Re: Selfish Reason To Preserve Chimps

From: Mark Walker (
Date: Thu Nov 29 2001 - 10:58:09 MST

----- Original Message -----
From: "J. R. Molloy" <>
To: <>
In addition to disease treatment, the sequencing project could open up new
possibilities that verge on science fiction. The argument is that if there
is less than 2% difference between chimp and human genes, then that must
account for everything that makes us human, from our increased intelligence
to our ability to use language. Comparing sequences will allow us to isolate
the genes responsible for our "humanness". Once we know what the genes are,
we may be able to alter them to give future generations desirable
characteristics such as improved intelligence.

Full Text:,4273,4309448,00.html

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I argued a similar line in my Ph.D. thesis. I noted too that the pygmy chimp
has an almost identical code to that of the regular chimp so it would be
useful to use all three in the investigation. Interestingly, the pygmy chimp
is not smaller all around but only certain body parts are--suggesting that
there are genes for controlling the allometric curve for dissociable body
parts like the brain. Recent discoveries involving homeobox genes have given
us a plausible mechanism to explain these phenotype difference. The
following is part of a little ditty I am working on:
"Homeobox genes control the development of the body plans of a larger number
of organisms. For our purposes what is of interest is that there are a
number of homeobox genes that that control the growth of various brain
regions. For example, if you want to make a larger brain in a frog embryo
simply insert some RNA from the gene X-Otx2 and voilą-you have a frog embryo
with a larger brain, specifically, the mid and forebrain mass is increased.
Homeobox genes also come in various forms of generality. Otx2 is obviously
very general in its scope; in contrast, for example, Emx1 controls the
growth of the isocortex (one of the two regions of the neocortex). Thus, if
we believe that intelligence and wisdom might be aided by tweaking
one area of the brain or another there may be just the right homeobox gene
for this task."

(See P. Holland, P. Ingham, and S. Krauss (1992), "Development and
Evolution. Mice and flies head to head", Nature 358, 627-628; and R.
Finkelstein and E. Boncinelli (1994) "From fly head to mammalian forebrain:
The story of otd and Otx", Trends in Genetic 10, 310-315, and Boncinelli,
E., and A. Mallamaci (1995) "Homeobox genes in vertebrate gastrulation".
Current Opinion in Genetics and Development 5, 619-627)

BTW, I think there are a couple of reasons genetic engineering ought to be
given more prominence in Transhumanist thinking. First, it is something that
we could start right after lunch--at least we have the technology, we just
need the resources and the political will. Imagine if genetic engineering
smarter persons were taken on with the same sort of political enthusiasm as
landing men on the moon. I realize that around here genetic engineering is
not as "sexy" as uploading but it would seem wise not to put all our
posthuman eggs in one basket. (After all, the claim that humans can create
an AI is an empirical and falsifiable proposition). Second, my experience
suggests that when it comes to presenting the Transhumanist case it is
better in the first instance to discuss concepts like 'posthuman' in meat
terms. Talk about SIAI requires two conceptual leaps for most people,
namely, that we can create superintelligence and we can create AI.

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