Human "breeding", and its implications

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Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Rippy » Fri Oct 24, 2008 9:39 pm UTC

This is an issue I've thought about a lot, and I'm really torn by it. So you have humanity. But, at this point, we're not really evolving physically, because we've essentially eliminated natural selection (people with bad eyes or disabilities, for example, are no less likely to reproduce than more "fit" people). I mean, as an asthmatic with eyeglasses, I would probably not survived 10000 years ago.

Thinking about it, this seems like a very bad thing to me. We've been in this constant progression from single-celled organisms to what we are today, and now that's essentially stopped. What if we someday get destroyed by some kind of superintelligent alien species, only because we stopped improving? What if we never escape poverty and war because we don't smarten up?

I then wondered how you could humanely accomplish this, to basically selectively breed humans. My conclusion so far is that, well, you can't, and this bothers me. Not without a totalitarian government and everything that entails. Suppose that you have a government that wants to keep population constant, and so imposes a 2-child-per-family restriction. Given the right circumstances (i.e. overpopulation), this could be reasonable. You would then need some way of having more fit couples have more kids, on average, than less fit couples. This would require some kind of rating system, based on a few physical traits like medical conditions, strength and endurance, and of course various mental traits. It would be horrible to actually take away children from less fit couples, so the best I could come up with is this: Everyone is guaranteed 2 children, but there will inevitably be many people who never have children, either by choice or for medical reasons. You could make up for this difference by giving "third child" rights (ala Ender's Game) to couples with the best mental and physical traits. I'm not sure what fraction of people never have kids, but I'm sure it would be a significant enough amount to make a difference.

The more I thought about this, though, the more unnerved I became. Suddenly you're thinking about the meaning of life, and what it is to be human. I don't want the government to tell me how many kids I have. I don't want the kind of government that CAN tell me how many kids to have, because it would have to be some kind of totalitarian regime. I don't want me or my kid to be told he's better or worse than someone else based on a number rating. I don't want a new leader to suddenly and silently decide that Jewish traits should be negatives.

And yet, most of all, I don't want to see my species die out. I don't know why, because that involves assigning some kind of meaning to life. But based on my Darwinian instincts, all I can say is: "We're alive now, and damnit, we are going to continue living". In the end, though, I just don't know what to think. That's why I'm posting it here, to get some insight from other people.

Afterthought: The only other means of accomplishing this I could think of was genetic modification, which brings up some very similar issues.

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Gunfingers » Fri Oct 24, 2008 9:53 pm UTC

The answer: transhumanism.

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby blakat1313 » Fri Oct 24, 2008 10:25 pm UTC

I'm sorry if this is too off-topic for SB, but I think it applies to the thread.

Humans may have stopped evolving genetically, we know that remarkably few mutations to humans actually take hold anymore. This isn't necessarily to say that our species has stopped evolving altogether. Humans have become a memetic(is that a word?) species. We "evolve" through information rather than genes. We might not be getting wings or sharp claws but we learned how to make airplanes and chainsaw rocket launchers. We might be less fit from a genetic standpoint, but it's only because we let our memes help us through technology and advancing science.

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Malice » Fri Oct 24, 2008 10:32 pm UTC

Rippy wrote:This is an issue I've thought about a lot, and I'm really torn by it. So you have humanity. But, at this point, we're not really evolving physically, because we've essentially eliminated natural selection (people with bad eyes or disabilities, for example, are no less likely to reproduce than more "fit" people). I mean, as an asthmatic with eyeglasses, I would probably not survived 10000 years ago.


No offense, but an asthmatic with eyeglasses might be less likely to reproduce than a healthy, athletic male for social reasons instead of biological ones. I suspect nobody's done that study yet because scientists are all asthmatics with eyeglasses.

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Rippy » Fri Oct 24, 2008 10:47 pm UTC

blakat1313 wrote:I'm sorry if this is too off-topic for SB, but I think it applies to the thread.

Humans may have stopped evolving genetically, we know that remarkably few mutations to humans actually take hold anymore. This isn't necessarily to say that our species has stopped evolving altogether. Humans have become a memetic(is that a word?) species. We "evolve" through information rather than genes. We might not be getting wings or sharp claws but we learned how to make airplanes and chainsaw rocket launchers. We might be less fit from a genetic standpoint, but it's only because we let our memes help us through technology and advancing science.

