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October 19th, 2006


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01:17 pm - Article on the future of reproduction
Here's an absolutely fascinating and hopeful article on the future of reproduction.
"Yet could we be moving towards an age in which entering nature's genetic lottery is no longer seen as a desirable way to bring a child into the world? Might natural conception even come to be thought of as irresponsible, as bad as smoking while pregnant?"
That sounds like an amazingly wonderful outcome. If the tech can be gotten to the point that it isn't as invasive or problematic (which from the article sounds like it may have already have been done) then we can start to completely and permanently divorce sex and reproduction. The ultimate goal I see is to create some form of permanent sterilization that also allows for artificial fertilization. In addition to reducing genetic diseases, the biggest benefits I see are the complete elimination of unwanted pregnancy (for best results, such sterilization should be performed on all children well before puberty). Another useful advantage would be helping to win the anti-fundy Culture War - the vile and twisted idea that sex is only for reproduction would be eliminated and the entire abortion debate would be rendered moot. Once an entire generation had grown up never associating sex and reproduction in any fashion we would be living in a vastly improved culture. Definitely a dream to hope for, especially since I'm betting that making reproduction into a choice that has absolutely nothing to do with sex would also help further improve gender relations and reduce sexism. Also, for transhumanists like myself, this is a good first step towards the creation of a world of exceptionally long-lived humans and posthumans where reproduction is a relatively rare event. Throw in artificial wombs (some initial work is being done on them) and some of the interesting advances in stem-cell research and the possibility of any two people (regardless of sex) being able to have children also looms large. Then there is the niftyness of human cloning (I'm still shocked no one has yet done this), I quite like the idea of the ultra-vain having one or more clone-children or of fads for clones of various celebrities becoming the new in-thing for having children. Definitely interesting times, with luck, archaic attitudes about sex, reproduction, and the role of women will be largely gone (at least in the first world) in 50 years.
Current Mood: pleasedpleased

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Comments:


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From:alobar
Date:October 19th, 2006 08:49 pm (UTC)
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It is the nature of any civilization to be trnasient. Golden ages alternate with dark ages. If humans become dependent upon technology to reproduce, when technology is no longer available, it is species extinction time. There is also the question of who controls the technology. Will the eugenicists lobby to prevent people in groups they label as inferior from having children?

Historically speaking, when government had a monopoly on drinking water, it was easy to squelsh dissent. How much more of a weapon will this technology be in the hands of people who want to stifle all change which does not benefit the select few in the upper class?

Then, of course, there is the very real matter of trust. Doctors and drug companies lie about dangerous procedures and drugs all the time. They hide research which casts doubt on what they are doing. I sure would not trust them to tell the truth about anything.
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From:heron61
Date:October 19th, 2006 09:35 pm (UTC)
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Golden ages alternate with dark ages.

In this we disagree. Before the 20th century, my view of history is essentially that there were the crappy eras and then there even more crappy eras, but that they weren't all that different for the vast majority of people. Especially more than 200 years ago, the past was a horror of disease, oppression, and misery. Industrial civilization has proven to be both highly successful and exceptionally resilient, I'm not particularly betting on a collapse. People have been predicting the immenant collapse of industrial civilization for the past 50 years, and it's simply not happening, nor showing any signs it will happen. I'm betting it will increasingly suck to be living in the 3rd world for the next half century or so, and I'm very glad I don't live there. OTOH, while questions of tyranny and freedom remain very real, I don't see any sort of collapse or even major setbacks coming for the first world. I would also far prefer centuries (or more likely many millennia) of an humane world followed by extinction to continued sexism and ludicrous ideas about sex and reproduction.
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From:earlofstomp
Date:October 19th, 2006 09:01 pm (UTC)
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Gattica

Brave new World

I find this frightening...
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From:heron61
Date:October 19th, 2006 09:08 pm (UTC)
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I find it cool beyond words and also a powerful for positive social change. In one stroke, repressive attitudes about sexuality, reproduction and the roles of men and women are all reduced or eliminated.
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From:earlofstomp
Date:October 19th, 2006 09:13 pm (UTC)
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I find it frightening for the fact that people will have their customer child and expect a result through to adulthood. Not a good thing for children. I think it will break individuality and make people more cusotom bulit for their job and what happens when the super solider wants to be an artist or that perfict Brad Pitt child decides he will not be an actor?

