NETFUTURE Technology and Human Responsibility -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Issue #152 December 9, 2003 -------------------------------------------------------------------------- A Publication of The Nature Institute Editor: Stephen L. Talbott (firstname.lastname@example.org) On the Web: http://www.netfuture.org/ You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes. Can we take responsibility for technology, or must we sleepwalk in submission to its inevitabilities? NetFuture is a voice for responsibility. It depends on the generosity of those who support its goals. To make a contribution, click here. CONTENTS --------- Quotes and Provocations Flights of Optimism In the Service of Science From Estrogen to Testosterone Biotechnology, Ethics, and the Arc of Life DEPARTMENTS Announcements and Resources Fall Issue of The New Atlantis About this newsletter ========================================================================== QUOTES AND PROVOCATIONS Flights of Optimism ------------------- Have you heard the story of Alberto Santos-Dumont? The flamboyant Brazilian was the only human being ever to own a personal flying machine. Taking off from the street alongside his apartment and flying low over the rooftops of Paris on shopping trips, he would throw his red tie down to the admiring crowds below, then descend grandly in front of a fashionable shop, handing the "reins" of his compact dirigible to the doorman for tethering alongside all the horses. At the time (which happened to be during the first years of the twentieth century), Dumont may have been the most famous person in the world. In the biography, Wings of Madness, Paul Hoffman writes that "There are corporate moguls who have helicopters who can fly from their backyards to the roof of their office, but they don't fly to dinner; they can't fly to Barney's to shop. Nobody has had a personal flying machine other than Santos-Dumont". According to Hoffman, whom I recently heard in an NPR "Weekend Edition" interview, Dumont invented the dirigible by marrying an early automobile engine to an elongated, hydrogen-filled balloon. He would wave his hat over the primitive engine to protect the balloon from the occasional flurry of sparks (incidentally triggering a Parisian fashion craze for slightly singed Panama hats). Attracted to the idea of flight all his life, he later played a role in the development of fixed-wing flight, and believed in the almost mystic qualities of the experience of height. He held dinner parties where the guests dined ethereally at ten-foot-high tables. But what intrigued me most about Dumont was his naïve optimism. As Hoffman puts it, "He thought flying machines would bring about world peace. He thought you could fly and visit people with whom you had differences and that would help you understand them better". World War I, with its casualties inflicted from the air, shattered Dumont's faith, and may have contributed to the shattering of the man himself. His last years were unhappy ones. In 1932, during the Brazilian civil war, a plane was shot down a few blocks from the hotel where he was staying. Upon hearing the news he took one of his red ties and hanged himself from a bathroom peg. As readers of NetFuture know, recurrent episodes of technological optimism and disappointment -- prompted, for example, by the development of electricity, the telegraph, automobiles, radio, and television -- have punctuated the last couple of hundred years. Nor are we exempt from the syndrome today. Digital networking technologies aroused a millennial fervor among the cognoscenti, and this has been followed, in the current, post-utopian Internet era, by the inevitable downers: pernicious spam, spam-rage, virus wars, pop-up commercialism, ubiquitous pornography, and thriving, hate-based web sites. I keep looking for some more profound point to make about the long, eccentric history of technology-based hope and and disillusionment, but I always come back to the simple, if disastrous, projection of human qualities upon external devices -- as if our past moral failings resulted, for example, from inadequate machinery of communication rather than from the persons doing the communicating. Certainly it's true, as Dumont believed, that visiting others can help us understand them better. But such free movement can also make it easy, if we are so inclined, to blow ourselves up in their faces. The inclination is the decisive issue, not the technical means for giving it expression. However, that last statement may encourage too stark a distinction between means and what we express with them. After all, every technical device is not only a means but is itself a human expression -- an expression you can see reflected, for example, in the gadget hound's gleaming eyes as he leafs through a Sharper Image catalog. When looked at in these terms rather than as a mere object, the device will certainly be found imbued with qualities, including moral qualities. This is hardly a secret to the manufacturers and marketers who go to such lengths to invest their products with these qualities in the first place. All human constructions and, in general, all human activities are laden with meaning -- even when we mean them to express meaninglessness. The problem with undue technological optimism (or pessimism) is not that we view material devices as the bearers of meaning. Rather, it is that we forget how all these