The Moral Imperative of Our Future Evolution
by John H. Campbell
Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology School of Medicine,and Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life, University of California
WHAT HAS THE FUTURE in store for humanity? Will our descendants succumb to pollution, the population explosion, exhausted resources or grinding poverty? Might they arrive at permanent prosperity or enter the golden age of leisure? Each vision has its advocates and ethical implications. I predict that human destiny is to elevate itself to the status of a god and beyond. We will transform ourselves by evolution, the same creative process which raised our branch of life to the level of Homo sapiens. This advancement is hard upon us. In a dozen generations people well may advance as far above our contemporary form as we surpass the apes. Descendants of another dozen generations may regard our mental capacities as we do the mind of a mole. When they have progressed as far beyond us as you and I have over a mushroom surely our descendants will match more closely our images of minor gods, if not Jupiter Himself, than humans.
This prediction may raise eyebrows. Certainly it goes beyond any precedent from the past. Only some remarkable historical change could encourage us to expect the glacial pace of evolution of the past thousand years to wax to a torrent during the next millennium. Indeed, such a development is taking place. We have discovered the material basis of life. Geneticists are laying open our heredity like the circuit board of a radio and fashioning the biological wrenches, pliers, connectors and ohm meters to rewire sections at will. Embryologists, neurophysiologists and cytologists promise soon to show us how to work any improvement in our phenotypes that we wish. We shall be able to redesign our biological selves at will (Sinsheimer, 1967).
The ultimate implication of our new-found biological prowess is to hand us the reins of our own evolution. This means lifting ourselves at a pace without precedence, towards goals without foreseeable bounds. The prospect seems incredible because our thinking has been trapped by misleading interpretations of eugenics, evolution, human genetics, history and reality. Each of these misconceptions would deny us the possibility of advancing. Thus, we are in danger of having a revolution in human nature spring unawares on our parochial ethical views. Any philosophy of today, based on what current people are, stands to be swept aside by issues of what people shall become.
Denials that We Can Deliberately Evolve Ourselves.
The foremost denial of our ability to evolve comes, ironically, from the very programs proposed for our genetic improvement. Eugenics seeks to raise the quality of humanity’s genetic heritage through selective control of reproduction (Galton, 1883; Fisher, 1930; Muller, 1960). Negative eugenics impedes the propagation of genes with undesirable consequences. The positive counterpart encourages the transmission of good ones. Western societies are quietly pursuing both versions, especially the former. We have catalogued defective genes behind a variety of dreadful neurological and metabolic disorders as parts of programs to eliminate them eugenically. Our systematic mapping of the human genome will identify many others. Everyone applauds the goal of purging these defects in our heredity – notwithstanding quibbles over the ethics of the techniques of amniocentesis, abortion and even contraception. I emphatically embrace this eugenic program even though its evolutionary impact is insignificant. Most defective genes are rare, and their total elimination does little for evolution except squeeze the range of variation of humans.
Positive eugenics, as its name suggests, has a more substantive evolutionary aspiration. This is to enrich the human gene pool with those gene forms with desirable effects. But alas, noble as this aspiration may be, it is hopeless. Evolutionary advance through eugenics would require either the less desirable individuals throughout the world to curtail their reproduction or the more desirables to breed much faster. Both demand an impossible degree of compliance by humanity to an abstract, value-laden program. No one can possibly expect the teaming uneducated masses in China, India and Africa to participate. Therefore, except for a systematic selective genocide or enforced sterilization on a scale that truly boggles the imagination, positive eugenic advance would have to come from a genetic enrichment within the western world of such a magnitude as to be meaningful after its dilution into the whole of humanity.
But consider: If variation in intelligence is about 50 percent heritable and half of the people of the Western world participated in its improvement (surely an overestimate of the fraction philosophically agreeable to people “acting like God”) and if only the persons with an IQ above any selected cutoff reproduced – whether 100, 120 or 150 – with all others remaining completely barren, the IQ of our species would not rise above 102. Even insisting that every participant with an IQ above 150 or 200 breed with someone of equal intelligence and produce twenty children would inch our species’ intelligence up less than 3 IQ points! Our intelligence tests do not even pretend to this degree of precision. Herrnstein has a superb discussion in this volume of what we can hope for from public policy for reproduction control.
No, the dream of the eugenicist to evolve our species is a pipe dream. In fact, an original and persisting impetus for positive eugenics was not to improve humanity’s lot at all. Francis Galton’s concern in the first instance, mirrored by Herrnstein in this volume, was to prevent its deterioration (Galton, 1883). He feared that since the educated classes have smaller families than do the lower classes our species is sinking. His call for eugenics was largely just to counter this arguable erosion of society’s hereditary endowment. Certainly staunching any such drain would be laudable. However, preserving the status quo must be a rock bottom evolutionary goal.
Eugenic pessimism finds support in current evolutionary dogma. Our orthodoxy of the past half century, called neodarwinism, is easy to understand (Fisher, 1930). In a species of animals or plants, those individuals that are more successful at leaving offspring necessarily contribute more copies of their genes to the next generation. This inexorable enrichment for genes with demonstrated survival and reproductive superiority is simply eugenics practiced by natural law. The natural process has the advantage that compliance is involuntary. No individual throughout the species is exempt. Yet the price for this advantage is the chaos of an unguided process propelled by random contingencies (Wesson, 1991). Natural eugenics works only because there have been millions upon millions of years for imperceptible blind advances eventually to add up. Neodarwinism assures us that evolution simply does not happen in the time-scale of people.
As a further discouragement, natural selection creates form by stacking up countless tiny modifications of preexisting phenotypes. This makes genetic systems impossibly complex. Moreover, individual genes give only “potentialities” and “tendencies” for traits to a holistic and epigenetic process of development. Thus, traits emerge from the complex interactions of vast numbers of genes each modifying the potentialities of the others. As a leading evolutionist put it “in an obviously exaggerated form…every character of an organism is affected by all genes and every gene affects all characters.” (Mayr, 1963, italics in the original). Nature fashioned humans by piling up banks of tendencies on one another. It is simplistic to believe that one can turn up intelligence by twiddling an “intelligence gene” because there is no such gene. One would have to change an impossibly large number of genes to optimize a trait such as intelligence. The task is all the more Herculean (or even impossible: Stent, 1985) because changing any one gene will alter the way that each of the other genes would have to be changed to optimize that trait.
The fact that “every gene affect all characters” also means that making changes in genes must produce undesirable side effects. We are familiar with the cross eyes of Siamese cats, the hindlimb infirmities of Russian wolf hounds and the special planting conditions necessary for sugary sweet corn varieties. Even modest tinkering with our genes is an invitation to catastrophe.
Philosophical and historical biases further the skepticism. Creationists teach that an all-wise God designed us to be the way that we should be. Humans can not possibly improve on His wisdom. Darwin proposed the secular alternative that humans acquired their human form by natural process. Yet, the Darwinian human is not that different from a being of deliberate design. Nature perfected us by selection over four billion years to match our tiniest detail to the world we inhabit. Science also insists that for something to exist objectively we have to be able to detect it. Any feature of reality that our minds or senses cannot possibly perceive directly or indirectly is scientifically meaningless and illegitimate for rational contemplation. Our evolution cannot go anywhere further scientifically, because there is no scientific where to go to. We have arrived. Western religions sanction a more profound existence, but not for us. It is blasphemous even to imagine understanding the ways of God, let alone to “act like God” as I remarked before. Both science and religion seem to agree that the only advance we can legitimately consider is to bring all of humanity up to the standard of the most fortunate folks now existing. We may not contemplate any truly novel mental advance.
Critics seal their case by pointing out that eugenic improvement is a human endeavor. It depends upon human will which is governed by ethics. The lessons of history demand that every moral person repudiate deliberate attempts to reshape humanity’s genetic constitution (Wesson, this volume; Kevles, 1985). Hitler’s abomination in the name of “purifying” his race was the ultimate violation of moral principles. Every nation condemns enforced genocide as intolerable political evil. Moralists also are quick to point out that Hitler was not able to defy the indignity of humanity. History proves that society will not accept the mentality of presuming to “improve” the human race. This is fortunate because we could only expect people to botch up any tampering with our genetic heritage.