What about the children that don't turn out just right? Today there are 15K children in the Foster Care System of Texas for some reason or another, I fear that will amek a new reason.

Sorry, friend I do not share your wonder, but I appreciate this debate.
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From:beetiger
Date:October 19th, 2006 09:18 pm (UTC)
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I quite like the idea of the ultra-vain having one or more clone-children or of fads for clones of various celebrities becoming the new in-thing for having children.

This sounds uterly dreadful to me. Can you imagine *being* one of these children? It's bad enough for people to be named after a celebrity or movie character popular at the time of their birth, or for child models to have to be someone in particular for other people by their toddler years. Can you imagine trying to *be* one of dozens of clones of a popular, but faded by the time you reach adulthood, movie star, with parents with the kind of expectations you'd figure people who would make that choice for their kids would have?

Gah.
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From:heron61
Date:October 19th, 2006 09:27 pm (UTC)
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OTOH, at least the kids would have one great advantage, attractiveness. All studies I've see have shown that one of the greatest predictors of success (in both career and romance) and overall happiness is attractiveness, because of the extreme level that people make judgements about appearance. I'm guessing the problems of being a Brad Pitt clone will be more than offset by the fact that the child will greatly benefit from not having the negative pressures that are put on the unattractive.
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From:slothman
Date:October 19th, 2006 10:25 pm (UTC)
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Cloning is hard to get right; I wouldn’t try it with humans until we’re sure we have the problems worked out. If you’ve got the money to do the research, you don’t want to risk it by getting sued by the parents of a bunch of kids who turn out with progeria or other hidden problems. Making your kid be a clone of a celebrity sounds like a surefire route to many years of therapy for the kid— and if their style of good looks is too popular, they might come to seem rather common. (Of course, as cosmetic surgery gets cheaper and cheaper, there’d be a fix for that, too...)

I’d also worry about genetic diversity; I’d much rather see people add code to the genome that spontaneously terminates any egg that winds up with two copies of the gene for sickle-cell anemia or cystic fibrosis than get rid of the genes entirely, since the former grants malarial resistance and the latter possibly resistance to cholera and/or typhoid fever. Schizophrenia and genius have often been linked; I’d rather see parents be informed how to take care of kids with the gene (“take these behavioral measures, these dietary measures”) rather than having it snipped out. Monocultures are very dangerous things.

There’s a reversible-sterilization method under testing that essentially involves injecting a blockage into the vas deferens, which could later be removed if you wished. Once they have the bugs worked out, I wouldn’t mind seeing those become mandatory at puberty. (One for the fallopian tubes would be trickier, since they’re harder to get at, but minimally invasive surgery keeps getting better and better...)

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From:antayla
Date:October 20th, 2006 05:04 am (UTC)
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Reproduction already doesn't have to involve sex. Any woman can get artificially inseminated if she wants, and if she doesn't want to bother with giving birth, there is always c-sections. Of course sex is not only for reproduction; but you don't have to massively change the way we reproduce to spread that idea. You just have to be brave enough to challenge people's ideas about sex and relationships.

Y'know, I'm not much of a mystic... at least, not an obvious one :P. But, I wonder what might be lost in giving up natural human reproduction, the experience of carrying a child or conceiving one by intercourse. I don't believe in taking away choices from people, especially children who can't even give their consent. Also, if such choices were taken away, the ability to have children would be contigent upon the willingness of those who could perform artificial fertilization, creating a new elite ruling class who chose who reproduced and who didn't according to their values. It would ultimately lead to a homogenous society of conformity.

I hardly have archaic attitudes towards sex, being polyamorous and all. But, at the same time, making sweeping involuntary measures towards a conformity of loss doesn't seem like a good idea to me.

