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Religious Zealots, Vaccines, And (Unavoidable) Hypocrisy

To some extent, a global crisis is the ultimate bullshit filter. You can bullshit your way through a lot of things. Things like politics, economics, theology, and philosophy can all be twisted and obscured by a skilled bullshitter who has little concern for the truth, ethics, or decency. However, no amount of bullshit can circumvent the grim realities of a global pandemic.

A disease like the coronavirus/COVID-19 doesn’t respond to fancy rhetoric, dogmatic beliefs, or ideological divides. It responds only to the immutable laws of physics and biology. To this virus, you’re not a liberal, conservative, Christian, Muslim, atheist, or Satanist. You’re just another host.

It’s a grim, yet sobering perspective. It’s also revealing in other ways. As I’ve noted before, I believe we’ll eventually beat this disease. Not since World War II has there been a crisis that has unified humanity’s effort to a singular cause. It will take time and people will still die, but we’ll ultimately save more lives because of the advances we make. The fact that nobody dies of Small Pox anymore is proof of that.

As hopeful as I am for this outcome, which still seems so far away, it does bring up another issue that will likely emerge once this crisis ends. That issue has less to do with the science and more to do with the religious zealots who have spent decades trying to inject themselves into scientific circles.

I’ve mentioned religion before in pointing out some of the humorous headlines they’ve inspired in this crisis, but there’s nothing funny about this particular issue. As always, I want to disclose that most religious people aren’t zealots. They don’t take their religion, their holy text, or their eccentric leaders too seriously. They believe what they believe, but live their lives as decent, loving human beings.

This is not about them.

The people I’m referring to here are the people who yell the loudest whenever someone points out a scientific fact that contradicts their preferred holy book. These are the people who demand that their theology be treated with scientific credence in a classroom. They’re also the ones who demand special treatment by the government and greater influence in society as a whole.

I single these people out because in a crisis like this, they can’t survive with the rest of society without being hypocrites in the highest order. I say that as someone who freely admits he can’t predict the future to any degree. However, I’ve met enough religious zealots in my life to surmise predictable patterns.

With that in mind, here’s how I predict religious zealots will react when a vaccine or treatment is found for COVID-19.

They’ll thank their deity and not the doctors or scientists.

They’ll eagerly get in line to receive the treatment, whatever it might be.

They’ll later claim that their deity protected them over the course of the crisis

They’ll then claim the crisis was a punishment for insert-hot-button-social-issue-here.

On top of that, they’ll do all of this with a straight face and a clear conscious. They won’t think of themselves as hypocrites, but that’s what they’ll be by the very definition of the word.

They’ll have claimed that prayer heals and protects adherents, but conveniently overlook how it failed to protect anyone during this crisis.

They’ll have claimed that any science that contradicts their theology, namely evolution, has no merit and should not be supported on any level. Then, they’ll gladly enjoy the fruits of that same science once a vaccine is perfected. Chances are they’ll go right back to bemoaning the same science because it doesn’t line up with their holy books.

Even those who openly defied orders by health officials will face few consequences for their behavior. Even if it’s proven that people suffered and died because of their reckless behavior in the face of a pandemic that doesn’t respond to prayers or preaching, they aren’t likely to change their ways. Even if their hypocrisy is thrown in their face, it won’t change them or their zealous dogma.

That’s the most frustrating part. Most reasonable people, regardless of their faith, understand that there’s a time for prayer and a time for working with the science we know to solve a big problem. Many of those working on a vaccine as I write this are religious. Some might even be motivated by their religion to save as many lives as possible. These people are truly heroic in their own right.

Those who build their religious zealotry on false promises, false hope, and even outright fraud deserve no such praise. Their theology depends on a foundation of bullshit and when a crisis like this cuts through it, then the only thing left is hypocrisy.

I take some comfort in the knowledge that, thanks to the internet and social media, a record of their hypocrisy will remain. They might try to bullshit their way around the facts, but at some point, all the bullshit in the world can’t overcome such hypocrisy.

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Filed under biotechnology, Current Events, human nature, politics, Reasons and Excuses, religion, technology

Six Technologies The Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic Could Accelerate

Humanity is capable of amazing feats when given the right incentive and circumstances. The problem is that humanity is also rather stubborn when it comes to incentives and exceedingly evasive when it comes to changing circumstances. We’ll go the extra distance and beat the odds eventually. We just need to be dragged kicking and screaming for a while.

When it comes to the ultimate incentives and circumstances, few check more boxes than a global pandemic. I don’t think I need to belabor how bad the ongoing Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has been. Even without media distortions and political agendas, there’s no getting around the damage it has and continues to inflict.

People are dying.

People suffering.

Societies and economies are teetering on the brink of collapse.

This is not a tenable situation and one nobody wants to see again. As bad as it is, there might be one silver lining to this global tragedy. It could help accelerate the development of technology that was already in the works, but lacked the necessary motivation to develop faster.

What follows are a few technologies that I believe this horrible pandemic might help in the sense that it’ll add some urgency. Nobody wants to see a mess like this again. Whether you’re rich, poor, powerful, or powerless, we have every reason to find new ways of preventing these plagues before they happen and these technologies are instrumental in doing just that.


