Today’s post is at Stream: Designer Babies To Be Super Intelligent?
Word is that “Scientists in the UK could begin genetically engineering human embryos as early as March”. But don’t worry. As another report says, “it will be illegal to allow the embryos to live beyond 14 days”.
Besides “curing” diseases (by killing embryos that have them) and studying other aspects of human development, one thing scientists hope to discover is how to engineer babies which are of higher intelligence. What are their chances of success?
That aspects of intelligence are correlated (I use this word in its plain English sense) with the brain, and that brain development is correlated most strongly with genes and to some extent to the environment, is nowhere in dispute, except among egalitarian ideologists who feel (not think) that intelligence is a matter of environment alone. What makes it strange is that these same ideologists are “for” killing enwombed humans who test positive for things like Down Syndrome. Never mind that now.
The scientific questions of interest are how well we can identify those genes which are correlated to those areas of the brain which are correlated with intelligence. Notice the different correlations. And once we identify those genes, and understand how those genes interact with neighboring genes in the development of persons, can we manipulate these genes and increase the intelligence of babies while simultaneously suppressing dysgenic side effects of our manipulations?
The answer is probably yes, but with many qualifications. Finding a set of genes that are solely responsible for intelligence is no easy task, and perhaps impossible. The best efforts to date are fraught with statistical over-certainty; only the weakest and most error-prone experiments have so far been done. My reading of this literature suggests were are miles away from the goal. Discussing why this is so would take us too far afield, but for those readers who know, most evidence for “intelligence genes” is by wee p-value and hypothesis tests; in other words, most evidence is wrong.
The possibility of side effects is never mentioned and little thought about. The lessons of Icarus and Herr Doktor Frankenstein are always thought to apply to the other guy, which is why the hubris in this field is none too small. Since we have little idea which exact genes control intelligence, and how intelligence “interacts” with the rest of a person, there is no way we can accurately predict the effects of our meddlings. This should, but does not, dampen enthusiasm.
What about limitations: how smart can a human be? Nobody knows. How far can we push the purely material aspects of intelligence? I mean, what precise combination of genes, assuming also no side effects, will produce a man who is smarter than any before? Nobody knows this, either. It could be that our natural “experiments”, i.e. having babies the old fashioned way, is the optimal way to go about this, and that, perhaps, our best days as a race are behind us. We may now lack the intelligence to understand how to increase our intelligence in any designed manner!
One thing is clear. There are intelligences vastly superior to humans…
Go there to read the rest. And hurry! I only have about half the arguments/points in the excerpt.