Saturday, December 11, 2004

The Abolition of Man

IB Bill has some sobering thoughts about currently ongoing research involving chimeras and trans-species transplants via human stem cells. Here's one excerpt from the news article:
The potential power of chimeras as research tools became clear about a decade ago in a series of dramatic experiments by Evan Balaban, now at McGill University in Montreal. Balaban took small sections of brain from developing quails and transplanted them into the developing brains of chickens.

The resulting chickens exhibited vocal trills and head bobs unique to quails, proving that the transplanted parts of the brain contained the neural circuitry for quail calls. It also offered astonishing proof that complex behaviors could be transferred across species.
Here's another cheery bit:
Now Weissman says he is thinking about making chimeric mice whose brains are 100 percent human. He proposes keeping tabs on the mice as they develop. If the brains look as if they are taking on a distinctly human architecture— a development that could hint at a glimmer of humanness— they could be killed, he said. If they look as if they are organizing themselves in a mouse brain architecture, they could be used for research.
I dunno, it's been over 30 years since I've read the H.G. Wells story, but somehow I'm reminded of The Island of Dr. Moreau.

My own take is, if such hubristic tinkering is the shape of things to come, look for a push to "cure" human beings of their innate aggression, violence, and inconvenient anti-social tendencies. Including the inconvenient tendency to question authority. No doubt the frantic push will stem from some "caring," "progressive" ideological frenzy not unlike those which have torn like wildfire through Western culture over these past 30 or 40 years.

Imagine having the entire human race (except, no doubt, for our ruling elite) on the built-in equivalent of Ritalin.


Blogger Caltechgirl said...

Chimeras are an extremely useful genetic tool. Unfortunately, some people have no sense of propriety.

Or proportion either. A mouse with an entirely human brain would die because the human brain weighs 3 lbs. A large adult mouse weighs 30g. There's no reason to expect that the mouse would grow a "tiny" human brain. Not gonna work.

Sunday, December 12, 2004 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...


Well, I'm relieved to hear that. I can see the usefulness of chimeras, but what makes me nervous is when I start to hear talk of mice whose brains would be "100 percent human... [with] a distinctly human architecture." Or artificially docile humans who come equipped with built-in "good citizensheep."

My experience, dating back to my days in graduate mathematics, is that most people in the physical sciences have a strong sense of ethics. But with something like this, all it takes is a handful who are willing to play Dr. Moreau, operating in some jurisdiction which is willing to tolerate or turn a blind eye to their activities.

I just hope C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man doesn't prove prophetic. But you know me, I've got a paranoid streak. :-)

Sunday, December 12, 2004 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger Dean Esmay said...

Well here's a non-PC, orthagonal thought for you:

If there is such a thing as "maternal instinct," it appears that we are now engaged in a massive Darwinian cataclysm that will wipe out genetic strains with weak maternal urges.

How so? Why, with widespread birth control and abortion, of course. Those who want lots of children will within a few centuries quite outnumber those who want only one or two or none--and those inclined to things like abortion will grow increasingly less common.

One has to wonder what the population will really look like after a couple of hundred years of this...

Monday, December 13, 2004 9:20:00 AM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

Dean, I've said before that legal abortion amounts, among other things, to letting people bestow upon themselves the Darwin Award.

I think it is safe to assume that the abortion rate is higher on the Left than it is on the Right. Thus, insofar as there may be a genetic component to a variety of attitudes which conduce toward Leftism— heck, insofar as people are more likely than random to be acculturated into political attitudes similar to those of their parents— I assume that "after a couple of hundred years of this," the ranks of the Left in our society will be much thinned out.

I knew it! Legal abortion has been all along an insidious plot by Karl Rove...

Monday, December 13, 2004 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger Janelle said...

I'm trying again to get in and post. You, Dean and Joe are on my hit list due to all of you with creative, imaginative minds!

Monday, December 13, 2004 1:00:00 PM  
Blogger Janelle said...


Monday, December 13, 2004 1:13:00 PM  
Blogger Caltechgirl said...

here's my answer to dean:

Sorry if this gets rambling. This is all speculation, mind you.

Maternal instinct is genetic. That has been shown. The strength of your mother's maternal instinct is so important that it can affect the way your DNA is translated.

However, evolution is a strong and mysterious force, and no scientists have any understanding of the development of group relationships and family bonding. People who study the great apes and other advanced animals that live in groups see changes in group dynamics as the group changes. For example, in groups where there are few females, male apes and rats have been observed to practice de facto homosexuality. This has led some to speculate that the evolutionary role of homosexuality is to provide caretakers with a genetic interest in raising all of the young of the group, the "old maiden aunt" syndrome, so to speak.

Another precept of evolutionary theory is that the best interest of the group is paramount. Sometimes that means that the stronger members do away with the weaker members.

Maybe abortion and moms killing their children is a way to do that.

But I disagree that strength of maternal instinct has to do with the number of kids you have. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that we will see people who care more about their kids.

Monday, December 13, 2004 2:44:00 PM  
Blogger Janelle said...

Well, I like that Caltech girl. I is the Mom to da Dean!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 1:47:00 AM  

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