I think it might be a good thing if parents could have their "dream child." Then again, we might lose all of the beauty and tragedy that chaos creates if we try to control everything about ourselves. We might lose our ability to be living being and become more like programmed machines. Chaos has served us well in bringing us into being; I will continue to trust it as we change.

And here I was hoping there was SOMETHING I might agree with you on :P.
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From:antayla
Date:October 20th, 2006 05:09 am (UTC)
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But you know, I'm sure we could sell fundies on the idea if you could cure gayness with it.
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From:heron61
Date:October 20th, 2006 06:16 am (UTC)
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Which is fine by me. I don't think homosexuality is genetic (I generally disbelieve that any complex behavioral traits are genetic) but even if it is, I'm fine with fundys editing their children that way, just like I'm fine with the idea of someone wanting their child to be blonde.
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From:antayla
Date:October 20th, 2006 02:40 pm (UTC)
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There is a book called "Gender Gap" by Lipton and Barash that I think you might consider reading. It talks alot about the science behind gender. I borrowed my copy from Central...
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From:heron61
Date:October 20th, 2006 07:36 pm (UTC)
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I didn't see much about the book, so I looked up information on the authors and was deeply unimpressed. I largely consider evolutionary psychology to be a relatively bogus science where the people involved spend far to much of their time concocting just-so stories about the origins of various traits and conducting studies with ludicrously small sample sizes and other obvious errors.

My strong recommendation for a far better book would be Myths of Gender: Biological Theories About Women and Men by Anne Fausto-Sterling, and Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality by Anne Fausto-Sterling is also very good.

Also, I very much recommend that you read this excellent article on sociobiology, evolutionary psychology and the politics underlying these theories. I've studied by anthropology and the history of science extensively, and sociobiology/evolutionary psychology is simply the latest manifestation of the conservative "biology as destiny" philosophy, which can be easily traced by to Spencer's "Social Darwinwism", and even more directly to the pre-Civil War debates in American social science about whether black people were a separate species or not. Especially in the US, there has (for at least the last 150 years) been attempts to use social science as a tool for oppression. There may be some people attempting to do good evolutionary psychology, but many are not and the entire field is based on seeking to justify present day attitudes and prejudices with allegedly scientific reasoning.

In any case, this study that finds that psychological gender differences have largely overstated, and I go into some of the ideas in this post.
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From:drainboy
Date:October 20th, 2006 09:43 am (UTC)
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I see the only problem being a true understanding of the human genome. Even if you were given that it is actually possible to fully understand the breadth of our gene pool, with all the complex interactions of epigenesis and epistasis, then you're still left with the problem that you'll essentially seal us as a race by fully defining the range of our genes. Although I'll freely admit that the vaste majority of mutations are catastrophically bad (and result in early term miscarriages, mostly before the mother realises she's even pregnant), but if you cut out mutation completely (and how could you not given such a scenario) then I see that as the end of human progression as a species. Of course there's much ground to be gained in terms of pure recombination of existing DNA. In fact the sheer number of possible recombinations over a small area of the gene pool, even for a single phenotypic factor, would likely be such a high values that we could never manage it outside of a simulation. From there I'd question whether it was possible to test these combinations inside a simulation, even given the possibility of the futures most powerful supercomputers. For instance how would you test all the possible recombinations across the breadth of the genepool for the genes responsible for intelligence? I'd say that you could do it to find combinations that would most likely not work (because they'd most likely kill the person before they were born or lead to brain phenotypes that we'd estimate were unlikely to work), but the majority you'd have to test by actually producing a person and that would lead to far too many people, probably more than would fit on the planet standing side by side, even for a tiny subset of recombinations of a given gene.

And who would have untested recombination #19857390672 when they could have a proven high intelligence gene for their children?

