This week I’ve been on a school camp trying to control 44 children. We all learnt a lot about looking after our environment, looking after each other, and looking after ourselves.
Yesterday I watched a program about the recent scientific breakthroughs that are likely to have big impacts on our lives.
It got me thinking about our need to control everything.
Humans try to control our environment as much as we can. For example, we’ve learnt to control the flow of rivers and the fertility of the land so we can have a reliable supply of food and water. And now we need to learn how to control the climate because of the impact we’ve had on it.
Some of us want to control other people. Over the years, this has resulted in countless lives lost in the name of war. Control feels good. It gives you a sense of security.
On camp this week, I saw students trying to control others. But I also saw lots of empathy, kindness and sharing. Experiences such as school camps help to build these qualities in children.
But the thing we never stop learning about is how to control ourselves.
And it seems scientists are making huge inroads into how to control ourselves too.
A group of scientists have won support to trial an anti-aging drug in humans. They are confident that they can slow the aging process in humans. They hope to show that this will prevent the onset of a variety of age-related diseases (for example, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s).
Most of us would certainly be glad to have more control over the length of our lives, but I wonder how much control you would really want?
But it’s not just longer lives that scientists are trying to control…
We have blurred the boundary between “our bodies” and “technology”. We already have spectacles, hearing aids, bionic limbs, cochlear implants and other devices that we incorporate into our bodies to correct bodily functions, but now we have devices that enhance our bodies.
Exoskeletons, for example, are not only allowing paraplegics to walk again through brain control, but they are able to be worn by military personnel and recovery workers, giving them extra strength.
By the way, one paraplegic even regained his ability to move his own leg muscles after wearing a brain-controlled exoskeleton that had feedback sensors.
And have you heard of a man named Neil Harbisson? He was born colour blind and has an antenna implanted in his skull that detects colour and converts it to vibrations in his head so he “hears colours”. The antenna is also wi-fi enabled, which means he can receive information via satellite and can therefore receive phone calls and other satellite information straight to his head.
There are scientists working on vests that give us extra senses via vibrations in our skin. And there are scientists who are investigating the use of virtual reality goggles.
We are blurring the connection between our bodies and our minds. If you can control an artificial device and get feedback to your brain (i.e. a sense), then does it become part of “you”? Does a body part need to have your DNA to be part of “you”? Are “you” your body? Where is the line between “you” and the “rest of the world”? Is your experience of being “you” all in your head?
Are we heading to a future where “we” live our lives in a virtual simulation? If so, would we be able to determine the difference between “reality” and “virtual reality”?
It makes you question what the difference really is? And you might even wonder whether it’s possible we are already in that future?
Anyway, have you heard of CRISPR? If not, I’m guessing you are going to hear a lot more about it. It apparently was discovered in 1987 and considered “junk” in the DNA of bacteria. But, recently it has been described as “the greatest gift ever.”
Why? Scientists have learnt what it is and how to control it
It is a naturally occurring “nano-robot” that modifies DNA, and we can control it.
George Church, one of the leading scientists in this area, speculates about a future where we could connect brain-to-brain via “technology” in our brains. Technology that is embedded in our DNA, that is. According to George, the potential for changes to our DNA is limitless.
Is this something to be scared of?
If you believe “we” were born into this world, then you probably want to preserve “us” how we are now.
But if you believe we grew out of this world, then you probably see this as natural progress. You would think: Who are “we” to stop it? It is in our DNA to want to control things – and this has led us from the apes to where we are now, and so it will naturally lead us further.
Whatever your beliefs, it’s interesting to ask yourself…
“What do you really want to control?”
If you’d like to control your emotions, then it is worth asking whether enhancing our species can achieve more pleasurable experiences for us?
If you’d like to ensure the survival of our species, then perhaps you could try to preserve the way we are now?
But life has taught me that everything changes.
And that includes us.
Perhaps, the ultimate survival of any life form (from Earth) depends on us to evolve as a species and eventually leave the planet as a form that would not be classified as “human” as we know it today?
Well, that’s what people like George Church think.
What do you think?