Tag: humanness

Bioethics Blogs

Radical Technology, Bodyhacking, & Medicine

Michele Battle-Fisher calls on conventional medical to consider how acts of healing will change in the context of transhumanism.

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Humanness is in flux as human bodies are being hacked (altered) by transhumanists and others in their quest for super wellness, super intelligence and super longevity.

Bodyhacking refers to changing the human body in appearance and function using a “device, technique or procedure that an individual CHOOSES to utilize, augment, modify or improve their body.” Examples of bodyhacking include implanting magnets under one’s skin to be able to open a garage door, and implanting an engineered human ear on one’s arm to gain hypersensory abilities. Typically, such ‘hacks’ are not approved by governmental agencies or traditional medical insurance. According to Body Hacking Con, while bodyhacking is typically considered fringe, bodyhackers are “simply people who hack (alter) their bodies.”

Bodyhacking is part of a counterculture movement that is often called transhumanism. Transhumanists believe that the body is obsolete and that death is a cruel end to be avoided. In their view, the time is ripe for taking advantage of fast-paced technologies to improve our imperfect bodies and eventually cheat death.

Recent revolutionary innovations such as CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology are helping to further push the boundaries of bodyhacking by fighting the genetic causes of death. While the medical community has accepted the idea of somatic cell gene editing, germline gene editing remains controversial.  There is much excitement in the transhumanism community that biohacks such as CRISPR will move from the purvue of controlled medical settings to the at-home, do-it-yourself labs.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

In The Journals – November by Christine Sargent

Hello trusty readers. Check out November’s haul for “In The Journals,” and be sure to check out the special issue of Science, Technology, and Human Values: Feminist Postcolonial Technosciences.

 

American Ethnologist:

Memory, body, and the online researcher: Following Russian street demonstrations via social media (open access)

Patty A. Gray

The Moscow street demonstrations of 2011–12 were the largest public gatherings in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. They were also the largest-ever gathering of Russians on social media. While using the Internet to follow such large-scale social movements remotely, researchers experience social media as a context in which anthropology happens. They may think about “being there” in new ways that shift their focus to their own processes of memory making and sense of bodily presence. Experiencing and remembering social media in the body challenges the distinctions we might otherwise make between virtual and physical encounters.

Royal pharmaceuticals: Bioprospecting, rights, and traditional authority in South Africa

Christopher Morris

The translation of international biogenetic resource rights to a former apartheid homeland is fostering business partnerships between South African traditional leaders and multinational pharmaceutical companies. In the case of one contentious resource, these partnerships are entrenching, and in some instances expanding, apartheid-associated boundaries and configurations of power. The state and corporate task of producing communities amenable to biodiversity commercialization and conservation is entangled with segregationist laws and spatial planning. Rather than exclusion and the closure of ethnic boundaries, resource rights in this context foreground forced enrollment and the expansion of indigenous group-membership as modes of capitalist accumulation in an extractive economy.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Special Issue! Resisting Power, Retooling Justice: Promises of Feminist Postcolonial Technosciences by Anna Zogas

In advance of our regular In the Journals post, I want to highlight a Special Issue. Anne Pollock and Banu Subramaniam have guest edited “Resisting Power, Retooling Justice: Promises of Feminist Postcolonial Technosciences,” in Science, Technology & Human Values. Here are the abstracts!

Resisting Power, Retooling Justice: Promises of Feminist Postcolonial Technosciences
Anne Pollock, Banu Subramaniam

This special issue explores intersections of feminism, postcolonialism, and technoscience. The papers emerged out of a 2014 research seminar on Feminist Postcolonial Science and Technology Studies (STS) at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, University of Michigan. Through innovative engagement with rich empirical cases and theoretical trends in postcolonial theory, feminist theory, and STS, the papers trace local and global circulations of technoscience. They illuminate ways in which science and technology are imbricated in circuits of state power and global inequality and in social movements resisting the state and neocolonial orders. The collection foregrounds the importance of feminist postcolonial STS to our understandings of technoscience, especially how power matters for epistemology and justice.

Informed Refusal: Toward a Justice-based Bioethics
Ruha Benjamin

“Informed consent” implicitly links the transmission of information to the granting of permission on the part of patients, tissue donors, and research subjects. But what of the corollary, informed refusal? Drawing together insights from three moments of refusal, this article explores the rights and obligations of biological citizenship from the vantage point of biodefectors—those who attempt to resist technoscientific conscription. Taken together, the cases expose the limits of individual autonomy as one of the bedrocks of bioethics and suggest the need for a justice-oriented approach to science, medicine, and technology that reclaims the epistemological and political value of refusal.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Bioethics and Fetal Tissue Hearing

BY G KEVIN DONOVAN, MD, MA

On March 2, 2016, Dr. G Kevin Donovan testified at the “Bioethics and Fetal Tissue” hearing before the Select Investigative Panel of the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the US House of Representatives. Dr. Donovan was one of six witnesses to present testimony.