Fallacies in the Denials of Human Evolution.
These uncritical arguments have lulled nearly everyone to believe that our future evolution cannot, will not and should not have any relevance to us personally. However, none holds water. For example, the possibilities and the morality of rational human evolution obviously cannot be judged from the abominations of a psychopath. To denounce deliberate rational self-evolution by pointing to Hitler is like decrying the use of penicillin against disease because the ignorant people of the Middle Ages sought relief from the plague by slaughtering Jews to appease God. Worse still, it is like believing that those historical outrages somehow imply that Fleming’s experiments should fail. We would forfeit all progress if we rejected rational goals just because unenlightened people in the past sought them falsely.
The idea that we have completed our evolution is equally untenable. Our ancestors continually developed new biological properties throughout the entire history of the planet Earth. It is implausibly anthropocentric to believe that evolution used up all of its possibilities at our particular stage. In point of fact, the tempo of human advancement has sped up dramatically in the last several millions of years instead of petering out. There is no basis to believe that our current physical being or mentality comes close to any limits dictated by biology or reality (Muller, 1960). Philosophy is crowded with paradoxes that confound our current intellect and physicists concluded that our minds are incapable of comprehending fundamental reality (Davies, 1980). Human beings have a long way to go before exhausting the mother lode of principles and phenomena for extending mentality.
Modern biologists have also dispelled the misconception that genetics of higher organisms is too complex for us to manipulate. Important characteristics, such as the basic body plan and immune system, are encoded by discrete genes highly specialized for particular functions. We can isolate them in a test tube, understand how they work and modify their structure to change their function. This does not deny that genes interact in sophisticated ways or that clouds of modifier genes secondarily polish details. However, the whole promise of genetics for medicine and agriculture, and indeed, the entire molecular revolution in biology, rest upon the realization that our genetic system is amenable to understanding and manipulation.
It is apparent now that biological traits can be traced, reductively, all the way back through understandable physiology to the structure of individual, identifiable genes. Moreover, even if it happened that our bodies were determined by tangles of genes too vast, faceless and interactive to sort out, this still would not prevent us from improving them by direct, rational genetic intervention. A physiological parallel drives this point home. Very many factors interact to elevate blood pressure – salt intake, stress, kidney function, genetic disposition, hormonal status, exercise regimes, arterial disease and so on. We do not fully understand how any of these factors acts, let alone interacts to produce high blood pressure. This does not matter to the physician who can bring the blood pressure in most hypertensive patients to a desirable level with one or a pair of drugs. Presumably an equally simple drug regime could elevate blood pressure to three times or to one-third normal if there were any reason to develop one. The point is that intelligence allows one to superimpose simple direct controls even on background conditions that are not understood or even understandable. This physiological example is especially relevant to the analogous situation of genetic engineering, because most of the supposedly “intractable” interactions among genes occur at the level of physiology.
As to side effects, most genetic programs to greatly exaggerate important human traits will incidentally touch other aspects of phenotype. However, if a particular manipulation produces unacceptable secondary effects, geneticists will devise alternative routes to their desired end (again paralleling the case of hypertensive drugs) or find ways to alleviate the defects. Tolerable side effects may just be accepted, unappealing as they may seem to us. Perhaps, an Australopithecine with a crystal ball would have decried hairless descendants with knuckles dangling above the knees and jaws too atrophied to chew jungle vines. Yet we are able to find these attributes attractive and even desire them despite back pains, aching wisdom teeth and sunburned pates.
Experts as well as laypersons who still believe in the genetics of despair should realize that they cling to an anachronism from earlier days of ignorance. (Footnote 1 describes why early geneticists formulated their “black box” view of genetics and why it was later superseded.) In point of fact, it is hard to imagine how a system of inheritance could be more ideal for engineering than ours is.
Realities of the Evolutionary Process.
Evolutionists have inadvertently done their share to mislead society by promulgating a sterile caricature of the evolutionary process. In response to attacks from the creationists they have overemphasized to the public how mechanically simple and automatic evolution could be. However, within scientific circles debate rages over how complex the causal processes of evolution actually are. Without a doubt the human psyche emerged from an anthropoid brain, and a future hypermentality will arise from the human mind only through the most sophisticated and powerful causal mechanisms that can drive evolution instead of the most trivial.
Three supradarwinian characteristics of evolution make simple Darwinism almost irrelevant to the forthcoming changes of our lineage. First off, paleontologists have finally convinced most evolutionists that species have not arisen by slow, gradual change over geological time as Darwinists, new and old, proclaimed (Eldredge and Gould, 1972; Somit and Peterson, 1989). Instead, new species generally appear abruptly in the fossil record. They then remain essentially invariant for their several millions of years or so of existence until they die out. New classes and phyla of animals also appear suddenly as though by revolution instead of gradual modification.
Biologists suspect that new forms evolve rapidly from very tiny outgroups of individuals (perhaps even a single fertilized female, Mayr, 1942) at the fringe of an existing species. There the stress of an all but uninhabitable environment, forced inbreeding among isolated family members, “introgression” of foreign genes from neighboring species, lack of other members of the species to compete against or whatever, promotes a major reorganization of the genomic program, possibly from modest change in gene structure. Nearly all of these transmogrified fragments of species die out, but an occasional one is fortunate enough to fit a new viable niche. It prospers and expands into a new species. Its conversion into a statistically constrained gene pool then stabilizes the species from further evolutionary change. Established species are far more notable for their stasis than change. Even throwing off a new daughter species does not seem to change an existing species. No one denies that species can gradually transform and do so to various extents, but this so-called “anagenesis” is relatively unimportant compared to geologically-sudden major saltation in the generation of novelty.
Three implications are important.
1. Most evolutionary change is associated with the origin of new species.
2. Several modes of evolution may operate simultaneously. In this case the most effective dominates the process.
3. Tiny minorities of individuals do most of the evolving instead of the species as a whole.
A second important characteristic of evolution is self-reference (Campbell, 1982). The Cartesian cartoon of an autonomous external “environment” dictating the form of a species like a cookie cutter cutting stencils from sheets of dough is dead, dead wrong. The species molds its environment as profoundly as the environment “evolves” the species. In particular, the organisms cause the limiting conditions of the environment over which they compete. Therefore the genes play two roles in evolution. They are the targets of natural selection and they also ultimately induce and determine the selection pressures that act upon them. This circular causality overwhelms the mechanical character of evolution. Evolution is dominated by feedback of the evolved activities of organisms on their evolution.
The third seminal realization is that evolution extends past the change in organisms as products of evolution to change in the process itself. Evolution evolves (Jantsch, 1976; Balsh, 1989; Dawkins, 1989; Campbell, 1993). Evolutionists know this fact but have never accorded the fact the importance that it deserves because it is incommensurate with Darwinism. Darwinists, and especially modern neodarwinists, equate evolution to the operation of a simple logical principle, one that is prior to biology: Evolution is merely the Darwinian principle of natural selection in action, and this is what the science of evolution is about. Since principles cannot change with time or circumstances, evolution must be fundamentally static.
Of course, biological evolution is not like this at all. It is an actual complex process, not a principle. The way that it takes place can, and indisputably does, change with time. This is of utmost importance because the process of evolution advances as it proceeds (Campbell, 1986). Preliving matter in the earth’s primordial soup was able to evolve only by subdarwinian “chemical” mechanisms. Once these puny processes created gene molecules with information for their self-replication then evolution was able to engage natural selection. Evolution then wrapped the self-replicating genomes within self-replicating organisms to control the way that life would respond to the winds of selection from the environment. Later, by creating multicellular organisms, evolution gained access to morphological change as an alternative to slower and less versatile biochemical evolution. Changes in the instructions in developmental programs replaced changes in enzyme catalysts. Nervous systems opened the way for still faster and more potent behavioral, social and cultural evolution. Finally, these higher modes produced the prerequisite organization for rational, purposeful evolution, guided and propelled by goal-directed minds. Each of these steps represented a new emergent level of evolutionary capability.
