RE: TECH/SCI: Brain Changes

From: Joseph Sterlynne (
Date: Wed Apr 26 2000 - 06:38:40 MDT

The article is available at

This is at base just more of the sentitious bombast, starting from silly
premises and ending in the same predictable sermon, of which I've grown
very weary. I'll briefly comment on some of the text.

    Already we see it coming: prolonged battles of months, maybe years, but
    battles with beige

As Infocom's Enchanter might say, [I've known strange people, but fighting
a color?].

    The chemistry between a potential market of six billion and the greed
    or altruism (it doesn't matter which) of corporations would, without
    doubt, change forever what it means to be a human being.

Right: it doesn't matter which, for the purposes of this essay. I don't
want intrusive, imperious corporations to take over my life or science any
more than they already have. So let's deal with your philosophical / moral
/ theoretical concern.

    If we want to think intelligently, debate intelligently, we must ask
    ourselves this: Is there a threshold where intentionally changing the
    biology of human nature violates life irrevocably?

A meaningless or suspiciously obscure question is not a very good beginning
to an intelligent debate. What could it possibly mean to [violate life
irrevocably]? Changing human nature: aside from some more or less semantic
quibbles we know what you mean: changing the current physiology, anatomy,
genetic form, et cetera of what we consider homo sapiens. Violating life:
we don't know what you mean.

    engineering our bodies to achieve results would only ratchet up
    spending along the present path. {. . .}

    Marketing would have a heyday in goosing up all-American bodies

What happened to the philosophical/theoretical question? Paragraphs of
discussion about biotechnology companies and a concern about spending and
marketing. I recommend that to some extent we deal with these issues
separately: not everyone who wants to use the technology approves of the
corporate or industrial attitude toward things. They are interrelated;
but only insofar, perhaps, as certain aspects are concerned.

    Existence, the matter of it -- our bodies, our being, the living world
    around us -- is on the line as it has never been before, and never will
    be again. Which is good, not depressing.

A pleasant surprise here, I guess.

    IT IS HERE THAT we return to defining the threshold of life: There is
    no way that obtaining "wares" for the human body will somehow make us
    more alive, more us.

It is here that we return to speaking nonsense. No one is suggesting that
adding to the human system will make us more [human]; we are what we
are---our definitions follow. Using [alive] and [us] in this context is
unclear and distracting---I can imagine long, pointless arguments over this
point because these terms are not defined.

    If we strip any form of life, any creation -- including our own -- of
    its own self-organizing, self-willing capacity simply to further ideas
    and ends of our own, that life is no longer wild.

Your definition. One which naively draws very sharp lines around a very
complex reality.

    There's an immeasurable relief to admitting that life is fearsome, is
    ecstatic, and is what it is because we {. . .} are mortal.

Remember that term you mentioned, [deathist]?

    Instantly, the idea of resurrecting ourselves or woolly mammoths from
    icy tombs generations or centuries later, or of changing the genetic
    lines for future human beings, ignores something so basic to the way
    life is --

Which is what? That organisms wander through the universe entirely
passively, wholly and only patients?

    that our "victory" over the transiently fragile, evocative milieu of a
    world living in time and space rings without conviction, as hollowly as
    an outright denial of a living world itself.

Your point through the rhetoric?

    THRESHOLDS OF THE BIOLOGICAL world, ourselves included, are crossed
    when we willingly create the fall of the wild: a world that fails to
    call all intelligence forward into a point of view.

Again, I'm not sure what this (the last phrase in particular) is supposed
to mean.

    In the last twenty years, from repeated testings of four
    thousand participants, the senses of smell, taste, touch, sight, and
    hearing have decreased at a rate of nearly one percent per year.

I'm guessing that this isn't as simple as it sounds. Nevertheless such
research could lead to some interesting conclusions.

    Data shows that the unconscious has risen from eighty-seven percent of
    total brain processing to ninety-four percent.

Perhaps you were reading the parody version of the research you mentioned.
That sentence is just fantastic.

    Our brain is not adapting. It is rebelling against the world and
    changing it [the world] by changing itself.

It seems that these two sentences are at least partially contradictory.
Secondly, the brain is rather known for its inclination to change itself.
Little things like language might have emerged because of it.

    The debate I'd like to see recognizes that even our best-case scenario
    of debating technological efficacy, safety, or rights won't work.
    {. . . S}tandards of proof won't in themselves prevent an American-
    going-global civilization now being imagined and created by
    bioengineering technologies.

You're switching topics again. If you want to express concern over the
American corporationization of the world (a legitimate concern) then do so.
I'm not convinced that this so directly affects your attack on the basic
notion of rebuilding oneself and crossing your threshold.

    The debate would return us to life as imagined and created
    organismically, within parameters of what it means to be alive in space
    and time.

Again, what this is supposed to mean?

    The debate would insist on understanding human nature as wild, and it
    would begin with this premise: We refuse to become engineered ghosts, a
    species that becomes the walking undead.

And we refuse to become all sorts of other haunted-house denizens as well.
Whatever. You can't insist on basing debate on these shifty notions that
you present. Earlier you seemed to present a materialistic picture of
[human nature] as a consequence of the real world. Now you force a
definition upon it. Debate on these terms will only include those who
already agree with you.



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