Enhancement and the self (in French and German)

I have a short piece (in French) in dialogue with Stefan Sorgner on enhancement and the “self”, in the current issue of the magazine Horizons, published by the Swiss National Science Foundation: you can read the whole issue here. (There’s also a German version here.)

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Jeff McMahan and John Broome discuss the value of life and the evil of death

Jeff McMahan and John Broome recently met in Oxford to debate the value of life and the badness of death. My summary of that debate is available here.

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In vitro meat, new technologies, and the “yuck” factor

“In vitro meat” is gradually becoming a reality. It holds great promise, notably considering that billons of animals are slaughtered for food every year, often after spending miserable lives in factory farms, and that the current production of meat contributes significantly to the emission of greenhouse gases. In spite of those facts, it seems highly unlikely that most meat-eaters will agree to give up meat anytime soon (though the success of the “meat-free Mondays” initiative in a number of different places should be saluted), yet they might well prove more willing to switch from traditionally produced meat to in vitro meat, if the latter were as healthy (or even healthier), reasonably priced, and tasted the same as the former.

Discussions of in vitro meat in the media most often cite the so-called “yuck factor” as a major obstacle to its general acceptance: i.e. the instinctive revulsion that many people feel at the idea of eating “unnatural” meat grown in a petri dish. I am inclined to be cautiously optimistic about the prospects of overcoming that obstacle: “unnatural” meat substitutes have already become popular among vegetarians, and some meat-eaters do consume them as well occasionally. Although in vitro meat should bear even more of an uncanny resemblance to the real thing than those substitutes (which might be why some people are revulsed by the idea), I would expect it to find success if issues of health and taste can be adequately dealt with. Now what if the yuck factor were to prove more of an issue than I anticipate? I believe the following points deserve to be emphasized:

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Martin Dresler on behavioral neuroenhancement

Yesterday I attended an interesting talk by Dr. Martin Dresler from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, who came to Oxford (at the seminar organized by the Oxford Martin School) to speak on the topic “Behavioral Neuroenhancement: Brain Training and Mnemonics”. His talk covered a wide range of procedures we can use to enhance capacities like perception, attention, creativity, memory (the capacity on which Dresler focused most of his presentation) and even intelligence (which apparently can be enhanced through practice on certain working memory tasks). The techniques mentioned by Dresler included computer training, sleep, and meditation.

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The ethics of euthanasia

Tom Ash has got a rich and rigorous entry on the topic on the openDemocracy blog: http://www.opendemocracy.net/thomas-ash/euthanasia-good-thing

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What is my “true self”?

Joshua Knobe has got a very interesting piece in the New York Times in which he discusses the ideas of authenticity and the “true self” and their normative implications. The starting point of his reflection is the case of evangelical preacher Mark Pierpont, known for his work as an activist encouraging homosexuals to seek a “cure” for their sexual orientation. The paradoxical thing is that Pierpont himself was gay, and, Knobe tells us, constantly waging war against his urges, which he regarded as sinful. The case of Pierpont presents a challenge to the popular idea that the aim of one’s life should be to live authentically, in the sense of being “true to oneself”. Many people would have advised Pierpont to “just look deep within and be true to himself” in order to get out of his predicament. But what exactly does being true to oneself entail in the case of someone like Pierpont?

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Should we be able to know how long we have to live?

A new test, soon to become available to the general public in the UK, can tell people how fast they are aging, thereby allowing them to estimate their life expectancy.  The test, which should be available for €500 (£435), is based on an analysis of the telomeres, small protective caps at the extremities of a person’s chromosomes. Short telomeres are associated with a shorter lifespan and indicate a more advanced biological age (by contrast with the person’s chronological age). The test has been described as opening an “ethical Pandora’s box”. Concerns have been raised regarding people’s possible reaction to information about how long they still have to live. Some are also worried that the test might be used by organizations selling dubious “anti-aging” remedies to attract potential customers, and that insurance companies might demand to have access to such information before providing cover, requiring people with shorter telomeres to pay higher premiums. Should the prospect of the public availability of such a test concern us, and should we try and restrict it?

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