Yes, but isn't there a limit to how far we can advance through information alone? The best analogy I can think of is that our brains are the hardware, and information/learning are the drivers. Right now we're doing a great job optimizing our driver software, but eventually it will make the most of the hardware and peak. Someone correct me if this is not the case.

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby DougP » Fri Oct 24, 2008 11:00 pm UTC

Its been tried, it was called Eugenics, and it didn't end well.

Sure, eugenics was not a homogeneous movement that meant the same thing in every place it was tried, so its not necessarily going to end up with Hitler and the holocaust, but there is simply no good way to do it without royally screwing a lot of the population, creating second class citizens, and creating massive amounts of political, social and economic injustice, at least thats what I'd argue.

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Vellyr » Fri Oct 24, 2008 11:03 pm UTC

I'm not sure if we would even know where to begin a eugenics program, assuming we were morally bankrupt enough to pursue it. We would be just as likely to completely mess up the species as we would be to improve it. Never mind the "Stephen Hawking Clause", the human genome is still beyond our ability to comprehend. The same gene that is responsible for sickle-cell disease makes you resistant to malaria, for example. Imagine breeding that out of the population in Africa because we thought it would make them "better".

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Mane » Fri Oct 24, 2008 11:52 pm UTC

Wouldn't it be easier to just genetically engineer humans? I haven't the time for you you to invent four breasted woman :P

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Belial » Fri Oct 24, 2008 11:55 pm UTC

Yes, but isn't there a limit to how far we can advance through information alone? The best analogy I can think of is that our brains are the hardware, and information/learning are the drivers. Right now we're doing a great job optimizing our driver software, but eventually it will make the most of the hardware and peak. Someone correct me if this is not the case.


You know what's way better than selectively breeding better hardware?

Building that shit and installing it.

Refer back to the second post in the thread.
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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Rippy » Sat Oct 25, 2008 1:54 am UTC

Belial wrote:
Yes, but isn't there a limit to how far we can advance through information alone? The best analogy I can think of is that our brains are the hardware, and information/learning are the drivers. Right now we're doing a great job optimizing our driver software, but eventually it will make the most of the hardware and peak. Someone correct me if this is not the case.


You know what's way better than selectively breeding better hardware?

Building that shit and installing it.

Refer back to the second post in the thread.

This I think would eliminate some of the moral issues. It would then become a choice to get a brain upgrade, or a bionic arm that can throw cars.

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby qinwamascot » Sat Oct 25, 2008 4:10 am UTC

So what's wrong with the totalitarian government idea? You could always do something like in The Giver, where a few women are allowed to have children and the rest aren't. I realize that this kind of government seems unappealing, but it does solve the problem you posed.

That being said, if this is not an option, we could always just basically remove all protectionary things, like police, firemen/women, etc and let everyone fend for themselves. Anarchy basically. In effect, the reason we don't evolve anymore is because of protective governments.

But also, I question whether the survival of humanity as a whole is a worthwhile goal. The survival of any individual human is, but why must we, as a species, survive?
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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby anouk » Sat Oct 25, 2008 4:54 am UTC

Mane wrote:Wouldn't it be easier to just genetically engineer humans? I haven't the time for you you to inventt four breasted woman :P

I imagine a social world like the one depicted in the movie Gattaca would come about soon enough, in my opinion, not a good thing.

The thought 'Where the heck has natural selection gone?!' flitted through my mind a while ago. I got somewhat panicky and decided I wouldn't think about it. My thought was that without natural selection to decide who gets to have offspring the human race is going to become a bunch of disease-riddled-medication-reliant beings. And that this planet won't be able to handle the amount of people living on it that would of otherwise be dead.

I don't agree with a totalitarian government to decide who gets to have children and who doesn't, what if someone feels it is their niche to have children, and they aren't allowed, their whole life they are going to be missing something.
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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby EdgarJPublius » Sat Oct 25, 2008 6:03 am UTC

Rippy wrote:
Belial wrote:
Yes, but isn't there a limit to how far we can advance through information alone? The best analogy I can think of is that our brains are the hardware, and information/learning are the drivers. Right now we're doing a great job optimizing our driver software, but eventually it will make the most of the hardware and peak. Someone correct me if this is not the case.


