The various excerpts that follow contain research findings and journalistic commentary that inform the issues discussed occasionally among a small group of humanists in the Bay Area. We are interested in how man-made places reveal the ways that varying values and norms stemming from changing environmental conditions interact with ( i.e., shape or are shaped by) our genetic heritage.
Wall Street Journal June 1, 2012: Bionic Brains and Beyond
implants will soon be commonplace enhancements under our skin and inside our
skulls, making us stronger and smarter.Daniel H. Wilsonon our 'superabled'
...Over the next decade, new implantable
technologies will fundamentally alter the social landscape. We are fast
approaching a milestone in the eons-long relationship between human beings and
their technology. Families once gathered around the radio like it was a warm
fireplace. Then boom boxes leapt onto our shoulders. The Sony Walkman climbed
into our pockets and sank its black foam tentacles into our ears. The newest
tools are creeping still closer: They will soon come inside and make themselves
at home under our skin—some already have.
These tools aren't sinister. They're being
created to solve real problems. Simply put, prosthetic limbs help people move,
and neural implants help people think. But these days the technology can solve
our problems and then some. Solutions may not only erase physical or mental
deficits but leave patients better off than "able-bodied" folks. The
person who has a disability today may have a superability tomorrow.
In my new novel "Amped," these
implants create a class of superabled people whose capacities destabilize
society at large, sparking a full-on civil rights movement. The book was
inspired by watching super-enabling technologies creep into society through
those who need them most, such as amputees and those who suffer from blindness,
deafness or serious brain injuries. But such enhancements will almost
inevitably become elective, and then we will face some tough decisions. Should
we have an unlimited sovereign right to upgrade our own bodies? Or should such
decisions be heavily regulated?....
Neural implants, also called brain
implants, are medical devices designed to be placed under the skull, on the
surface of the brain. Often as small as an aspirin, implants use thin metal
electrodes to "listen" to brain activity and in some cases to
stimulate activity in the brain. Attuned to the activity between neurons, a
neural implant can essentially "listen" to your brain activity and
then "talk" directly to your brain.
If that prospect makes you queasy, you may
be surprised to learn that the installation of a neural implant is relatively
simple and fast. Under anesthesia, an incision is made in the scalp, a hole is
drilled in the skull, and the device is placed on the surface of the brain.
Diagnostic communication with the device can take place wirelessly. When it is
not an outpatient procedure, patients typically require only an overnight stay
at the hospital.
Existing neural implants treat serious
conditions. Cochlear implants can deliver sound collected from an external
microphone directly to the auditory nerve and into the brain. According to the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, over 200,000 people already use cochlear
implants world-wide. Other neural implants act as "brain pacemakers,"
performing deep brain stimulation to treat people with Parkinson's disease. Yet
others can be trained to recognize when epileptic seizures are about to occur
and then deliver stimulation to the brain to stop the incipient frenzy of brain
But research is going further.
In the future, it will be feasible for an
implant to recognize almost anything. For instance, it could detect
inattention. In response, the implant could stimulate the brain toward a state
of focused attention. Recently, researchers at the Institute of Neurology at
University College London stimulated the brains of human subjects to push the
brain toward beta band frequencies associated with focus to study the effects
on motor processing, with the hope of helping those with Parkinson's disease.
In an elective setting, a user with this type of implant could potentially
choose to stay focused on command, while constantly strengthening circuits of
the brain associated with concentration.
The neural implant of the future also could
strengthen neural pathways associated with physical tasks. It could recognize
"practice" movements and deliver stimulation to associated neurons to
help your brain learn faster. Initial users would be people learning to walk
again after having a stroke. But you could just as easily be swinging a tennis
racket or a baseball bat. Or hitting perfect jump shots. With help from a
neural implant, it might be possible for athletes to hone their skills
The technology can
give us brains and brawn. All we have to do is let the devices under our skin.
So who will reap the benefits? At first glance, this appears to be just another
advantage waiting for the wealthy. Maybe, but the early adopters will be those
with disabilities. Not because they have money but because they have a lot to
gain and are willing to face the risks inherent in new medical technology.
Alleviating chronic seizures or debilitating tremors isn't some kind of greedy
leg up for a person with a serious disability—it may mean the difference
between life and death.
But once the people with serious disorders
are treated, where will the technology go next? The Census Bureau estimates
that about 13% of the population in the U.S. is over the age of 65. That is
roughly 40 million people who have lost physical and mental capacity through
the natural aging process. Regardless of their resources, they will be keen to
regain their powers.
The dissemination of advanced implantable
technology will likely be just as ruthlessly democratic as the ailments it is
destined to treat. Meaning that, someday soon, we may have a new class of very
smart, very fast people—yesterday's disabled and elderly.
The sudden appearance of
"super-abled" people could put new and unforeseen strains on our
society. For example, what happens when mentally sharp, physically capable
retirees return to the workforce by the millions? When your child is the only kid
in her class without an implant and she has the lowest test scores to prove it,
will you agree to put her under the knife? Will professional sports teams let
superabled people play, or is that cheating? Would you hire one over a
"regular" person? Should a person be required to reveal the presence
of an implant? Or will that just open the door for discrimination?
Humanity has been co-evolving with
technology for more than 100,000 years. Together with our tools, we are on a
grand, generation-spanning trajectory. Whether we like it or not, the next step
of this evolution is on the near horizon.
Rather than try to tackle complex national and international issues and institutions that affect the entire U.S. , we concentrate on place based trends and academic research that more directly reflect our everyday experiences in our own neighborhoods, workplaces, and other closer connections. We seek to grapple with ideas that stem from and have immediate implications for our personal ties and intellectual enjoyment. We deal with those grassroots issues not to influence public policy or resolve differences but to gain an understanding of the way of the world-- in order to sort out the chaos and thereby increase our pleasure as identified by Epicurus We start from the premise that changing the body politic at the state and national level is becoming increasingly difficult for citizens of the 21st century in the way that the power structure was able to do at the start of the 20th century, when American Progressivism was imbued with a strong reformist optimism. “I propose that we lea…
Excerpted from: Solving The African IQ Conundrum : "Winning Personality" Masks Low Scores By J. Philippe Rushton VDare August 12, 2004
Over a century ago, Sir Francis Galton initiated research into individual and race differences in intelligence and temperament. He was the first to propose the study of human twins and of selective breeding in animals to disentangle the effects of heredity and environment. And it was Galton—who spent several years exploring in what is now Namibia as a young man—who first contrasted the talkative impulsivity of Africans with the taciturn reserve of American Indians, and the placidity of the Chinese.
Galton further noted that these temperament differences persisted irrespective of climate (from the frozen north through the torrid equator), and religion, language, or political system (whether self-ruled or governed by the Spanish, Portuguese, English or French).
Anticipating later studies of transracial adoptions, Galton observed that the majority of …
Does a strategy of opposing traits explain humanity’s success? By ALISON GOPNIK July 16, 2015 11:20 a.m. ET 10 COMMENTS Walk into any preschool classroom and you’ll see that some 4-year-olds are always getting into fights—while others seldom do, no matter the provocation. Even siblings can differ dramatically—remember Cain and Abel. Is it nature or nurture that causes these deep differences in aggression? The new techniques of genomics—mapping an organism’s DNA and analyzing how it works—initially led people to think that we might find a gene for undesirable individual traits like aggression. But from an evolutionary point of view, the very idea that a gene can explain traits that vary so dramatically is paradoxical: If aggression is advantageous, why didn’t the gene for aggression spread more widely? If it’s harmful, why would the gene have survived at all?