RE: Dangers of human self-modification

From: Thomas Buckner (
Date: Wed May 26 2004 - 13:12:09 MDT

--- Ben Goertzel <> wrote:
> > Can you tell me how would *you* would envisage we
> could enhance
> > *wisdom* via genetic engineering??
> >
> > Cheers, Philip
> Philip, clearly we need to know a lot more about the
> genetic pathways
> affecting human brain function before we can carry
> out that kind of
> genetic engineering. So the first step is just
> plain old neurogenomics,
> which many folks are already very productively
> involved in (including
> me, to a limited extent, via Biomind).
> -- Ben

Sorry, folks. I would lay any amount of money on the
proposition that wisdom is not going to be enhanced by
any sort of genetic engineering. One might improve
neural efficiency, memory storage, etc. but ***that's
not wisdom.*** We're pretty wisdom-optimized already,
genetically, except for those unfortunates who inherit
clearly damaging extra chromosomes, for instance.
Wisdom is a collection of good algorithms. Wise people
have and use them. Fools do not. I'll give you one
I once shared a piece of info with a female friend,
and mentioned that it came from Esqire magazine. She
said "I don't read men's magazines." I replied with
one of my most cherished algorithms:
***Never*** limit your sources of information.
This algorithm is important because you simply do not
know where you are going to find some learning that
you do not yet know you need. I'll read Cosmo if
there's a copy about.
I can scarcely impress upon you the damage that is
done by limiting sources of information. Idiot
dittohead Rush Limbaugh fans who only expose
themselves to other far-right propaganda sources such
as Fox news, the Washington Times, Insight, or are no better than fundamentalist-Islamic
extremists who limit themselves to whatever is
approved reading in their madrasas, or old-school
Catholics who obey the lists of banned books and
films, doctrinaire Communists with their Little Red
Books, or batty old cat-wrangling biddies who only
read the supermarket tabloids. In each case the person
in question gradually accretes a body of beliefs that
do not reflect reality and are never corrected. By
limiting their sources to a subset which (though false
or distorted) is internally consistent, they are able
to spend whole lifetimes avoiding wisdom.
Civilization is under dire threat from all these
people who limit their sources of information, but
still insist on telling the rest of us how to live.
Here's what I consider a classic chestnut in the
annals of smart-ain't-wise.
Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu was a cabinet
officer in the first Bush administration (until he
resigned over improper use of official
transportation). He is said to have a Mensa I.Q.
Everyone says he's Smart. While in the Cabinet (circa
1990) he ran a climate simulation on his home computer
and decided that, according to the sim's results,
global warming was not a problem. Now, climatologists
running detailed global-warming simulations on Cray
supercomputers knew that their projections might not
be trustworthy, but this man, probably running a 386
at best, took his primitive, non-expert result as
gospel. Even I know better than that. Sununu's brain
might be fast, but he runs bad algorithms. Smart ain't
I imagine one could compile a fairly manageable list
of algorithms which are found in all highly
intelligent and ethical people. What is Bayesian
thinking, except an algorithm that says 'keep
refreshing your data'?
By the way, another great algorithm, from H.P.
Lovecraft, and so appropriate to this discussion
group, is "Never call up that which you cannot put
down." How many of sl4's posts are variations of this
Tom Buckner


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