Human-Animal Hybrids and Chimeras

Not seeing that as being on the near horizon, actually. That said, there is a large volume of sci-fi literature that explores what it would mean to be ‘human’ under a number of biological and cybernetic scenarios. And add A.I. to the mix…

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Oh, it’s on the horizon alright…of the rear view mirror:




Neanderthal/human chimeras probably not far away:

At the genetics conference I was at a couple of weeks ago, it seems even the geneticists working on this stuff (mostly non-religious ones) are scared out of their minds about the moral implications of stuff like this.

And with CRISPR being so easy, cheap and mostly unregulated, it’s what doesn’t make the news that should concern us, again, esp. in places like China where they have no qualms about pushing the envelope with human embryos.

Yes, AI as well, for sure. But that one we do think is out the front window and other, more pressing AI issues to worry about.

On timing these things and wondering if they will ever happen, I’ve learned to never say never. I’ve been saying that with a straight face to my Christian friends, who give me an odd look, surprised to see that I’m not joking.

It’s probably time for us to get out of the modes of looking at historical science fiction, thinking we have the luxury of time to wonder about these things, and face the realities of science fact.

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@purposenation I exactly correct. Not all cases are the same. So how about we start here by enumerating and explains the science of as many examples as we can.

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Ostrich legs, octopus eyes, marsupial placental development… sure, we can do better. Or, maybe not.
https://evolutionnews.org/2018/06/the-perfect-human-body/

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Swandimass writes:

@purposenation Is exactly correct. Not all cases are the same. So how about we start here by enumerating and explains the science of as many examples as we can.

Note: “I” corrected to “Is” from original.

Mea culpa. Those are mostly examples of parts and organs. Whole organism chimeras with humans are not likely to be viable and human experimentation actually is highly regulated. I doubt these examples have much to do with the question of which constructs get souls (per the original thread this was spun from). Joshua is correct that specific cases need to be addressed individually.

FWIW: I’ve got metal replacement parts in me and I’m nothing like a T-800 Terminator. And though I’m now a cyborg, I remember what it once was to be 100% human. The most significant difference I’ve noticed is that I can set off airport metal detectors. Call it my new ‘super power’. :grinning: I can prolong everyone’s travel through security gates.

OK, this bloke is probably a different species… Imagine the reproductive barriers he must face. Even if he found another of his ‘kind’ their faces would probably lock together and they’d starve.
image

I’d prefer not to wear eyeglasses… Do bifocals represent the best of all possible worlds?

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What is your source that indicates that human experimentation is highly regulated in China? In one example, my source says they used to have a 14 day old embryo limit, but now they have raised that to anytime before birth (birth is when they culturally believe the embryo to be human, per the source). Others seem to agree:

And from this article, by the way, “…the belief that embryos are people is limited to Christianity, which must be placed in context of a diverse society …But if the history of stem cell policy and abortion serve as models, we can expect plenty of sanctimony and arguments rooted in questionable assumptions that the extreme Christian view represents some kind of universal ethics.

We usually find out about these things weeks, months or years after they have already been tried and accomplished – one might argue BECAUSE it is so regulated in some countries, it is kept under wraps in others. But then also under wraps because of the highly competitive nature of the field. So human-animal hybrids may have already been brought to term, we shall see.

I am not an expert in this field, so I can only tell you what we’ve been hearing and extrapolate from there. And I go back to the question, what % human or what parts of a human (only the brain?) does something need to be before it’s human? What if it is a chimp or pig with only a few human modifications to its brain (that is not regulated, as far as I can tell)? Or a few Neanderthal genes added to a human? What if it’s a developed human brain in a petri dish? It does not seem like these risks are very far off – also think Americans in general, and Christians in particular, are not at all aware of these risks.

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We are already looking that right now: Growing Neanderthal Minibrains

Do these brains have souls? What about the ones with Neanderthal genes CRIPRed in?

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Yep, see above, that was one of the links I’d sent to @Argon. Agree, these moral quagmires are already here.

Yes there is.

I just received and started reading @AndyWalsh’s book, Faith Across the Multiverse.

The book draws heavily from science fiction. It is really phenomenal read. Like myself, @AndyWalsh is a computational biologist. Early on in our training we become intellectual omnivores and polyglots. This shines through in this book, and I really recommend it. Soon, I will be posting more on this book. This one is worth reading in entirety.

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That’s a very good point. Western countries tend to be more restrictive. About the Genetic Literacy project article you referenced: I don’t believe they are asking to remove all restrictions up to birth, simply considering whether the basis for the current 14 day restriction has kept up with more recent developments in technology. Note also that they are calling for a an extended discussion on the matters brought up (see the original/triggering article here – It’s a bit more detailed. See also the reviewer notes).

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As you know, we have no ‘soul-meter’. These ‘Neanderthal’ organoids are basically equivalent to similar organoids grown with purely human-sourced material. The “minibrain” descriptor is a bit of a rhetorical stretch. But with Neanderthal, Homo sapien sapiens, or hybrid constructs, growing full, functional brains would trigger the same ethical concerns. Whether they are chimeras would be the least of the issues, IMO.

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Yes, sorry, I should have been more clear to specify that China already moved their “restrictions” up to birth, but that others seem to be moving in a similar direction by extending the “arbitrary” date (as evidenced by the GL project article), but perhaps not to birth (yet?). But at the same time, if 14 is arbitrary, isn’t 28? or 40? Esp. if the “extreme” Christians are the only ones holding them back?