Thus, there are two distinct, but interwoven, evolutionary processes. I call them “adaptive evolution” and “generative evolution.” The former is familiar Darwinian modification of organisms to enhance their survival and reproductive success. Generative evolution is entirely different. It is the change in a process instead of structure. Moreover, that process is ontological. Evolution literally means “to unfold” and what is unfolding is the capacity to evolve. Higher animals have become increasingly adept at evolving. In contrast, they are not the least bit fitter than their ancestors or the lowest form of microbe. Every species today has had exactly the same track record of survival; on average, every higher organism alive today still will leave only two offspring, as was the case a hundred million years ago, and modern species are as likely to go extinct as were those in the past. Species cannot become fitter and fitter because reproductive success is not a cumulative parameter.
For generative evolution, organisms are substrates, instead of products of survival. Their significance lies in being the matter and organization from which evolution as a creative process continues to develop itself in bootstrap fashion. The importance of recognizing ourselves as substrates instead of products of evolution far surpasses semantics, such as whether a glass may be half full instead of half empty. This is because organisms, including humans, have been genetically tailored for both evolutionary roles; as machines for survival and as effectors of subsequent evolution (Campbell, 1994). Genetic traits which enhance fitness are called “adaptations.” Those which promote evolution are “evolutionary drivers” (Campbell, 1985). Molecular biologists have discovered a variety of genes and proteins to exist because they have discrete evolutionary roles and even evolutionary functions. This is probably true of much of our psyche and culture as well.
One major difference between adaptive and generative evolution concerns fitness. Quantitative differences in fitness among individuals in a population cause Darwinian adaptation. Fisher (1930) even proclaimed the fundamental theorem of natural selection to be that the rate of evolution is proportional to the variation in fitness in the population. In contrast, survival is only an all or none matter for generative evolution. It is important only that a lineage is fit enough to persist instead of dying out.
A second distinction is that Darwinian adaptation is an instantaneous process of the immediate present whereas generative evolution concerns cumulative consequences. Naturally, these latter become increasingly apparent over longer sweeps of time. The most important generative progression is the build-up of physiological competence and complexity of life, since living forms are the material entities that carry out generative evolution. Organisms and genes that are capable of complex operation are able to evolve more effectively than simpler ones (Campbell, 1983). It is no accident that the human brain, which promises to revolutionize evolution, is the most complexly organized matter known in the universe. Evolution also progressively gains autonomy from the environment as it advances (Campbell, 1986). Species tend to acquire genetic control over the parameters that are important for their evolution (both adaptive and generative). As evolution advances it transfers more and more control over the process from the environment to the genome which it creates. In this respect also, humans obviously are the most advanced medium for generative evolution so far. Our rational brains accord us almost complete authority over our evolution.
Needless to say, generative evolution spills far beyond the safe Cartesian philosophy that cradles adaptive evolution. It is a “self-organizing”, (Nicolis and Prigogine, 1977), “autopoietic” (Zeleny, 1980), “autophytic” (Evans, 1990) or “entifying” (Swenson, 1990) process. Today’s organisms are intermediaries in this emerging process that overshadows any thing now existing. Our evolutionary significance lies in our contribution to bringing this emergent process into full being and not in ourselves (or our future selves) as beings.
Because it is a growing process generative evolution has a frontier at any moment. The highest or most advanced species lie at that crest. In fact, because organisms embody the evolutionary process the highest species are that frontier. The significance of this frontier is that the forms of life at or near it are the ones most likely to extend that frontier. They are the ones that count. As species fall behind the most advanced ones they lose their significance for the process of generative evolution (ie their likelihood of contributing to the frontier in the future). All of the truly archaic forms of life, such as riboorganisms (Benner et al. 1987), have died out. If some had survived it would not matter much. Simple prokaryotes still persist in profusion and are even indispensable organisms at the bottom of ecosystems. However, they virtually ceased to evolve a billion years ago. The more advanced eukaryotes have excluded them from macroscopic levels of existence. A range of eukaryotes from protists to metazoans and plants remain with us. Yet, the survival and evolutionary fortunes of even the highest of them have fallen into dependency on humans. We are the current embodiment of the frontier of generative evolution. The future advances in evolutionary capacity depend upon us and no lesser forms. Adaptive evolution turns on a single imperative, survival of the fittest. Generative evolution makes two demands on the life forms of its frontier: 1. The successful lineage must survive and 2. It must advance its capability to evolve faster than its competitors.
Extradarwinian Evolution of the Human Line.
The importance of these extradarwinian attributes of evolution are particularly apparent in the case of humans. This is because our line advanced so rapidly. During the last several million years human ancestors developed an unprecedented assemblage of traits; enlarged brain and intelligence, language, upright stance, opposable thumb, tool making and culture. Superficial Darwinian popularists pretend to explain them as the adaptations to a changing environment. Yet, these flagrant “just-so” stories (Gould and Lewontin, 1979) – “How the Caveman got his Language” and so on – beg the most notable questions about human evolution. Why was it so rapid? Why did so many traits evolve in concert? Why did not those precipitating environmental conditions similarly revolutionize other species?
No other species in Africa advanced unusually during this period. The special factor which drove the unique evolution of human ancestors must have been those ancestors themselves and not the external environment. Humanity’s origin must have been propelled by the autoevolutionary effects of increasing intelligence, language, culture, tools, low fecundity and manual dexterity. We are well aware of how effectively humans can intervene in evolution with their intelligence, tools and culture. Primitive people quickly domesticated animals and plants by tampering with their breeding. Dogs and corn evolved an estimated ten thousand times faster than the neighboring species that people ignored (Buckley, 1978). Social patterns in primitive cultures today suggest that our ancestors also tinkered with their own evolution. People decided who among themselves would survive, be nourished, breed and be cast out of the group in the same sorts of ways that they did for their animals and plants. Humans must have arisen in part by autodomesticating themselves (Campbell, 1985; Leakey and Lewin, 1992).
These interventions not only changed our ancestors’ phenotype but also developed their ability to self-evolve. While tools, culture, language and intelligence undoubtedly were adaptively useful they, more importantly, promoted people’s evolution. I suggest that their development is best understood as driving small societies of our ancestors to evolve new degrees of control over their change.
In summary, evolution far transcends the naive Darwinian model. Its extradarwinian characteristics surely will be as integral to our expected evolution as to our past. Our future development undoubtedly will have adaptive components, but it will be predominately an elitist, self-referent, and generative process.
Private Human Evolution.
With this expanded view of evolution let us turn to our future. The mistake of the eugenicist is to join the neodarwinist in demoting individuals to mere statistical subelements of populations. Both call for the gradual transformation of species by a process that indiscriminately engages all of its constituent members uniformly. According to neodarwinism every organism across the species must produce the number of offspring that exactly matches its fitness. Correspondingly, the eugenic admonishment “Breed not ye who carry defects” (Heim, 1975) extends evenhandedly to every person regardless of station: the surf and the sultan; the harlot and the hero.
This view appeals because it coincides with a contemporary social ideal. It seems natural and just for the grand scheme of being that animals and people evolve by a democratic process with universal suffrage. Perhaps democracy is “fair,” but it is not the way that life does evolve. Evolution is primarily an elitist process. It depends upon the idiosyncratic destinies of individuals who are privileged with the potential and opportunity to evolve new species. Evolution bypasses the bulk of the species. Those left behind may remain as relics (“living fossils”) or die out.
If democratic advancement of the human species is a pipe dream then we should consider the prospects of its elitist counterpart. These are the very opposite of eugenic hopelessness. The progress of those individuals who choose to evolve their lines is free from the drag of the others who decline. There is every reason to believe that the destiny of humanity is for self-chosen groups of individuals voluntarily to speciate into higher forms rather than for all of us to be gradually transformed as a species. I shall call this individualistic process private evolution to contrast it with species-wide change.
