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Increasing Intelligence Makes You More Open To New Experiences January 25, 2012

Posted by Metabiological in Transhumanism.
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Interesting news from the world of psychology.  Researchers measuring the effects of cognitive training on seniors found that not only did their mental abilities improve, their personalities also changed.

A program designed to boost cognition in older adults also increased their openness to new experiences, researchers report, demonstrating for the first time that a non-drug intervention in older adults can change a personality trait once thought to be fixed throughout the lifespan.

Personality psychologists describe openness as one of five major personality traits. Studies suggest that the other four traits (agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and extraversion) operate independently of a person’s cognitive abilities. But openness — being flexible and creative, embracing new ideas and taking on challenging intellectual or cultural pursuits — does appear to be correlated with cognitive abilities.

Unexpected to say the least.  Reading this I can’t help but remember the much publicized study which claimed to show liberals are on average more intelligent than conservatives (before anyone jumps down my throat I am well aware that study had serious problems.)  Other studies which have measured personality traits between political affiliations have noted that self-described liberals tend to be more open to new experiences.  I doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together there.

Regardless, the idea that increasing intelligence results in greater openness, and one wonders what other personality changes, has obvious implications to transhumanism.  Will a population of smarter humans also be a more tolerant population?  As we get smarter will we get more moral?

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Exercise Provides Benefits By Cleaning Up Metabolic Junk January 22, 2012

Posted by Metabiological in Longevity.
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Longevity research is a personal interest of mine (I use the word interest in the intellectual sense, rather than to imply I work on longevity).  As such I am always happy to see advances make their way into the news.  While the philosophical debates over whether extending human lifespan is desirable will continue regardless of what advances are made on the engineering front the best thing advocates can do to sway public opinion in our favor is to show first and foremost that it is feasible.

Exercise has long been known to promote health and longevity but up until fairly recently we haven’t had a very good idea why it does.  Oh sure, we’ve known that it reduces rates of chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke and diabetes and that people who exercise are more likely to live longer, healthier lives but the actual mechanisms still to a large degree elude us.  That seems to be changing though and a group of scientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have taken another step forward.

What they’ve found is that exercise triggers a recycling system within our cells, a process known as autophagy:

Autophagy is like a “cellular garbage disposal,” says Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Beth Levine, a physician at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas who has been studying the process for more than a decade. The process works like this: First, a double membrane forms around the unwanted cargo inside the cell, enveloping it. This membrane then fuses with an organelle called a lysosome, which contains enzymes that rush in and break down the contents. The bits and pieces created by this process get recycled, providing raw materials for new structures or a burst of energy.

Autophagy keeps cells healthy by “getting rid of all of the obsolete and abnormal structures,” Levine explains. It also helps cells survive lean times. By cannibalizing unwanted proteins and other junk, the cells can get nutrients.

In the study mice which had been engineered to not increase autophagy rates due to exercise or starvation.  When compared to normal mice they exhibited lower physical performance and none of the accrued benefits of exercise.

The buildup of cellular junk is one of the mechanisms for aging outlined by Aubrey de Grey in his SENS approach so if nothing else it’s nice to see some vindication for him.  Similar research on fasting and drugs like rapamycin have also shown the importance autophagy plays in keeping our cells, and by extension the rest of us, healthy.  One study even showed that increased autophagy actually increases total life span compared to normal, though the effect is currently fairly small.  The holy grail of course would be a drug or treatment that mimics and improves upon the the effects exercise has on this process, something like the above mentioned rapamycin may be the starting point for.

Captain America: Evil Transhumanist Monster? January 10, 2012

Posted by Metabiological in Transhumanism.
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Just kidding folks, I actually like Captain America quite a bit.  He’s the ultimate human specimen, he manages to be a courageous warrior and humble all-around good guy, he’s got a shield he can ricochette off bad guys like a giant pin ball.  What’s not to love?

A lot if you listen to some one like this.  You see children, Captain America is not just a cool comic book character.  He’s actually a frightening example of the dangers of man’s hubris.  He’s a terrifying horror story of technology run-wild.  He’s… a TRANSHUMANIST!!!

(Cue generic evil music)

No really, according to Catholic blogger Rebecca Taylor:

The reason Captain America is so dangerous is because he is the perfect poster child for transhumanism.  Captain America is the only super hero that I know where the enhancements are a choice…

He was healthy and underwent potentially fatal procedures to make him Captain America, placing in the subconscious of every boy and girl in the United States that the way to become a hero is to volunteer to let your government experiment on you.  Totally unethical and totally dangerous.

Now you can call me biased if you want (I do run a transhumanist blog so you’ll be justified if you do) but something strikes me as wrong with this argument.  Certainly Captain America is the subject of genetic engineering and his physical abilities are enhanced beyond what they would have been otherwise but does that make him a poster child for transhumanism?  No, and for a rather simple reason.

Steve Rodgers (Cap’s alter ego) was not a healthy human being.  In fact his whole story was set into motion because he attempted to enter the army to fight Nazi’s (the comic was originally published in the 1940’s) but was rejected due to his frail condition.  In order to serve his country in it’s hour of greatest need, Rodgers signed up for an experimental procedure that would enhance his strength, speed and endurance to the height of human possibility.  He would in short become the perfect HUMAN.

That’s right there is the problem with Ms. Taylor’s argument.  Captain America is ultimately a story about using technology in the pursuit of maximizing human potential.  His abilities are impressive but they are ultimately limiting.  The serum which gave him his powers improved the human condition but it did not transcend it.  Captain America may very well be an enhanced human but he is no transhumanist.