Chairman Blackburn, and members of the panel, I thank you for the opportunity to present testimony regarding the bioethical considerations in the harvesting, transfer, and use of fetal tissues and organs.

I am a physician trained in both pediatrics and clinical bioethics. I have spent my entire professional career caring for infants and children. It was this interest and concern that led me to further study in bioethics, because I have always been concerned about the most vulnerable patients, those who need others to speak up for them, both at the beginning and at the end-of-life. I also have significant familiarity with research ethics, having spent 17 years as the chair of the IRB, a board that monitors the rightness and the wrongness of medical research in order to protect human subjects. We took this aspect of our duties so seriously that I renamed our IRB the Institutional Research Ethics Board. Four years ago, I was called by my mentor, Dr. Edmund Pellegrino, to take his place as director of the Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University. Our duties include ethics education for medical students and resident physicians, ethics consultation for patients and doctors at the hospital, as well as the promulgation of scholarly papers and public speaking.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

A Monkey Circles in a Cage

Monkeys with Autism?

“…first ever nonhuman primates to show autism-like symptoms in the lab.”

On January 25, news broke widely in the press on research published in Nature by a team in Shanghai, who spent six years creating two generations of macaque monkeys engineered to have duplications of the MECP2 gene in their brains—a gene that researchers have associated with Rett Syndrome, a condition on the severe end of the human autism spectrum.

Trans-cranial Magnetic StimulationThe researchers listed a battery of behavioral tests which they claimed as evidence that the transgenic monkeys were now genetically predisposed to autism-associated behaviors. In a press briefing organized by Nature, Zilong Qiu, a leader of research at the Institute of Neuroscience at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, stated plans to leverage their research into human clinical trials down the line, with the aim of developing somatic gene therapies or non-invasive interventions like trans-cranial magnetic stimulation [Wiki] to correct autism in humans. Qiu stated the researchers are currently trying to identify the brain circuitry responsible for what they believe is the monkeys’ changed, autism-like behavior; after that, they plan to use CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing to manipulate the MECP2 duplications in the transgenic monkeys they created.

With “autism,” “transgenic,” and “monkey” in the headlines, it’s not surprising that a flurry of media coverage might flatten the social and ethical implications of what’s at stake with using animals models to study stigmatized human behavioral conditions. One article was promoted on Twitter as First Monkeys with Autism are Sickly Loners Who Pace Their Cages.”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Brian Massumi’s “What Animals Teach Us About Politics” by Naisargi Dave

What Animals Teach Us About Politics

by Brian Massumi

Duke University Press, 2014, 152 pages.

This is a book about choice. That reader who chooses non-acquiescence, chooses learning and living, who is willing to abduct one’s self from home (63) and be self-surpassing, that is the reader Brian Massumi addresses himself to. The one who, instead, seeks comfort in repeating the stale ideas of their inheritance — in Massumi’s delightful phrase, borrowed from Jean Oury, the “normopath” (70) — well, the normopath is also cordially invited, but is welcome to leave the playground at any time. Things do get a bit rough in there (it is not always easy to tell a nip from a bite), and all that is at stake in play is life itself.

Brian Massumi, in What Animals Teach Us About Politics, makes a case for us to claim our essential animality in order to ascend to an ethic that is still truly (which is not to say, exclusively) human: vital, creative, and expansive. He builds his argument as if laying a very elaborate trap. (I want to say that it is a harmless, non-violent trap, but that would be a lie. The price of being snared is having to rethink everything.) The argument begins with a revisiting of instinct — what for the Cartesian humanist remains the hard limit to animal expressivity — through an analysis of animal play.[i] Massumi’s choice to devote so much philosophical energy, not to mention space in this slim book, to play is a clever and strategic one: he is playing along (but only as a ludic gesture, denoting what it is not) with his most skeptical readers: since you refuse to believe animals have creativity, fine, I’ll be a sport and begin with what we can agree on: that (some) animals roll about.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

“Bioculturalism” — An interview with Christopher Lynn by Christopher D. Lynn

This series aims to get anthropologists and closely-related others talking seriously, and thinking practically, about how to synergize biological and social scientific approaches to human health and well-being, and to what positive ends. In this interview, Christopher Lynn responds to questions posed by series organizer Jeffrey G. Snodgrass.

 

How and why might cultural anthropologists and social scientists interested in health benefit from integrating biological variables/biomarkers into their research and analysis?

