Being human in Nature includes our biological responses to the physical world, and our ever-increasing number of new adaptive strategies and improvements to long-standing ones.
Revising the very notions of what ‘human’ and ‘Nature’ mean is also included here. Beyond our beliefs, values and behaviors, human cultural adaptation also includes improving the effectiveness and reach of our medical procedures and computer and pharmaceutical technologies.
As we have done with all past inventions and innovations, we will have to confront the ethical and moral challenges such interventions into humanness and Nature raise. In doing so we will seek to normalize those new ideas, methods and technological uses that provide the greatest good and least harm to the greatest number of people.
Might we one day direct our species’ and Earth’s evolution? Not in the haphazard, often harmful ways we are doing it now but in a reasoned (scientific and humanistic), deliberative, sustainable manner that truly improves not only our species wellbeing and flourishing, but also that of our entire planetary home.
The following excerpts from the book, Evolving Ourselves: How Unnatural Selection and Nonrandom Mutation are Changing Life on Earth, by Juan Enriquez and Steven Gullans (2015), provide insights into some of what is already underway in ‘evolving’ our future, and what may come of our efforts to redefine the mechanisms and outcomes of our and Life’s evolution itself.
It is both a future of immense potential for good as well as one of innumerable risks. Scenarios abound that may lead to catastrophes and extinction, not only for ourselves but for all life on Earth.
These potentials for survival and flourishing or degradation and extinction have been within us for a quarter of a million years of Homo sapiens’ existence. What has changed through time – from the first stone chopping tools, language, and in- and out-group cooperation to present-day nano technologies and gradually less violent societies (Pinker) – has been the ever-increasing power of our tools and the influence of their products. There has also been change in the ever-enlarging content of the ethnosphere, that body of accumulated global knowledge that contains our collective experience, and our ever-expanding understanding of what is moral and ethical among the various beliefs, values, and behaviors that have been tried around the world through time.
The future shall be a continuation of our species’ journey from the unknown into a future of uncertainty. Choosing to be compassionate toward each other and having hope for the best outcome is all we fully control.
Excerpts from Evolving Ourselves
“No one has attempted a whole human brain transplant, nor should they. Nascent technologies and knowledge make the procedure far too risky and speculative, and the chances of success are minute, not to mention the ethical challenges of identifying and qualifying a donor. But as science progresses, if one became able to transplant a human brain or portions of a brain, then one could begin to answer some fundamental questions about the nature of consciousness, memory, and personality.”
“The most basic of human cells, stem cells, which program all functions in our bodies, are being inserted into species far and wide. As we blur species lines, as we ‘humanize’ parts of animals, we begin to see blind mice that grow human corneas. And because some of the organs and biological structures in pigs are so close to those of humans, there are more and more efforts to modify these animals’ immune systems, humanize some of their organs, and transplant them directly into humans.”
“In an attempt to find cures for various neurological diseases, more and more human brain cells are entering animal bodies, which often results in significant and noticeable upgrades. Alzheimer’s researchers found that transplanted human stem cells led to mice with improved spatial learning and memory.”
“If we can transplant human cells into animals’ brains and significantly improve their cognition, it is also reasonable to think that one could transplant and develop enhancements to the average human brain; recent stem-cell transplants into Parkinson’s patients’ brains show some promise, albeit inconsistently. … As we continue to seek cures for various neurological diseases, we are likely to find more and more examples of interventions that significantly alter and enhance various brain functions. And this will give us more choices in how to enhance, evolve, and build up the most human of our organs.”
“Meanwhile, we are continually attempting to ‘upgrade’ our brains through electronic inputs, both internal and external. … Drugs provide yet another path to enhance/modify human cognition. … And then there is the external cognition option. Back at the MIT Boyden lab, they are busily building tiny computer chips, embedded with thousands of needles 1/1000th of an inch wide, which allow measuring, and perhaps altering, activity inside individual neurons.”