Private self-evolution escapes the insoluble moral dilemmas that incapacitate democratic eugenic advancement: What human characteristics are desirable, who shall make this decision and what moral basis ordains those spokespersons for our future form? The individuals and voluntary associations of people who privately decide to improve their own descendants by the techniques available simply will advance their stock according to their own systems of values. People who choose not to act will be irrelevant to our evolutionary destiny. The prerogative for private evolution comes from within. It is not bestowed by society, nor even possessed by the species as a whole.
How Fast will People Privately Autoevolve?
I introduced this article by suggesting that in ten generations some men and women will advance as far above our current form as we transcend apes. Let me be more concrete so that we can evaluate the underlying premises. A group of people dedicated to the over-riding ideal of evolving maximal intellectual capabilities by any means available could aspire to produce a following generation with an IQ of, say, 180. If they also passed on their evolutionary ideal, the superior offspring should be able to improve their successor generation commensurately; that is, increase its intelligence by 80%. (A later section looks at the ways for achieving such progress.) I see no limitations to sustaining a geometrical increase in intelligence forever. Each generation will have the extra intelligence and scientific/technological advantage to make its contribution. By the 10th generation this projects to an intellectual capability formally equivalent to 25,000 on an IQ scale, whatever that would mean.
If 80% compound change seems unrealistic even 20% per generation gives an IQ of 450 by the tenth generation, obviously a far cry above our species. There is no point in scribbling the numbers for the hundredth generation by either projection. They do not add a new species or even phylum to biology but expand biology to a triology. The new kingdom could accommodate the fictitious Greek gods as comfortably as unicorns could plausibly fit into biology. What will these beings be like? One cannot say, except that they will be the way we, and our future descendents far brighter than we, choose to design them to be.
There are several possible bases on which to predict the rate of private human evolution. Our immediate past evolution is a rather weak one although it does acknowledge that our future change will be a continuation of our past (probably largely self-imposed) evolution. The much faster rate at which people domesticated animals is a more insightful indicator because it reflects the power of artificial selection. Of course, primitive people domesticated animals in ignorance of biology, so we should make our comparison with the progress in modern agriculture instead of early farming. Buckley (1978) predicts that this progress soon will speed up ten to a hundred thousand-fold. The explosive growth of scientific knowledge and technology probably is the best flag for the pace of private rational autoevolution. Its special relevance is that it causally underlies our expanding ability to execute our further evolution.
The rate of progress of biological science is nothing short of astounding. When I entered high school scientists did not even know what genetic information was. Now they are planning to map the position of every single atom in the entire human DNA genome during the next twelve years. This human genome project itself is just one step in the increasingly rapid escalation of biological science. A “human embryology project,” perhaps by complete simulation of our ontogeny on parallel-processing super computers, will be an immensely greater undertaking. Yet, when its time comes, developmental biologists probably will complete it as rapidly as the human genome project. The incomparably more ambitious “human brain project,” to exhaustively reduce mental function to anatomical substrate, may require a further generation of lead time but then be brought to conclusion as quickly as the others.
As a measure of tempo, the scientific literature doubles about every five years, and genetics leads this average. The data bank of known DNA sequences grows 20% per year, and techniques for manipulating genes have progressed by major breakthroughs every decade. Hardly any geneticist anticipates this tempo to falter in the foreseeable future. When private autoevolution becomes fully established it will be paced by this growth in scientific knowledge and biotechnology. If the first several generations of autoevolution only manage to advance chosen traits 20% per generation our growing expertise almost certainly will kick the rate to the 80% that I suggested earlier.
Actually, I foresee lineages of people eventually evolving far faster than an 80% per generation rate. Some scientific and technological “breakthroughs” probably will jump intellectual capabilities by factors of two, ten or a hundred instead of by percentage gains. They will include creation of wholly new sorts of mental qualities, ones that are as opaque to human intellect as ironic poetry and quantum mechanics are to gorillas. These leaps might punctuate our evolution every few generations or maybe every “generation.” The late Alan Wilson, an acknowledged leading authority on rates of evolution asserted that during the progression from amphibian to human, brain size increased faster than exponentially (Wilson, et al., 1992). I see no reason to expect the kinetics of autoevolution to dwindle to a simple exponential upon entering its rational phase.
What Characteristics Will People Choose to Evolve?
Of course one can question whether people will necessarily evolve higher intelligence. Maybe aggressive groups will be more successful. Perhaps people will choose happiness for their offspring instead of smartness and increase the capability for enjoyment, from happiness to bliss to persistent endorphin highs to permanent orgasm. They may opt for extreme longevity. We undoubtedly will be able to engineer any such changes in a handful of generations (Sinsheimer, 1967). Why expect people to increase intelligence or even expect evolution to go in a definable direction instead of bobbing randomly from generation to generation? The answer, of course, lies in the nature of the evolutionary process. Fundamentally, human self-improvement is very rapid generative evolution and will be slave to its principles. As mentioned above, these principles are that the generatively successful lineage must persist, and that it must increase its capability to evolve faster than its competitors in order to stay at the forefront.
One must appreciate that “private” does not imply that only a single group is going to set out to improve its offspring. In a world of five billion people, thousands of groups of people probably will explore every obvious strategy and goal for improving their offspring. To a Darwinist or eugenicist every occurring direction of evolution is as valid as any other. However, this is not so for generative evolution. Directions which build capabilities to evolve will progress autocatalytically. Others will not. To illustrate the importance of this difference consider a hypothetical private group of people who dedicate themselves to enhancing their descendants’ musical talents. The group might progress its musical abilities at a respectable constant rate from generation to generation. Another line which had systematically developed its capability to improve itself, in smowball fashion, for five generations probably would be able to design in a single generation greater musical genius than the musician line ever could evolve.
Rational private evolution will be fast enough for generative principles to dominate it even over short spans of time. Privately evolving lines may progress, “speciate,” increase in size or power, fuse and split, transfer information, parasitize each other, fight and cooperate with each other, and so on, but those which fail to maximize their potential for subsequent generative evolution will continually drop out of the frontier. The losers may disappear, remain as living fossils or continue to advance while slipping behind the frontier at an exponential rate. Their state of existence will not matter. The losers will be irrelevant: as unimportant to the future as chimpanzees are to today’s world.
Even if no one deliberately directs his or her evolution towards evolutionary advancement, the principles of generative evolution will impress themselves on us as surely as they did on our ancestors. Of course, the most generatively successful lineages undoubtedly will be ones which understand generative evolution and adopt it as their express evolutionary goal. They will deliberately pursue exactly those traits that will advance their future capability to evolve. (More precisely they will advance those traits which they foresee to be generative. At first the premium may be for technical capability to make changes. Ultimately generative evolution may depend upon – and therefore be – developing capabilities to conceive generative goals to advance towards.) Anyone who aspires to be a productive link in life’s ascension should align his or her goals with the dictates of generative evolution. To become side-tracked or mistaken is to yield the frontier to others.
One undeniable prediction is that winning lineages will devote at least the minimal effort and resources necessary to survive in the long and short terms. They need not be “highly successful” or “more fit” than other groups of people, or have any particular relationship to the rest of our species. They just have to persist. It is even irrelevant whether they persist by foresight or by luck, suggesting to me that the latter will be a major factor.
As to inferring what particular traits generative evolution will favor, we should begin by recognizing ourselves as intermediates, instead of finished products, of evolution. I presume that post-human generative evolution will continue to develop the same traits which raised us from beast to human. These are our distinctively “human” characteristics of intellect, communication, emotional commitments to society, culture which directs individuals into activities that produce generative evolution, tools for intervening in evolution and tool-making capability. There is no reason to believe that they are perfected in us. Evolution undoubtedly will also develop additional new generative substrates, but it is not so obvious what these are.
There can be no doubt about the value of intelligence for developing the knowledge and culture necessary for further evolution. Even today’s abstract sciences require keen minds. As we advance, ever greater intelligence will be needed to figure out the next advances for securing the frontier. Our current intellect probably cannot even comprehend the mental attributes that descendants will struggle to conceive.
