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« Prelude | Main | Rationalizing - the abduction of abduction! »

March 23, 2008


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Brent Scheneman

Take heart if you feel like your keen insight is a just a single cry in the wilderness.

There are at least two of you addressing this subject now.

Please check out my colleague's essay, "Human Nature 2.0 - A Simple Idea for a Troubled World." You can Google the title to find it.

Tiité endeavors to take the idea beyond awareness into the reality of a working model.

Please check it out.

You offer a lot of wisdom in this entry and throughout "Question Everything." Thank you for your contributions.

Brent Scheneman

Please google "2.0 - A Simple Idea for a Troubled World" instead of the longer version that I have suggested above. This will provide a link that navigates one directly to Tiité Baquero's essay of the same name on his website.

As you know this comment section disallows me the convenience of providing hot links.

George Mobus


Thanks for the comment and the pointer. I will take a look for sure.

I wasn't aware you couldn't enter a URL. I will check on that.



Making better brains by genetic engineering? I don't think that could ever work.

Problem is, you would have to wait at least 20y to see if a new brain 2.x strain is an improvement or not, and that will be difficult to judge. And then there's brain plasticity: The environment (social, education,...) has quite some influence. Plus, hominids are social animals. So you need some sort of group selection/evolution to improve cooperation of diversely talented brains.

Finally, methinks evolution is now at a loss with current hominids: How could Nature or Man ever select for less GHG producing hominids? The feedback is just too slow and too subtle to exert any evolutionary pressure.

But whatabout memetic engineering? Breed not new genes but a new culture, based on current insights and necessities.

Perhaps launch some new permacultural tribe or meta-religious order. Sounds like the old Hippies' dream of dropping out - but meanwhile (c21st world food crisis) subsistence farming/gardening could be the better option for the urban poor who can't buy enough food anymore. And farming can be carbon negative. It can also be creative, fulfilling, and fun. Switch your SUV with a fine horse. Well-managed grazing can enhance the Prairie's soil carbon content, so why not go back to living in the tipi and follow the herd. This (and the joy of it) is stuff that Homo S Sapiens urgently needs to re-learn. Time is up (c21st). No time left to wait for engineered wonder brains.

The meme to select for is: Don't spoil the soil but put the carbon back...

George Mobus

Hi Florifulgurator (wow, what a handle!)

If you mean genetic engineering as we currently think of it wrt plant and domestic animal GE then I agree completely. You are right about having to wait to see the outcomes.

But that isn't what I have in mind. First, I suspect that the key to the evolution of the human brain, its rapid expansion, especially in the frontal lobes and prefrontal cortex, is not in the genes (the protein coding segments) but in the control network/epigenetics of the genome. That is just a starting observation.

Next we have an ability to sample the current population of Homo sapiens for competencies in judgment. Psychologists have been developing such testing for nearly a decade now, and are improving on their ability to circumscribe judgment effects over intelligence. I suspect that we are going to find a highly skewed (more Poisson-like than Gaussian) distribution but we will be able to determine the sorts of individuals in the population who have a highly developed judgment ability. I'm working on a blog post on what judgment is and how it contributes to wisdom (sapience).

Next we can sample the DNA of these people looking for variations in the network of control segments associated with brain development. We're looking, in particular for controls on the growth and development of the polar prefrontal cortical areas (e.g. Brodmann area 10). Right now I don't think anyone has a lock on where to look in the chromosomes, but I know there are people working on this.

Finally we use MRI (and other) scanning techniques to identify and correlate the brain regions activated by tests of judgment. This will help confirm that the frontal areas are instrumental in judgment competence.

All of these approaches go on in parallel (are going on as we speak). At some point I fully expect a convergence of understanding of how judgment is processed and what brain characteristics account for better judgment.

At that point I expect that several approaches can be attempted. Genetic engineering type experiments with chimpanzees might shed additional light on the role of the prefrontal cortex in making judgments. But I favor something like a voluntary breeding effort! (Please don't start screaming about eugenics!!) In this approach we set up a screening service using genetic testing for the markers discovered from the above. Provide a 'matching' service based on the genetic profile so that high judgment competency individuals can efficiently seek one another out. This would constitute an assisted but natural form of assortative mating (see ).

I know this sounds wild and will no doubt offend someone. But that can't be helped. As I see this, wise people would prefer to aggregate and this would make it efficient. As a consequence, such a concentrating process would address some of the other points you made about a culture.


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