Why should we not recreate Neanderthals?

by on January 23, 2013 at 2:51 am in Education | Permalink

A few of you were puzzled over this question two days ago, or at least pretended to be.  So why not?  For a start, the cloning process probably would require a lot of trial and error, with plenty of victims of experimentation being created along the way.

Then ask yourself some basic questions about Neanderthals: could they be taught in our schools?  Who would rear the first generation?  Would human parents find this at all rewarding?  Do they have enough impulse control to move freely in human society?  How happy would they be with such a limited number of peers?  What public health issues would be involved and how would we learn about those issues in advance?  What would happen the first time a Neanderthal kills a human child?  Carries and transmits a contagious disease?  By the way, how much resistance would the Neanderthals have to modern diseases?

What kinds of “human rights” would we issue to them?  Would we end up treating them better than lab chimpanzees?  Would they be covered by ACA and have emergency room rights?

We don’t know the answers here, but I would expect to run up against a number of significant fails on these issues and others.

We do, however, know two things.  First, the one environment we know they could survive in (for a while) was a Europe teeming with wildlife.  That no longer exists.

Second, we’ve already run the “human/Neanderthal coexistence experiment” once, and it seems to have ended in the violent destruction of one of those groups.  It would be naive to expect anything much better the second time around.

Most likely the Neanderthals would end up in some version of concentration camps, with a lot of suffering and pain along the way, and I don’t see that as an outcome worth bringing about.

Addendum: If you’d like to read another point of view, there is George Church and Ed Regis, Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves.

Thor January 23, 2013 at 3:14 am

Treated somewhat differently in “District Nine” and, memorably, in the “Dey turk err jurbs” episode of South Park. (Trans. “They took our jobs.”)

Will January 23, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Isaac Asimov wrote a short story, “The Ugly Little Boy,” on a somewhat similar topic. It was expanded into a novel with Robert Silverburg: http://goo.gl/kkvcl

rapscallion January 23, 2013 at 5:11 am

Ethical arguments are pointless. It’s too cool an idea to resist. If we can do it, we’re gonna do it.

Anon. January 23, 2013 at 6:45 am

I gotta go with this answer. So many hypothetical questions…why leave them unanswered?

Surely we can find it in ourselves to treat them well…why the gloomy concentration camp forecast?

Da January 23, 2013 at 6:58 am

If a human being kills another we call it murder and put him behind bars.
If an escaped wild cat kills a human being we call it negligence and put it in a zoo or down, the owner will be punished.
If a wild cat in its natural habitat kills a human being we call it an accident and nothing happens to the cat.

If a Neanderthalian will kill a human being, what will we do to it? Will there creators get punished?

Also: Wild cats that roam human settlements will be caught or killed. What about Neanderthals, should we find them to be ‘wild’? Reservations?
What if the reservation Neanderthals devide to roam beyond the fences? Will we enforce the borders?
Voilà: There is your gloomy concentration camp forecast?

And what will we say then? “Oh my gosh! We didn’t mean for that to happen. It’s just that the idea was to cool to resist!”

Anon. January 23, 2013 at 8:40 am

If they really are “wild”, then it’s not really a concentration camp, is it? Serengeti National Park isn’t a concentration camp for gazelles.

If they are not “wild”, we afford them the same right and responsibilities we afford Homo Sapiens.

Alexei Sadeski January 23, 2013 at 10:31 am

“If a wild cat in its natural habitat kills a human being we call it an accident and nothing happens to the cat.”

This is in fact generally incorrect. If the cat can be found, and it often is, it will be killed. Ditto for wolves, bears, etc.

Jim January 23, 2013 at 6:29 pm

That depends entirely on where it happens. A few years ago down in Orange County around Missin Viejo among all those posh houses oak-clad hills and biking trails, a cougar was running around pulling people off of bikes. The cougar even half-ate one of them. People were like “Dude, isn’t this why you moved here anyway?”

As far as I know nothing ever happened to the cat.

Bender Bending Rodriguez January 24, 2013 at 12:27 am

People move to Mission Viejo to be around 40+ year old women who dig younger guys?

RPLong January 23, 2013 at 8:49 am

hahaha, good point!

Plus: it seems silly to abstain from certain scientific experimentation under the argument that some individuals might be unethical. We already know that many individuals are definitely unethical. When has that stopped us from acquiring more knowledge?

Jonathan January 23, 2013 at 9:28 am

How about when we threw away the horrendous Nazi medical “experiments” rather than trying to mine the dat for whatever useful results could come from such terrible unwarranted suffering?

RPLong January 23, 2013 at 9:30 am

Are we talking about re-creating Neanderthals, or are we talking about committing genocide against them? I’m in favor of the former and opposed to the latter.

Jeff R. January 23, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Experiments that cannot be reproduced are exactly worthless to science, whether the obstacle to reproduction is technical or ethical.

Jonathan January 24, 2013 at 9:18 am

Worth less? Yes. Worthless? No.

Jacques René Giguère January 24, 2013 at 6:34 pm

These “results” were evaluated. They were worthless. Unlike experiments by real german army medical doctors such as putting metal rods into fractures. Real scientific experiments with useful results. Not “Let’s torture someone to death and just watch it for fun.”

Peter the Shark January 23, 2013 at 5:33 am

“Then ask yourself some basic questions about Neanderthals: could they be taught in our schools? Do they have enough impulse control to move freely in human society? What public health issues would be involved and how would we learn about those issues in advance? What would happen the first time a Neanderthal kills a human child? Carries and transmits a contagious disease? ”

Are we talking about Neanderthals or some other group of humans?

Corey January 23, 2013 at 9:37 am

Knew this post would draw out MR’s “race realist” crowd, had no idea it would be this quick. Congratulations.

Osama Hoyst-Petard January 23, 2013 at 8:23 pm

You knew it because you were thinking it, too. Congratulations back at you on your high horse.

PJF January 23, 2013 at 5:39 am

Do you also take conflict between human ethnic groups at any period in the more recent past, let alone tens of thousands of years ago, as evidence that it would be naive to expect such groups to ever live in proximity peacefully?

What, Tyler? January 23, 2013 at 9:15 am

Yeah, we’ve already run the “Germany/Jewish people coexistence experiment” once. It would be really naive to think the two couldn’t coexist a second time.

See also: Native Americans/White People, Christians and most other people, Romans and early Christians. Or, for that matter, Buffalo/Humans, Tigers/Humans, Rhinoceros/Humans.

albatross January 23, 2013 at 1:10 pm

You have a point. On the other hand, I’ll note that they didn’t set up the modern state of Israel in the middle of Central or Eastern Europe, even though taking some German territory for it would have been hard to argue against. I have to guess anyone considering such a move would have made exactly this argument, and so would Jews considering whether to move there–say, how did that expansionist Germans/Jews thing work out last time we tried it?

uffy January 23, 2013 at 5:40 am

Yeah, I am not convinced by much of this.