externalized meanings are, in the end, our meanings. We can have a hard time recognizing our meanings for what they are once they have been "frozen" and objectified in metal and plastic. Extraordinary self-knowledge is required of us at a stage in our history when we can so skillfully make things en masse, and when we have learned to think of these things as objects essentially independent of ourselves. Only through an exceptional sort of awareness can we recognize the hopes, fears, values, desires, and viewpoints by which we make these objects what they are. Knowing next to nothing about Dumont's life, I can only speculate about the meaning of his airships. He seems to have been moved by a genuine idealism. But a disappointment so excessive that it leads to self- destruction hints at a correspondingly destructive hope. It would be interesting to explore whether, in addition to Dumont's perhaps rather- too-abstract ideal of peace, a more immediate meaning of his inventions lay in the self-aggrandizement they afforded, symbolized in his love of elevation and in the condescending gesture of the dropped tie. If something like that were the case, then the transformation of his tie into the instrument of his final, extinguishing descent might appear almost tragically natural. And the development of airborne warships would appear less a contradiction than an extension of such a motivation. Whatever the case with Alberto Santos-Dumont -- and I emphasize again that I do not know the truth of his life (and am quite certain that not even a small part of his life can be summarized adequately with the simplistic remarks above!) -- the important point is that there are always many such stories to tell, for good or ill, about every technical creation we employ. The sooner we learn to discern these stories within our own psyches and bring a ruthless self-criticism to them, the happier our technological experience will be. In the Service of Science ------------------------- If you have a baboon and find yourself needing to induce a brain stroke in it, the procedure is actually quite straightforward. First you remove the left eye. (Sufficient anesthetic may prove helpful, but you can get by with much less if you tie the animal down securely.) Then, after drilling through the bone at the back of the empty socket, you reach in and clamp off three arteries supplying blood to the brain. A stroke should soon follow. Unfortunately, the subsequent events are not entirely predictable. But the baboon probably won't cause you much trouble -- especially if it is unable to sit up or eat and drink. And, in any case, it may die within a few days, relieving you of any need to continue offering it all this special care. But why be so hypothetical about it? I am now reading through the handwritten laboratory records for a stroke experiment at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. Baboon #777 had its left eye removed and a stroke induced early on the morning of Sep. 19, 2001. The post-operative care notes for the next two days (Sep. 20 - 21) read as follows: [Sep. 20] A.M. Comments: Can't sit up, leaning over, can't eat but tries, was given Tang, normal urine. Has slight movement, sutures intact, BM [bowel movement]. P.M. Comments: Offered food and Tang, can't chew/swollow [sic]. Awake, slouched over. [Sep. 21] Awake, but no movement, can't eat (chew), vomitted [sic] in the A.M. Can only drink if water (juice) is squeezed into its mouth. At 1:30 p.m. the animal died in the cage. In the columns labeled "Treatments" and "Medications" there are no painkiller entries for either of those days. Here are some excerpts from the life adventures of other baboons: Baboon #816. [Day after operation:] cheek pouches look full of saliva. Monkey slumped against back wall of retracted cage. Tried to straighten him up and offered tang. Drinking O.K. No movement seen in right side leg or arm .... [Next day:] Found baboon dead in cage. [No painkilling medications listed for either day.] Baboon #754. [Day after operation:] animal can not move in its cage at all .... [Next day:] found dead in its cage. probably died overnight. [No painkilling medications listed.] Baboon #819. [Day after operation:] Ambulatory on left arm + food, but motor skill/coordination is poor. Not able to sit up / will slump down on back .... Not able to feed himself. Will readily take food if food is put into mouth. Not sure if able to swallow .... Offered water, but was coming out of side of mouth. [Next day:] Monkey found dead in cage @ 5:00 AM. Still sitting partially upright. [No painkilling medications listed.] There is much more, but I will spare you. The records came into my hands via PeTA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). The reason they had the records is that Dr. Catherine Dell'Orto, a postdoctoral veterinary fellow at Columbia, couldn't take it any longer and reported the abuse, first to Columbia University officials, then to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for the care and treatment of experimental animals, and finally to PeTA. Columbia conducted an internal investigation, concluding that "inadequate or questionable veterinary care was rendered" to the baboons. The Department of Agriculture wrote a letter. No disciplinary action is known to have been taken, and the same researchers, led by Dr. E. Sander Connolly, continue experimenting with animals. According to PeTA, "insiders still working [at Columbia] have reported that there is no improvement in the care or handling of the baboons or any other animals". I cannot vouch for this personally, but one thing is certain: people capable of the original practices are not likely to have changed their own values a great deal, and there seems to be no external authority watchful or willful enough to impose standards from the outside. I spoke with Dr. Nicholas Dodman, formerly Head of Veterinary Anesthesiology at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, and now a Professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences. Having reviewed the Columbia research group's experimental protocol, he was left with severe questions about the use of anesthesia during the actual operations. Why in the world, he asked, would they use such light anesthesia for this particular experiment, since protecting the animals from the unpleasantness of the operation would have had no bearing on the data the researchers were seeking? Dodman said that the levels of anesthesia specified in the protocol would have been "borderline acceptable -- perhaps" for a human being. But baboons are not humans, and nitrous oxide (one of the analgesics used) is only one-half as potent for monkeys as for humans. In his view, it is very likely that these animals -- who had no way to "unvolunteer" from the experiment -- suffered needlessly from the operation and were to one degree or another conscious as their eyes were being removed. Dodman also confirmed my own suspicion that fast-and-loose playing with the prevailing guidelines for animal care in experiments is widespread: "You can take liberties, and you know you're not going to be sued". Many of these researchers, he remarked, are operating in an "anthropocentric, career-centered world", taking a scientific model for which they have very little understanding and grinding out experimental "data" for no good purpose other than their own advancement. The animals and their fate and even the data are quite incidental. This is underscored by commentary from Dr. Robert S. Hoffman, a neurologist who has dealt with stroke patients for sixteen years while practicing in the San Francisco area. He points out that various "neuroprotective" agents of the sort being tested by the Columbia researchers have been studied for twenty years. Over thirty of these agents have shown benefit in animals, but not a single one has ever proven beneficial to humans. As Hoffman sees it, The fundamental question raised by this situation is: when should you call it quits? The scientists themselves will never do so. It is the people who fund the research who need to address the issue .... If we had unlimited funding for biomedical research, and if this research did not use animals, I suppose "never" [quitting] would be an acceptable answer. If researchers are willing to spend their careers on this, then why not? But this is not the case. Research funding is finite and in fact shrinking. Accordingly, every dollar devoted to this research is denied to many other areas which in my opinion are far more likely to yield clinically important information. In addition, from an ethical point of view, the use of animals for this research is indefensible, since its clinical promise is practically nil. Hoffman adds that these baboons are kept alive (when possible) in a condition of profound disability for three to ten days after their strokes. One side of their body is totally paralyzed. This condition can be full of terror for humans, and there is no reason to think baboons are immune from all such feeling. He also notes that the animals do not have their tubes removed until the day following the operation, "meaning that they are awake, restrained, and with an endotracheal tube. I have experienced this myself and can report that it is extremely distressing and uncomfortable". Finally, in a letter to the New York Times (not accepted for publication), NetFuture reader and Columbia University emeritus professor, Douglas Sloan, cited the baboon studies and then went on: In another set of procedures, metal caps are screwed into macaques' heads to study the effects of stress on the menstrual cycle, without benefit of adequate painkillers. And in a third set, pregnant rhesus monkeys have been held in restrictive jackets for months while special devices pumped nicotine into their bodies to prove that it has an effect on fetuses. Such, it seems, is the state of cutting-edge medical research. The mistreatment of these animals has been exposed by concerned whistle blowers at the university. It remains to be seen, however, what steps, if any, Columbia will take to put an end to this probably criminal meanness. On at least one earlier occasion, Columbia was forced to shut down animal "experiments" because of similar cruelty and neglect. That Columbia has permitted this to happen again suggests that this leading teaching institution itself has severe learning difficulties. The suffering of animals in "scientific" research (along with "scientific" farming) is today on a scale and intensity unprecedented in human history. Our willful unconsciousness of what is happening to the animals constitutes one of the main moral disasters of our time -- which, given everything else, is saying a lot. You may have noted above that baboon #777 was sacrificed on the altar of science just about a week after the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. Dust