You know what's way better than selectively breeding better hardware?

Building that shit and installing it.

Refer back to the second post in the thread.

This I think would eliminate some of the moral issues. It would then become a choice to get a brain upgrade, or a bionic arm that can throw cars.



Obviouslty you get the brain and then use your new mental faculties to figure out how also to get the arm.
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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Telchar » Sat Oct 25, 2008 6:34 am UTC

I would argue that the primary premise of the arguement is flawed. To say that humans arn't evolving is a falacy. We are not speciating, and since we have eliminated most isolation barriers, we probably never will. However, evolution continues on a micro scale. Take for example the rate of people being heterozygous for sickle cell anemia in Centeral and Western Africa as opposed to any other black population that can trace it's heritage to there. Without malaria putting evolutionary pressure, the allele dies. A perfect example of human evolution. Or how about the fact that some people native to the Andes have up to 1 liter (that's the spelling...neener neener:P) more blood than what doctors consider "normal"? Again, an example of evolution.

So, with that being said, I think eugenics is a really bad idea not only from a gut feeling morality standpoint, but also from an "if it ain't broke don't fix it" standpoint. How are you to know what traits to select for? How do we know we won't just fuck everything up worse than it already is? In order to meddle in such a complex system requires an extremenly deep understanding of that system that, at least in my opinion, we don't have.
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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Outchanter » Sat Oct 25, 2008 6:48 am UTC

viewtopic.php?f=8&t=28052

I don't see anything wrong with people voluntarily undergoing genetic tests before having children, if their family has a history of disease. Eugenics, like censorship, is only wrong when imposed by an outside force.
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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby ManaUser » Sat Oct 25, 2008 6:51 am UTC

This is a little bit of a tangent I guess, but relevant. Sometimes I worry that high Intelligence is being selected against. It can difficult to distinguish innate intelligence from education (formal or otherwise), but as a general rule, doesn't it appear that the smartest people are less likely to have children, and have fewer children if they do?

Anyway, I would absolutely oppose any eugenics program that went as far as denying certain people the right to reproduce, unless it could be proved there was a very dire need (and "what if aliens kill us?" doesn't cut it). But if all we want is a gentle push in a positive direction (whatever that means), a voluntary effort should suffice. And in some sense, we already have that, as Malice pointed out.

People have been selecting "successful" mates for as long as there have been people. Partly this in unconscious, and some of the hard-wired indicators of who's going to be successful like physical strength or "good birthing hips" might not be too relevant today. But some conscious thought goes into it as well. So anybody who's ever wondered "is this person right for me?" is driving evolution, or to put it another way, doing eugenics.

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Malice » Sat Oct 25, 2008 8:08 am UTC

Rippy wrote:
Belial wrote:
Yes, but isn't there a limit to how far we can advance through information alone? The best analogy I can think of is that our brains are the hardware, and information/learning are the drivers. Right now we're doing a great job optimizing our driver software, but eventually it will make the most of the hardware and peak. Someone correct me if this is not the case.


You know what's way better than selectively breeding better hardware?

Building that shit and installing it.

Refer back to the second post in the thread.

This I think would eliminate some of the moral issues. It would then become a choice to get a brain upgrade, or a bionic arm that can throw cars.


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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby luketheduke » Sat Oct 25, 2008 10:59 am UTC

ManaUser wrote:This is a little bit of a tangent I guess, but relevant. Sometimes I worry that high Intelligence is being selected against. It can difficult to distinguish innate intelligence from education (formal or otherwise), but as a general rule, doesn't it appear that the smartest people are less likely to have children, and have fewer children if they do?


If you imply that intelligence - a thing we do not fully understand yet - is substantially inheritary, then you are right.
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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Kachi » Sat Oct 25, 2008 11:18 am UTC

Personally I don't understand this concern that humans will die out, or go extinct. So what? Each human life means something, but humanity as a whole means nothing. And the only reason we mean anything is because we mean something to ourselves and one another. When we're all gone, there will have been no meaning to our existence.