Obviously creating a bunch of horribly disfigured or otherwise defective Neanderthals would be a bad outcome and is a persuasive argument against this endeavor. The rest of these concerns seem to be easily remedied by committing to not treat the Neanderthals badly, which I suppose I have more faith in the propensity for than some.

Perhaps I am blinded by the prospect of contact.

Raphfrk January 23, 2013 at 6:35 am

A big issue is that they could have substantially different intelligence than we do.

Humans are mostly close in intelligence. There are variances in intelligence and productivity, but when compared to the differences with other species humans are all very similar to each other.

Neanderthals are likely to all have similar intelligence to each other, but might be consistently different from humans.

Assuming it was a general measure of intelligence to illustrate the point, nominally, 95% of humans have IQ scores between 70 and 130. If neanderthals have scores of 35 – 65, then is it unreasonable that they are treated differently? They would still be an intelligent species

Most of our views that discrimination between humans is bad is due to the fact that most groups are pretty equal. The intra-group variation is almost the same as the inter-group variation. Knowing which ethnic group a person is from doesn’t tell you much about their intelligence. The discrimination is artificial and not based on any underlying real differences. It causes social problems for no actual reason, so we discourage it.

However, with a whole other species, it is quite possible that there would be actual real differences.

OTOH, maybe competing for a niche that requires intelligence would keep things pretty level. Neanderthals weren’t wiped out instantly, so even if they lost the arms race to take control of the niche, their fitness was only slightly lower than our ancestors and acted over a long period of time. This would suggest their intelligence would be similar, say in the example above, 65 – 125, so inter-species variation would only be slightly higher than intra-species variation. If the fitness disadvantage was not raw intelligence based (say they had difference preferences), then they might even have higher intelligence.

NeanderSaul January 23, 2013 at 9:24 am

Using only archaeological clues, many think they were smarter than humans, but had less culture. Cultural intelligence >> Individual intelligence.

Continuing that point, the cultural differences would make it difficult to interact (most likely they couldn’t be able to speak the same way we do, so couldn’t go to our schools, or whatever.) I think they would be studied, on a reserve, where differences in intelligence don’t matter. I think it would be fascinating, ethically questionable without being ethically bad, and a good idea.

Neanderthal American January 25, 2013 at 12:20 am

We (the male of the species) have 15 inch penises on average. We are much stronger than homo sapiens. Our life-span is 120 years or more. We want to move into your neighbourhoods. We are smarter than you think.

Da January 23, 2013 at 6:48 am

There won’t be a lot of Neanderthals, so it will be easy to give them a kingly life.

The fundamental question is: Will we tread them as beings equal to humans, basically just another ‘race’ or will they be some kind of lesser species?

Everything else will just follow.
In the first case there will then be Asians, Indians, Caucasians, Blacks and Neanderthals. There will probably be some debate about affirmative action for Neanderthals and racist TV shows like Cavemen (the word cavemen itself will probably become a new n-word), but that’s something that society knows how to do.

In the second case they will basically be slaves, labrats, work animals or whatever you would call them. Problems will arise within the human population. As there are animal protection NGOs so will there be Neanderthal protection NGOs.

But in the end the thing is: If we decide they would be equal to humans, the experiment could not be allowed since it is not allowed to take some dead humans DNA and clone him. So if the experiment is actually allowed, Neanderthals would be a slave-race from the start.

The Anti-Gnostic January 23, 2013 at 9:17 am

Yeah. It works out so well every time we try that. And we’ve got all these piles of money lying around now that we’ve cured cancer and aging and figured out how to educate everybody.

MD January 23, 2013 at 12:36 pm

Well, we will be saving a lot of money once we get these driverless cars ramped up.

dead serious January 23, 2013 at 1:34 pm

What about the GEICO commercial work just waiting for them?

(Is it possible this joke hasn’t yet been made?)

JoeDog January 23, 2013 at 6:52 am

> First, the one environment we know they could survive in (for a while) was a Europe teeming with wildlife.

Neanderthal lived in Europe for something like 200,000 years. I would describe its time there with something more substantial than “for a while.”

Claudia January 23, 2013 at 6:55 am

Interesting how your arguments tend to be from the perspective of the un(re)born Neanderthals and most of Church’s arguments were from the perspective of humans. I thought at first your views here clashed with your views on immigration, but that’s not true. With immigration, both sides, the immigrants and the natives, have a choice about how the process goes. The Neanderthals are more like the unborn children who don’t have a choice. That said, I feel like most people and members of other species, if given the chance, would choose to be born, no matter the difficulties, over not being born. All that said, I don’t think the human vote would be in favor of Neanderthal tribes populating the earth again, but I am not so sure about the lab work.

Finch January 23, 2013 at 10:27 am

Presumably if the Neanderthals could choose to be alive, they would. So it’s not that different from immigration. It’s kind of like subsidized immigration.

I agree that the experiments on cloning would likely be unethical, but if you could magically will them into being, I’m not sure that would be wrong. Questionable, for sure, but not _obviously_ wrong.

As technology advances we are going to see this kind of question occur more and more often, particularly with species “we” made extinct.

JWatts January 23, 2013 at 10:42 am

“Presumably if the Neanderthals could choose to be alive, they would.”

And couldn’t you say the same about abortions?

Finch January 23, 2013 at 10:52 am

Sure you could. I think you could say it about most people.

JWatts January 23, 2013 at 12:03 pm

My point being that it’s not really a very persuasive argument.

Cliff January 23, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I don’t think anyone’s arguing that abortion should be mandatory?

Claudia January 23, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Goodness. My point was that at some point (sometimes sooner, sometimes later) parents made a decision to bring a child into the world. Sure the control on the parental end varies some by the laws and norms where they live, but the child doesn’t make a choice. Back to the immigrant case, if the US was perceived to be a relatively awful place to live immigrants would stay at home. They exercise as much choice, just different than natives. Back to this case, in the end, the people who will take care of the new again species would have to take responsibility for them. I thought this was fairly clear in Church’s piece.

Finch January 23, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I was just making the point that if it’s a choice 99.9% of the affected people would make, you aren’t hurting them by making it for them. Similarly, you aren’t hurting someone by choosing not to abort them.

So objecting to the cloning of Neanderthals, assuming it can be done without injuring them, because they didn’t choose to be cloned is a weak objection. If they could consent to this, they would. Whether this implies that we are compelled to do it is a whole other argument. One that I haven’t made.

Tyler’s objections are mostly just strong versions of common anti-immigrant arguments.

Finch January 23, 2013 at 1:00 pm

> I don’t think anyone’s arguing that abortion should be mandatory?

Anti-natalists, who hang out over on Econlog to object to whatever Bryan Caplan says, often make points that are quite close to this. The argument goes that some lives are bad, and no harm is done to a non-existent entity by refusing to make it exist, therefore to avoid those bad lives we should never allow anyone to come into existence. Tyler is making a softer version of that argument here: he argues Neanderthal lives are likely to be bad, therefore we should prevent them from ever happening.