Artificial Intelligence (Not Necessarily The Advanced Kind)

It’s impossible to overstate the potential benefits of artificial intelligence. I’ve certainly made a concerted effort when writing about it in the past. However, in the context of battling plagues, we don’t necessarily need the kind of super-advanced, super-intelligent AI to provide some of those benefits. When it comes to combating plagues, we don’t need an AI to be as intelligent as a human. We just need it to help us combat deadly disease.

This can be done without the kind of AI that finds its way into Skynet or Hal 9000. An AI that can better-analyze genetic data, run simulations on possible treatments, and track the spread of a disease can do plenty to prevent or mitigate future plagues. If it can just help us identify and isolate new cases in a short span of time, then that alone could save millions.

At a certain point, AI could get powerful enough to calculate entire treatment programs once it has the genetic data of a pathogen or condition. After this global, well-publicized crisis, it’ll have plenty of data to work with.


Space-Based Broadband Internet

When it comes to dealing with pandemics, the incentives don’t stop at treating the disease. Given all the closures and cancellations caused by COVID-19, we now know how challenging it is to endure an extended quarantine, especially for kids with no school and sports fans with no sports.

Enduring this crisis has revealed just how critical it is to have a strong, robust internet connection. It may not treat the disease, but it makes the measures recommended by the authorities more bearable. The problem is our current infrastructure for the internet is badly in need of upgrades and its role in helping us function has been made abundantly clear during this crisis.

For work, play, and just avoiding crippling boredom, we need a better internet. That’s where space-based internet, like the ones being developed by companies like FaceBook and Google come in. The idea is as simple as it is awesome. Use satellites and other high-flying crafts to deliver data more efficiently and reliably.

There are a few space-based internet service providers now, but they’re incredibly limited. This crisis, which needs reliable internet for so many reasons, might help pick up the pace in refining this technology. At the very least, it will allow people to binge-watch Netflix from the summit of Mount Everest.


Nanoparticle Vaccines

On the medical side of things, this crisis should go a long way towards teaching people the importance of vaccines. While I don’t doubt the anti-vax crowd will find an excuse to protest, even those skeptical of modern medicine can’t deny the need for better preventative measures for these treatments. Unfortunately, vaccine technology has been stagnant for decades.

This pandemic will hopefully change that and not a minute too soon. The current process for producing a vaccine is long and cumbersome, taking upwards of two years. It’s a process that has a lot of room for improvement. That’s where technology like nanoparticles come in.

The key to any medical treatment is the effectiveness of the delivery system. Vaccines have always had to take a messy path, but nanoparticles could change that. Instead of relying on the biological equivalent of a blunt instrument, nanoparticles could become biological smart-bombs, targeting pathogens with the precision we need to keep them from ever becoming pandemics.

Anti-vaxxers who refuse these just have a death with.


Gene Editing/Synthetic Biology

Not unlike vaccines, gene editing and synthetic biology stand to get a major boost from this crisis. I’ve written about gene editing tool like CRISPR in the past. I’ve touted it as a tool that could potentially treat all infectious disease, especially when combined with synthetic biology. That might have been hyperbole, but I stand by my claims on it’s potential.

Gene editing can do more than make pet fish glow. In theory, it can tweak and rewrite the DNA of organism, including the viruses that infect us. The challenge is refining the procedure so that we know how to modify diseases or create entirely new organisms that combat them through synthetic biology.

It’s not a small challenge. I’m grossly oversimplifying the obstacles in refining this technology into something usable. However, those obstacles are not insurmountable. It just requires time, resources, and motivation. After being economically and socially ravaged by a global pandemic, these efforts will have a lot more urgency.


Immersive Virtual Reality

While the scientists and doctors take up the challenge of fighting future pandemics, the rest of us are tasked with enduring the boredom they incur. I’ve noted before how boredom could become the plague of the future. I hope those stuck at home for weeks on end are done doubting me.

The entertainment industry may never be as vital as the medical industry, but it’ll play an important role in helping people stay sane, calm, and kind. Binge-watching TV and playing video games is helpful, but there’s room for improvement. At the end of the day, you’re still just sitting on a couch, looking at a screen.

To keep things both interesting and active, the development of virtual reality should get a major boost. It has existed for years and grown considerably from the days of the Virtual Boy, but it has room for improvement. Thanks to improving computer technology and more advanced interfaces like Neuralink, the experience could become even more immersive.

Beyond simply treating boredom, it could allow a greater sense of active engagement, which is critical when everyone is practicing social distancing. Being isolated and cut off from human contact may help temper a plague, but it’s not healthy. A way to immerse yourself in a realistic environment could help make future quarantines more bearable while also opening a new market, which gaming companies are sure to exploit.


Sex Robots (Obviously)

Does this one really need an explanation? When you’re stuck inside, horny, and run out of things to binge-watch, things are going to happen. Even if your partner or significant other is with you, they might get sick and you might feel lonely. Given how pandemics tend to temper the market for sex workers, a sex robot might be the best and only option.

If at least one company or horny entrepreneur hasn’t realized that by now, I’ll be shocked. The market for sex robots has been growing in recent years. After enduring a pandemic and weeks of social isolation, that market has likely grown. People rarely forget big global events like this. They’ll remember how lonely they were and that memory will fuel the development of sex robots more than any libido.