The indispensability of intelligence does not make it the only important mental attribute. Undoubtedly, our hypothalamus will continue to evolve as well as our cerebrum. The most successful competitors for the frontier will have to be totally dedicated to their goals. I can imagine them as bands of intellectual zealots fanatically devoted to their religion of generative evolution and to their private autoevolutionary church. They would singlemindedly advance their evolution for all of the same reasons that cause politicians to strive to become president, scientists to steal back to their laboratories after dinner, missionaries and explorers to fight their ways into deepest Africa, men to court women, parents to brave death protecting an offspring, men to lead and follow each other into war, and authors to slave over their all-American novels. Humanity evolved these powerful drives (which we admire) in part because they promoted its evolution. They should be capable of expanding to completely rivet people to their next phase of autoevolution. People probably will first culturally bond to their evolutionary goals and later lock their descendants in genetically with inescapable new drives.
How Will People Bring About their Self-improvement?
There is little use in detailing a scenario for impending human evolution because the range of possibilities is too great. However, it is useful to point out some specific opportunities in order to show why we must expect rates of progress to be very high.
The cardinal premise is that mankind’s self-elevation is primarily a process of generative evolution. Therefore, the way people improve themselves will change as they advance. In fact, their generative evolution will consist of the advances in the way that they are able to evolve. The first pioneers undoubtedly will begin to improve their offsprings’ genes by the simplest possibility of selecting gametes (see Muller, 1960). Even today some women are choosing the sperm for their “artificial” insemination (AI), separately from their choice of spouse, as a primitive form of deliberate private autoevolution. The range of choices now offered to women is severely limited – usually to only several aspects of the appearance of the donor, such as eye color, race and hair color. However, we can expect that range to grow substantially. For example, a controversial sperm bank now collects semen of Nobel prize laureates. While it is fashionable to scorn this as an elitist pretension, were I a woman contemplating AI I would pay dearly to choose from this stock instead of relying on the sort of anonymous donors who would sell their blood to blood banks. As more women come to insist upon top quality genotypes for their offspring, sperm banks will become scientific genetic institutions to meet teir demands.
Collecting superior sperm is just the first step for providing women with control over their children’s qualities. Agricultural AI services offer a fascinating preview of other opportunities that women can hope for. For example, animal breeders record the characteristic not only of their stud animals but of the offspring that they sire as well. Eventually human sperm banks could provide women with choice among sperm which have been documented to produce children with IQ’s averaging two standard deviations above the norm or with a 60% chance of a height above six foot four or whatever other partially heritable characteristics women desire for their children. They could even match sperm or the expectations of particular sperm to the woman’s particular genotype. One can imagine a number of ways that such human reproductive services may come into being.
Today, gynecologists usually pick out sperm donors (typically medical students) from casual judgments of their overall phenotype. As biological information accumulates it will become increasingly possible to select for gametes which encode outstanding individual heritable characteristics, perhaps eidetic memory, particular reasoning processes, longevity, trainability, emotional traits and so forth. The human genome project will eventually identify the individual functions of our 50,000 genes and catalogue the range of their variation in the human population. Evolutionists will then be able to incorporate particular alleles in their stock. More importantly they will be able to combine together constellations of alleles from a mother and father. Hundreds or even tens of thousands of ova might be superovulated from a woman and fertilized in vitro. The genetic constitution of each preimplantation zygote would be analyzed, by techniques already at hand, and the appropriate few selected for implantation. By then geneticists probably will be able reliably to add and replace individual genes in germinal cells. Alleles from any number of different people will be combined in the one individual.
I foresee the obvious development of human germinal cell lines which can be grown in culture and reconstituted into embryos. This is no more original than extending to humans the technology presently in use for mice. Human cell lines might even be tailored to form particular parts of chimeric persons, such as the brains or gonads, with the rest of the body coming from cells of a different constitution. These cell lines will add an in vitro stage to the post-human life cycle. This will be a major breakthrough because we already are wonderfully proficient at manipulating the genetic constitution of cells growing in culture and selecting the one out of a billion correctly engineered cell that we want. Every possible genetic improvement, as it is discovered, will surely be incorporated into cell lines and tested for its advantages to phenotype.
We probably will begin our interventions into brain and embryonic development with drugs and hormones and subsequently engineer the desirable intrusions into the genome. Then, after a further generation of accumulating biological information about individual gene function, developmental pathways, and the neural substrate of brain function, evolutionists probably will write novel genes for these traits from scratch using a DNA synthesizer.
The costs will be enormous, far beyond what most people could afford. This has kept our democratic society from appreciating that these possibilities will be used and will be important. However, their feasibility cannot be judged from what the average person will be willing to pay to procreate. What matters are the resources that the most successful generative lines will be able to apply to their goals. A million dollars per conception seems a great underestimate to me for the beings who hold evolution’s frontier.
Designing new functional capabilities into our descendants will be a daunting undertaking. Its success does not turn on discovering that the task is less formidable than it seems today but, instead, on developing the methods and knowledge capable of meeting this extraordinary challenge. One cannot be pessimistic here. Table I calls attention to the remarkable progress in genetic engineering during the past decade. Most of these techniques were developed to manipulate genes of animals. However, the bottom line is that all of them eventually are going to be used on humans – unless even more powerful alternatives eclipse them. To fail to see this is to utterly misperceive the implications of science. Two invincible forces are driving this progress of bioengineering and mammalian genetics. One is the multi-billion dollar agricultural industry. The other is medicine. Neither can be stopped. They guarantee that as long as society remains functional it will continue to pursue genetic knowledge and techniques for genetic engineering at escalating rates.
Of course, the methods for evolving our genetics extend beyond biotechnology. Ultra-sophisticated parallel processing computers and software programs will predictively model how particular gene configurations translate into phenotype, and how particular phenotypic traits can be engineered into developmental pathways. As a start, new computer technology is being developed today as an integral part of the human genome project. Computers also will model new intellectual capabilities. I venture to suggest that the forefront of computer innovation will soon rise from simple number crunching and modelling of low organizational systems, such as the weather, to the far more sophisticated demands of biological information.
Autoevolutionists certainly will also exploit animal models for their programs, as scientists have done for all studies of human biology. Experimental programs to increase mental attributes of dogs and perhaps short generation monkeys may be pilots for human programs. These models may grow out of conventional animal studies of neurological diseases, mental deficiency, senility or effects of drug abuse on fetal development.
One particular use for animal models will be to develop operational definitions for effective intelligence. The classical “intelligence quotient” as a global statistic was devised before anything was known about either the genetics or physiology of mentation. Of course it is inadequate. It will yield to measures of actual processes in the mammalian nervous system which are valid goals for selection.
Other Components of Private Human Autoevolution.
Redesigning the genotype will be only one facet of rational autoevolution. A separate dimension will be to design environments which maximize the effective intelligence and creative potential of superior beings. In particular, as humans profoundly change so must their post-natal development. The march of science up the ladder from physics to human biology inevitably will reach education and provide objective theory based on neurobiology, personality development, experimental psychology and large statistical surveys to correlate adult achievement with childhood experience. We must expect child development eventually to become a true experimental science. Children with especially favorable genotypes will be raised in various environments to test hypotheses and to discover optima for bringing out their potential.
As a hypothetical example, a private group might produce cohorts of genetically identical youngsters at two-year intervals. The first set would be raised under a chosen variety of defined conditions. The next would be raised for the first two years in the way empirically found to be optimal. They would then be used to test a range of conditions for years 2-4. The third set would explore optimal schooling during the next two years and so forth (2).
