“Everything happens for a reason”:
’This is a popular saying in the United States, often offered in the form of condolence or consolation. The adage is so vague and widespread that it never rings in my ears as a clear assertion, but rather as a desperate, threadbare defense against the obvious conclusions to be drawn from a child getting cancer or someone being struck by lightening: that absolutely nothing happens for a reason, because there are no reasons. Yes, there are certainly causes, always, but in this aphorism, “reason” is a direct substitute for “meaning.” “Everything happens for a reason” asserts a grand plan full of meaning, even if you cannot always discern it.
But of course whenever someone utters this cliché, it immediately shakes me out of whatever stupor of possible meanings I was indulging, and reminds me that there are no cosmic plans, no meanings big or small, discernable or otherwise. That there is no morality or ethics, just our fabrications of them, and that there is certainly no Master Plan through which our lives unfold like pieces on a chessboard.
And in those moments I often feel very alone, not because of the stark reality of meaninglessness, but because I am talking to someone who thoroughly embraces meaning, and am not inclined to puncture their fantasies. Why? Because if there is one of these artificial meanings that I tend to live my life by, it is the effort to avoid causing unnecessary pain. To not be cruel. To not cause someone else’s lived experience to be needlessly awful. And so when someone tells me that everything happens for a reason, I do not respond with a brief treatise on life’s ultimate meaninglessness.…’
— Akim Reinhardt, 3 Quarks Daily
Geneticist George Church on what genes can be enhanced to give us super abilities:
’Would you improve humanity if you could? Many of us have opinions about how we can boost up society and government. But what about just re-engineering the people themselves, to make them more advanced physically and intellectually? Would better bodies lead to better people? One person who can turn such musings into reality is George Church, the Harvard genetics professor famous for trying to resurrect holly mammoths, among many other accomplishments. Church also made a list of genes that could be targeted through genetic manipulation for the purpose of designing a new version of humans.
In an interview with Futurism, the professor explained that one purpose of assembling such a list is in giving correct information to the people. It has been his long-term mission to drive down the costs of genetics resources. To that end, the list includes both protective and negative consequences of hacking a particular gene.
“I felt that both ends of the phenotype spectrum should be useful,” Church elaborated. “And the protective end might yield more powerful medicines useful for more people and hence less expensive.”
Here are some selections from the so-called Transhumanist Wishlist, drawing upon the philosophical movement of transhumanism that calls for using technology to enhance human physiology and intellect, leading to a transformation of what it means to be human:
- LRP5 – hacking this gene could give people extra-strong bones, as research has shown a mutation of LRP5 can lead to bones that don’t break. The tweak might make it hard to swim, however, as denser bones also mean lower buoyancy.
- MSTN – messing with the myostatin protein could result in larger, leaner muscles, and cure such diseases as muscular dystrophy.
- FAAH-OUT – the amusingly-named FAAH-OUT gene mutation was linked to insensitivity to pain. Wouldn’t you like to have such a super ability?
- ABCC11 – modifying this gene could really pay off socially, as it’s been linked to low odor production. Currently, only 2% of the people in the world carry the mutated version, which helps their armpits not produce any unpleasant smells.
- PCSK9 – people who lack this gene have very low levels of cholesterol. Tweaking it could lead to fighting off coronary disease. On the other hand, the negatives could include a rise in diabetes and even reduced cognition.
- GRIN2B – playing with this gene can lead to enhancing memory and learning abilities.
- BDKRB2 – figuring out how to affect this gene can lead to people who can hold their breath under water for much longer. It figures prominently in the abilities of the indigenous Bajau people (“Sea Nomads”) of Southeast Asia, who are known for amazing feats of deep diving.…’
Via Big Think
An adequate discussion of gene-hacking would have to be as erudite and thoughtful about potential unintended consequences of such changes. Except for Church’s comment about increased bone density making it harder to swim, this list is notable for its absence.