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When Crisis Brings Humor, Irony, And Religious Absurdities

Whenever the news is consistently awful, you tend to get numb to it. At some point, you just can’t bring yourself to get too worked up anymore. It’s not a good thing. Once you get numb to terrible news, you’re less inclined to do something about it. That’s not healthy for any society.

I don’t deny that the news surrounding the Coronavirus/COVID-19 has been awful. It might be the single worst news story we’ve collectively endured in over a decade. It’s bad, especially if you’re a sports fan. It may very well get worse before it gets better.

However, it’s for that same reason that we should all laugh and take comfort in stories that expose absurdities, frauds, and assholes who don’t deserve the notoriety they usually enjoy. Of all the things that fit every one of those criteria, faith healers are right up there with creationists, snake oil salesmen, and conspiracy theorists.

Now, I could go on an extended rant about how faith healers are one of the most perverse manifestations of organized religion. I’ve gone on similar rants before on far less serious subjects. However, this is one instance where no rant is necessary. The facts alone expose the absurdity, hypocrisy, and stupidity of the whole endeavor.

It comes courtesy of a megachurch in California and a story covered by Raw Story. Rather than describe all the crazy details, I’ll just leave a link and a brief summary of the best parts.

Raw Story: ‘Faith-healing’ megachurch cancels hospital sessions over coronavirus fears

A megachurch in California that regularly conducts “faith-healing” sessions at local hospitals apparently doesn’t believe the power of prayer is strong enough to cure coronavirus.

The Bethel Church in Redding, California, which serves as the spiritual home to an estimated 6,300 weekly worshipers, announced this week that it is canceling its regularly scheduled visits to hospitals as fears of the coronavirus pandemic take hold.

Think about that for a moment. Faith healers profess the power of healing through prayer, specifically through prayers to their favored deity. They claim that their spiritual service can bring wellness to the sick while protecting the healthy. That’s the power of their faith.

Then, a virus comes along that is utterly unaffected by their dogma. It infects everyone, regardless of what they believe, and no amount of prayers can stop it. The fact that these “faith healers” have ceased going to hospitals out of fear of infection is an indirect admission that their healing doesn’t work. It also exposes just how weak it really is.

A virus is not some invading army or repressive government. It’s a tiny bit of biomatter. Despite that, it’s still strong enough to defeat any prayers that a believer may offer. No matter how ardent they may be, the virus still infects because wishful thinking is no match for harsh reality.

Now, I’m not foolish enough to believe that this crisis will put all faith healers out of business. At the very least, this offers a huge red flag to anyone whoever crosses paths with someone claiming to heal by faith. If they can’t heal you from a simple virus, then what does that say about their faith, their religion, and their motivations?

In this case, washing your hands more powerful than any prayers you could offer.

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Why Designer Babies Are NOT The Same As Eugenics

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As much as I celebrate advances in science and technology, I don’t deny there are instances where some advances it leads to unintended consequences. I’m sure the inventor of ski masks knows that all too well. In many cases, these missteps and mishaps are part of the ongoing challenge to use these advances responsibly. It’s akin to a maturation process that is often difficult, but still necessary.

In some cases, however, certain advances bring out some of humanity’s ugliest traits. Whether it’s a tool or an insight into the natural world, certain people who may or may not be malicious will use science to further a nefarious agenda. Of all the sciences that brought out the worst in humanity, eugenics is probably the most well-known.

The concept, itself, is not entirely abhorrent. If you look up the definition, this is what comes up.

The practice or advocacy of controlled selective breeding of human populations to improve the population’s genetic composition.

On paper, that has some objective merit. The world is a chaotic, dangerous place that’s constantly changing. In some cases, humanity is causing that change. If we’re to survive on a planet in which 99 percent of the species that have ever lived have gone extinct, it makes sense to improve our collective genetics so that we’re best equipped to survive.

Unfortunately, the details surrounding eugenics were permanently tainted when it became the preferred excuse for atrocities by the Nazis. Even before that, it was a popular talking point among racists seeking to marginalize or outright exterminate the impact of certain minorities within a society. At one point, there were organizations dedicated to promoting eugenics through forced sterilization and miscegenation laws.

The legacy of eugenics is so ugly that it’s almost synonymous with some of the worst acts of bigotry ever committed. When people think of eugenics, they don’t think of advancing human biology to make it more robust. They imagine racist tyrants forcibly sterilizing undesirable minorities in the hopes that they eventually die out in a silent genocide.

There’s no question that this form of eugenics is abhorrent. The way it was practiced throughout the 20th century was a perversion of science and technology. We would be wise to remember that as we make bigger and bolder advancements in science, especially for those related to biotechnology.

It’s here where the ugly legacy of eugenics seems destined to clash with science once more. In late 2018, news broke of a groundbreaking advance in biotechnology when a scientist named He Jiankui announced that the first genetically modified humans had been born. I went out of my way to note why this is a huge deal in the history of our species, but it’s also sparking distressing concerns related to eugenics.

Thanks to gene-editing tools like CRISPR, it’s now possible to edit the human genome with the same ease as copying and pasting text from a website. That has sparked concerns that it will be used to purge certain undesirables from the human population, just as was attempted with eugenics.