The purpose of this suggestion is to illustrate the enormous scope for systematically designing the environment to match the evolving genotypes. In current discussions eugenics is conceived as the alternative to “euthenics,” the improvement of humanity through upgrading its environment. Both their expense and their contrasting philosophies make eugenics and euthenics almost mutually exclusive as full-scale agendas for improvement on a national level. However, our realization of how genes and environment interact to determine phenotype implies that the successful evolving lines of people will integrate both avenues. Designing an optimal environment will be almost as important as designing genotypes for maximizing people’s evolutionary capabilities. As an insightful parallel, a major strategy in crop plant improvement is to create genetic strains that produce higher yields by being able to respond better to improved growing conditions. The green revolution materialized from breeds of grain which could benefit from increased levels of fertilizer. Because of the importance of genotype-phenotype interactions the successors of humans at the frontier should be far more harmonious with their environment than the haphazard situation of today.
A third component of autoevolution will be scientific information and technology. These are critical for the initiation as well as the continued acceleration of our rational self-development. Probably only persons intimately versed in biology will have the expertise, vision, commitment and audacity to pioneer the opportunities that genetics currently offers for human advancement. Every serious participant in evolving our genetic heritage undoubtedly will be highly concerned about national programs of medical, agricultural, genetic, and biological research. These will be the source of both the state-of-the-art techniques for effecting evolutionary changes and the knowledge for deciding which changes to make. I expect that proponents of human evolution will assume the leadership of national scientific research and direct it towards their cause. Such leadership should be a boon to all of society because the knowledge that it will seek coincides with the fundamental biological information critical for solving our most basic medical and social problems.
A fourth aspect of generative human evolution will be cultural. Humans cannot evolve effectively by individual effort. A cultural shell must maintain continuity across generations and integrate the contributions of like-minded participants. One can imagine a variety of forms for private autoevolutionary units. I mentioned earlier the possible small religious-like sect. Alternatively, autoevolutionary groups may start off resembling professional societies, schools, corporations, armies, extended families, villages, recreational, philanthropic and fraternal organizations, teams, businesses and so on. Whatever the cultural forms are that successfully initiate private autoevolution, they probably will change and develop substantially with time.
These four discernible components of human autoevolution, genetic, environmental, scientific/technological and cultural, have two interesting characteristics. First, each is capable of advancing, and its advancement would feed back positively on its capacity for further advance. In other words, each can evolve generatively in its own right. Secondly, these components were conspicuous in our past evolution. They have been components of highly successful generative evolution. The unique transition at our moment is their integration to extend their further joint advancement rationally.
It is fascinating to consider the futures of each of these individual components; computers, society, technology, culture and genetics. However, they cannot be understood in isolation from each other (3). Their integration into a composite system for maximal generative evolution will dominate the way each changes. At this point in its history generative evolution consists of a coalescing set of progressions which reflexively promote the advancement of themselves and each other.
The Start of private Autoevolution.
The significance of our future evolutionary advancement, to you and me personally, pivots on its time schedule. The demise of the sun and the inevitable heat death or collapse of the universe are impending events of supreme consequence. Yet, they occupy us only as cocktail party curiosities because they lie too far in the future. Almost everyone uncritically assumes that our evolutionary advancement also belongs to the insignificant future, but this must be grossly wrong.
Most of the component processes for private autoevolution are already in motion. Biological sciences are progressing exponentially. Today’s technology is unmistakably autocatalytic. Machines make machines, computers design computer components, and software for writing software is exploding. People have feebly started to regulate the genotype of their progeny deliberately and rationally with AI and negative eugenics measures. The educated public realizes that humans are biological creatures and that genetic engineers can profoundly redesign animal form. The conspicuously missing component is the requisite social organization (the Church of the Evolutionary Zealotes or whatever). This gap could close at any time to complete the prerequisites for rational, private autoevolution.
It is in the nature of autocatalysis that once it starts it propels itself. However, the process may require a trigger to set it off. The catalyst may differ substantially from the circular causality that perpetuates the process. This is likely to be the case for private human autoevolution. As time goes on and its generative components inexorably develop, private autoevolution will become easier and easier to ignite. Table II lists a variety of possible triggers for private autoevolution to suggest their diversity and the likelihood that one will produce effects within a meaningful time period. (Most readers probably can think of others even more plausible.) Future historians may someday identify one of these as the event that catalyzed the most momentous happening of the human race. I like to believe that foresightful geneticists will deliberately initiate this new era of evolution, but the crucial event seems almost as plausibly to be incidental or accidental. If so, this reflects the limitations of human rationality.
Public awareness of its prospects should be an especially important promoter of private autoevolution. In particular, open discussion will encourage the formation of private evolution groups. All of the possible triggers listed in Table II could raise public awareness, as could diverse other factors. For example, the relentless progress of global problems: pollution, deterioration of the environment, exhaustion of resources, overpopulation, perhaps nuclear militarism or epidemics will emphasize the importance of outstanding personal qualities, intellectual, emotional and philosophical, for mastering tomorrow’s world. Journalists, biotechnicians, fiction writers, elitist groups such as Mensa and so forth, who lack the resources or will actually to engage in autoevolution, will analyze its various options and strategies. Proponents and critics of biological research programs will air the ramifications for human improvement. Even now, biologists justify their grant requests for studies of neurogenetics and fetal endocrinology in animals by describing the potential human applications. Critics of scientific progress who now decry genetically engineering crop plants and domestic animals will gleefully scream the potential disasters lurking in the Pandora’s box of human germline manipulation. Also, successful or unsuccessful attempts at genetic engineering in humans for medical purposes will raise public consciousness about their wider evolutionary implications.
Public awareness feeds on itself. Even negative publicity will increase the numbers of people who think through the prospects for human improvement. I expect most educated persons to support the idea of continuing our evolution once they understand it, maybe not today or tomarrow but one cannot overlook how enormously our values relating to sex and reproduction have advanced in the last fifty years.
There is no better way to appreciate how rapidly the stage for dedicated human autoevolution is developing than by comparing the prospects as they appear today with those of 25 years ago. Everyone interested in our future should definitely read the penetrating views that H.J. Muller expressed in 1960. This Nobel Laureate geneticist realized that our potential for advancement is limitless, but he could not imagine how explosively our knowledge of genetics, our understanding of evolution and our technical capacities would grow (4). I expect that today’s outlook will seem as quaint to our grandchildren.
One can only guess at the time-table for private evolution to start. The considerations above suggest to me a better than even chance that a major escalating debate will begin this decade and a near certainty for it within a generation. Some of our grandchildren are likely to join practicing autoevolutionary groups. By then, at least abortive attempts to genetically engineer human germ lines may come to public attention. Directed human evolution should be a major issue in science, ethics, economics, and politics for our great-grandchildren. These projections share the time range of global warming, the exhaustion of various primary resources, and the population time bomb; problems that responsible people realize society must address now.
Two generations of concerted private autoevolution should produce intellects and leadership qualities substantially superior to anything previous. Most educated persons will demand the advantages that they see in others for their own offspring. The late comers and the half-dedicated will benefit enormously from the techniques and knowledge created by the primary autoevolutionists, but they will never close their gap behind the cutting edge.
We should not imagine that people will just dabble in their evolution. Another generation will fan autoevolution into the all-consuming endeavor of the intellectuals, scientists and economists. The resources of the world probably will suddenly be shifted to this enterprise. Remaining “humans” will realize that they have been displaced from their former privileged status as the masters of destiny.
A Generative Evolutionary Theory of Human Values.
Deliberate human autoevolution promises to revolutionize every branch of philosophy: epistemology, aesthetics, metaphysics and theology. This volume concerns human values. Here the process defines both a new system of ethics and a new sort of ethical values. The ethics of generative evolution (EGE) is the commitment to procreate the lineage which will occupy the leading edge of life from now on. Its values are the properties which keep descendants at the frontier of generative evolution. EGE translates into literally writing these values into the next generation. They will be biologically installed as innate purposes and as physical and mental capacities to meet those purposes of maximal generative evolution.
As an ethical system EGE has some notable features. It recognizes that humans are biological intermediates in a perpetuating evolutionary process. Therefore, its concern extends to the ultimate possible attainment of life instead of just the perfection of today’s human beings.
