Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Singularity: Transcending Our Biology

What is it to be a human being today? Well we know that our biology is governed by hereditary units called genes that are located on chromosomes that are coded by our DNA, a molecular structure. Ultimately, we are biological systems or machines that hold and protect our genetic information so that we may survive over thousands of generations through our offspring. In a sense, our genes can survive forever but at the expense of biological survival machines like human beings. In order for our genes to survive we must pass them on to our offspring since we survival machines can only survive for a limited period of time. Survival was very important thousands of years ago when the human life span was shorter due to environmental and biological limitations. Today humans have been able to lengthen our lives by learning more about our biological strengths and weaknesses. We have overcome our biological nature by simply utilizing our thoughts from our senses.

Since we know so much about human biology today is there something more we can do to live even longer and healthier lives? Can we discover ways to transcend our biological nature so that we can live forever, like genes? Humans today are heavily focused on anti-aging methods to look and feel young and ways to live longer within the realm of human biology. We do on-going research about how to prevent and fight against fatal diseases and how to protect ourselves from contracting bacterial and viral infections that can harm our health. We ultimately strive to end pain and suffering of humans so that we may live long and healthy lives. But, one thing that we cannot combat so easily is aging.

Aging is a part of being a survival machine. Human evolution is interconnected with time, the spacial dimension that human beings cannot control. As time passes, living things grow and age. Our complex bodies undergo wear and tear over time from continuously operating at the biological level and communicating with the outside environment. The result is aging of the survival machine both physically and mentally.

Humans have come so far as to being capable of living for almost 100 years. Many other living organisms have not attained such a giant feat in biological evolution. Does this have to be the end for humans? Do we have to subject ourselves to mechanically and medically changing our physical and biological appearance in order to counteract aging? Are there alternatives to this method? Our research over time has given rise to many discoveries that may help us to live forever but there is one catch: Humans must accept that in order to live forever we cannot survive as solely survival machines housing our 'precious genes', but we must transcend our biological nature in order to overcome our limitations of aging and disease.

To transcend our biology is to go beyond evolution and space and utilize our technological creations in order to do so. Technology today is based on our biological nature, specifically the human brain, but what is different is that the technological dimension is ever-lasting. The hardware, like biological survival machines, is at risk of failing but the difference is that it can be repaired or replaced without damaging the software. Although software can be infected, preventative measures can be developed in order to counteract the virus without permanently damaging the software. Hardware and software can be repaired at a small cost but a sick biological machine can be permanently damaged even after being treated by medical or natural methods.

In our near future, human beings will have to make the choice of either living as a survival machine or transcending their biology by becoming one with the new and innovative technological dimension or virtual reality. Our genes have come so far by exploiting biological systems in order to survive but it is our turn now. We do not need our genes any longer nor do we need future generations of biological machines carrying our genes. Instead we have new and better information that can help us to understand the complexities of the universe. Genes have helped human beings to evolve through natural selection but at a large cost, our lives. But now we can exploit our own genes by utilizing our bodies, that have been governed by our genes, to create a means to live forever without our genes. Human evolution has driven us in this direction-- we cannot sit idly by when there is a means of harnessing our own technological creations so that we may live virtually forever. Now it is our turn to outwit, outplay, and outlast our genetic driver. Human beings are the new drivers and technology is our vehicle!

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Sea of Lonely Creatures

So my last blog post was about monogamous relationships and the battle individuals sometimes face when committing to each other.

We live in a society today where it is ideal to find a partner of the opposite sex to commit to and eventually start a family. It is also ideal for us to learn to be independent as we reach adulthood. When we are young and grow up going to school everyday, being social, and living in some sort of family unit we are constantly exposed to ideas about finding love, being independent, understanding our sexuality, and belonging to a group. We experience different emotions that help to mold our personalities and build our knowledge and understanding about things. We ultimately grow up in an environment that encourages us to be free about our thoughts within the realm of laws, rights, and freedoms.

We learn that general education of math, science, and language (arts) are necessary for us to understand the world and that we must be able to take care of ourselves when we reach adulthood. What comes next? For most of us, we leave our families and our home and we enter into the real world which feels like a sea of lonely creatures. Someone who was raised in a small town may feel disoriented and need more time to gain a strong foothold in society. Although it may take longer for some, most individuals will gain independence by being on their own and learning to take care of themselves. Finding a flexible routine in personal and work life can help a person become more independent and organized.

Where can family and love fit into the picture? It is true that once a person leaves home they do not detach themselves from their family, but focus on maintaining a relationship with them within their personal life. This is because we feel a strong sense of altruism towards our family members, something that we learned when we grew up around them. In other words, we maintain an emotional connection to them even though we are independent. This can help an independent person to find new love towards another person of no genetic relation in order to build a new family unit for them. This is a big part of independence in our society, loneliness is not. We desire close emotional connections with other people because human beings as well as many other species live in groups.

