Genetic Engineering...

William Tivol tivol at
Wed Mar 12 14:27:01 EST 1997

browland at wrote:
: 2) Humans are animals which, having complex thought processes and
: superior intelligence, may do whatever they want.

: However, if you
: believe there is a gray area in between (which I think most people are
: currently grappling with), then you are really in trouble. How does
: one decide what is OK and what is not?

	We humans make our living by using our brains (and other skills),
and, insofar as we are adequately adapted to the environment, we decide
what to do based on what we predict the effects of our choices to be.
The "gray area" and being "really in trouble" are facts of human life.
There are obvious decisions for things to do and for things to stay away
from--no-brainers.  Where we can out-adapt other life-forms is to use
our intellect to make the correct decisions in the gray areas.  If we
blow too many of these decisions, the negative consequences will reduce
our level of fitness to the point where a better-adapted organism--prob-
ably a human group with a better-adapted culture--will take over our niche.
Ethical and moral decisions can be a matter of life and death.

:  I personally prefer to simplify the question as much as possible.
: However, simplification leads to greater problems.

	A good start for predicting consequences in a complicated case
is simplification.  A good follow-up is to incorporate successive levels
of complexity to see how this alters one's earlier conclusions.

: If you believe
: humans have no right to mess with the world, well, there goes
: technology, electricity, highly structured society, finance, cars,
: airplanes, space travel... This is something society is clearly not
: going to choose.

	We were evolved to have brains just so we could mess with the
world.  There is no reason to believe, however, that this is adaptive
(unless humans continue to survive).  Our only option is to use the
characteristics we have to try to maximize our survival.  If this
works, so much the better, and if it fails, then humans go onto the
scrap-heap of history.

: I see the obvious choice being the second idea: humas are superior.

	Time will tell.

: Oh, and the other point I want to make is this. Someone stated that:
:"GE will will prevent the
: extinction of animals by cloning." Well, extinction is a natural
: thing. It's part of the way the world works. I don't think it's
: something that we should try to prevent.

	Except for our own species.  It is likely that the existance
of other species will be essential for this (and in ways which we cannot
fully predict), so we should not jump to conclusions either way.  It
seems remarkably stupid, however, to encourage the extinction of other
species by our activities before we can make rational judgements.

: Humans must be superior in intelligence and therefore
: have the right (and the ability) to rule the planet by making
: decisions.

	We have the right to make decisions, and nature has the right to
wipe us out, either through the consequences of those decisions or through
something completely out of our control.  As far as ruling the planet is
concerned, we may be at the top of the food chain, and we can cause some
changes in the environment, but the blue-green algae caused far larger
changes by producing O2 in the atmosphere, and there are many organisms
which routinely use us for food (some even let us survive the process).

: We made the decision to contine polluting the environment
: (causing extinction). We made the decision to wipe out millions of
: acres of rain forest (causing extinction). Etc. So now that we've done
: this, go right ahead and try to fix things by preventing extinction of
: threatened species.

	Better still, stop making bad decisions and let the enviornment
recover.  Which decisions are bad?  They are either no-brainers or in
that troublesome gray area.  We have to look carefully at each case and
try to predict the consequences of the available options.  Difficult, but
				Bill Tivol

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