Situating human importance in an ongoing, limitless process of improvement makes EGE truly dynamic. Its values cannot be statically defined in advance but only evolved. Each generation will require a new set of values for its particular stage of development. In fact, the values for each generation will dialectically promote the evolutionary advance which will force their revision. Ethics is a generative component of human evolution.
The charge for the evolutionary ethicist is to work out values to guide the next phase of being, not the current form. Today’s particular task is to design the value system which will initiate private human autoevolution. This is exciting because it calls for developing a self-fulfilling vision which will attract people to execute it. The subsequent values will be equally exciting to our advanced descendants. Perhaps their next formulation will be to fashion descendants able to conceive new mental attributes which could and should be brought into being. I personally cannot think of anything more intriguing than exploring the possible directions in which human mentality might be extended.
EGE offers a fresh outlook on ethical dualism. Classical ethics depends on the presumption that what should occur can differ from what will happen. Moreover should is prior because it can redirect what will occur. Generative evolution surmounts this unhappy dualism because here the two cannot diverge. Any disparity can only lead lineages into oblivion and is self-negating. Even so, EGE escapes determinism by being sets of values which people choose to instill in future descendants. EGE is constrained by the principles of generative evolution but few evolutionists believe that evolution is a deterministic or convergent process.
Indeed, future people probably will be little troubled by today’s central ethical dilemma of how we should govern our free choice. Once generative evolution captures humans’ rational facilities it will shape them to eliminate the disparity among what an individual should, can, will and wants to do and what gives happiness and deep satisfaction. I suggest that our current ethical dilemma arises from slack. We have not developed the opportunities to fully occupy the drives that past evolution has instilled in us. People have a surfeit of personal resources that they cannot now devote to either their biological survival and reproduction on the one hand or their evolutionary advancement on the other. Our ethical dilemma is how to construct a value system for wasting this excess of resources. The acceptable solution cannot be a fiction of arbitrary values for what is meaningless. It must be to identify how evolution creates personal meaning and to expand that meaning to match our capacity to act.
Autoevolution’s self-assertive foundation renders it invulnerable to judgment by lessor ethical systems. A critic may reject a private autoevolutionary program on moral grounds and perhaps even delay society from participating in the affair. However, I see no way for an outside moralist to prevent dedicated molecular geneticists from privately manipulating their own heredity. If a government legislates against people tampering with their genetic constitution, this will not matter. The generative race merely will be among those groups which will circumvent that impediment. Humanity never has had much luck at prohibiting the world progress of science or the use of technology. It goes without saying that the overwhelming majority of today’s people will not embrace generative evolution. This does not matter. Few people have enough education or technical opportunity to take a shot at the frontier of autoevolution. This unfairness does not matter. Most governmental, religious, legal and even scientific institutions may be outraged by the very idea of private evolution of super-humans. This does not matter. It does not even matter that 99% of the private evolutionary groups will erroneously direct their evolution into blind alleys, internal cancers or self-destruction. Humanity’s future evolution will merely resemble that of its successful past in this respect. Evolution depends upon the fortunes of the singularly successful and not the majority. In this way it differs fundamentally from democratic, statistical and mechanistic processes that we are familiar with.
The futuristic orientation of EGE also raises its values above judgment by narrower ethical dogmas. Dogmatists judge an option by weighing it against their standards (e.g. 5) A futurist, in contrast, does not ask how well an option agrees with his or her own value system but how the people in the future living with its outcome would judge that option from their perspective. There is no doubt in my mind, whatsoever, that descendants on whom we bestow capacities quantum levels above our own to see, think, feel, do and enjoy, will cherish their generative evolutionary values over our anthropocentric moralities, to a degree that we cannot even imagine. They are as likely to regret their super-human qualities as persons in the street today are to choose to discard 60 IQ points, look forward to senility, poke their eyes out, wish they were Mongoloid, hire a neurosurgeon to destroy their short-term memory, envy a dyslexic or pray for addiction or psychosis.
Nor does it require any future super-human intellect to appreciate the extraordinary offerings of EGE. No one can possibly dispute the desirability of the following aspirations for our descendants (or for us).
* to provide them a full and irresistible outlet for their emotion, intellect, creativity and religiosity.
* to give them the maximum opportunities and encouragement, as individuals and as members of a culture, to improve what they perceive can and should be changed.
* to enrich them with a new bond to the future and the past.
* to make cultural offerings as congruent with their individual needs as is possible.
* to maximize their capacities to utilize the opportunities available to them.
* to base culture on idealism.
* to develop a self-fulfilling vision of a future of perpetually accelerating improvement instead of stasis or deterioration.
* to create the opportunity for individuals to make the most meaningful possible contribution to existence. They can personally be unique and essential intermediaries in the progressive realization of “divine” levels of existence (by any theology) and beyond.
I defy any other ethic to measure itself against this attainable vision. Anyone who cherishes human qualities must embrace their continued development at the greatest possible rate. Can you imagine any greater personal tragedy than evolution aborting you as a Neanderthal or monkey or germ – or mere human being?
In closing let me reiterate that private autoevolution is not a possibility for a distant future nor is it a science fiction. It is with us now, albeit at an early enough phase to have escaped most people’s attention. Autocatalytic self-evolution is poised to engage us immediately. It falls within our time-scale of concern. Expect it. I have mentioned several of its generative facets; genetic alteration, technological development, information acquisition, cultural development, and ethics. The most significant legacy of our age will not be nuclear power, computers, political achievements or a static ethics for a “sustainable” society. It will be the closure of our rational intellect around our evolution. The statues of the 21st century will celebrate the fathers of Homo autocatalyticus who brought evolution under its own reason. The world waits to see whose faces will adorn them.
This article was prepared while on leave at the Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. I thank George Miklos and Barry Rolfe for their kind support. Patricia Williams made especially useful criticisms of this manuscript.
1. Genetics arose from the postulate of the Mendelian gene, as an invisible particle within the cell causing observable phenotypic traits to appear. This crucial postulate gave rise to two concurrent programs of genetic research. Mechanistic genetics asked what genes physically are and how they mechanically perform their functions of self-replication, mutation and determination of phenotype. This program was spectacularly successful, leading to today’s molecular genetics and genetic engineering. However, it took many years to trace genetics to chemical structure and activities. In the meantime, the fact of particulate inheritance was too fundamental to agriculture, medicine, evolutionary theory and the rest of biology for scientists to wait until the gene was understood before integrating Mendelian genetics into their fields of interest. These geneticists developed a second branch of genetics to relate differences in phenotype to inferred differences in theoretical genotype without referring at all to the material nature of the gene. Their approach could attribute the variability or abnormalities in some traits to a single “gene” and show that other cases depended upon “alleles” at two or at many different “gene loci.” It also could catalogue several phenomenological properties of particular gene alleles or traits (degrees of penetrance, epistasis, pleotrophy, expressivity, heritablility, etc.) with no attempt to understand or relate them to the material nature of the gene. For example the degree of heritability of cancer and IQ were burning issues regardless of what the genes involved were or how they caused these traits.
The whole point of this branch of genetics was simply to accept genes as inscrutable bead-on-a-string units. To extend their endeavors past mere descriptive formalism these geneticists turned to statistics as a back door to causal logic wholly independent of genetic mechanism. For example, the normal distribution of heights of persons in a population is causally explained by statistical laws. The only presumption about the genes involved is that enough of them act together to form a statistical ensemble with none individualistic enough to make a discernible effect by itself on that distribution. Presuming that the individual role of genes need not be understood inevitably transmogrified to the presumption that genes do not have meaningful individual roles. Also, the statistical ideal of an indefinitely large number of variable genes behind a quantitative trait grew into a biological ideal. I cited Mayr’s recommendation that we believe that every gene affects each aspect of phenotype, even though this is an admitted exaggeration. This artificiality that genes are but statistical units was tenable only until mechanists demonstrated that inheritance reduces to chemistry. Then it shrank to a protest of unfeasibility against the reductionistic/mechanistic perspective which overwhelmingly displaced it. Distrust of mechanistic genetics still lingers as an anachronism in fields such as in human genetics where it abets a social philosophy that denies the importance of genetic determinism in human variation. However, if the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then the truly profound continuing advances that can-do molecular geneticists have made throughout biology demand that a rational person accept their views as the default interpretation of genetics.