Don't get me wrong, I think this is an interesting progression and would certaintly be useful to cut out the known bad, but I feel it might cut down the potential for growth, which might be a reasonable price to pay, at least in the short term.
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From:heron61
Date:October 20th, 2006 10:00 am (UTC)
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I see that as the end of human progression as a species

These days, I see biological evolution as a pathetically slow and deeply unreliable method of "progress". Given modern culture, most likely skinny people who can tolerate office jobs are the ones being currently most selected for. No, we don't understand the human genome particularly well yet, but that knowledge grows literally every day. The first step is to eliminate the nastiest genetic diseases, then we can try for some improvements. However, given other research, I'm betting most of that work won't progress very far because it's looking possible to use gene therapy to make significant alterations in adults. Largely, I see this idea as having vast social benefits and being useful for getting rid of the most obviously nasty problems. Everything else, we can take care of with gene therapy and whatever unimaginable genetic technologies people have in 20+ years.

In any case, natural selection ceased more than a century ago in the (then) developed nations. These days, the only selection pressures are social, and losing those is irrelevant. In general, I'm far more inclined to trust conscious human design over blind evolutionary chance or any form of selection based solely on criteria of attractiveness. I'm also absolutely certain we can do far better than evolution, both in terms of speed and success. As I see it, the only reason to permit a natural process to continue rather than to replace it with a human designed and controlled one is if we can't improve on nature. These days, I very much think we can, at least wrt avoiding various horrid problems.
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From:drainboy
Date:October 23rd, 2006 04:29 pm (UTC)
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These days, I see biological evolution as a pathetically slow and deeply unreliable method of "progress".

In this I agree. I've studied evolution as an optimisation process in simulation and feel pretty confident in the following two statements. Firstly, compared to any intelligent (i.e. not blind) search, evolution will always lose (except in statistically unlikely edge cases where the randomness heads in the right direction at every turn). Any well designed, domain-specific search will win hands down. Randomness is not optimal in searches as long as you're only interested in reaching local maxima (and in many cases you can design such systems to get round these to global maxima at least as well as evolution).

What evolution does do that such highly directed searches can't is find novel solutions. In fact what it does is find novel possibilities that might end up being solutions. If we simply optimise with the current toolkit (which might lead to great strides forward, I don't deny that...in fact it would probably do us fine for millenia to come) then we'll make all sorts of cool new solutions around a theme, but we'll never step outside of that theme. I also admit that random mutation will step us out of that theme only in geological time. However, my point was more that if we find some really good possibilities for the gene for intelligence (for example) that's currently the best one in the world by a couple of steps (if such a qualitative thing is possible) then why wouldn't everyone give that gene to their child? If they did, then the gene pool would suddenly be focused over a single local maxima and we'd never step up from there (except by forced mutation or simulated experiments, which I really think we'd have difficulty in getting to work due to the complexity of genotype to phenotype mapping and the fact that the lifetime adaptation would be impossible to do in simulation for a long time, possibly ever).

You talk about natural selection ceasing more than a century ago. In terms of long term evolution this is a good thing. Any fitness pressure keeps the population near a local maxima and gives it no chance to wander out over fitness territory that dips far beneath it. Population expansion and contraction are what leads to effective evolution. When lower fitness genes can survive, then the genepool can expand past them and onto higher fitness genes (whether by mutation or purely by recombination) which cannot be reached when the fitness function is harsh.

You might be interested in reading this: Cognition is Not Computation; Evolution is Not Optimisation as I believe you like your science :)

I'll finish by again pointing out that I agree with most of what you said and, in the progression of all mankind to a higher level than we stand at now, my argument is very theoretical. However, if we survive long enough then it will end up being a very real glass ceiling.

Mike
[User Picture]
From:rjgrady
Date:October 20th, 2006 11:04 pm (UTC)
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I like making babies. If I had wizard-like control over reproduction, I would become a woman and give myself the attributes to have a very successful conception, labor, and birth.

The artificial womb is problematic ... children are being socialized even before they are born. And I don't think "baby elevator music" fits in well with my conception of love and community as biological, ecological processes.

I don't own a microwave, and I use an iron skillet for cooking. Process is very important. As they say, the secret ingredient is love.
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From:madmanofprague
Date:October 23rd, 2006 06:59 pm (UTC)
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I find the desire to take the mutation out of life hilarious.

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