In today's society it is not always easy to find love and build a partnership within a new family unit. We are encouraged to leave home and further our careers in order to prosper and be independent. But, we are not always certain about how to build a new emotional connection with another person whom we do not know. People do not want to live alone forever, but want to share their love and altruistic nature with someone else. It is useful to channel these feelings to a group of people such as friends, colleagues, mentors, etc. but the end desire for most individuals is to find one person who can channel their similar feelings back onto them. This way both individuals can discover an emotional connection to one another and build a committed partnership from that. Unfortunately, many people today have trouble finding this type of connection. They live independently for years, alone or with roommates, and decide that the best option for them is to focus on their careers and on their own livelihood.

What happens to their emotional connections? Of course, many people maintain their connections with their families, but feel that they could never go back to living with their loved ones. It would hinder their lifestyle of privacy and independence. They would much rather be alone to do as they please instead of having to cater to someone's feelings, even if that someone is a mother or brother. They begin to like to live alone and regard loneliness as just another part of life. In a sense it is a good strategy to combat the lack of an emotional connection, but it may not be a good long-term strategy. A person who has lived alone for a long time eventually may feel that finding love for someone else is a waste of time or that it is alien to them. They, in turn, change their own social nature in order to accept loneliness. They overcome their lack of emotional connections by pampering themselves and spending time with friends of the same sex. This way they can always feel stimulated by material things or a good conversation without having to be in a emotional relationship.

But, what about love? Love is transformed into something else. It becomes a desire that is very hard to reach because it has not been achieved for so long. Many people do not bother with it because it has caused them physical and emotional trauma in the past. People place it on the sidelines or on a pedestal and choose not to bother with it because it is too high of an aspiration to reach. In the end loneliness wins and so there is no need for an emotional connection. The monogamous relationship does not seem so great when we can live on our own terms and stimulate ourselves in other ways. In a fast growing society of people the best option may not be to have more children, but instead it can be to learn more about ourselves and find other means to create happiness in our lives. However, there are limits to this and it is evident in our society today that people have taken this route at the cost of their mental and physical health and financial well-being. A good tip today can be that for those who are alone it can be worthwhile to channel their love to those who need it most, the poor.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Battle of the Sexes

I just read the chapter called Battle of the Sexes in Richard Dawkin's book Selfish Gene and again I feel that I have come to some realizations about human beings.

There exists a battle of the sexes among different species in nature and it occurs during mating season. A male may have to put in quite a bit of effort to court a female so that she may choose him and a female may want to shop wisely for a strong and committed male so that the investment in the offspring is proportionately shared. In the wild among lower order organisms it is common for the female to invest more of her energy and time into her offspring since she bears them. The males normally choose the option of leaving the female so that he can reproduce with other females and create even more offspring. These males invest very little time into preparing and caring for their offspring. It is easy for them considering that they are capable of producing such small sex cells, sperm, in such large numbers. Their investment per child is very small. However, the sex cells of females or eggs are much smaller in number and much larger for the purpose of providing food to her growing fetus(es). It is very clear to see why there is a battle of the sexes among many different species including human beings.

Since the onset of settlement of human beings 10,000 years ago, humans developed a pair relationship between a male and female in order to care and protect their young. The males worked as the hunters and the females as gatherers in a cooperative manner. This was important because children were more likely to live longer if they were cared for by both parents. In addition, by staying with the female a male could know with certainty that the children that he is investing so much in are in fact his. Although a monogamous relationship would mean less offspring for the male, it would also mean that he could keep track of his offspring and teach them to care properly for their children, a strategy that would help his grandchildren survive.

In today's modern society a monogamous marriage is very common and democratic laws protect this type of relationship between a man and woman when children are concerned. Even when an unmarried man and woman have a child similar laws will still apply. It is the responsibility of the parents to care and protect their own children until a certain age for their well-being according to the governing laws. If the proper care is not met, family laws dictate how the children will be cared for. Children can suffer emotionally from problems in their parents' marriage so in many divorce cases custody of the children is shared between the parents even when the parents have gone their separate ways. There are other cases in which if one parent leaves the family and all of his/her responsibility on the other parent, family laws will dictate that he/she must contribute financially to the children. In this way, the rights and freedoms of the children are seriously considered by the government no matter who the parents are. A simple monogamous relationship no longer protects the children like it did in the wild. Instead, it is the governing democratic laws that take over the responsibility of enforcing security of the children when a monogamous marriage breaks down.

Why then do individuals enter into monogamous marriages under the law and have children when they are unsure about undertaking such a responsibility? One reason may be that they have already invested time and effort into committing to a relationship that they are ready to have children. Most couples will enter into a legal marriage contract before they have children in order to solidify their commitment to each other to stay together and have children. Another reason may be that the families of the couple hold religious values that pressure the couple to wed before they live together and have sex. The couple then may have an unplanned child which they must take responsibility for even though they were not ready. This in particular is a common reason why people get married and why they get divorced. Marriage for religious reasons is extreme and unnatural and is not in the best interest of the man or woman.

Today, divorce is very common among couples with children. Although there are pros and cons about divorce, it is not in the best interest of the couple or their children. Democratic laws are such that upon divorce the man and woman split their finances in half, unless a prenuptual agreement was signed, and custody is awarded to either both parents or one parent depending on their financial and emotional situation. In addition, both parents are entitled to support their children financially based on their flow of income. The advantage is that the couple and the children are not subjected to emotional instability within one household. Further, the mother and father can be free to mate with other people and produce more children thereby creating a new family unit. But, the disadvantages are that a parent will be financially responsible even though the children are not living with them and the family unit will be divided causing long-term emotional instability especially for the children.

