TED Conversations

Jay Robinson

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We may not need to genetically modify ourselves to evolve, and to reach our ideal.

There is an idea today that with genetic modification we can "improve" our genetics, becoming stronger, longer living, smarter, more creative, etc. I also have observed that the leading counter-point to this idea is ethical: "How dare we fiddle with nature?"

I don`t necessarily think that it`s wrong to tamper with nature. I don`t see humans as other than natural, and if it is in our nature to do any of the things we do, then they too are natural. That we are self-aware and can make decisions out of free will doesn`t make those decisions any more or less natural. Nature is essential.

But I would ask, Why do we need to improve our genetics? I don`t think it is what we as individuals or a global society needs. Before we become strong, long lived, intelligent, creative people, our will must be tuned toward acts of love, kindness, goodness, peace, productivity, and community. These are not genetic qualities, but human qualities. These are qualities that one cultivates consciously through the use of will in one`s life.

I wonder what all of the powerful sociopaths who run their lives from a place of greed and mistrust would do with this biotechnology at their disposal? For surely this kind of technology would be available, at least to begin with, only to the super rich.

You might say, if we could have super-strength, super-intelligence, super-memory, we could build a harmonious society where we didn`t need as much, and where we could all work together towards a utopian society.

To this I would whisper a bit of Sufi wisdom, which directs our attention to the snail, who has no arms, and no legs, and yet is provided for. I think that we are born with everything that we need to get along in this world, and indeed even more than that. We have the power to shape this world to our fancy, and we have been doing so, whimsically, and often brashly.

Evolution begins with the individual, and it`s a natural process. Change your mind, your life, and evolution will happen.


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    Jan 25 2012: Genetic modification is just another "magic pill", that does absolutely nothing. If you're not happy with who you are now, and you get genetic modification, you still won't be happy with who you are now... It's a biological solution, to a cognitive problem... and those, are really just drug addictions.

    Alcoholics, Drug Addicts, plastic surgery addicts, food addicts, and now, in the near future, the new and improved genetic modification addicts... "I'm taller... Why am I still not happy?"

    Oh, the places we've gone... The progress we've made...
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      Jan 25 2012: That's a good analogy, David.

      I think though that genetic modification isn't a problem (morally speaking, though there may be undesirable side-effects that we're not aware of now that would make it a problem,) but it's a problem if it is used as a psychological crutch or an ego-boost or something like that. Just like alcohol, food, and arguably, drugs, can be beneficial if used with a healthy consciousness. But dependence upon these external things can only be detrimental because it belittles our essential human nature. Already we are doing this with many things. For example, when we get sick, we go see a doctor. So already we are externalizing our personal health. We have created a disconnection between ourself and the health of our own body. Another example is the fitness gym. The people of India know very well that fitness can be gained using no tools whatsoever except the knowledge of the body. But people become very attached to using all kinds of equipment and dietary supplements. They become very strong and healthy but are dependent on these external sources for their health. Wheras the yogi is in-dependently healthy. Of course advice and help is welcome from the outside when absolutely necessary, but a knee-jerk reaction, or addiction to external modification is actually perpetuating weakness, not solving anything.

      Advil does not heal the cause of the headache, it just stops the head from hurting. It's not a bad thing, sometimes there is no sense in just suffering through a headache. But it's important to consider where it came from, and try to change some habits in order to prevent in the future. This is called growth, or learning, and it is what makes humans so beautiful!

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