Ignacio January 23, 2013 at 7:10 am

Because their numbers would be low, I do not think it would be a huge societal issue. If their IQ is significantly lower than the rest of humans, they would probably be treated the same way we treat people who are mentally challenged. People with down syndrome are kept by their families or in homes. Since Neanderthals families would also be mentally challenged, they would probably live in homes with health or social workers who would try to insert them as much as possible into society.

I would not be surprised that, if the reality is what was described above, people would eventually decide to let the experiment run its course and not allow or give them the chance to reproduce.

NeanderSaul January 23, 2013 at 9:33 am

I don’t know why everyone’s expecting people to just clone these guys and like, send ‘em to preschool. What?!

They were a different species (well, sort of — we all did reproduce).

However, if they could speak, they couldn’t speak like us. Their brains were different. Not dumber, just different. Their chins were different. Their society would not be compatible with ours. To put them in a human home would be far crueller than letting them have their own home.

Kim Lee January 23, 2013 at 9:50 am

a human home would be far crueller than letting them have their own home.

Should we give them all subprime mortgages?

Minority Bolshevism January 25, 2013 at 12:24 am

Separate, but equal.

Hazel Meade January 23, 2013 at 10:29 am

There is significant evidence that Neandertals were actually more intelligent than modern humans.
At least there is little evidence that there were less intelligent, apart from the fact that they went extinct (which isn’t saying much).

yenwoda January 23, 2013 at 11:27 am

They had large brains apparently, but we don’t know what that cranial capacity was used for. Maybe they had fantastic visual memory or a powerful inventive streak, but if their brains weren’t optimized for language in the way ours are they would never be able to assimilate into let alone contribute to modern Homo sapiens society. Future modelling techniques might be able to tease out what their brain structure was like, I guess. I think Neaderthals will be cloned eventually regardless of the wisdom of doing so, but I doubt it will happen within my life or George Church’s.

Hazel Meade January 23, 2013 at 1:38 pm

I don’t know about that. There are lots of people with problems communicating who are still able to function and contribute to society.
That’s like saying the autistic kids will never be able to contribute to or function in society. Which is contradicted by the high rate of autism spectrum disorders in STEM fields. If neanderthals are smarter than humans, but lack language skills, they might be considered to have a disability, but it’s really kind of prejudiced to assume that that would render them total social incompetents with nothing of value to offer.

Jim January 23, 2013 at 6:35 pm

“There are lots of people with problems communicating who are still able to function and contribute to society.”

But only in the matirx of a society based on sophisticated communication. Theya re basically wards of a society that provides them with the benefits of abilities they don’t have. And it pays off for everyone. So:

“If neanderthals are smarter than humans, but lack language skills, they might be considered to have a disability, but it’s really kind of prejudiced to assume that that would render them total social incompetents with nothing of value to offer.”

is spot on.

They’d have a hard time with the climate most places though.

spandrell January 23, 2013 at 7:19 am

So you don’t think that more diversity is a worthwhile goal, Cowen?

You don’t agree that the one thing which is bad for society is low diversity? Really? Huh?

You don’t think government can put over legislation to ensure that Neanderthals are treated decently? Saying that Neanderthals would suffer the same fate as 50k years ago kinda negates any rationale for Civil Rights laws, right?

Do you really wanna go public with this cynicism and negativity? What are you, a Republican? Huh?

Anonymous coward January 23, 2013 at 7:21 am

Most likely the Neanderthals would end up in some version of concentration camps, with a lot of suffering and pain along the way, and I don’t see that as an outcome worth bringing about.
Why are you so racist?
Then ask yourself some basic questions about Neanderthals: could they be taught in our schools?
This question is racist.
Who would rear the first generation? Would human parents find this at all rewarding?
This question is racist.
Do they have enough impulse control to move freely in human society?
This question is racist.
Would they be covered by ACA and have emergency room rights?
This question is racist.
How happy would they be with such a limited number of peers?
This is easy: we should create a lot of them, at least 100,000 a year.
What would happen the first time a Neanderthal kills a human child?
This question is racist.
What kinds of “human rights” would we issue to them?
This question is super racist. Also, why the scare quotes? Don’t believe in the human rights anymore?

John Mansfield January 23, 2013 at 7:23 am

Tyler Cowen on Bryan Caplan raising a clone of himself:

“I am disappointed in many of the responses which you offered to Bryan on the cloning question. First, I think he is assuming that cloning can work, not postulating hundreds of unethical experiments to try to get there.

“So many of you cited reasons why you didn’t like it, but hardly anyone performed a sober assessment of the relevant trade-offs. It seems we get an extra person out of the deal, for one thing, and I am taken aback that a number of you would regard this person as a net negative.”

So where doess the line between cloning Bryan Caplan and resurrecting a Neanderthal fall? The Bryan Caplan experience has already been performed, no need for a repeat, and with Neanderthals we get a new (or renewed) species that has to count for something.

Tyler Cowen January 23, 2013 at 7:32 am

I am pretty sure we would treat a Bryan Caplan clone just fine and that such a clone could earn a good living and not pose special problems of public order, public health, etc. Let’s first promise to treat the small number of chimpanzees pretty well, and once we’ve achieved that, then consider Neanderthals.

NPW January 23, 2013 at 8:04 am

Tyler,
If I understand correctly, your objection to cloning Neanderthals is the same objection to cloning a person with a low IQ. Both you believe will not be treated well. Is this your objection? I’d protest that the presumption that Neanderthals had a lower IQ isn’t proven. We’ve done some “science” that reinforces the idea of human supremancy, but that isn’t the same as satistical data. I’m also not convinced that Neanderthals could only survive as huner/gathers, which appears to be your position. Humans were once hunter/gathers too; why presume that a Neanderthal would be unable to adapt? Would there even be an adaption phase, if they were raised in a modern world? I’m not convinced that we should clone Neanderthals, but I’m also do not find your position defensible.

The Anti-Gnostic January 23, 2013 at 9:23 am

Humans were once hunter/gathers too; why presume that a Neanderthal would be unable to adapt?

Because they didn’t. It’s amusing how even atheist technocrats become Young Earth Creationists where evolution conflicts with their gnostic ideals.

Feeding the Troll January 23, 2013 at 9:39 am

What? You do realize that evolution is highly dependent on environmental context right? For example, passenger pigeons went extinct, and it had nothing to do with their inability to adapt. Evolution happens, and would never happen the same way twice.

Try not to be snarky about things you don’t know about — you sound foolish.

NPW January 23, 2013 at 10:22 am

The previous event does not prove that they couldn’t adapt. It is possible that the evolutionary pressures that wiped out them out was failure to leave a hunter/gather society. It is also possible that they were out breed and lost physical conflicts against other hunter/gather societies.

