“Evolving Ourselves is a chronicle of how life is evolving to meet our specs and choices, of how we can change our own biology, and of the unintended consequences for future generations. It proves that how we use our enormous power over life forms and our ability to engineer new environments will determine nothing less than the survival of humanity.”
I first encountered Enriquez’ work through his TED talk in which he described DNA not “like” a computer program, but AS a computer program. His work seen in perspective may prove to be among the most important of our time.
In this book the authors go beyond Darwinian evolution to discuss “how unnatural selection and nonrandom mutation are changing life on earth.”
The underlying assumption, of course, is that everything not done by man is “natural” and “random” – which is an assumption I am not sure I accept. In previous discussions of the meaning of DNA as a computer program it seems to me, at a minimum, that there must be a “natural [nonrandom] intelligence” at the source of DNA.
The narrative offers a wonderful example of how a Russian scientist took foxes and in a few generations reprogrammed them (through genetic manipulation – by breeding for certain traits) for domesticity and the offspring a few years later could be sold as pets. Of course the opposite is also feasible, as the horrid world of dog fighting demonstrates.
Do We Know What We’re Doing?
The birds at my feeder are not “sweet” – in fact by human standards they are quite vicious, possessive, and not at all politically correct.
Most of them, especially the hummingbirds, have a dark “shadow” side – they would rather expend massive amounts of energy preventing another bird from drinking than just taking what they need, even though there is more than enough for all of them and it gets refilled regularly.
Is this a mistake in Nature or a “bug” in our DNA program?
The question Enriquez and Gullans ask seems to be, now that we have the means to reprogram ourselves for “niceness” and “sharing,” — should we? What would happen in terms of Nature’s apparently programmed tendency toward competition and survival of the fittest?
And of course, along those lines, what happens when some members of our species decide we should reprogram ourselves for even more viciousness, power, and strength — due to the same evolutionary imperative — survival of the fittest?
This goes back to the political correctness issue. Enriquez and Gullans make powerful cases, for example, for the genetic differences between gender and races – a topic that is too hot for calm discussion in our time but one that is destined to haunt us for many years to come.
It is about the integrity of science itself – can it address difficult issues impersonally?
And can it see the level and scale of human intelligence in perspective – in its proper relationship to Nature?
While nature seems impersonal and precise, we have still not understood consciousness.
The questions that Enriquez and his co-author either ignore or assiduously avoid is “how do we account for the reality that DNA code operates intelligently?” and what does that mean?
One or Both of These Statements Must Be True:
We are the product of a conscious universe capable of manifesting incredibly complex genetic code and/or
We are the product of one or more immensely intelligent species capable of programming incredibly complex genetic code.
Either or both conclusions require that we alter our scientific perspective to see ourselves in a more realistic and subordinate relationship to reality.
While the authors make a fervent case for “intelligent design” on humanity’s part going forward, they take for granted that the code they’re working with existed before humans inhabited the planet.
The Scientific perspective seems to have little time for awe and reverence for anything but the human brain itself, rather than the “context” in which it arose – namely an intelligent universe or natural world which they continue to try to control and manipulate.
And yet, the science works.
The Conundrum: Calculation is Not Consciousness But…
The current film “Ex Machina” presents a synthetic human programmed through a massive search engine of infinite power. But it seems to me that when the electronic “guts” are exposed it is still not “conscious.”
Our consciousness flows through or manifests as a biological machine. This leads me to wonder whether a synthetic human with consciousness is even possible, since our consciousness flows or manifests not just from neck up but within the living energy – the animating force – of each cell.
We believe generally that Consciousness includes Love and All of Life energetically. As Eckhart Tolle says, it is “no thing.”
But what if even our own bodies are illusory in the sense that we know them only through thought?
Then is even “life” or “animate” a concept? Is my own sense that Life is sacred and somehow “special” also merely a conceptual result of massive conditioning and the evolutionary brain on DNA?
Stephen Hawking’s Fear of AI:
“It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate,” he said.”Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.” – http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-30290540
I put no real stock in Hawking’s warning because I feel that Life is “special” – it is the manifestation of Consciousness.
But if Consciousness is Everything (All) then the “specialness” of Life is illusory – and just another concept. And then I suppose nothing is Sacred.
So would you agree that an “artificial” life form created by us could be programmed for survival and prove “fitter” and replace us, its creators?
“Evolving Ourselves” doesn’t go down this path; instead the book concludes with a more hopeful set of possibilities which involve mankind leaving planet earth and continuing “our” evolution after “reading the genetic manual” and making the necessary adjustments. Of course, the troublesome reality of deep space travel in our present physical form has been well documented.
There is also a chapter on hubris – “Does Nature Win in the End?”
“Our hubris as to how much we have accomplished sometimes leads to a conviction that we are already smarter than we will ever be.”
This is a wonderful warning about Scientism – and the assumption that what is “Natural” is also “random” and “we” know better. For all of the marvelous science described in this book, a much closer examination of that assumption still lies at the root of our ability to survive as a species.
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