and smoke were still wreathing Manhattan, where the Columbia campus is located. The city was in a fearful and barricaded state. But you have to hand it to those researchers: they were nothing if not brave and dedicated to the high calling of their profession. (You'll find more information at http://www.columbiacruelty.com.) From Estrogen to Testosterone ----------------------------- You have probably heard, over the past year or so, about the progressive collapse of the medical establishment's long-standing and confident case for hormone replacement therapy -- the use of estrogen and other hormones in older women to ease the symptoms of menopause and postpone the signs of aging. Not only are there previously unforeseen risks associated with this widely employed therapy, but the "obvious" benefits have been evaporating upon closer inspection. Since neither this nor any other misjudgment ever leads the mainstream media to question scientific authority, I would like to mention in passing two closely related lessons of the hormone replacement debacle. In the first place, the episode underscores how far we still are from anything like the holism to which so many pay lip service. You cannot help being amazed when you consider the ready willingness of almost the entire medical community to fiddle so casually with the fundamental developmental processes of the human being. If it were really understood -- and how could this be missed? -- that these processes are organically related to just about everything that goes on in the human being, then neither researchers nor physicians could have been satisfied with the inherently limited studies focused on the presence or absence of this or that particular side-effect. There would have been an extremely powerful presumption -- scarcely altered by mountains of the usual sorts of "evidence" -- that such therapy must bend the organism out of shape in one way or another. I am certain that, with the recent studies, we have scarcely begun to understand the full and subtle implications of hormone replacement. The reasons for this may become clearer when you consider how the body tries to adapt to a stimulus -- even to an extreme stimulus -- in an organic and harmonious way. Anyone who has studied human physiology knows that any significant event -- say, an injury to one part of the body -- leads to a cascade of adjustments in blood functioning, respiration, muscle tension, psychological state, and so on without limit. The organism re-shapes itself around the disruptive occurrence. And this global, organic re-shaping means that you have no set of well-defined and restricted places to look for unwelcome changes. They can show up as a contributing factor to almost anything else that happens. The same holds true for arbitrary chemical stimuli. The statement, "We tested drug X for this and that, and we found no ill side-effects" is always inadequate. This, then, is the second lesson: conventional research methods -- the methods that for so long confirmed to physicians the advisability of hormone replacement -- are by themselves unequal to the task we have assigned them. It may not be immediately obvious what is missing, but I will in the future be suggesting that our scientific investigations require a greatly strengthened qualitative element if they are to reveal very much about the altered shape of an organism as a whole. This is because the only language and the only truth that can speak through any whole, characterizing it as a whole, are a qualitative language and a qualitative truth. Not that we should expect such lessons to penetrate science or society very quickly. There is now a rapidly growing employment of testosterone therapy among men, with doctors prescribing it for uses far beyond the federally approved ones involving severe testosterone deficiency. Last year more than 800,000 men were given this therapy. What we're looking at is the early stage of yet another "fountain of youth" syndrome, and the medical establishment seems no less driven to craziness by the strange hallucinations of this syndrome than is the general public. Biotechnology, Ethics, and the Arc of Life ------------------------------------------ You could wish that every government-funded study were written in the lucid, informative style of the latest report from the President's Council on Bioethics. Neither bureaucratic nor academic in tone, the report (in its own words) "aspires to thoughtful reflection" with the goal of stimulating broad public discussion. I can hardly imagine any document that would fulfill these aims more worthily than the one at hand. The report is entitled "Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness". Calling this "arguably the most neglected topic in public bioethics", the Council goes on to remark that "compared with more immediate topics in bioethics, the questions raised by efforts to 'improve on human nature' seem abstract, remote, and overly philosophical, unfit for public policy; indeed, many bioethicists and intellectuals believe either that there is no such thing as 'human nature' or that altering it is not ethically problematic". But, in any case, there is no doubting the seriousness of the decisions being forced upon us: What's at issue is not the crude old power to kill the creature made in God's image but the attractive, science-based power to remake ourselves after images of our own devising. As a result