Again, I’m not advocating cloning them. I just find the arguments against poorly thought out.

zbicyclist January 23, 2013 at 9:24 am

Amen. If we do a count of genocides / ethnic wars / religious wars in the 20th century, we don’t seem to be at a stage of human evolution where we tolerate our own diversity that well, however noble our professorial verbiage.

As 21st century humans, we’re far away from the AI (artificial intelligence) labs of Harvard and MIT (and their biological science equivalent) — much closer to Ai (Joshua 8:24-31)

Yabut January 23, 2013 at 9:48 am

We treat a large number of dogs and cats and parrots and goldfish well (and many first world humans such as BC, too). And we’ve begun to treat chimps well.

What I hear when you say what you said is that as long as someone takes an interest in treating or ensuring the good treatment of a person/animal, then it’s likely to happen (i.e. would it be ethical to create a BC clone, and drop him in the slums of Mumbai? Probably no).

What if we were to agree to treat Neanderthals well, and someone were to enforce it? It’s as easy to imagine 100 scenarios where this experiment succeeds ethically, as it is to imagine 100 where it’s a disaster.

Matt January 24, 2013 at 1:52 pm

I feel almost certain that if chimpanzee were extinct, your response to chimpanzee cloning would not be

“And first let’s treat the orangutans fairly. And gibbons.”.

The objection to cloning woolly mammoths would not be

“Let’s treat the elephants fairly first”.

(and woolly mammoths or resurrected chimpanzees probably would not earn good livings).

Perhaps I am wrong here.

highnumber January 23, 2013 at 7:30 am

In the world of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels, the Neanderthals were recreated. He had to make the choice of imbuing them with a mentality and other characteristics so the relevance of his answers is somewhat dubious but he asked many of the same questions that Mr Cowen asks here.

Randy McDonald January 23, 2013 at 7:42 am

If Neanderthals did interbreed with homo sapiens, then they don’t really count as a separate species so much as they do a highly divergent regional population. I suspect that they would be protected under current human rights laws.

Alex Tabarrok January 23, 2013 at 7:43 am

Wouldn’t the Neanderthal get jobs at Geico?

Minority Bolshevism January 25, 2013 at 12:46 am

Only if they had green cards.

floydthebarber January 23, 2013 at 7:48 am

Commenters seem to be assuming that Neanderthal IQ is lower than human. Do we know this for sure? Isn’t it equally likely (more likely?) that some other characteristic led to humans out competing them? Things like body temperature regulation, mobility, arm/throwing mechanics, buoyancy, or any number of other things. After all, their brain volume _is_ greater than humans.

rapscallion January 23, 2013 at 8:02 am

What if it were a savant? People would freak out.

veobaum January 23, 2013 at 9:38 am

Planet of the Apes

NPW January 23, 2013 at 8:23 am

Agreed. Neanderthal != Hollywood’s Caveman

Anon. January 23, 2013 at 8:43 am

If they’re smarter than us, that’s a great argument against bringing them back.

I’d prefer to be enslaved by runaway AIs than Neanderthals.

Michael January 23, 2013 at 8:53 am

I thought we for sure knew they had bigger brains than humans (not that brain size determines intelligence). I know the interbreeding question is still a point of contention, but I thought one going theory regarding some of the genetic differences between Europeans and Africans was that the former have small amounts of Neanderthal DNA in them (typically, you hear estimates like 1-4%). I think we also know they made advanced tools, cooked vegetables, etc.

Point being, I think a lot of people are imagining neanderthals to be simple and dumb cavemen utterly unlike modern people and utterly unable to live in our world. I’m not sure that’s really true. Sure they lived in a stone-aged society, but then again, isn’t that basically true for a lot of native tribes around the world today? So much of this talk sounds so much like the talk from Europeans and the “savages” they encountered in the new world.

I think the truth is, we don’t know how a neanderthal would react to the modern world. Is the intent to have them raised to live in the way they did hundreds of thousands of years ago? Or are we gonna stick an iPhone in their hand like many people do to kids today? If it’s the latter, they may take to it just fine. I don’t think it’s immediately obvious to assume they can’t handle it. We don’t really know.

Hazel Meade January 23, 2013 at 10:59 am

This.

There’s really no scientific basis for assuming that Neanderthals were dumber than humans or lacked impulse control or any of the stereotypes we think of with respect to Hollywood “cavemen”. Take a human baby from 50,000 years ago and give it to a modern parent and raise it in modern society and it will turn out … just like a human baby today. Heck, many homo sapiens lack impulse control and seem to be unable to adapt to modern society, and would arguably be better off living in a stone age culture. We even have special facilities for keeping them confined so they don’t harm the other humans.

Also, settling this queston is a great reason why we might want to clone a neanderthal. There’s no way to know how smart they actually were without having a living breathing neanderthal to give IQ tests to. They might actually be smarter than us, in which case we might want to interbreed with them some more.

WikiLeaked January 23, 2013 at 9:52 am

Amen, floyd. I’m still confused as to why this seems to be the one debate where people seem to have forgotten about wikipedia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neanderthal_behavior

They were smart. They made tools. They likely had some sort of rudimentary language. They were outcompeted most likely because they were less cultural and less agressive than humans, but maybe also for some of the reasons you said (e.g. never crossing water).

Brian Donohue January 23, 2013 at 10:27 am

Oh ah. Here’s an excerpt:

“The researchers further speculated that Neanderthal behavior would probably seem neophobic, dogmatic and xenophobic to modern humans.”

So, we bring them back, then we hector the hell out of them for their shortcomings. Sounds like a plan.

Neanderthal American January 25, 2013 at 12:32 am

We have a temper problem…

Just a fair warning…

Andrew' January 23, 2013 at 7:51 am

You’d be responsible for them in an ethical way in which noone is even responsible for people now.

Andrew' January 23, 2013 at 8:05 am

My question is why would people do it? That cancer thing getting boring? Curiosity? Are you that dim? Diversity? That’s laughable. What?

Brian Donohue January 23, 2013 at 9:48 am

Yeah, I don’t get it- the whole train of thought is vaguely creepy.

I suppose it could shed some light on anthropology maybe. Modern humans are programmed to effortlessly develop a life of the mind. Chimps, not so much- it really can’t be done. What is the mechanism and how and when did it arise?

And I’m not sure how much Jurassic Park would contribute to such questions anyway, or how critical this knowledge is beyond merely satisfying my curiosity.

Anyway, it’s got a weird, Frankensteinian vibe.

RPLong January 23, 2013 at 11:36 am

Humans are weird. Very weird. We build the Colossus of Rhodes. Why the heck did we do that? Why did we domesticate the cat, which can survive pleasantly without us and which often seems not to like us very much, anyway? Why do we make horror movies – really, why? They’re scary and they give us bad dreams, why would we want to do that to ourselves? Why do we have people orbiting the Earth in a floating space station gizmo, and why did that dude float up out of the atmosphere in a hot air balloon and then jump from it?