Logistically, there’s no reason why tools like CRISPR couldn’t be used to edit the genome of every child before they’re born to ensure they look a certain way. Granted, it would require some fairly invasive policies, but that has never stopped ambitious governments in the past. As these tools are refined, it’ll only get easier to pursue the kinds of racist policies that deplorable bigots in the past once favored.

However, this is not a fair association, nor is it constructive in addressing the legitimate issues surrounding the use of CRISPR and so-called designer babies. Linking this technology to eugenics is akin to blaming every nuclear physicist for the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s not just because the potential of this technology is so great. The intent behind it differs considerably with that of eugenics.

That intent shows in the specifics of the first two genetically modified children. These children were not born out of a desire for racial superiority. The modifications made to their genome was intended to make them more resistant to HIV/AIDS infection. That’s an objective good. Healthier babies who are more resistant to disease is a benefit to our species, as a whole.

In addition, this feat was achieved without sterilizing someone against their will or without the consent of the parents. While there were some legitimate ethical concerns, the underlying purpose has little to do with furthering racial goals and more to do with combating disease and suffering. This is where the difference between eugenics and designer babies at its most stark.

Eugenics, historically speaking, was almost always pursued with a racial agenda. It never stopped at just treating disease. Its advocates sought more than just health. They sought superiority. That’s not how the emerging technology surrounding CRISPR is being used. It’s following a similar path to that of in-vitro fertilization, which was subject to plenty of controversy as well.

Like any technology, there are going to be legitimate concerns mixed in with the doomsayers. With CRISPR and designer babies, the concerns will be greater because the stakes will be higher. We’re not just talking about a technology that will reduce the risk of inherited diseases. This technology could fundamentally change the human race in a very literal sense.

Designer babies, much like their in vitro counterparts, will be part of that change. Regardless of how someone feels about endowing a baby with the genetics of Tom Brady and Stephen Hawking, the potential for good is just too vast. Thousands of people die every year because of diseases that are written into their genes. This technology, if properly refined, could render such suffering a distant memory.

Hesitating with this technology because of potential links to eugenics will only prolong this suffering. In the same way countless individuals wouldn’t be alive without in-vitro fertilization, there are countless people who aren’t alive now because this technology wasn’t available to help them.

Treating diseases and ensuring the health of the next generation is a common good that eugenics corrupted with racist ideology. It attempted to do that by using science and technology to more effectively oppress their chosen enemies. That is radically different than editing the genes of a child so they don’t succumb to certain diseases.

That’s not to say there aren’t risks. At some point, someone will try to abuse this technology and it’s likely that person will have unpopular views on eugenics. There will also be a point where this technology isn’t just used to treat diseases. It will also be used to implement traits and abilities within people that aren’t possible by natural means.

The look of a baby who never has to worry about genetic diseases.

The merits and ethics of such genetic tampering are definitely worth discussing, but references to eugenics will only serve to derail that discussion for all the wrong reasons. Like it or not, humans will need to keep adapting and growing in our chaotic world. If we ever hope to outlast our planet and even our sun, we can’t be bound by genetic constraints or outdated attitudes.

That makes developing genetics technology all the more vital. Eugenics was a bad ideology that hijacked a lot of good science. Whatever your opinion may be on designer babies and improving the human genome, the technology is here. Children born of this technology have arrived. The benefits are vast, provided we have the right approach.

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How Humanity Will Cure Death

immortality

When it comes to pushing the limits of technology, every goal once started as a fantasy. In the 19th century, the smartest minds of the time thought heavier-than-air flying machines were infeasible at best and impossible at worst. In the early 20th century, other people with legitimate scientific credentials said the same thing about a manned mission to the moon.

While it seems absurd today, at the time it made sense. The people of that era just couldn’t imagine technology advancing to a point where humanity regularly achieved feats that had once been relegated to science fiction. It’s easy it mock them with the benefit of hindsight, but there are plenty of smart people today who have made claims that will be mocked 50 years from now.

One claim that most individuals, including those who work at the forefront of science and research, is that we will never cure death. Science is certainly capable of doing a great deal, but death is one of those immutable barriers that it can never overcome.

We may be able to cure all infectious disease through biotechnology and genetic engineering. We may one day have technology that allows our bodies to become so durable that from the perspective of people alive today, they’ll be superhuman. They may even live for centuries, but never age past 30. Nothing other than a freak accident could kill them. I’ve already noted the potential issues with that.

However, even these highly-enhanced humans will eventually die at some point. That seems like a given. Efforts to avoid it are often subject to heavy criticism, especially approaches like cryonics or uploading your mind into a computer. While some of those criticisms are valid, they’re also short-sighted. They work under the same assumption as those who claimed humans would never walk on the moon.

Technology has limits, but humans have a bad track record with respect to understanding those limits. With respect to curing death, even the most advanced fields of emerging technology seem limited in their ability to help people escape such a fate. That doesn’t mean the concept is flawed. It doesn’t even mean that the technology is beyond the laws of physics.

Personally, I believe death can be cured, but not with approaches like cryonics or bodily enhancements. While those technologies may ultimately extend our lives, being able to transcend death requires another approach. Specifically, it requires a mechanism for preserving, transforming, and transferring the contents of our brains.

Medically speaking, the official definition of death is the irreparable cessation of all brain activity. Your body can be damaged. Every other organ could fail. Your brain is the last link in that chain. It contains your memories, your emotions, your personality, and your capacity to experience the world. To cure death, we simply need to preserve the brain and all its functions.

