In a wide-ranging and thoughtful discussion, The European’s Martin Eierman asks Nick Bostrom, director of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute about the potential for genetic engineering enhancements of the mind, and Bostrom replies,essentially, that “we’ll get used to it.”
Bostrom: If you want to develop new drugs, you have to show that they are safe and effectively treat a disease. So when you want to find ways to enhance our brain activity, you perversely have to show that we are currently sick and need treatment. You cannot say, “I simply want to make this better than before”. We need to remove that stigma.
Some would butt in, before we try to enhance “mind,” “conciousness,”or “intelligence,” hadn’t we better decide what they are? There are no scientifically satisfactory definitions for any of these concepts. (There are the push poll definitions of various factions, but that is another matter.)
This came home to me recently when I was listening to a talk on the need for science to take into account the intelligence that underlies the universe, as a generator of high levels of information. A junkyard tornado survivor myself, I was in no way inclined to dispute this fact. But I did get up and ask a question: Science can only account for what it can understand – understand in the sense of the ability to work with it to gain new information. In that sense, what is intelligence? How does it relate to information? I was hardly prepared for his response.
But first, let me be clear: By “understand,” I don’t mean “understand fully.” I am not talking about the Darwin lobby’s bulleted talking points, like “know who the Designer is.” My much mor modest goal stems from writing a children’s book recently on Newton’s Laws.
Newton did not explain gravity. No one has. He developed equations that enable us to accurately predict its effects over a wide range of everyday and space frontier applications. While critics were carping that his theory was unacceptable because gravity sounds like forbidden “action at a distance,” people with less time on their hands have used his equations eversince, to solve pressing practical problems.
Someone needs to do that for intelligence: Develop a means of accurately predicting its effects over a wide range of everyday applications. For sure, they should do that long before we talk about “enhancing” intelligence.
At the talk I mentioned above, the prof seemed not to understand my question. It may not have been clearly expressed. But it is now. Thoughts?
Denyse O’Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.