it gives unexpected practical urgency to ancient philosophical questions: What is a good life? What is a good community? The Council, very wisely, chose to approach bioethics first of all through this consideration of human ends, rather than by trying to fix categorical labels to particular technologies. I say "wisely" because ultimately our bioethical choices must rest upon two foundations: first, a knowledge of our own character and potentials as human beings; and second, a knowledge of the implications of each technology for the whole person, the whole community, the whole biosphere. If there is one thing I would like to have seen emphasized more in the report, it is the degree to which our own understanding of the various biotechnologies falls short of this second requirement. If we really knew the full import of, say, a genetic alteration for the entire organism it was applied to, the ethical questions would in many cases almost answer themselves. But not only do we lack this understanding (and lack it even for some current treatments the Council seems to find unproblematic); we have largely denied ourselves the very prerequisites for any holistic grasp of effects upon organisms. This grasp would have to be qualitative, since only qualities can suffuse and characterize a whole. But our science has been less interested in understanding the qualities of things than in ignoring them. On the other front, the Council's report is unsurpassed in its effort to clarify human ends and desires. For example, if there is one thing nearly every biotech enthusiast seems to agree on, it is that pushing back the threshold of death would be a good thing, properly desired by all sane persons. But, the report notes, this is not at all so obvious when you begin to think about it. Here an extended quotation seems justified: What if everybody lived life to the hilt, even as they approached an ever-receding age of death in a body that looked and functioned -- let's not be too greedy -- like that of a thirty-year-old? Would it be good if each and all of us lived like light bulbs, burning as brightly from beginning to end, then popping off without warning, leaving those around us suddenly in the dark? Or is it perhaps better that there be a shape to life, everything in its due season, the same also written, as it were, into the wrinkles of our bodies that live it -- provided, of course, that we do not suffer years of painful or degraded old age and that we do not lose our wits? What would the relations between the generations be like if there never came a point at which a son surpassed his father in strength or vigor? What incentive would there be for the old to make way for the young, if the old slowed down little and had no reason to think of retiring -- if Michael could play basketball until he were not forty but eighty? Might not even a moderate prolongation of lifespan with vigor lead to a prolongation in the young of functional immaturity -- of the the sort that has arguably already accompanied the great increases in average life expectancy experienced in the past century? Going against both common intuition and native human desire, some commentators have argued that living with full awareness and acceptance of our finitude may be the condition of many of the best things in human life: engagement, seriousness, a taste for beauty, the possibility of virtue, the ties born of procreation, the quest for meaning .... The pursuit of perfect bodies and further life-extension might deflect us from realizing more fully the aspirations to which our lives naturally point, from living well rather than merely staying alive. A concern with one's own improving agelessness might finally be incompatible with accepting the need for procreation and human renewal. Personally, I find the hope for some kind of earthly immortality or radically extended life almost incomprehensible. I must have at least as many fears of death and illness as the next person, but those fears seem, at some profound place beneath their terror, to be my friends -- my guides in moving toward a healthier self and a healthier future. Carl Jung describes the trajectory of the individual human life as a broad, sun-like arc. During the first half we are on the ascendant, surveying an ever-widening field of action, coming into the full strength of our powers, and finally reaching a peak of our life energies. But at the noon zenith we begin a long descent in which many of our values and interests go through a kind of reversal -- need to do so -- in order to reckon with the decline in our physical vigor. So, the two oppositely directed halves of a human life take on profoundly differing qualities. But in one sense the descent applies only to our "external", biological life. As our bodies begin to slow down and show their frailty, our inner resourcefulness, our wisdom, our capacity for selflessness may continue along a rising trajectory -- may, in fact, be encouraged in this ascent precisely because of our failing outer capacities. The nineteenth-century novelist, George MacDonald, said of flowers that they must die so that we may learn to love their beauty rather than gather and horde their bodies. A similar turning toward the inner and essential is necessary in relation to our own physical capacities. They are never merely physical, but always are expressing something inward, and that something is our life. To become obsessed during the