The answer is because it’s possible, and because we’re weird. We, weirdly, conceive of things that have never been done before and attempt to do them. Some of us do this for financial gain, but most of us just do it because we’re weird.

Who knows, maybe the neanderthals will help us answer these questions, or maybe we just need one to furrow his slightly-more-angular brow at us and say, “Why’dja do that? I was sleeping. P.S., there is no god.”

Andrew' January 23, 2013 at 11:42 am

But a lot of things people do because they can are dumb things to do.

RPLong January 23, 2013 at 12:32 pm

@ Andrew’

True, but I don’t know any neanderthals who have done dumb things, so I have no reason to conclude that a cloned neanderthal wouldn’t make us better off, if only for that reason. ;)

If human beings are a net benefit to life on Earth because they are a superior intelligent species, then cloning a potentially superior neanderthal is a net benefit to us for the same reason.

If chimpanzees are a net benefit to life on Earth despite being an inferiorly intelligent species, then cloningn a potentially inferior neanderthal is a net benefit to us for the same reason.

It’s only if neanderthals are just like us, and that we are basically bad for life on Earth, that re-creating them becomes a bad idea.

anonymous... January 24, 2013 at 1:53 am

Cats probably domesticated themselves. When agriculture was invented, crop fields and granaries attracted vermin, which in turn attracted cats. Proximity to humans created some selection pressure to be more sociable (though much less so than dogs, which have been with us an order of magnitude longer).

Hazel Meade January 23, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Your comment displays the assumption that Neanderthals are somehow “in between” chimps and humans in terns of evolutionary, and cognitive development. But that’s false. Neanderthals are a different branch of human evolution, much closer cousins than chimps, and possibly equal to humans in terms of intelligence but with different linguistic abilities and social behavior patterns.

Brian Donohue January 23, 2013 at 2:26 pm

No, my comment recognizes that something happened between chimps and humans. I don’t really care about Neandertals, except inasmuch as they may or may not shed light on this issue.

We don’t know when the lights really went on for modern humans- may have been as recently as 60,000 years ago.

And I understand this property, this life of mind, like all evolutionary developments, is emergent. So, you can’t really put your finger on the generation where it happened. But you look at chimps and humans, and it’s obvious that at some point, emergent intelligence produced a qualitative difference.

Since we’re not sure when this happened for modern humans, I don’t see how we can speak with any confidence of the mental toolkit of Neandertals, but it is not unreasonable to suppose their history falls somewhere on this continuum and may produce some insights on this question.

All very speculative, and none of this gainsays the weirdness or silliness of the whole enterprise, IMO.

Hazel Meade January 23, 2013 at 3:50 pm

So if neaderthals turn out to develop as effortlessly a life of the mind as modern humans, where are we then? Isn’t that something we would want to know?

Wouldn’t it be rather awesome to discover another human species, as smart and as fully conscious as ourselves, and yet in someways profoundly different?

How enriching would that be for the whole of humanity to rediscover ourselves and our human family tree in that way. To be able to converse across the millenia with these distant (and yet close in evolutionary terms) cousins? I think it might turn out to be a profoundly enriching experience for all of us, not just for science, but for the arts and humanities and even religion. Like meeting people from a strange exotic culture, so similar to us and yet strange. Like the British explorers discovering Polynesia.

Brian Donohue January 23, 2013 at 4:18 pm

I don’t share your optimism. I think the idea that these guys are gonna have some kind of profoundly different intelligence to be unlikely in the extreme. I’m bemused at the romantic ideas bandied about here around the idea that these guys were some kind of geniuses. They lived in simple families (5-10 people), so they prolly didn’t need to develop the kind of cheater-detection systems that you need to navigate a world of non-kin, and, as I understand it, this might be a decisive ingredient in the final spurts to modern human intelligence.

Much more likely that we produce more dumb people.

The human genome, as far as I can tell, contains lots of diversity already. We have hardly plumbed the depths of what we might learn from this, and yet this diversity is as often a source of division among us as it is a well to draw upon.

Like I said, it might fill in some of the story of human history, but more likely it turns out to look like a gruesome and horrible mistake.

Hazel Meade January 24, 2013 at 9:15 am

See, this just sounds like speciesist prejudice to me.

Humans are the pinaccle of evolution and no other species could possibly be smarter than us or have anything to offer us intellectually. Not even another hominid species that is closer to ourselves than any other species ever. Attempting to find out is likely to be a disaster because they’re going to be so inferior to ourselves that they’ll be unable to cope with our society.

Brian Donohue January 24, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Speciesist? Me? But some of my best friends are Neandertals, so to speak.

Dude, admit it. This is all morbid curiosity. I get it. I share it. It ain’t enough. The speciesists are almost surely right on this one.

NeanderSaul January 23, 2013 at 9:53 am

Totally. Let’s stop all scientific inquiry until we cure cancer.

Andrew' January 23, 2013 at 11:13 am

Close. Do whatever you want, but if you are using my money do useful stuff rather than non-useful stuff.

Andrew' January 23, 2013 at 11:15 am

Again, built into the pursuit of science is tradeoffs- for example that which is left unpursued. What information do we need from creation of Neanderthals?

We literally don’t do stuff in a lab because it is cruel to animals, even things that might be ideal, we’ll use a different animal. We already do this and it is obvious.

NeanderSaul January 23, 2013 at 11:39 am

I think if people knew what was useful before they did it, we wouldn’t really need science. Scientific discovery is not linear. It’s experimental and highly, highly, convoluted. How much of chemistry came from alchemy? Would you have told Salk to do something useful and not take up so many resources? You should have told Einstein to stop daydreaming about lightbeams.

What would we learn from Neanderthals? The possibilities are endless: sociologists would have a field day examining their culture and interactions in contrast to ours. Economists (and especially behavioral economists) could learn what behavior comes from human nature versus what comes from market interactions. Physiologists could observe different ways of designing bipedal bodies, with immense details. Immunologists, neurologists, dentists, whatever — every manner of doctor could probably think of 2 or 3 (ethical, non-cruel) experiments off the top of their head to study them and improve the human (and near-human?) condition.

Andrew' January 23, 2013 at 11:43 am

“I think if people knew what was useful before they did it, we wouldn’t really need science. ”

Strange, because determining what SHOULD be pursued is possibly what all formal institutions of science are created to do.

Andrew' January 23, 2013 at 11:46 am

This is where it gets weird. You think doctors would rather have neanderthals to study to learn about humans rather than just some run-of-the-mill humans?

I think a lot of scientists just like jacking off.

Andrew' January 23, 2013 at 12:11 pm

You would have told Einstein to clone neanderthals?!?

;)

Neanderthal American January 25, 2013 at 12:45 am

If the situation was reversed, we would not clone you.

