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Thinking twice about transhumanism.

As a gerontologist now specializing in research on ageism, I was particularly offended by the ageist paraphrase of Isaac Asimov that appeared in Michael L. Giancola's PS: Reader Commentary, "Does Transhumanism Mesh with Humanist Values?" (September/October 2004). Asimov's assertion that "an individual's brain is of prime importance to humanity only until he is thirty-five" is obviously false as proven by the age of most Nobel Prize winners, not to mention the host of great creative thinkers, artists, and Humanists who have made some of their greatest contributions beyond the age of thirty-five.

While I agree with much of the rest of the article, his basic assertion that a concern for the environment is "incompatible with ... humanity achieving its goals" represents a false dualism. Environmental preservation isn't necessarily incompatible with humanity achieving its goals. Indeed, preserving the environment should be one of humanity's highest goals--and one that Humanists and transhumanists should share.

Erdman Palmore, PhD, HC

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

In discussing the risks inherent in extending human lifespan (September/October 2004), Michael L. Giancola suggested that the need to control population growth might, of necessity, give rise to a more static population in which "fewer new brains" are added to the mix during each generation. But the argument that our ability to creatively solve problems will be diminished in a world with fewer, longer-lived people seems largely without merit. Certainly the astounding birth rates during the past century have failed to solve all of the world's problems and can in fact be fingered as the source of the most significant problems facing humanity. Wouldn't it be preferable to accept a slower pace of innovation in exchange for a vastly improved quality of life for a smaller human population with longer average lifespans and better overall health?

Missing from the recent debate on human life extension is a discussion of the very real ethical and practical dilemmas posed by this research. While it's doubtful that we'll soon achieve Lazarus-like lifespans, it's almost assured that we'll soon be able to, for the first time in history, significantly extend our lifespans (as opposed to life expectancies) by medical, genetic or lifestyle interventions. Even a twenty-year increase in average lifespan would compel a rethinking of retirement, social security, inheritance and long-term financial planning. Still longer increases would necessitate a shift in our view of lifecycle events such as education (which may occur periodically throughout life), marriage, child rearing, and suicide.

Importantly, the prospect of unequal access to such interventions may widen the gap between rich and poor, creating not only an economic stratification but a genetically based caste system. Will the poor, if they have access to these new technologies at all, only be sentenced to longer lives of squalor and neglect while the rich see their wealth increase exponentially?

Of course, in the absence of a significant shift in our population dynamics, the extension of human lifespan will only exacerbate population pressures. But the problems posed by a growing human population will need to be addressed. We should seek solutions to this problem in parallel with our pursuit of longer, healthier human lives.

Steven F. Goldberg

Gaithersburg, Maryland
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Title Annotation:letters to the editor
Author:Goldberg, Steven F.
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Nov 1, 2004
Previous Article:No buzz from birdseed.
Next Article:Corrections.

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