Is this some kind of mourning for those that haven't yet lived? I just don't get it. Extinction is far from the worst fate I can imagine for humans.

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby luketheduke » Sat Oct 25, 2008 11:28 am UTC

Kachi++

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Rippy » Sat Oct 25, 2008 11:59 am UTC

ManaUser wrote:This is a little bit of a tangent I guess, but relevant. Sometimes I worry that high Intelligence is being selected against. It can difficult to distinguish innate intelligence from education (formal or otherwise), but as a general rule, doesn't it appear that the smartest people are less likely to have children, and have fewer children if they do?

I can't recall the study to back this up, but I'm pretty sure the more intelligent you are, the less kids you're likely to have. Something about intelligent people being more career-oriented and less family-oriented.

As for the "why shouldn't humanity go extinct" thing: have you no curiosity? What would drive me to the goal of human survival, if anything, would be to see how many of the mysteries of the Universe we could unravel. What kinds of things we could accomplish. I mean, I believe there's no meaning to my own existence, but I'm still working hard to be something good. The extinctional ambivalence, if I can call it that, compared to a human life, is sort of like not caring whether you live or die. I care; I don't want to die, not so much out of fear of death, but also to see how my life goes.

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Kachi » Sat Oct 25, 2008 12:55 pm UTC

I believe this is the study you're looking for: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiocracy

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Belial » Sat Oct 25, 2008 5:02 pm UTC

As for the "why shouldn't humanity go extinct" thing: have you no curiosity? What would drive me to the goal of human survival, if anything, would be to see how many of the mysteries of the Universe we could unravel.


But you won't ever see any of that. Assuming we don't develop indefinite life extension technology. And if we do, you'll see it anyway whether people reproduce or not.
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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Kachi » Sat Oct 25, 2008 5:07 pm UTC

And in addition to that, it seems highly counterproductive to whittle your limited time away with worrying about things you can't change.

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Maddo » Mon Nov 03, 2008 2:30 pm UTC

I have an idea.

Develop a drug which makes people homosexual - and give this to a certain %age of people at birth (though not everyone incase this screws up). Then, if these homosexuals want to have children...

Their children would be created using IVF - and the genes used would be selected from the best of society. I know that IVF could only happen in women, so perhaps test tube baby?

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Angua » Mon Nov 03, 2008 4:08 pm UTC

Maddo wrote:I have an idea.

Develop a drug which makes people homosexual - and give this to a certain %age of people at birth (though not everyone incase this screws up). Then, if these homosexuals want to have children...

Their children would be created using IVF - and the genes used would be selected from the best of society. I know that IVF could only happen in women, so perhaps test tube baby?


IVF is the same as test tube (In Vitro = in glass). If they were men they would have to find a surrogate woman to carry the child.

Still a ridiculous idea, as too many people would object to messing around with babies (read the thread on finding a transsexual gene link http://forums.xkcd.com/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=29633). Also, they would resent the fact that they are not allowed to pass on their own genes and have to in effect carry other people's babies.
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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Vaniver » Mon Nov 03, 2008 7:10 pm UTC

You can't get everything you want. Either you impede on freedom and/or play god, or you suffer the consequences for not doing so. When the consequences for not doing so are less than the consequences for doing so, you don't.

1. Leave things as they are, but technology (especially implants) improve: reproductive freedom, technological results within a few generations, biological decline takes around ten generations.
2. Government breeding, technology still improves: no reproductive freedom, technological results within a few generations, biological results take anywhere from a few to 20ish generations.
3. Designer babies, technology still improves: reproductive freedom, technological results within a few generations, biological results within a few generations.
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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby btilly » Mon Nov 03, 2008 7:41 pm UTC

My controversial opinion. Anyone who does not understand that evolution continues today in humans does not understand enough about genetics to have an informed opinion on this particular subject. Look around you and realize that some of us have more children than others. Ask yourself why. Genetic factors that lead to those reasons why are being selected for, right now, in humans. Let me give you an example. Humans right now have the ability to choose to do everything that previously worked for producing babies, yet not have babies. Natural selection is currently working overtime to select for characteristics that cause people to have babies despite the existence of birth control.

