Bioethicist James Hughes On Human Enhancement Technologies, Political and Social Implications, Democratic Transhumanism, Psychedelics, Moral Personhood and the Illusion of Self

New technologies are coming in the near future that will push the boundaries of what we understand to be human and that will radically change what it means to be human. Cybernetic and biomedical technologies such as cloning, genetic engineering and nanotechnology are just a few of those and could make life better for everyone.

What this could mean is the elimination of most diseases, babies free of genetic defects, the creation of non-human sentient beings that may have legal rights and the possibility of near immortality.

All of these technologies hold great promise, but they also pose profound challenges to our culture, to our health and our democratic political systems.

When humans become more than human – “post-human” or “transhuman” – these new technologies will require new answers for questions, such as: What limits should we place on the freedom of individuals to control their own bodies? Who should own genes or other living things? And which technologies should be mandatory, which voluntary and which forbidden?

Democracies must assess and respond to these possibilities now and recognize the tremendous opportunities as well as the dangers, in order to actively decide what kind of society we want for ourselves and our children.

My guest today has devoted his life and career to pondering and answering these questions. James Hughes Ph.D., the Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, is a bioethicist and sociologist who serves as the Associate Provost for Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning for the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Dr.. Hughes holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of Chicago, and is author of Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future.

In this discussion, you’ll learn…

-Technology enhancements we can we expect in the near future…02:45

  • Concerns: The issues we face with the emergence of these new technologies
  • Trends: increasing control over our bodies, brains and reproduction
  • The moral questions around controlling the brain

-How the moral dilemma plays out in the political arena…08:25

-Bioconservatism vs libertarian transhumanism and the ‘third’ way: democratic transhumanism…15:30

  • Book: Citizen Cyborg
  • Bioluddism (bioconservatism) vs. libertarian transhumanism (techno progressivism)
  • How being positive about these technological futures and not being anxious about social change is correlated with other social attitudes, particularly gender roles

-Transhumanism and religion…21:55

  • 1600-1700: aspirations of healing the sick, raising the dead, achieving enlightenment, etc.
  • Religious views and transhumanistic views

-How James’ Buddhist background informs his work…26:20

  • Buddhism discusses the idea of transcending the human condition
  • Meta-ethical question: Why do we believe that any particular argument for right and wrong is the right argument?

-The Self, explained…31:15

  • Buddhism = the rejection of a centralized self, we are verbs, not nouns
  • Debate of patterns in authentic personality
  • “The self is something real, but it’s not a real thing. It’s a vision”
  • Artificial intelligence may completely lose the thread of the illusion of “self”

-Will choosing to remain “biological” be considered a handicap in the future?…37:00

  • Concerns and questions about people having “superpowers”

-The utilization of psychedelic drugs in transhumanism …42:55

  • The inclusion of plant medicine, MDMA, ketamine, LSD and DMT in enhancements
  • Creating lasting changes in open-mindedness, reduces fear response, increasing our sense of connection
  • Article: Tripping Our Way to Social Democracy

-When a being has the right to moral personhood…43:15

  • Top 10 things that give a being moral personhood
  • John Locke: Enlightened Thinker (We’re just our memories)
  • Moral personhood in animals as the next big debate
  • Cognitive enhancements of great apes
  • Mainstreaming the bioethics conversation in the political space
  • Terri Shiavo case issue
  • Zeke Emanuel and pandemic drugs
  • CRISPR gene editing method

-James’ practices…55:00