2. The goal is to ensure an optimal childhood milieu for intellectual, emotional and creative development. “Experimental childhood” should sound Orwellian only to someone with a warped idea of childhood needs. I expect that the genetic potential for creativity will be best expressed by a secure, nurturing, loving and challenging childhood with copious appropriate contact with peers and attentive adults. Of course, there are extraordinarily diverse philosophies of education and child-rearing with strong advocates and critics of each. I certainly do not pretend that my “enlightened” views will be the ones found optimal to foster intellectual development. Also, different genotypes probably have substantially different needs. Moreover, a person creates his/her environment as well as responding to it (as is the case of biological evolution). This makes a sophisticated experimental science of child-rearing all the more essential. I suggest that the experimental method promises as much improvement over intuition for matters of rearing a particular child as it does for learning the geometry of the earth and the best way to treat the plague.
3. Several reviewers have suggested that I discuss the autoevolution of these individual components. Their futures are extremely important to understand and fascinating to explore. However, I am reticent to do so in a volume on evolutionary principles and human values. We know precious little about the “principles” of cultural or computer evolution and their autoevolution may not be relatable at all to “values.” One can really only discuss their future as specific hypothetical scenarios, which, however intriguing, is far below the aim of this paper about us. Today’s global technological society (as a functional entity) and computer intelligence are developing far faster than biological humans. However, they are far more rudimentary at this time. Eventually, silicone or Stock’s social “metaman” (Stock, 1992) may displace the biological descendants of humans at the frontier. My feeling, however, is that biological form, built of a hierarchy of self-constructing, self-reproducing and self-repairing structures that extend down to the atomic level and functions under the direction of endogenous genetic information will be exceedingly tenacious in its hold on the frontier of evolution.
4. “As far as intelligence is concerned there is no indication that we are approaching any physiologically set limit or optimum. It is quite evident that we could benefit indefinitely by a continued increase in our mental powers.” and: “It is preposterous to suppose that, in the foreseeable future, knowledge would be precise enough to enable us to say what substitutions [in the four billion nucleotide pairs of our genome] to make in order to effect a given phenotypic alteration – not that this would never be possible.” (Muller, 1960).
5. An example of dogmatist judgment is the way Ayalla and Valentine (1979) conclude a discussion of the future evolution of humans in their textbook on evolution by morally decrying the most potent technique that they consider. “The production of even a single individual by cloning seems to us ethically repugnant: extensive human cloning would endanger the very survival of a democratic society. We believe that study groups consisting of biologists, physicians, sociologists, philosophers and political and religious leaders should investigate the matter and provide advice and guidance to government so that human cloning never will come to pass. Cooperation beyond national boundaries will be necessary: the future welfare and even the survival of mankind is at stake.”
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Table I Some recent bio-engineering advances.
A wide variety of techniques allow a specified gene to be isolated from any organism, replicated indefinitely, structurally redesigned (directionally mutated) and reintroduced into human cells either as an addition to the genome or to replace the corresponding gene.
A desired gene can be replicated a million times from a single cell, a dead piece of tissue such as a hair, or even a single haploid sperm.
Dozens of enzymes have been discovered to alter the structure of particular gene sequences in specific ways (invertases, transposases, acquisitionases, methylases, terminases, mutases, etc.).
The entire genome of a person can be converted into a “gene library” of gene-sized pieces of DNA housed in a culture of microorganisms. The library can be replicated or stored indefinitely and chosen genes selected from it.
All of the genes expressed in a chosen tissue can be cloned into a cDNA gene library by back-transcribing the messengers. Each protein of that tissue will be synthesized by a separate library cell.
A gene can be linked to a genetic control element to limit its expression to a specific cell type (eg liver or germline cell), or to respond to a natural or artificial hormone signal.
Genes can be introduced to inactivate a specified gene of a cell, kill off a specified cell type during embryogenesis, cause a specified cell type to over-roliferate in the animal or correct a neurological genetic defect in the animal.
Extra copies of a gene for a hormone can be inserted into the germ line of a mammal to change a body characteristic in a predicted way.
Genes can be synthesized chemically using a computer-controlled DNA synthesizer, and then introduced into a human cell where they will function.
Nucleotides can be polymerized on patches of silicon chips, under optical control, paving the way for a microtechnology to synthesize arrays of tens of thousands of variants of a gene by quick computer automation.
An extra type of self-recognizing DNA base pair, in addition to G C A and T, can be introduced into DNA molecules opening the way for a six-letter genetic code.
An early preimplantation embryo can be divided to form two genetically identical individuals.
Germinal cell lines can be propagated indefinitely in culture and converted back into a fertile organism.
Cells from two embryos of different species (e.g. sheep and goat) can be fused to produce a chimeric mammal.
A woman can be treated with gonadotrophic hormones to ovulate multiple eggs which can be fertilized in vitro and stored frozen for long periods of time.
A mammalian ovum can be fertilized in vitro, a single cell removed at the blastula stage for genetic analysis and on that basis the blastula implanted or discarded.
Mice can be grown for the first one-third of their gestation period in vitro. Humans can be raised for the second half of their normal gestation period outside of the womb.
Treating pregnant mice with a neuroendocrine analogue (naltrexone) can increase the numbers of cells in parts of the brain (including the cerebral cortex) by 70%.
Neuroblastoma cells can be grown in flasks and then induced with hormones to differentiate into neurones and form synaptic connections with one another.
Fetal brain tissue can be transplanted into an adult brain to augment defective neuromodulator function. A neuron can be attached to a silicone chip so that when it fires it sends a signal in the chips circuitry: This technology is considered the forerunner for a recording device implanted in the brain.
Table II Possible triggers for human autoevolution.
Geneticists discover a gene which produces a very desirable effect when introduced into the human genome. For example, overproduction of a DNA repair enzyme might substantially delay aging or reduce the incidence of cancer.
A human sperm bank develops an outstanding insemination service. It demands that its users join in programs of raising the offspring in accordance with its researched program of excellence and provide detailed information about the offspring’s genetic and phenotypic characteristics.
The AIDS epidemic becomes really serious (e.g. the virus mutates to become transmissible by insect vector) or another new epidemic virus combines the lethality of HIV with high transmissibility. Society embraces programs of inserting a gene into the fertilized egg to make the offspring resistant (such as a coding sequence for a gene shears or antisense segments of the virus). Hereditary resistance to viruses could be developed even today.
A wealthy person sponsors his/her own vision of human autoevolution with ten million dollars.
The leader of some third world country decides to father a thousand or ten thousand offspring for political, social, military or egotistical reasons.
A drug, hormone or growth factor treatment is developed to prevent neurological problems in very premature infants and is found to greatly enhance the development of mental capacity of all fetuses. Embryo engineering is born.
An eccentric geneticist successfully clones an offspring with his genotype and captures world attention.
Inevitable progress in reproductive biology makes it possible to induce parthenogenesis or to transplant a somatic cell nucleus into an enucleated human egg. Unmarried women or wives of sterile men opt for this route to pregnancy and cause the technique to become accepted and widespread.
The results of the human genome project supplemented by the analysis of the genetic variation in the human population convince thoughtful people of the imperative need to regulate the transmission of our genetic heritage to future generations.
Countries finally forced to radically control their exploding population develop the ethos to detect superior genotypes and exclude them from the ban on reproduction. The largest countries of the world embrace stringent forced eugenics.
Nuclear war elevates the mutational load to where controlled breeding and genetic engineering (such as large scale cloning of rare phenotypically normal offspring) become essential to maintain a sizable functional society.
John H. Campbell
Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology School of Medicine,
and Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life,
University of California,
Los Angeles, CA 90024 USA
For Robert Wesson and Patricia A. Williams:
EXTENDED JOURNEYS: EVOLUTIONARY ROADS TOWARD
ETHICAL THEORIES AND SOCIAL POLICIES.