Another controversial opinion. Totalitarian governments are not innately wrong. They merely have depressing odds of having a ruler whose interests are not aligned with the people or the country. Read Machiavelli for details.

Yet another controversial opinion. The evidence that exists to date on IQ suggests that IQ is mostly determined by social factors, and we are nowhere near reaching the limits of finding better ways of raising smarter kids. I further suspect that the kind of thinking that leads one to eugenic programs draws attention away from improving the social factors that result in smart kids. Read up on the Flynn effect for more.

And a final depressing opinion. This is all irrelevant because we as a species have not shown an ability to act together to prevent destroying our society through ecological collapse. We have many examples of failure, none of success. When I look at the world-wide problems facing us, the future does not look good to me. (Unless you're a bacteria that loves warm acidic salt water with decaying organic matter...) Unless we solve those problems, there is little point in worrying much about the next 10 thousand years of human evolution.
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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Vaniver » Mon Nov 03, 2008 7:46 pm UTC

btilly wrote:We have many examples of failure, none of success.
With collapse, isn't the lack of failure a success? The question seems to be just how long you want the success to last.
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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby btilly » Mon Nov 03, 2008 10:04 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:
btilly wrote:We have many examples of failure, none of success.
With collapse, isn't the lack of failure a success? The question seems to be just how long you want the success to last.

By "examples of failure" I mean examples of human groups who achieved sufficient control over their environment to experience exponential population growth, who then went on to use up the natural resources their societies were based on and suffered a dramatic collapse. We have examples from Easter Island to Greenland to ancient Greece to the jungles of Central America. In many cases we have strong evidence that the societies were well aware of the factors that were going to lead to collapse well before it happened, but could not get action on it until it was too late.

In our case we have a plethora of problems to worry about. For instance even if we manage to dodge the global warming bullet (there are some ways to do that), we don't even have any realistic ideas for how to deal with the approaching soil degradation catastrophe. But that has been taking down civilizations since the Babylonians. Even today, thousands of years later, 40% of Iraq is not arable because of salt from irrigation. Already something like 20% of the arable land in the USA has been damaged by salt from irrigation. And that figure is rising each year. When we run out of farmland, how will we feed ourselves?

And, of course, CO2 and soil degradation are not the only environmental threats that threaten our society. But they will do for a start.
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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Bubbles McCoy » Mon Nov 03, 2008 10:36 pm UTC

Technology hasn't really evolved significantly either until the present day. Perhaps some of our farmland is being degraded, but the government keeps a good amount of it unused and we have come over many other agricultural problems in the past couple of decades previously thought insurmountable. We've made signifcant progress on many social fronts with technology, I don't see what grounds you can have for automatically assuming that we will fail. I'm not saying that these things aren't a concern, but they hardly spell certain doom for our species... you wouldn't happen to be halfway through your first semester of environmental science, would you? I remember those days...

(on a bit of a sidenote, the Flynn effect appears to have stopped in many western countries or at least significantly slowed down)

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby btilly » Mon Nov 03, 2008 11:56 pm UTC

Bubbles McCoy wrote:Technology hasn't really evolved significantly either until the present day. Perhaps some of our farmland is being degraded, but the government keeps a good amount of it unused and we have come over many other agricultural problems in the past couple of decades previously thought insurmountable. We've made signifcant progress on many social fronts with technology, I don't see what grounds you can have for automatically assuming that we will fail. I'm not saying that these things aren't a concern, but they hardly spell certain doom for our species... you wouldn't happen to be halfway through your first semester of environmental science, would you? I remember those days...

Nice attempt at an ad hominem there. I'm 39, a father of 2, and I haven't been at university since my personal economics made me not finish my PhD in math a decade ago. So no, I'm not halfway through my first semester of environmental science, nor am I anywhere close to that.

Now I grant that we have far more technology than any past society, and an amazing ability to develop more. However there have been past environmental failures that were due to causes that were both understood and within their technology to prevent. For instance look at the problems ancient Greece had due to overgrazing by goats. At least some of them understood the problem. (Including, famously, the ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus.) They knew the solution. (Use natural resources in a sustainable way, and don't let goats graze the remaining forests.) What was lacking was the political will.

