggestions for improving the debate between critics and enthusiasts, by simultaneously respecting the real differences that distinguish the two sides and calling attention to the commitments that the two sides do—or should—share.

Andreas Roepstorff Brain Plasticity and Mind Technologies The brain in the 21st Century appears a plastic brain: mutable, open to changes and structured by practices. No matter whether the mind is what the brain does, or the brain becomes what the mind does, this perspective suggests a dynamic brain, which interfaces the mind, the body and the surroundings. This approach apparently obviates a rigid distinction between the mental and the material. In my talk, I will explore a few fields that have traditionally been placed either in mind or in the world. I will ask of them the question: should they simply be considered mind technologies?

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