Wednesday, 4 November 2009
“We have the technology” – a stock phrase from the old sci-fi show Bionic Man that might serve as the headline for this reflection. But if a thing can be done, should it be done? If there is money to be made, it most certainly will. There is a growing “transhumanist” movement – described by Peter Snow in a recent issue of Oxford Today – that indicates the shape of things to come. The radical enhancement of human beings through technology has already begun. Athletes often resort to treatments to enhance their physical performance. Now we are developing techniques to alter moods, eliminate depression, enhance memory and cognition, and extend life expectancy to two or three hundred years. The genetic engineering of human beings for specific professions and tasks is also becoming possible. Direct interface between brain and computer – and the worldwide web – is on the cards. You may not need your laptop for much longer. The more extreme transhumanists predict and advocate the replacement of the human species by other, superior forms of life developed artificially to improve on the slow efforts of Mother Nature. (See my earlier blog “The Rise of the Machines”.) But such developments will almost certainly create new forms of “wealth” and “poverty”, or reinforce the existing divide. It is only the rich who will be able to give themselves these advantages – if that is what they are.
To my mind, the deeper question raised by all this is not so much the social effects of transhumanism (which will, of course, be disastrous), but what it reveals about the spirit and philosophy of the age. Believing that natural forms are randomly generated by the algorithms of evolution, people have no intellectual defence against these ideas. They are unable to discern any spiritual message in the material world, any divine wisdom in the realm of nature. The ink on the pages of the world has become invisible, leaving them free to scribble whatever they like. Where do we draw the line between legitimate medical treatment and the creation of monsters, if for us the natural forms do not represent some kind of meaningful norm? There is no solution to all this in legislation.
Posted by Stratford Caldecott at 21:55