What I see today is a similar pattern. We largely know the problems. We largely know the solutions. The solutions will require a loss of quality of life. I think that we lack the political will to actually do it. Everything that I know about group action, from the 60's economics classic The Logic of Collective Action to past society's failures to address their collective issues does nothing to inspire confidence. Heck, even the current economic crisis, which was widely predicted several years ago and said predictions widely ignored, does not inspire confidence in our ability to act for our collective good when we are in need.

On a side note in graduate school I was exposed to an interesting argument predicting a collapse in human population from the anthropic principle. I'm not sure quite what to make of it or how seriously to take it. But the argument goes like this. You are a random human being. From that fact with 95% confidence we can say that you weren't born in the first 2.5% or the last 2.5% of people to be born. But we can estimate how many people were born before you during history, it is about 10 billion. So with 95% confidence we can say that throughout the rest of the human species there will be anywhere from a few hundred million more people to a few hundred billion more born. At current population trends that puts a lower limit of a few years to an upper limit of a thousand years or so on our human species maintaining its current status quo. The probability that we achieve the science fiction dreams of colonizing first the Solar System and then the galaxy is so low as to be negligible.

The argument is admittedly odd and has some subtle flaws. But I do find it interesting. Particularly when I am confronted with my knowledge of a how many global issues we need to solve as a species.
Bubbles McCoy wrote:(on a bit of a sidenote, the Flynn effect appears to have stopped in many western countries or at least significantly slowed down)

This I hadn't heard. But googling for the topic I see that there is indeed some research indicating that the Flynn effect has slowed and/or reversed from the mid-90s.

I wouldn't be surprised to find that the cause turns out to be environmental. There are tons of options. It could be effects from some chemical or chemicals that we don't understand. Or it could be something we know about and have underestimated. For example research indicates that regular aerobic exercise results in increased blood flow leading to improvements in brain function. The current obesity epidemic in the USA indicates that far fewer children today are in good aerobic shape than used to be. What is the impact of that on general intelligence? Considering that the Flynn effect was only 3 points per decade or so, it wouldn't need to be that large to halt the Flynn effect.
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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Bubbles McCoy » Tue Nov 04, 2008 12:52 am UTC

Heh, I took my first class in evi sci just a couple of years back, I wasn't attacking you by asking so much out of simple curiosity.

Most of your examples still seem to hinge upon older history, and while environmental catastrophe is still a threat today the sheer breadth of techology gets us past many of our difficulties. With agriculture, the worse the land becomes the more expensive it gets to farm, and naturally farmers want to avoid poisoning their own land and adopt new technologies as they surface and become economically advantageous (I believe it's fairly common for American farmers to actively take steps to avoid salinization, but I could be wrong). Admittedly, the third world is threatened by environmental ignorance/lack of action, but that is more a humanistic problem then a threat to the very existence of humanity.

As to the Flynn effect, you seem to be kind of begging the question by assuming that we can improve intelligence through non-genetic means; you started with a study and stipulated it justified that genetics aren't the main factor and then came up with potential fixes once the study started to not support your viewpoint (epecially seeing as how many of the more pronounced studies was performed on the Norwegian military, not a people nor an organization known for their rampant obesity problem). That being said, there may indeed be a host of environmental factors that influence intelligence that are working against us now, but it could just be that we hit a peak due to nutritional and social development and we can't significantly improve our average without genetic changes.

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Neon Rain » Tue Nov 04, 2008 4:02 am UTC

Environmental catastrophe is still, and will always be a threat. As long as we are stuck on one planet, we are doomed eventually run out of resources / blow each other to bits / get hit by a gamma-ray burst or by some other means have a high chance. All of those are pretty catastrophic. This may be a thousand, ten-thousand years from now, but its going to happen eventually. Thus, the logical conclusion is that we should go into space, colonize stuff, etc. Unfortunately other planets/moons are not likely to be very hospitable, so I think its important that we start learning how to adapt ourselves as a species to meet the challenges that face us. This requires things like genetic engineering and eugenics.

Just because the way a concept was implemented (eugenics) was bad, doesn't mean that the concept itself is bad; things like public schooling, social security, etc. all have failed pretty miserably in the US, yet the concepts are sound; its just the way they're implemented.