second half of life with the physical powers as such rather than the life behind them is to turn away from ourselves. Bernard Lievegoed, a student of organizational development and individual psychology, offered a perspective on the broad course of human life that has been central to my own self-understanding, and I would like to sketch and excerpt it briefly for NetFuture readers. The point in relation to the foregoing is that it is meaningless to talk about biotechnology and ethics except in the context of some such view of our lives. In many discussions of biotechnology, the view being advanced remains unspoken and implicit -- understandably so, since it would appear unbearably crass if it were brought out into the open. In The Developing Organization, Lievegoed reminds us that the small child's inner life is heavily dependent on biology, so that, for example, the beginning of an illness shows up in behavior and mood. But as the child grows older, its individuality progressively asserts itself, shaping the psyche more and more independently of the body. Lievegoed describes the central periods on either side of the biological zenith as follows. (He was writing in 1969 and from the standpoint of European organizational management. His age markers, described in terms of male employees, should be taken as a rough schema, not some sort of fixed law.) Around the thirtieth year, sometimes sooner, sometimes later, a change takes place in a person's inner constellation. Many experience this as a definite farewell to youth. Emotional instability decreases. One is no longer totally immersed in one's situation but can stand back and observe things objectively. The rational element gains the upper hand. One has some life-experience to look back on and some things in the future seem more concrete.... The period of the thirties is a time of consolidation, in which one's own career is made visible, matter-of-fact judgments are formed, and actions are carried out in a considered way .... One feels at home in the logical organization of scientific management, but not in the static tasks it demands.... At thirty-five a man has reached the middle of his life. His vital forces still support him, his mind is fully developed, and his will is directed towards activities with concrete content. Problems at the social level are solved in a rational and organizational way. Talking to workers and also middle-management people of this age, one notices that they feel they have got life "nicely sorted out". They know what they can get out of it, and also approximately their own level within the hierarchy of the organization. It is interesting that this does not give rise to any problems. Not until the following years do they encounter, at first incidentally and then more often, a crisis of values. "I have achieved what I have been seeking for years. What now? Another twenty-five years in this town, with this firm, till I retire?" A feeling of uncertainty arises which did not exist a few years earlier. What once seemed of value is now no longer attractive. "There must be something more!" Many seek it in external change -- of house, work, or marriage; in the old days people used to emigrate, to make a new beginning far away, to be twenty once again, to go through the expansive period once again, but this time in a different and better way. The crisis at the beginning of the forties, drastic for some, creeping for others, is a crisis into which man is thrust so that he can once more take stock of his values. His "objective drives" have brought him to a certain point, but now they are suddenly found to be empty and no longer give real satisfaction. Where does one go from here? Where can one find new values and new aims? For the whole of the phase of expansion (from the age of twenty to the age of forty) man is carried by experiencing his vital forces and placing himself at the center of his environment. This does not mean that he is unsocial, but the emphasis is on the self: "I am successful", I am managing the department very well", I made a success of that transaction". The crisis now leads from I to we, from subjective ego-centeredness to objective social awareness. At thirty-five a man will ask in a certain situation: "How can I solve this problem?" A man of fifty-five, if he has weathered the crisis in the right way, will ask in the same situation, "Who is the most suitable person to solve this problem?" or even "How can I delegate this task so that the person concerned can learn something from solving it?" So, after the crisis and reversal of direction at the zenith, we may rise to new levels of creativity based on our experience and deepening insight. "A person like this, at the height of his individual capacity, is able to conceptualize, to guide policy, and .... to mature to real thoughtfulness and wisdom. This level of creativity can last for a long time before it finally succumbs to the onslaught of old age or actual physical infirmity". Of course, things may not turn out this way. It may happen that one is unable to weather the crisis in the right way. If, at mid-life, "he continues to drift with the stream of vitality which has carried him so far, if he bases his self-esteem on physical achievement or on his work routine", then his inner life will follow the same descending curve as his body. "He will have to apply more and more effort just to remain at a constant level; he will find it more