Following on from the topic of wisdom technology (cf information and knowledge management technology), there is an emerging and varied philosophical discussion ongoing, concerning modification/enhancement of human constitution and capability. It goes under different names: transhumanism, humanity plus, human enhancement, etc. My impression is that it currently is a movement in the traditional sense with a number of enthusiasts driving it. The output is quite varied, and there is cause for concern over some of the proposals, although surely this general discussion is of great relevance for the future.

One person associated with this movement is philosopher Nick Bostrom. He argues here that in terms of contributions that aid the advance of science, "no contribution would be more generally applicable than one that improves the performance of the human brain", and that therefore especially cognitive enhancement drugs/technology consitute is a "fast track to scientific progress". He illustrates his argument by way of saying that a 1% cognitive enhancement at the individual level in 10 million scientists would be rougly equivalent to the addition of 100 000 scientists, as regards the rate of scientific progress.

This argument sounds plausible, but I believe there is a significant flaw: the assumption that cognitive capability collectively (this may be a technically complex term, but that's kind of the point here) is equivalent to the 'sum total' of individual capabilities. It appears unlikely to me that such a proposition is true, since the mode of communication/perception/thinking between individuals is far less efficient and reliable than within individuals. This is related to the basic premise that there is no higher-order organizing principle to which we have direct access or which provides some degree of collective intelligence - or at least, such collective consciousness is relatively under-developed. A small per-individual cognitive gain may well be relatively insignificant at the individual level, and further largely diluted away by the between-individual inefficiencies. It therefore seems to me that improvements in communication, information/knowledge management and analysis, and social organization, could be far more effective (up to a point) in increasing the rate of scientific progress - and moreover the progress of human affairs generally. Thus, a call for the type of cultural-technological approach outlined in this previous article.

In comparison, adding a number of additional scientists is also very different: it adds a set of 'new' entire minds with individual sets of knowledge and experience (not just slight cognitive enhancement to the already present set of minds) who can also interact with each other and the other already-present 10 million scientists in the example.

All this is not to argue against individual enhancement in principle, I proclaim myself quite agnostic on this point, but these particular arguments for it appear poor.

Latest Tweets