That’s much harder than it sounds, but it’s not physically impossible. The human brain is not made up of some mythical, exotic material. It’s made up of specialized cells and tissues, like any other organ. While we don’t entirely understand the workings of the brain, it operates using physical matter that is bound by the laws of physics and biology.

Those limits are the key and the mechanism for preserving that complex clump of biomatter already exists, both as a concept and in a very unrefined form. That technology involves nanobots and if there’s one technology that has the potential to make humans truly immortal, it’s this.

The concept of nanobots is already a common staple of science fiction, but it’s primarily used as the technological equivalent of a wizard’s spell. If you need something or someone to do the impossible without resorting to magic, just throw nanobots or nanites, as they’re often called, into the story and let the impossible seem mundane.

While it’s doubtful that nanobots can do everything that science fiction claims, there’s a good chance that they’ll come pretty close. It’s impossible to overstate the potential of nanorobotics. From mass-producing any kind of good to curing humans of all infectious disease, nanobots have the potential to literally and figuratively change our lives, our bodies, and our world.

At the moment, we only have crude prototypes. In time, though, nanobots could become something akin to programmable matter and, by default, programmable flesh. Technically speaking, a nanobot could be programmed to do whatever a typical brain cell does, but more efficiently.

In the late 90s, scientists like Robert Freitas Jr. envisioned nanobots called respirocytes, which functioned like artificial blood cells. In theory, these would be far more effective at getting air and nutrients to the rest of your body, so much so that you could hold your breath for hours or sprint indefinitely.

That’s all well and good for deep sea diving and Olympic sprinters, but for curing death, the concept needs to go even further. That means creating nanobots that mimic the same function as a neuron, but with more efficiency and durability. Create enough of those and you’ve got the exact same hardware and functionality as the brain, but with the utility of a machine.

Once we have that technology refined and perfected, we have everything we need to effectively cure death. Doing so means gradually replacing every neuron in our skulls with a more efficient, more durable nanobot that does everything that neuron did, and then some. The most important additional feature these nanobots would have is a measure of intelligence that could be programmed.

By being programmable, the nanobots in our skulls would be more plastic. It would be less an organ and more a synthetic substrate, of sorts. It could be drained into a container, implanted into a robot specifically designed to contain it, or just preserved indefinitely in the event that there are no bodies available, not unlike the systems used in, “Altered Carbon.”

To some, this still doesn’t count because it requires that every cell in our brains be replaced with something. Technically, that brain wouldn’t be yours and you might not even be use, as a result. I respectfully disagree with this criticism, primarily because it ignores the whole Ship of Theseus argument.

If you’re not familiar with this concept, it’s pretty simple, but the implications are profound. It starts with a real, actual ship used by the mythical hero, Theseus. If, at one point, you replace a piece of wood in that ship, it’s still the same ship. However, the more pieces you replace, the less of the original ship you have. Eventually, if you replace all pieces, is it the same ship?

The human brain, or any organ in your body, is an extreme version of that thought experiment. The brain cells can replicate, but it’s a slower process compared to most cells and the configurations are always changing. The way your brain is wired now is changing as you read this sentence. A cluster of nanobots doing the same thing won’t be any different.

Like the Ship of Theseus, it wouldn’t happen all at once. In principle, the brain cell doesn’t even get destroyed. It just gets subsumed by the mechanizations of the nanobot. How it goes about this is hard to determine, but there’s nothing in the laws of physics that prohibit it. At the molecular level, it’s just one set of atoms replacing another.

Once in place, though, the limits of biology go out the window. With programmable nanobots, a person doesn’t just have the same functionality as a biological brain. It’s has other functions that allow for easier programming. We could, in theory, supplement the nanobots with additional material, sort of like cloud computing. It could even create a neurobiological backup of your brain that could be kept in stasis.

At that point, death is effectively cured. Once your brain becomes a substrate of nanobots, you can just transfer it into a body, a robot, or some other containment vessel that allows it to experience the world in any way desired. If, by chance, that body and the substrate are destroyed or damaged, then the backup kicks in and it’ll be like you just jumped from one place to another.

Some of this relies on an improved understanding of how consciousness works and assumes that it could be somehow transferred, expanded, or transmitted in some way. That may very well be flawed. It may turn out to be the case that, even if you turn your brain into a glob of nanobots, you can’t transmit your consciousness beyond it. If it gets destroyed, you die.

There’s a lot we currently don’t understand about the mechanisms of consciousness, let alone our ability to manipulate those mechanisms. However, a lack of understanding doesn’t negate the possibilities. Our previous inability to understand disease didn’t prevent our ancestors’ ability to treat it to some extent.

If it is the case that we cannot transmit consciousness from our brains, then we can still craft a functional cure for death. It just requires that we put our brains in protective vats from which carry out our existence in a simulated world. Those vats could be protected in a massive artificial planet that’s powered by a black hole or neutron star. In theory, our brains would be preserved until the heat death of the universe.

Whatever the limitations, the technology and the concepts are already in place, if only on paper. It’s difficult to know whether anyone alive today will live long enough to see an advancement like this. Then again, the children alive in 1900 probably didn’t think they would live to see a man walk on the moon.