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby btilly » Tue Nov 04, 2008 7:05 am UTC

Bubbles McCoy wrote:Heh, I took my first class in evi sci just a couple of years back, I wasn't attacking you by asking so much out of simple curiosity.

Tone is notoriously hard to judge online. The tone that I read from your question was rather dismissive. Sort of a, "Oh, the kid has just heard the sky is falling and still believes it" kind of attitude.
Bubbles McCoy wrote:Most of your examples still seem to hinge upon older history, and while environmental catastrophe is still a threat today the sheer breadth of techology gets us past many of our difficulties. With agriculture, the worse the land becomes the more expensive it gets to farm, and naturally farmers want to avoid poisoning their own land and adopt new technologies as they surface and become economically advantageous (I believe it's fairly common for American farmers to actively take steps to avoid salinization, but I could be wrong). Admittedly, the third world is threatened by environmental ignorance/lack of action, but that is more a humanistic problem then a threat to the very existence of humanity.

Yes, I am using examples based on older history. That is because human nature has not changed, and the actual catastrophes of the past demonstrate that real people really do act like I think they do. If you would rather I could instead give you the abstract economic argument based on the well-established theory of public goods. But I personally think that actual past disasters are more likely to worry people than an abstract theory.

The problem with salt is simple. Farmers are forced to choose between making ends meet today and the possibility of problems 30 years down the road. In that situation people consistently choose to make ends meet today. That is a trend that is very common. Right now over 20% of US farmland is damaged by salt. In a search I didn't find anything saying how fast it is growing, but the figure that I remember hearing was 1%/year. I can't verify that though. I do know that salt is a growing problem. And I do know that we don't have any solutions other than massive flooding. Which tends to be uneconomical. And much of the salt problem is in places like California which simply don't have enough water available to flood a significant amount of agricultural land.
Bubbles McCoy wrote:As to the Flynn effect, you seem to be kind of begging the question by assuming that we can improve intelligence through non-genetic means; you started with a study and stipulated it justified that genetics aren't the main factor and then came up with potential fixes once the study started to not support your viewpoint (epecially seeing as how many of the more pronounced studies was performed on the Norwegian military, not a people nor an organization known for their rampant obesity problem). That being said, there may indeed be a host of environmental factors that influence intelligence that are working against us now, but it could just be that we hit a peak due to nutritional and social development and we can't significantly improve our average without genetic changes.

I what? I don't recall citing any specific studies. The existence of the Flynn effect itself is a robust result that has been repeated over and over again. Whatever the trend of the last decade may be, the average American circa 1930 would be borderline retarded by today's standards. This is far larger than the estimated total impact of current genetic variation that are estimated from twin studies. Which means that the Flynn effect supports my point that social factors are more important than genetic ones.

About the current backsliding of the Flynn effect, as I noted, that is something I had not heard about previously which I have not researched. I don't actually know who studied what, or have any idea how solid that result it is. I did notice in wikipedia that the first study finding it was from the Norwegian military looking at recruits. Which presumably means that it is judging IQ based on standardized tests for people entering the military, so the people involved are not yet trained to military standards.

Furthermore on obesity, historical norms are not a good guide to current trends. For instance in the USA obesity has taken off [url="http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/obesity/trend/maps/"]dramatically[/url] in the last 20 years. It is unclear what all of the factors are. But the increased impact of computers on modern life, and the increased number of conveniences like dishwashers, are often cited as possible factors. However those factors are not unique to the USA, so if they are growing in the USA, I wouldn't be surprised to find that obesity is growing in Norway as well. Hrm, let me search...how unsurprising. I have no trouble finding articles like http://www.aftenposten.no/english/local ... 588576.ece and http://www.sixwise.com/newsletters/07/0 ... -think.htm that confirm that, obesity is growing in Norway. Furthermore current rates of obesity in Norway are apparently in the 20% range. While this is lower than the USA, it is massively higher than any Western country was a generation ago.