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@purposenation

(I guess, nicknames like “Purp” are to be avoided?)

I wonder how Japan is handling this? I recall once reading that Japan considers babies to be “1 year old” at Birth! Not only is this unusual in cultures around us … but it even strikes me as bad mathemathics. But it might have something to do with not wanting to use zero age for the child’s first year.

I would think it would also temp Japanese officials to consider the soul as appearing at conception … it would be odd to say a newborn is 1 year old but only “JUST” received his soul at birth!

I think China should expect some push back from other countries on such a policy (YMMV: I haven’t heard about that policy).

1 day, 14 days or 28 days are no better or worse for those who think life fully begins at conception. I don’t think it’s a “extreme” position but neither do I think it’s one that society fully agrees with (even among Christians).

Are 14 or 28 days arbitrary periods? They are, absent discussion about why they are chosen and what it means. According to the George Church et al. article, 14 days was set as being prior to development of the primitive streak. They wrote:

Moreover, the specific stipulations of 14 days and the PS were adopted not because they were recognized as having intrinsic moral significance, but rather because they preceded the appearance of more morally significant features and provided unambiguous policy criteria for directing when to terminate experiments.

And there’s the key: What features that emerge during embryogenesis do we imbue with moral significance? When do these features arise and what combinations of features (if combinations matter), are markers of such significance? Please note that there is not even universal agreement within Christian believers about whether 1 day, 14 days or 28 days are morally ‘un-crossable’. What the authors of the original article suggested was that we can now create embryos and artificially manipulated constructs that don’t pass through the primitive streak development yet can develop other features that could be considered morally significant.

What is a morally significant feature? A notable one is the ability to feel pain. That would be related to features of neural development. Earlier ideas were the last stage in development after which twinning became nonviable. There are others that various, ethicists, moral philosophers scientists and theologian have highlighted.

What George Church et al. are asking for is consideration of the ethical/moral situations posed with new technology and newer understanding of developmental processes. They are not asking carte blanche approval for all possible research. No doubt there is a case to be made for going beyond the current 14-day criterion. But at least in Western countries, that will be determined by deliberate, informed discussion with many participants.

Japan has issues with organ transplant as well, mostly because of what their society considers death. Organs are often not viable at that stage.

I recall once reading that Japan considers babies to be “1 year old” at Birth!

You start counting at ‘1’: Nothing to do with the length of pregnancy. It’s a traditional means of counting age common in many east asian cultures. I honestly don’t know if that is still common in Japan.

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Not if they succeed in doing something that would be beneficial (and safe) for use in the US. Then we will be eager to Americanize it for our use.

Thanks for the kind words about the book. The quote above in particular is a lovely description of my hoped-for audience.

As for the broader topic of the boundaries of humanity, I think it is worthwhile to take an expansive and inclusive approach towards what and whom we deem worthy of humane treatment. Biological edge cases like brain organoids and technological edge cases like limited AI systems are abstractions of humanity in one way or another. Technology makes it easy to interact with humans in a way that reduces them to abstraction - a voice on the phone, a stream of text, a service function. These blurred lines make it possible for our behavior towards actual abstractions like Siri or a self-driving car to bleed over into our interactions with the abstract representations of actual humans. So I think it’s worthwhile to maintain good habits in all scenarios.

To put it another way, I wouldn’t necessarily argue that I have a moral obligation to Alexa or to a cultured organoid; I don’t believe there is actually a “someone” in there with moral standing. But psychologically I think there is merit to behaving that way anyway.

Here’s an NPR interview with computer scientist Michael Littman along similar lines.

And since we’re talking about sci-fi exploration of humanity, I think Hannu Rajaniemi’s Jean le Flambeur trilogy – The Quantum Thief, The Fractal Prince, and The Causal Angel is an intriguing and engaging take on what the future might look like for humans as biology and robotics/AI merge.

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Hello Andy Walsh! Great to bump into another scifi aficionado.

These blurred lines make it possible for our behavior towards actual abstractions like Siri or a self-driving car to bleed over into our interactions with the abstract representations of actual humans. So I think it’s worthwhile to maintain good habits in all scenarios.

Agreed. Except for telemarketers. Well, OK… grudgingly for telemarketers too. It’s interesting how Siri and Alexa are programmed to respond to 'thank you".

One ‘boundary of humanity’ that I’ve struggled with relates to many animals. For example, I’m not vegetarian but I’m a bit hard pressed to justify why not. Dogs under my care get especially humane treatment from me but I’ll eat a cow or pig. I strongly resist mistreatment or casual use of chimps and other great apes. So, it doesn’t seem I being super-consistent with an ethic about organisms that have at least certain degrees of thought capabilities.

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Hi! Likewise!

I know what you mean. I probably should have made it clear that what I was describing was a guiding ideal which I do not always apply consistently in practice. I’m the kind of person who will carry a spider outside rather than squishing it, then sit down to eat a hamburger. I’m not entirely convinced eating animal meat is inherently inhumane (perhaps I’m just rationalizing a preferred behavior), but some factory farming practices are unsettling and I’d like to believe we can do better as a species. Alternative protein sources such as insects or plant-based meat-alikes are intriguing, although I’m curious about how they scale. And is factory farming of crickets really more humane, or is it just that we are further removed from the subjective experience of insects?