and more difficult to take in new things, for as biological rigidity increases he will also become psychologically more and more set in his ways". This is why the way we manage employees is so crucial. "The surest way of having difficulties with men after they are forty is to give them work when they are young which hardly takes any time to do, and to let them carry out this work year after year". Eventually such a person becomes an obstinate dead weight in the organization, unable to adapt to change: Management faced with a problem of this kind must in the first place ask itself: What mistakes have we made so that he has become like this? When he was between forty and fifty did we not profit from the fact that his department ran on oiled wheels? Did we leave him there because we could not be bothered to make a change? Did we overlook the symptom that no promising young men emerged from his department ready to move on to higher levels? Many people, particularly those who are very active and full of vitality, are in danger of taking this path, and yet they could be released from this kind of cramp with the help of a deep-reaching conversation, a transfer, or a special assignment. Of course, many have written similarly of basic life cycles in more recent decades. My reason for going into all this here is not to quibble over the detailed accuracy of Lievegoed's picture, but merely to point out how vacuous so much discussion of a re-engineered humanity begins to appear as soon as you really look at the human being. The discussion typically proceeds without first calling up any meaningful image of the person the engineers are determined to re-make. The conversation takes place in a near-vacuum, with the central place occupied by the technology rather than the person being subjected to it. Particular technological tricks are automatically translated as human "improvements" -- without any basis having been given for distinguishing between improvement and degradation. It hardly needs adding that if a decisive turn in human development occurs at mid-life, with the body beginning its descent and the psyche (at least potentially) growing toward wisdom and selflessness as the essential fulfillment of life's meaning -- and if, given the psychosomatic unity of the human being, these complementary movements are inseparable -- then a preoccupation with the prolongation of our physical powers could prove to be just about the most destructive thing imaginable. But where, within the biotechnology industry and the journalistic media are the relevant questions even being asked? We can be thankful that the President's Council on Bioethics has stepped into this void. It is not a good sign, however, that they had difficulty finding a publisher for this report, which, being subtle and full of profound insight, was deemed to have little sales potential. --------------------- The Council's report, Beyond Therapy, considers four broad domains in which biotechnological applications are currently employed or envisioned: the "improvement" of children, the pursuit of superior performance (especially in athletics), the engineering of ageless bodies, and the pursuit of "happy souls". In each of these cases the report discusses the current state of the technology, the scientific background, and the ethical issues. You will find the report (which, I understand, will be published in book form) at http://www.bioethics.gov. SLT Goto table of contents ========================================================================== ANNOUNCEMENTS AND RESOURCES Fall Issue of The New Atlantis ------------------------------------- In NF #150 I mentioned The New Atlantis, "a journal of technology and society" that began publication last spring. The Fall, 2003 issue is now available, and well worth checking out. Here are the main contents: ** "A New Vision for NASA", defending our moral obligation to go to space and suggesting a new course for America's space program. ** "Bioethics in Wartime", exploring why bioethics matters in a time of war. ** "From Biology to Biography", on the relation between evolution and human meaning. ** and also "Does Digital Politics Still Matter?", "Why Not Artificial Wombs?" and "The Politics of the World Health Organization", along with various short pieces. It happens that there is also an article of my own in this issue. It's called "A Conversation with Nature" and is based on an earlier piece published in NF #127: "Ecological Conversation". You'll find the full text of articles, along with subscription information, at http://www.thenewatlantis.com. Goto table of contents ========================================================================== ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER Copyright 2003 by The Nature Institute. You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes. You may also redistribute individual articles in their entirety, provided the NetFuture url and this paragraph are attached. NetFuture is supported by freely given reader contributions, and could not survive without them. For details and special offers, see http://netfuture.org/support.html . Current and past issues of NetFuture are available on the Web: http://netfuture.org/ To subscribe or unsubscribe to NetFuture: http://netfuture.org/subscribe.html. Steve Talbott :: NetFuture #152 :: December 9, 2003 Goto table of contents This issue of NetFuture: http://www.netfuture.org/2003/Dec0903_152.html.