In any case I was not arguing that obesity is the cause of the Flynn effect backsliding. I merely cited it as an example of a possible factor that we already know about. It would be a fluke if a random possibility that I tossed out there was the real cause. I was just trying to make it clear how non-obvious the connection between the cause and IQ might be.
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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby davean » Tue Nov 04, 2008 7:34 am UTC

btilly wrote:I what? I don't recall citing any specific studies. The existence of the Flynn effect itself is a robust result that has been repeated over and over again. Whatever the trend of the last decade may be, the average American circa 1930 would be borderline retarded by today's standards. This is far larger than the estimated total impact of current genetic variation that are estimated from twin studies. Which means that the Flynn effect supports my point that social factors are more important than genetic ones.


My searching shows that many studies show that the Flynn effect comes from boosting the mean by lowering the variance but does not really effect the higher end. Regardless of any possible issues with the theories used for measurement of the Flynn effect that I am not yet familiar with, this means it does not even suggest a change in peak intelligence, a measure that seems more significant. Any lowering of variation will never continue to increase intelligence indefinitely. Such an effect must run out.

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby sporkify » Tue Nov 04, 2008 8:19 am UTC

The Flynn effect is with IQ tests, something which I take issue with. Largely, I find IQ tests to be "How well can you guess what the test maker was thinking" tests. Additionally, with the constant changing of IQ tests, I doubt that this is reliable.

Ultimately, I'm in favor of changing a few small laws to favor evolution in action. Primarily, I'd like to remove labels on peanut bags that state "may contain nuts." Also, the "do not use while in shower" signs on hair dryers can also go. If we remove a lot of the stupidly obvious signs and warnings, I figure we could kinda give evolution a push towards smarter folk.
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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Post-Internet Syndrome » Tue Nov 04, 2008 12:09 pm UTC

I think the Bene Gesserit in Dune is an interesting take on this. Although they display a variety of secteristic behaviours, some of the basic ideas can be applied without much controversy. Thus:

Start your own group of interested individuals, not government-controlled, but simply a private initiative. Decide which traits to promote and invite people that qualify. the BG idea to have only women as full members is sort of smart, since it is easier to control where the offspring ends up that way. If people don't approve, well, they don't have to participate. Everyone involved is doing it of their own free will. If some of the children of the initiative disapprove, they can easily choose not to join in. But enough would probably be interested in furthering the initiative for it to work on a long scale. And you would of course have these monumental records of all the breeding lines, where they reconnect etc.

The hard part would be to decide what to breed for, since we know so little about the human gene. As someone said, the same gene can carry a multitude of positive and negative traits. Meaningful breeding of this sort would at least require a more complete understanding of the exact contents (trait-wise) of all the different genes. A daunting task, but I would totally try it when we have the means. It wouldn't even require that you discard love and such, just make a standard check and have your partner approved by the Initiative. If he/she does not qualify, well, then you would have to make a touch choice naturally, but the choice would always be your own.

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby sir_schwick » Wed Dec 17, 2008 5:39 am UTC

If these things changed, a eugenic society might be a lot easier:

1) Abandoning the idea that community has any relation to genetics. This would allow children to go to parents that wanted children. Some issues might arise from mothers being attached to their born child, but I feel certain many of those feelings are socially ingrained now.

2) Have two kinds of intercourse: Reproductive and recreational.
Reproductive intercourse of course would have to be heterosexual. Suitable reproductive partners would be based upon whatever schemes were in place.
Recreational sex can be as kinky or romantic as liked. The important social value being that lovers would not have objections to reproductive intercourse with non-romantic partners.

Using these considerations, the society could be as voluntary or authoritarian as one liked. Under the voluntary scheme, all genetics would be known so reproductive arrays could be drawn out. Considering overall ignorance of eugenics right now, a few generations of data would need to be tracked. Even then open matching arrays would be necessary.

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Re: Human "breeding", and its implications

Postby Luthen » Wed Dec 17, 2008 8:31 am UTC

Post-Internet Syndrome wrote:I think the Bene Gesserit in Dune is an interesting take on this. Although they display a variety of secteristic behaviours, some of the basic ideas can be applied without much controversy.

*snip*

Hmmm, never thought of using that tactic in real life. Problem would be multiple organisations in competition.

Also I don't think the human race as a whole will go extinct short of a major catastrophe (gamma ray, meteor) as there's bound to be some who survive almost anything and if civilisation falls then natural selection rises. Thus the population as a whole would adapt fairly quickly.
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