Such a governing system is necessary for the well-being of individuals in a society but it is clear that men and women do not understand the reasoning of the monogamous relationship. Human beings developed this type of relationship in order for their to be a shared responsibility to care for their children. However, today it has become a bond that is fragile and that can easily break down due to financial and emotional instability even when children are involved. Although there are a number of factors that can effect a marriage such as both parents working, infidelity, debt, sickness, conflicting belief systems, etc. the children's best interest is not always considered. A monogamous relationship should be a strength in a couple's lives. It should be a desired route to take for the purpose of security, love, growth, and family. But, it does not have to be a means of fulfilling a religious tradition or family dream. A battle is not necessary if both sexes can share a mutual commitment towards each other.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Selfishness vs. Altruism

If there is a human moral to be drawn, it is that we must teach our children altruism , for we cannot expect it to be part of their biological nature (Dawkins, R., Selfish Gene, p. 139)

This quote by Richard Dawkins from the book 'The Selfish Gene' really makes me think. I think about the idea that our brothers, sisters, and parents are 50% related to us and that we are 100% related to ourselves due to our individual genetic constitution. Our selfish genes help us to survive and benefit from our close relatives without always considering their well-being. We do, however, take into account that our parents and siblings are 50% related to us and that it matters how they are affected by our actions. Their survival matters because they share 50% of their genes with us, but it only matters up to a point.

In the wild, if the life of an animal such as a baby bird is put at risk by a predator or sibling it will be in its best interest to deter that risk onto another species or another sibling. It would not be in its best interest to put its parents at risk since they are the primary caregivers that provide food, shelter, and safety to their offspring since that is in their best interest. In contrast, a sibling could incur that risk because its survival has no benefit to the baby bird besides the 50% genetic relation. It is even so that if a sibling bird thinks that it is not getting enough food from its parents, it may steal food from its other siblings or cheat for more food from its parents by loudly calling out to attract predators. This can be seen in many different species of organisms such as insects and humans.

When this notion is applied to human behavior many similarities can be seen. In nature there are many selfish human beings that interact daily. In society, humans regard selfishness as an emotion or a personality trait that many different individuals convey, even themselves at times. Selfishness also exists within the family just as it does within other species in nature and brothers and sisters compete for love, care, and money from their parents. If a child feels like he/she is not being treated fairly, they may act selfishly such as tell a lie or pretend to be sick in order to gain favour from their parents. If parents do not moderate these acts of selfishness through discipline and practicing altruism the other siblings may begin to feel emotions of jealousy and greed which can cause conflict in a family unit. The parents themselves may also feel emotions of guilt and worry which could effect the well-being of all of their children.

Altruism, the act of helping others or doing good without reward, is a behaviour among different species of organisms including humans that helps to counteract selfishness within a family, group or society. Although in the wild selfishness can be regarded as being beneficial for survival, so can altruism in a civilized society. Today it has become ever more important to be altruistic to people in order to gain trust and cooperation in a society where selfishness exists at many levels of government, economy, and business.

How is it then that humans can learn to be altruistic to non-relatives? In the wild it is uncommon to see an organism showing altruism to a fellow group member of the same species which has no relation to it. However, it is natural to see a parent showing altruism to its children or an older group leader showing altruism to its pack of relatives and non-relatives. Mutual symbioses or cooperation does also exist between different species in order to benefit both species. So altruism does exist in nature but it more commonly occurs between a parent and their offspring which is a genetic relation.

Altruism is favoured in a democratic society of related and unrelated human beings because people understand that they all carry the same rights and freedoms as one another and that it is effective to work in concert in order to grow as a functional and stable society. When people show altruism towards each other they are trying to set a standard of respect and loyalty. In this type of environment different people can trust one another and information can be transparent. Selfish acts can be distinguished from acts of altruism and selfish individuals are encouraged to learn from their mistakes. However, in a multi-government and interconnected society where powerful players such as pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, and governing bodies are operating, many selfish acts are overlooked. These parties take advantage of the end-users of society in order to profit and grow in power. They also show little or no care for the environment which is home to billions and billions of living organisms. Due to a lack of organization and accountability at the government level there is much bureaucracy which creates opportunities for powerful players to take advantage of the system. Altruism can combat these selfish acts but it takes a large cooperative group of people and an honest and transparent government.

Although selfishness works quite well among different species of organisms in the wild, it is not wholly accepted by human beings in a civilized society. In such a society, altruism, equality and being a good citizen are social ideals that teach human beings to be good to one another. It is also reasonable to act in one's best interest but to consider the well-being of others whether or not they are family. This is so because human beings are capable of understanding another person's suffering and emotional state which is not practiced among animals in the wild. This capability, through our own selfish nature, stems from understanding our own emotional state and how it effects us. And democracy and justice have enabled humans to act on this understanding in a positive way in order to reduce suffering of others through the emotions of empathy and sympathy.