INTD What is Human?

Until recently, we thought we had clear answers to the question, "What is Human?"  We knew the genetic makeup of the species; we knew how humans were conceived and born; we knew the maximum life span; we knew a great deal about unique human characteristics that made us different from other animals.

However, today's biotechnologies are challenging our understanding of what it means to be human.  There are countless stories of athletes using drugs to enhance their performances.  Ritalin is known as the vice president's drug because some executives are using it to enhance their abilities to concentrate for long periods of time and move up the corporate ladder.  What does it mean to others when those who are wealthy and willing to risk their health have access to chemicals that unnaturally allow them to out compete the rest of us?

We are also changing how humans conceive and give birth; we can now select against undesirable genes before an embryo is implanted; we can transplant genes, cells, tissues, and organs between humans and other animals; we are using drugs to enhance mood; we are experimenting with ways to extend the human life span.  What used to be the subject matter of mythology and legend can now (or soon will) be generated in a lab.

Of course there are other ways that we try to enhance ourselves and potentially our children.  Part of what we'll be discussing is whether or not this drive to be better will someday result in a Superhuman race.  Are you willing to compete against someone who is willing to do anything they can to win?  Is that really fair to the rest of us?

There aren't obvious answers to all of these questions, but in this course we will examine the scientific, ethical, and cultural issues raised by these new technologies, using the perspectives of different disciplines to help us recognize the complexities and potential effects.  Discussions will also focus on if and how we ought to control the development and use of these technologies.

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