The strength of evolution is that it doesn’t know what it’s doing. The weakness of evolution is that it doesn’t know what it’s doing. So what you end up with is a hodgepodge of necessary and sufficient features in a “design” that no engineer ever needed to interface with. It’s a system made for survival and borne out of survival over the course of billions of years.
Whether evolution perhaps necessarily tends to become self-aware in the sense that were are now, is an open question. But once a species reaches the qualitative threshold of consciousness that we have reached, it seems likely that sooner or later it arrives on the eve of self radical self-modification. And I think no civilization that is ready to radically self-modify themselves is ready for it.
However, as a transhumanist I believe in what transhumanist movement founder Max More dubbed morphological freedom1. The right to maintain or modify one’s own body, on one’s own terms. So what might we want to modify? What aspects of biological just don’t cut it? What are some hated features of biological existence? Here are a few…
- Use it or lose it (unused mechanisms decay)
Completely understandable why atrophy (gradual deterioration due to lack of use) sets in and certainly we would suffer greatly if rarely needed systems would instead be resource hogs. But that this rule applies to virtually all our bodily functions and can’t be avoided is terrible. Please make this feature optional.
- Pleiotropy (one gene may affect several traits)
Biology is messy and while modularity exists in the human body, there is also so much interdependency throughout the layers of organization that modding the system is a terrible headache. If only we could have a neat system where we turn off the gene for a trait and voila… done. Gone is the trait and nothing else changes. If only.
- Neurons fire together, wire together (the brain functions in a highly associative way)
An obvious and great feature of our wetware in so many ways that also comes with the terribly annoying side-effect of everything working so bloody associatively. No clean recall, no clean mental layers and no proper direct manipulation of mental function. (Heb)b(ian)oo. Proper exocortices (outer, additional brains, augmentations) can’t come soon enough. But using them won’t be simple.
- Single point of failure for a vital function: blood pumping
Redundancy is such a wonderfully present feature of biological systems. Vital organs come in pairs, the brain comes with 86 billion neurons and can stand to lose even specialized parts with a chance of plasticity doing its work and compensating for the lost parts…but then all the pumping is done by that single heart. The heart fails, everything else fails.
- No major emergency back-up plan
A reliable emergency hibernation mode to prevent cell necrosis would be nice. If our cells are not getting the oxygen they need, if blood is not being pumped around, can’t there be a reserve system that takes over for a while? Can’t they shut down temporarily? Happily will get a proper fail-safe for this.
Almost anyone alive will not denounce eating and drinking entirely as terrible, as you have to like it to keep doing it. I like some food. Eating and drinking are nice, sometimes. But not all the time. Yet we’re built in a way where have to constantly eat. Constantly refuel. Of course fasting has shown to have benefits even relevant to the last point on this list, but generally speaking we need regular meals. Why can’t we just fuel up once a week. Once a month?
While like with food you maye have all sorts of nice associations with a good night’s sleep, sleep is absolutely terrible if you ask me. If you are able to sleep regularly like a baby, it al seems fine, but if you can’t… you notice what an absolute horror it is to not be able to directly control our on/off state. As if losing approximately 33% of our time to snoozing isn’t bad enough, having to suffering through sleep deprivation makes one terribly miserable and there is no simple go-to remedy for it.
- Lack of mental control
Like the earlier point regarding our associative brain this goes to really what an atrocious affair our mental control is. We have so little of it! Tomes, guides and endless discussions exist on how to get into particular states, how to transform oneself mentally. There is so little we can directly do. We have to learn vague feedback loops, feed into them, coax ourselves into ways of doing, hope to get to states we want. An absolute abomination. There may be something poetic to this perpetual dance, but sure isn’t very convenient.
Last, but certainly not least. The wear and tear of the human body can in principle be combatted and even completely compensated for. We just don’t know how yet. Meanwhile, every birth is a death sentence. It would be nice life being on death row would not be due to accumulation of damage and errors to cells, but due to, say, pending heat death of the universe. We have some time to figure that one out. Until we do, life is a death sentence.
Of course there is more where that came from. I’ll save that for a second post. Int he meantime, here is Max More’s Letter to Mother Nature: Amendments to the Human.