Hedonic Treader January 23, 2013 at 7:55 am

Even if we were to consider the idea ethically acceptable, it is clearly not the most important project?

Why create Neanderthals when we could try to create humans that suffer much less than current humans, or enjoy their lives much more? If you consider such eugenics experiments immoral, you would surely also consider breeding Neanderthals immoral?

Simon January 23, 2013 at 7:59 am

How about the cavemen from the GEICO caveman ads? Can we make them?

Bill Woolsey January 23, 2013 at 8:22 am

I think Neanderthals are much closer to humans than Tyler seems to beleive.

Ethics requires that they be treated just like homo sapiens.

Trying to get them to develop their own Neanderthal “culture” is absurd.

If human cloning is one day practiced, then trying Neanderthal cloning would be fine.

The parents of the Neanderthal babies and children would need to raise them like other humans.

If many lived at one time, and they wanted to associate with one another, they certainly could.

If they intermarried with other willing modern humans or else married within their race, then they would have a right to do so and have children. Persumably they would largely raise their children like other modern humans.

I think if they were all living miserable lives, then having more would be wrong. I wouldn’t favor outlawing interbreeding with humans, though one might argue that no one should do that (unless the hybrids turned out OK.) But if the Neanderthals wanted marry among themselves and have children, even if they were all miserable, it would be wrong to stop them.

I wouldn’t assume that the only way they could earn a living is through hunting and gathering.

Neanderthals are nothing like Chimpanzees.

Of course, Tyler’s concerns would raise their head if it were instead homo erectus that was being cloned. My understanding is that they had much smaller brains on average than modern humans or Neanderthals. There were trully somewhere between great apes and modern humans–as best we can tell. They did make stone tools and use fire.

And then, what of even more primative extinct primates? Some of them were great apes that just walked on two legs.

To me, cloning ancient great apes (which were rather small,) perhaps with other great apes as surrgate mothers, would be OK, though it is hard to imagine trying to reintroduce them into the wild. I doubt that we could expect them to be like little turtles and start exhibiting typical proto-human behavior due to instinct. I think they should be treated like pets.

No, the problem isn’t Neanderthals, but rather substantially more primitive proto-humans.

ladderff January 23, 2013 at 8:45 am

Best. Post. Ever.
Tyler really stepped in the shit today!

RPLong January 23, 2013 at 8:51 am

Funny that the first thought that popped into my head was, “What if they turn out to be smarter than us?”

Urso January 23, 2013 at 10:14 am

Neanderthals as Cylons.

Craig January 24, 2013 at 10:46 am

They very possibly were. Size isn’t everything, but cranial capacity tracks intelligence pretty well in us hominids. Brains are fragile and burn a lot of calories; you don’t carry a big brain around unless it’s doing _something_ for you. There is no good reason to believe that we out-thought the Neanderthals. If we were a bit less smart but a bit more aggressive, that might have been a better overall package.

Plus our larger social groups and propensities to travel, trade, and make war on each other all helped disseminate the fruits of our tiny little minds. Bring them back today, into a modern world a bit less red in tooth and claw, and who knows? They might be debating what to do with us, the poor slow dears, in a century or two.

In any event, as a human of Neanderthal heritage, I think we should all agree that homo neanderthalensis, if and when he ever reappears on the Earth, must fall within the definition of “human being,” deserving of all the rights, protections, and privileges of any other human being. And let’s hope they extend us the same courtesy!

If Neanderthals

Edward Burke January 23, 2013 at 9:06 am

With time to spare until the first new Neanderthal arrives: eager geneticists and their enthusiastic cheerleaders might read two masterful science satires by Mikhail Bulgakov, Heart of a Dog and The Fatal Eggs, to gauge possible authentic outcomes. A more likely Bulgakovian outcome in the present circumstance: the Neanderthal cloning comes off just fine, but the computers assisting in all of the festivities take a Turing detour and decide to wipe out Homo sapiens to give H. neanderthalis a fighting chance. Always be careful what you wish for.

IVV January 23, 2013 at 9:06 am

What I think would be most fascinating is how new Neanderthals affect the nature vs. nurture debate. Since we’d have new life without an established cuture for them, figuring out how to raise them would make for an interesting challenge.

Of course, if the Homo sapiens killer app was social complexity and communication skill, we might not learn anything there, anyway.

In any case, I’d have no problem treating them ethically as humans. Give them citizenship, voting rights, all that.

JWatts January 23, 2013 at 10:51 am

“Of course, if the Homo sapiens killer app was social complexity and communication skill, we might not learn anything there, anyway.”

Well, no. Just gathering evidence that homo sapiens killer app was social complexity and communication skill would be a significant discovery.

Mark Betnel January 23, 2013 at 9:08 am

Not her best work, but _The Fifth Child_ and _Ben, in the World_ by Doris Lessing explore the birth of a “throwback” child who seems to be more Neanderthal than modern human, how difficult he is to raise, and how hard a time he has out on his own.

Edward Burke January 23, 2013 at 9:30 am

Has physical anthropology even told us whether Homo neanderthalis was possessed of the ability to speak? (possessed, that is, of the necessary physical apparatus apart from the brain–or would we be obliged to offer surgically-enhanced larynxes to each and every Neanderthal foundling?) We might want to know well before we assign political and legal rights, confer economic and social status, or poll them for opinions on the latest internet marketing trends.

IVV January 23, 2013 at 9:38 am

I’d imagine that the faculties for language processing are more important than a vocalizing larynx. If they can’t speak, but they could, say, sign, type or write, then they would have a disability, but nothing insurmountable. If they can’t develop a few-thousand word vocabulary, though, then there’s a major challenge for them.

R.Mutt January 23, 2013 at 10:00 am

But surely the mental capacity to process language and the physical capacity to speak did not evolve independently… If they didn’t have the vocalizing larynxes to make speech sounds, then I think we can be pretty sure their brains wouldn’t be able to handle other types of signs either, even if these brains are pretty big.

Hazel Meade January 23, 2013 at 1:56 pm

It’s pretty well accepted that Neanderthals had language. It’s thought that their linguistic ability wasn’t as highly developed as homo sapiens though. That’s based on bone/muscle structure, placement of shape of the larynx etc.

Dangerman January 23, 2013 at 9:36 am
Anon January 23, 2013 at 9:40 am

There, Tyler, explaining your thinking isn’t so hard, is it? It’s called supporting your argument. You should do it more often.

Andrew' January 23, 2013 at 9:43 am

IF we created a Neanderthal and IF he could speak, his first words would be “show me to the flying cars!”

altr39ygolioioipy January 23, 2013 at 9:48 am

Why should we not recreate Neanderthals?

Did you ever see the movie “Planet of the Apes”?

veobaum January 23, 2013 at 10:05 am

I am mostly opposed to cloning Neanderthals for lots of reasons.

Several comments defending the idea are unconvincing.