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CRISPR, Biohacking, And Beauty Standards

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Years ago when I just started working out, a friend of a relative who worked part-time as a personal trainer gave me some advance. At the time, I was not in exceptionally good shape, but I wanted to get healthy and look good with my shirt off. Upon hearing this, he gave me what he called his three simple/inescapable truths about fitness.

Truth #1: To see results, you need to be patient and work out consistently.

Truth #2: To see results, you also need to tweak your diet and eat right.

Truth #3: No matter how hard you work out or how well you eat, everybody is still at the mercy of their genetics.

The passage of time, along with many long hours in the gym, have only proven those truths right. They reflect some of the inescapable obstacles that the multi-billion dollar fitness industry pretends aren’t there. As magician/performer Penn Jillette once so wisely said, “Great T&A requires great DNA.”

That doesn’t stop every fad diet and fitness gimmick from convincing people that they can overcome their genetic limitations and do so without putting in the necessary work. That’s akin to telling people they can become a foot taller just by wishing for it and giving some photogenic infomercial star their credit card information.

For the most part, we are very much at the mercy of our genetic limits and the basic chemistry of our bodies. If you want to lose fat, you got to get your body to burn fat, which can be harder for certain people with certain genetic dispositions. If you want to build muscle, you basically have to work that muscle until it breaks, forcing your body to repair it and make it bigger. Again, there are genetic limits at work here.

Those limits are frustrating. Believe me, I know and I have plenty of soreness to prove it. Despite that frustration, working out has been great for my health, my confidence, and my overall appearance. Those three truths still bug me at times, but I understand and accept them. For certain people, those hard truths are much greater burden.

As I write this, though, those truths are starting to falter. Unlike every other point in the history of fitness, health, and sex appeal, we have a working knowledge of the basic building blocks of the human genome. We have insights and understandings to our genetics that no infomercial star in the 90s could’ve imagined.

We know the genes that cause muscle growth. We know the genes that cause our bodies to burn fat. Some of these discoveries are very new and haven’t yet made their way to weight loss clinics or fad diets. The only barrier to making use of this knowledge is having a tool that can manipulate genes directly and precisely.

If you’ve read my previous articles on the future of treating infectious disease or fixing the flawed parts of the human body, then you know that such a tool exists and is being refined as we speak. That tool is CRISPR and, on top of potentially curing once fatal diseases, it may very well shatter those three truths of fitness. It may also destroy every other hard truth regarding bodybuilding, beauty standards, and sex appeal.

I’m not saying you should cancel your gym membership or junk those free weights just yet. However, the potential for CRISPR to change the way we think about our health and how we stay healthy cannot be overstated. While it’s still very much in the early stages of development, some people are already getting impatient.

That’s where biohackers come in. They’re not quite as badass as they sound, but what they’re doing is still pretty amazing and pretty dangerous. They’re basically skipping the part where they wait for the FDA or the World Health Organization to tell everyone that CRISPR is safe. They actually use themselves as guinea pigs to refine CRISPR.

Now, I need to make clear that this is exceedingly risky and not in the “Jurassic Park” sort of way. Tampering with our genome is uncharted, unregulated territory and we don’t yet have a full understanding of the potential dangers. That said, in the field of fitness and sex appeal, CRISPR may put gyms, plastic surgeons, and weight loss clinics on notice.

Renegade biohackers like Josiah Zayner, have actually live-streamed stunts where they inject themselves with CRISPR. Another biohacker, Aaron Traywick, injected himself with an experimental herpes treatment in front of a live audience. These are not scientists in cold laboratories using lab rats. These are real people tampering with their DNA.

Where this intersects with fitness comes back to those hard genetic limits I mentioned earlier. When you think about it, the way we build muscle and burn fat is pretty crude. We basically have to purposefully strain our bodies, even hurting them in the case of building muscle, to get it to do what we want. It can be imprecise, to say the least.

In theory, CRISPR would be more direct and far less strenuous than spending two hours in a gym every day. Instead of straining the muscles or sweating off the fat, you would just inject CRISPR into targeted areas of your body, like your belly or your bicep, and have it activate/inhibit the necessary genes.

Like cheat codes in a video game, it would prompt muscle growth in the specific areas you want. It would prompt fat burning in the areas you want. You could even take it further than that. Using the same techniques, you could use CRISPR to edit the genes of your skin so that it reduces the risk of blemishes and acne. As someone who suffered horrible acne as a teenager, I can attest to the value of such a treatment.

Some of this isn’t even just theory, either. Remember Josiah Zayner? Well, he injected himself with a CRISPR cocktail designed to block the production of myostatin. Those who are into bodybuilding know why that’s a big deal because blocking myosatin is one of the main functions of steroids.

While Zayner hasn’t gone full Hulk just yet, other more legitimate brands of research have already demonstrated that CRISPR could be the ultimate steroid. Researchers in China used the same technique as Zayner to create a breed of heavily-muscled dogs. This isn’t on paper. This stuff is real and it will affect both our health and our sex appeal.

Imagine, for a moment, standing in front of a mirror and documenting the parts of your body you want shrunk, grown, or smoothed out in some way. Maybe you’ll even make a detailed list, complete with diagrams and a full rendering of how you want your body to look.

