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March 02, 2003

Brains & beauty

Randal Parker of Future Pundit opines on the recent comments by James Watson on "curing" stupidity. Additionally, what about making everyone "good looking"? When asked why he noted publically that Rosalind Franklin (he used her research for "discovering" the structure of DNA with Crick) was not very attractive and didn't take an interest in her appearence, Watson simply stated, "Because it matters." Some truths are self-evident I suppose?

Many, like Charles Murtaugh to name one, have expressed concern that playing around with the genome could cause unforseen problems (I'm sure it will). I think we have to look at this statistically. If you were two parents who had IQs of ~100 and could be guaranteed of having a child with an IQ of 150, if you took a 10% chance that there would serious complications that might not arise until later in life (this is the premise for a lot of science fiction oriented toward genetic engineering), would you take it? Extraordinary abilities and capacities may demand great risks.

What we may see is what values people really hold, and what are they willing to risk for it? In Los Angeles, parents might be say more willing to risk deformity to have "beautiful" children than folks in North Dakota. I have asked friends, only semi-rhetorically, "Would you give up 10 years of your life if you could have brilliance in your chosen field without the least effort?" These sort of choices have been pondered for as long as humanity has been sapient, at least judging by the choice of Achilles, who preferred a short glorious existence to anonymous longevity.

Long term consequences that we can not detect will be the issues, because obvious problems can be detected during pregnancy, and abortion is always a recourse. But the fact is that we take a risk with every breath we take as modern human beings that take "progress" for granted. Obesity and heart disease are the result of rich and constant diets, but would we go back to the lean years of the past? The freedom of women to have jobs had caused a great deal of social dislocation, but would we say to "back to the kitchens go!"

But the "risks" (statistically) might not be known until a small sample of "alterted" children mature to adulthood. But always into the darkness, some will go, risking danger for the glory that others fear....

Posted by razib at 05:40 PM

That's the problem with genetic engineering of humans, it'd probably take generations to perfect...if in a shorter time we develop things like brain/computer interfaces that can effectively increase your brainpower, or much more extensive and safe plastic surgery that can change your appearance in radical ways, then perhaps genetic engineering will never become very popular (or necessary).

Posted by: Jesse at March 2, 2003 06:08 PM

Duh! What about making everyone good looking? Razib should come to Dallas, sometime, and see all the hotties, many of whom have been "enhanced" and "augmented." Then there will be no rhetorical sighing!

In my next life I want to be a plastic surgeon in Dallas!

Posted by: Roger Chaillet at March 2, 2003 07:04 PM

the quotes were for my PoMo readers, i like to humor them :)

Posted by: razib at March 2, 2003 07:11 PM

Oh god, i surely hope that if people decide to beautify their kids, they still do it in different ways in different parts of the world. I'd really HATE to live in a world where every woman is a jennifer aniston type (ie hollywood beauty)..UGh..What about people who appreciate non standard beauty ? Hopefully i'll be dead before all women are turned into clones.

Posted by: ogunsiron at March 2, 2003 07:52 PM

About the risks : i think the effect of raised intelligence would easily compensate any resulting problems. The much smarter population is more likely to come up with a solution to heal itself isn't it ?

Posted by: ogunsiron at March 2, 2003 08:09 PM

Ugh. Consider the plight of a 150 IQ child with 100 IQ parents. High IQ is great (theoretically) but it brings its own problems. Not to mention that it is no guarantor of achievement.

Posted by: C. McClellan at March 3, 2003 07:04 AM

Even if it took generations to perfect (why would it?) the effects would be dramatic long before that. I'd bet on genetic engineering over AI as a route to superhuman people any day. Not that AI isn't already superhuman in some of its capabilities - but then a steam engine is also superhuman.
As regards genetically engineered hotties: people adjust their standards to fit the available selection. If there are more attractive people around, the dividing line between attractive and unattractive will gradually move to keep the perceived proportion the same. Not good news for the non-genetically engineered, of course.

Posted by: bbartlog at March 3, 2003 10:30 AM

Ted Bundy had a high IQ. Just a thought.

Posted by: Carter at March 4, 2003 01:01 AM