1) “There will only be a few…easy to treat them well”. So we’ve already decided that they are not allowed to breed? Of all rights and joys of animal existence we’ve already killed one of the greatest.

Assume that no breeding is enforceable and we get over the ethical tragedy of it. How long will be committed to enforcing it? Inevitably, there would be a time when we changed our minds. The good outcome here is that the handful die naturally and we never clone any again.

And what if “nature finds a way…” and it’s not enforceable.

2) “We will pre-commit to treat them very, very well”. But that assumes that we have actually had to resolve many of Tyler’s ethical issues. In particular, we don’t really know what treating them ‘well’ means. And would there really be no politics involved in our social contract with them? Consider the controversy over the lab science of hyper-deadly micro-organsims.

Sure I think we could come up with a really good-sounding pre-commitment contract and overcome these issues. But I can’t believe the chances of not ultimately causing tragedy for them are zero. Even assuming we can keep our commitment.

And I have no expectation that we could keep our commitment. Funding for Neanderthal Social Security will be cut. Minority zealot scientists break the contract. Animal Rights groups kidnap them, but have inadequate facilities for caring for them. We find that they can be weaponized. Their tears cure cancer. We cannot commit indefinitely.

Look, choosing to have our own children is scary enough, and I sympathize with would-be parents who decide not to. But at least we have a good idea of what their expected net life experience will be and what their impact will be on everyone else. We have a long tradition from family to tribe to government of managing the worst parts of existence–not perfect but enough to hope for no starvation, basic mental health, and a low probability of extermination. And, naturalistic fallacy be damned, we have a fair reason to not need ethical justification for producing offspring–it’s what we do, what we’ve always done, and it happens accidentally.

Am I speciesist? I guess so. The better I understand something’s suffering the more empathy I have. And I completely assume that the expected lower bound of suffering for neanderthals born in this alien environment would be higher than that of any extant mammal.

polly January 23, 2013 at 10:07 am

Can’t believe no-one has mentioned this book yet.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Inheritors_(William_Golding)

rapscallion January 23, 2013 at 10:13 am
veobaum January 23, 2013 at 10:15 am

Question for Tyler:

Given your stance on neanderthals (with which I am comfortable), what do you say about Robots/AI and emotional experience? Should they be created?

I start from the viewpoint that our ‘experience’ is somewhat synthetic and reducible, floating on synapses and chemicals. But we nonetheless do ‘experience’ our experience. Pain is pain regardless of the mechanism of experience. What if the only way to make true human-like AI is to really replicate the experiential aspect of awareness and behavior and behavior? What if we some day want to make living, feeling robot companions and the technology is there, but we know that in the crudest of terms, they will suffer (as well as have happiness)? We can watch their suffering meter, and no that it isn’t ‘pleasant’. Do you have a problem with that?

I don’t care as much, but analytically I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Kuze January 23, 2013 at 10:17 am

You have to imagine the adult film industry would want to get involved at some point.

Jim January 23, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Not much basis for that in the archeological record. Soft tissues don’t preserve well.

Urso January 23, 2013 at 10:19 am

Put aside the downsides for a minute — can someone please explain to me what is the potential *upside* of this experiment? Like, if everything works out perfectly, what’s the societal benefit? “Because we can” is a less than wholly satisfactory answer.

veobaum January 23, 2013 at 10:22 am

:)

Reality TV!
“Versus Chuck Norris!!” Pay-per-view only.

Hazel Meade January 23, 2013 at 10:45 am

Understanding human origins. Genetic diversity. Medicine.

Maybe Neandertals were resistent to some diseases humans are suceptible to. Maybe they were immune to cancer. Maybe they had longer lifespans.

Urso January 23, 2013 at 11:03 am

“Maybe Neandertals were resistent to some diseases humans are suceptible to. Maybe they were immune to cancer. Maybe they had longer lifespans.”

1) Assuming one of the above is true, how does that help us?
2) Assuming one of the above is true, and we are somehow able to benefit from it, why do we have to clone them to get that benefit?

RPLong January 23, 2013 at 11:19 am

“Because we can” is a less than wholly satisfactory answer.

What is the benefit of summitting Everest, flying to the moon, populating the surface of Mars with R/C cars, running a 3:43 mile, cloning a sheep, documenting the number of species of aphids in the Amazon, or writing a book about punctuation?

Virtually everything we do as a species is pointless on some level. Add it all up, and it sums to life.

Besides, you never know when some cloned Neanderthal won’t save your life some day. :P

Brian Donohue January 23, 2013 at 11:55 am

Not getting your point. Alexander Portnoy fucked a liver from his refrigerator. What of it?

Of course, this datum might be put forth as evidence that we’re dumber than Neandertals.

RPLong January 23, 2013 at 12:56 pm

So, in your opinion, is cloning a neanderthal equivalent to engaging in a sex act with a disembodied organ?

Brian Donohue January 23, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I meant to respond to your comment above, which AFAICT, was a celebration of “weird for weird’s sake”, so I thought I’d throw out a “weird can be pathetically disturbing” example.

As to you question, I think I actually find the impulse to clone a Neandertal weirder than young Portnoy’s lovemaking.

Urso January 23, 2013 at 12:43 pm

None of those endeavors involve anything even approaching the same ethical implications as recreating an extinct humanoid species.

I must say I’m surprised at how lightly so many people seem to be taking this; the prevailing wisdom seems to be something like “sure let’s try it out, why not?” This is not, from what I understand, reflective of the attitude of the general public towards Church’s remarks.

RPLong January 23, 2013 at 12:58 pm

But, Urso, I thought you were asking us to put aside the potential downsides for a minute?

Turkey Vulture January 23, 2013 at 10:23 am

An underlying premise seems to be that non existence is better than potential suffering, which also seems to argue against continued human reproduction.

Ricardo January 23, 2013 at 5:49 pm

This is related to vegetarianism. If we all become vegetarians, the number of cows 100 years from now will be much lower than if we continue to eat them. That’s a big decline in aggregate cow utility relative to the status quo–UNLESS you think that the negative utility from being slaughtered dominates the positive utility from existing.

Hazel Meade January 23, 2013 at 10:26 am

Problem is we don’t actually know how intelligent Neandertals actually were. It’s possible they were just as intelligent as Cro Magnon (aka modern humans), maybe more. For instance, they appear to have had better stone tools, and definitely had a larger cranial capacity.
http://news.softpedia.com/news/Neanderthals-were-too-smart-to-survive-15264.shtml

So why are we assuming that they would somehow have to be confined to labs, or end up in concentration camps?
Aren’t we just assuming they are less competent than homo spaiens out of some “speciesist” prejudice?

Urso January 23, 2013 at 10:38 am

Competence in crafting stone tools does not translate to competence in navigating 21st century Western society.

Hazel Meade January 23, 2013 at 10:42 am

Homo Sapiens are the same species (genetically) that was making stone tools 50,000 years ago.
Yet some how homo sapien babies are able to survive in 21st century Western society.