Then, once that information is compiled, your personal doctor/biohacker programs all this into a series of targeted CRISPR injections. Some go into your arms. Some go into your abs. Some go into your face, butt, and genitals. If you hate needles, it may get uncomfortable. If you love gaining muscle and sex appeal without any real work, then it’s basically the miracle drug that every bad infomercial failed to deliver.

Considering the beauty industry is worth over $445 billion dollars, it’s pretty much a guarantee that some enterprising biohacker who may or may not already work for a major cosmetics company will make this a commercial product. There’s just too much money to be made along with too many people unsatisfied with how they look.

It may be costly at first, as most new treatments tend to be. People will pay for it, though. If you could exchange spending hours at the gym for just a few injections and get similar results, I think most people would gladly pay a premium for that. Sure, it’s a shortcut and it’s lazy, but if the results are the same, why does it matter?

That’s a question that has many answers, some of which are too difficult to contemplate. One of the reasons we find certain people so beautiful is because that beauty is so rare. Only a handful of women look as beautiful as Jennifer Lawrence or Kate Hudson. Only a handful of men look as beautiful as Brad Pitt and Idris Elba. Some of that beauty comes from hard work and conditions. Some of it is just good genetics.

What happens when that kind of beauty is as easy as administering a few injections with CRISPR? This is a question I already asked in my novel, “Skin Deep.” I offered hopeful, but incomplete answer. I have a feeling, though, that our entire notion of beauty standards will undergo major upheavals once people can shape their bodies the same way they customize their cars.

With CRISPR, we’re not just adding a layer of paint or trying to tweak an old engine. We’re modifying the foundation and scaffolding of our bodies. In theory, people could use CRISPR to achieve an appearance that is otherwise impossible, no matter how many hours are spent in a gym or how many dangerous steroids they inject. For all we know, what counts as sexy 20 years from now will look bizarre to most people today.

These trends will take time to emerge, but they’ll probably emerge faster than most fad diets or exercise gimmicks because once we start tweaking genetics, the old rules no longer apply. All the traditions and truths we’ve had about exercise, bodybuilding, and beauty collapse. It’s hard to know what will manifest in its place.

For a while, we may get a world where most women are thin and pretty while most men are tall and muscular. However, chances are people will get bored of seeing the same thing. As such, they’ll start experimenting. They’ll try coming up with entirely new body shapes, body features, and physiques that defy the existing laws of biology. As long as some people find that sexy, though, it won’t matter.

Then, there’s the impact of CRISPR on athletes. It’s one thing to test for performance enhancing drugs. What happens when some determined athlete injects a bit of LeBron James’ DNA into their genome to improve their basketball skills? What happens when an Olympic athlete tweaks something in their lung DNA to help them run a three-minute mile? How would we even test for that?

There are so many implications, both for sports and for beauty. It’s hard to know how our society will react, but unlike some of the other emerging technologies I’ve mentioned, CRISPR is real and it’s growing rapidly.

It’s still a very young technology and these things take time to develop. For a quick reference, penicillin was discovered in 1928, but it wasn’t commercially available until 1945. By comparison, CRISPR is barely five years old and biohackers are just starting to learn its limits and potential.

As that potential is realized, we may have to revisit other hard truths beyond those pertaining to fitness and health. From body image to sex appeal, a lot is going to change with this technology. It may be overwhelming, at times, but when it comes to sex appeal, humans are nothing if not adaptive.

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A Tribute To Dr. Norman Borlaug: The Man Who Fed The World

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Last year, I dedicated two days to honoring two unique individuals who literally saved the world. Those individuals were Stanislav Petrov and Vasili Arkhipov. Between the two of them, they literally held the fate of the human race in their hands at one point. Their ability to rise to the occasion and make the right decisions are why we’re still alive and the world isn’t a nuclear wasteland.

I strongly believe that people like that deserve recognition for doing the right thing during critical moments in our history. They embody a unique aspect of the human spirit that is worth honoring. Today, I’d like to honor another and like Petrov and Arkhipov, most people probably don’t know the name of the man I’m about to praise.

His name is Dr. Norman Borlaug. He was born on, March 25, 1914. He’s also a Nobel Peace Prize winning agricultural scientist from Iowa and what he did to earn that prize may very well be the greatest over-achievement in history. That’s because what he did for humanity cannot be overstated.

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To understand why, you need only recall the last meal you had. Whether it was a fully-cooked turkey or a frozen burrito, chances are Dr. Borlaug is partly responsible for making that food possible. That’s because Dr. Borlaug was an instrumental figure in the Green Revolution, a culmination of various scientific advances that led to a massive boost in crop yields.

If you don’t think that’s a big deal, you need only take a cursory glance at history to see the devastation that famine has inflicted on our species. It has defeated armies, destroyed empires, and ended dynasties. On top of that, it does so through the prolonged torture that is starvation. No matter the time, place, or people, the pain of starvation hits everyone hard.

Dr. Borlaug fought that and fought it better than anyone in history, modern or otherwise. Do you remember the last time your entire community endured famine? It’s doubtful. Mass famines have been largely eliminated in modern societies. Those that use the techniques and advances that Dr. Borlaug developed enjoy a level of abundance that’s unprecedented in history.