Cultural anthropologists and other social scientists interested in health should be interested in some objective indication of health status as reflective, at least in part, of physiological status. I don’t feel health issues have been sufficiently addressed if they are not approached integratively in this way. That is not to say that all my projects have gotten there yet or that biomarkers are always necessary in all health-oriented research, but without at least an accompanying biological perspective, any interpretation is lacking. One way of taking an integrated perspective and including biomarkers where feasible and informative is through basing research and data analysis in Tinbergen’s four “Why” questions. This ethological approach lends itself to participation as well as observation and recommends that we examine behavior (1) historically (culturally and phylogenetically), (2) developmentally (what is the role of age, maturity, family, expectations of those stages?), (3) functionally (physiologically or functionalist-ly), and (4) proximally (psychological cause-effect).

I guess that’s viewing it from the biological side and seeing culture as critical rather than vice versa. I don’t see that there’s any way around me seeing things through the lens of a biological anthropologist, but it’s important to note that this is distinct from how biologists often utilize ethology and Tinbergen, which often lacks awareness of cultural relativity.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Being humans when we are animals

Most people know that humans are animals, a primate species. Still, it is difficult to apply that knowledge directly to oneself: “I’m an animal”; “My parents are apes.”

– Can you say it without feeling embarrassed and slightly dizzy?

In a recent paper I explore this difficulty of “bringing home” an easily cited scientific fact:

Why does the scientific “fact” crumble when we apply it directly to ourselves?

I approach this difficulty philosophically. We cannot run ahead of ourselves, but I believe that’s what we attempt if we approach the difficulty theoretically. Say, by theorizing the contrast between humans and animals as an absolute presupposition of human language that science cannot displace.

Such a theory would be as easy to cite as the “fact” and wouldn’t touch our difficulty, the dizziness we feel.

Instead, I explore a personal experience. When I visited a laboratory for ape language research, an ape named Panbanisha told me to be QUIET and later called me a MONSTER. Being reprimanded by an ape made me dizzy about my humanness and about her animality.

How did the dizziness arise? After spending some time with the apes, the vertigo disappeared. How did it disappear?

That’s investigated in the paper by asking further questions, and by recollecting aspects of the meeting with Panbanisha to which those questions drew my attention. The paper offers a philosophical alternative to theory.

Trust your uncertainty and follow your questions!

Pär Segerdahl

Understanding enculturated apes - the ethics blog

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Speculations on the Future of AI

Thanks forthe shoutout and the kind words, Adam, about my review of Kurzweil’s latest book. I’ll take a stab at answering the question you posed:

I wonder how far Ari and [Edward] Feser would be willing to concede that the AI project might get someday, notwithstanding the faulty theoretical arguments sometimes made on its behalf…. Set aside questions of consciousness and internal states; how good will these machines get at mimicking consciousness, intelligence, humanness?

Allow me to come at this question by looking instead the big-picture view you explicitly asked me to avoid — and forgive me, readers, for approaching this rather informally. What follows is in some sense a brief update on my thinking on questions I first explored in my long 2009 essay on AI.

The big question can be put this way: Can the mind be replicated, at least to a degree that will satisfy any reasonable person that we have mastered the principles that make it work and can control the same? A comparison AI proponents often bring up is that we’ve recreated flying without replicating the bird — and in the process figured out how to do it much faster than birds. This point is useful for focusing AI discussions on the practical. But unlike many of those who make this comparison, I think most educated folk would recognize that the large majority of what makes the mind the mind has yet to be mastered and magnified in the way that flying has, even if many of its defining functions have been.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Reviewing Kurzweil’s Latest

Our own Ari Schulman recently reviewed Ray Kurzweil’s latest book How to Create a Mind for The American Conservative. Ari’s review challenges both Kurzweil’s ideas and his aspirations, which are, as is quite often the case in transhumanist fantasies, rather base — virtual sex and so on. Here Ari criticizes Kurzweil’s dismissal of human consciousness:

The fact that Kurzweil ignores or even denies the great mystery of consciousness may help explain why his theory has yet to create a mind. In truth, despite the revelatory suggestion of the book’s title, his theory is only a minor variation on ideas that date back decades, to when Kurzweil used them to build text-recognition systems. And while these techniques have produced many remarkable results in specialized artificial-intelligence tasks, they have yet to create generalized intelligence or creativity, much less sentience or first-person awareness.

Perhaps owing to this failure, Kurzweil spends much of the book suggesting that the features of consciousness he cannot explain — the qualities of the senses and the rest of our felt life and their role in deliberate thought and action — are mostly irrelevant to human cognition. Of course, Kurzweil is only the latest in a long line of theorists whose attempts to describe and replicate human cognition have sidelined the role of first-person awareness, subjective motivations, willful action, creativity, and other aspects of how we actually experience our lives and our decisions.

Read the whole thing here.

Another worthy take on Kurzweil’s book can be found in a review by Edward Feser, the fine philosophical duelist (and dualist) who recently caused a stir for his able defense of Thomas Nagel.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.