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Sure, there are times when it’s difficult to get food to certain areas due to war, disasters, or just plain incompetence, but the inability to actually produce that food is no longer an issue, so much so that now that most of the food-related problems we face involving having too much of it. Sometimes we eat too much. Sometimes we throw too much away. It’s still a problem, but it beats the hell out of famine.

However, Dr. Borlaug did more than just sit in a lab and do science. This man actually went out into the world, got his hands dirty, and fought famine with the ferocity of a young Mike Tyson on crack. Armed with a potent blend of science and humanitarian spirit, the old forces of famine didn’t stand a chance.

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He started off as a microbiologist working for DuPont, crafting new pesticides and preservatives for food. Regardless of how you feel about big chemical companies like DuPont, that’s an entirely noble endeavor, protecting and preserving food. That just wasn’t enough for Dr. Borlaug. You don’t win a Nobel Prize just by thinking small.

First, he traveled to Mexico, a place that had been hit hard by major crop losses in the late 30s and early 40s. While there, Dr. Borlaug helped develop a strain of high-yield, disease-resistant, semi-dwarf wheat. That didn’t just make up for the losses. It more than quintupled the overall harvest by 1944.

Helping Mexico stave off crop failures was an accomplishment in and of itself, but Dr. Borlaug was just getting warmed up. In the early 1960s, he moved to India, which happened to be in the middle of a major drought, and helped them increase their yields by orders of magnitude. If that weren’t impressive enough, he did all that while in the middle of a war with Pakistan. Not one to take sides, he even helped them too.

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By the late 1960s, both India and Pakistan were self-sufficient in terms of wheat production. At that point, the Nobel committee finally took notice of Dr. Borlaug’s greatness and awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. Short of Tom Brady’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there has never been a more obvious choice.

Unlike some recipients, there’s no question that Dr. Borlaug’s work contributed to furthering peace in this chaotic world. The man himself said it best.

“You can’t build a peaceful world on empty stomachs and human misery.”

Even after getting that prize, he just kept raising the bar impossibly high. In the mid-80s while Africa endured a terrible famine due to severe drought, Dr. Borlaug came out of retirement to help the governments fix a broken agricultural system. Just as he’d done before, his techniques and know-how helped crop yields soar once more.

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When considering just how much he was able to improve agricultural output and how hard he worked to promote these techniques, it has been estimated that Dr. Borlaug saved over a billion lives through his work. That’s not a typo. This man, without superpowers or help from aliens, saved a billion lives by helping mankind produce abundant food.

Unlike Petrov or Arkhipov, Dr. Borlaug wasn’t just in the right place at the right time to make the right decision. He worked hard for years on end, researching and cooperating with others to increase food production so that future generations need not starve like so many others before us. Rather than simply prevent ourselves from self-destruction, he gave us the means of prosperity.

I know everyone has a different definition for hero, especially someone who reads as many superhero comics as I do. However, such a title is almost lacking for a man like Dr. Borlaug. There aren’t many people who can honestly say their efforts saved billions of lives, present and future alike. Dr. Borlaug could make that claim right up until his death at the age of 95 in 2009.

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That’s not to say he didn’t have his critics. Even Superman has plenty of villains to deal with and if Dr. Borlaug had a Lex Luthor in his life, it was those who believed that his advances were unnatural and potentially damaging to the environment. Even today, his reputation among environmentalists and organic food enthusiasts is mixed at best.

Most of those critics, however, are not poor farmers in third-world countries who are just one crop failure away from starvation. Many are affluent enough to afford the overpriced asparagus at Whole Foods. They’ll probably never know or appreciate the abundance that Dr. Borlaug’s work has given them and how many lives are saved every day because of it.

Then, there were doom-sayers like Paul Ehrlich, who wrote a best-seller in 1968 called “The Population Bomb” that said that the rapid growth of the human population was unsustainable. He claimed that there was simply no way food production could keep up, which would result in massive war or unprecedented famine. Even by 1960s standards, this was pretty scary stuff.

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Rather than despair, Dr. Borlaug just kept on working so that we did have enough food. With all due respect to Mr. Ehrlich, his predictions failed because men like Norman Borlaug confronted these problems rather than whined about it. That’s not just heroic. That’s an important lesson that’s more critical now than it has ever been.

Today, even without Dr. Borlaug among us, we face many challenges including war, disease, poverty, and unskippable video ads. However, as daunting as they may be, we can take comfort in the knowledge that more people than at any point in history need not do so on an empty stomach.

I’ve often commented on how survival and reproduction are the two key drives for humanity. While I tend to focus heavily on the latter, I don’t often have to mention the survival part because Norman Borlaug made that unnecessary. It’s because of this man’s work that we have more food than we’ve ever had before in our history.

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His spirit lives on in the work of other researchers looking to further improve our food production. From vertical farming to in vitro meats, the promise of abundant food and full stomachs will continue as our population keeps growing.

More than anything else, though, Norman Borlaug embodied a humanitarian spirit that helped improve the human condition for all. It’s not unreasonable to say that the world is better because of him. So at some point tomorrow, March 25, take a moment to appreciate the contributions of a man whose name you probably didn’t know before now.

The next time you eat and go to bed with a full stomach, be sure to thank Dr. Borlaug for his contributions to the world. Most importantly, honor the humanitarian spirit he embodied. That’s how we’re going to make a more peaceful world.

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