Urso January 23, 2013 at 11:00 am

You assume that, because we can thrive in both situations, so can Neanderthals? Maybe, but also maybe not.

Hazel Meade January 23, 2013 at 11:18 am

The point is we don’t have a scientific basis for believing they couldn’t. The assumption they couldn’t seems to come from prejudices based on stupid Hollywood caveman stereotypes. Not actual evidence.

Urso January 23, 2013 at 11:51 am

So your best argument is “you can’t actually prove it’s going to be a disaster, so let’s try it out just in case it isn’t.”

Hazel Meade January 23, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Perhaps we shouldn’t have freed the slaves, because there’s was no way for us to know if the negros could function as freemen in Western society. How do we know this won’t turn out to be a distster?

Urso January 23, 2013 at 3:45 pm

What a genuinely terrible analogy. Look, if all you’ve got is “dudes, it might be cool!” then go ahead and say so. “It might be cool” is a good enough reason for doing lots of things; I don’t think it’s a good enough reason to play God.

albatross January 23, 2013 at 1:27 pm

I don’t suppose we really have any way to know that homo sapiens from 50,000 years ago would function at all well in the modern world, either. You’d have to guess they’d be at least as distant from modern humans as any two racial groups are from one another.

Hazel Meade January 23, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Most anthropologiusts assert that homo sapiens haven’t really evolved genetically in the last 50,000 years.

albatross January 24, 2013 at 10:47 am

It’s not my field, so maybe I’m missing something, but I just don’t see how evidence available to anthropologists and archaeologists could give us much information about this. In our current world, incredibly small differences in average intelligence relative to the differences between humans and our nearest living relatives can cause big social problems. How could we tell if the humans of 50,000 years ago would fall at, say, the 5th percentile, or the 95th, of the modern human intelligence distribution, given modern medicine, sanitation, education, and nutrition?

Turkey Vulture January 23, 2013 at 10:36 am

If they are of similar intelligence but less aggressive than humans, Neanderthals may be better in modern human society than humans.

Willitts January 23, 2013 at 10:47 am

Let’s create humans first.

Willitts January 23, 2013 at 10:54 am

This is one case where Hollywood and Science Fiction are way ahead of actual scientists. Creating new species never turns out well in books or movies. A plot can be contrived, but the fact they are all contrived for the worse concerns me.

Hazel Meade January 23, 2013 at 11:20 am

This has to be the dumbest comment in the thread.
“This sort of thing never turns out well in the movies. Therefore the scientists must be missing something!”

Willitts January 23, 2013 at 11:51 am

Which shows the shallowness of your thinking.

Science fiction and Hollywood writers have, for the sake of entertainment or for posing ethical questions, created scenarios for us to consider.

Gattaca asked us to consider genetic engineering. I, Robot and Terminator asked us to consider Artificial Intelligence, District 9 asked us to consider alien refugees. Their scenarios, for the sake of thrill or contemplation, presented us with a dystopian view.

Now let’s return to reality and look at the preceding comments. The thread concerns the recreation of an extinct species of hominid. People are asking and answering questions about morality, ethics, politics, public policy, civil rights, economics, public finance, etc. They are posing these dystopian questions in opposition to the claim that this would enhance genetic diversity or provide some insights into cognitive and social development.

So I ask you to conduct a cost-benefit analysis in that light. What are all the possible goods that can come from this? What are all the possible bass that can come from this? The question Tyler asked was why should we not do this, and people responded. Using whatever objective function you like, explain to me why we should do this?

Willitts January 23, 2013 at 11:53 am

Bad, not bass.

Bass would be good.

Turkey Vulture January 23, 2013 at 12:04 pm

So that Neanderthals can enjoy the simple pleasure of catching and eating bass.

MD January 23, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Or so that Neanderthals can enjoy the simple pleasure of dubstep.

Willitts January 23, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Yes, fishing, music and dancing will be of paramount importance in the recreation of a species.

Hazel Meade January 23, 2013 at 3:40 pm

They present us with a dystopian view because dystopians outcomes create more drama than ones where everything turns out just fine. Not because movie producers have some sort of unique insight into the human condition and are better able to forsee potential problems than scientists who actually have direct knowledge of the actual facts.

Maybe we should do our cost-benefit analysis based on actual science, not what comes out of the fevered imagination of a screenwriter.

Willitts January 23, 2013 at 3:59 pm

As all of the ‘fevered’ responses above demonstrate, the problems are not in the realm of superstitious hysteria, but are rather plausible and foreseeable.

Thus far, the proferred benefits of such research seem overwhelmed by the ethical dilemmas. And perhaps it is the overexuburent scientists whose fame and fortune are at stake are the last ones we should ne consulting on the ethics of their proposed research.

Let’s ask Josef Mengele about the value of his research to humanity.

I suppose you think Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and George Orwell had ‘fevered’ fears about the future?

Dolt!

Urso January 23, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Of course, one of the truly unique facets of the human condition is that we are able to understand the world through art (or at least, to try to). Did Neanderthals have the capacity for art? A quick google search says, “maybe.”

Edward Burke January 23, 2013 at 1:10 pm

‘Tis curious that the Neanderthals died out roughly contemporaneously to the production of the art adorning the Chauvet Caves. I see the instant wisdom of cloning Neanderthals so that one day, one or two thousand generations of patient Homo sapiens-to- Homo neanderthalensis instruction later, Neanderthals might FINALLY begin to master line and perspective. Even progress takes time. We might want to begin preparing ourselves for this task over the next millennium or two.

Bill January 23, 2013 at 11:00 am

You are missing the obvious question.

Are Neanderthals “persons” within the meaning of our Constitution.

Which brings up a different question:

Do they have the Right to Bear Arms as protected in the Second Amendment?

Which Raises Tyler’s Initial Question:

“What would happen the first time a Neanderthal kills a human child? ”

The NRA (the Neanderthal Rights Association) would object to limiting their right to bear arms.

Andrew' January 23, 2013 at 11:36 am

Well, not THAT one.

I see the problem now, Bill.

Turkey Vulture January 23, 2013 at 11:54 am

If they hate being alive, they can always kill themselves, or we can provide for assisted suicide. Just like with humans. But saying that, ethically, you’re worried about them suffering, therefore they shouldn’t exist, just seems odd.

Turkey Vulture January 23, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Also, as others have said, the “human/neanderthal coexistence experiment” proves way too much. Human history is full of genocide of slightly-genetically-and-culturally-distinguishable groups. Recent human history.

Turkey Vulture January 23, 2013 at 12:01 pm

In short, I think that Tyler has convinced me we should clone Neanderthals, whereas I’d never considered the possibility before Monday.

bob January 23, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Aren’t Spaniards like 10% Neanderthal anyway? What’s the big deal, they’ll be fine.

JVM January 23, 2013 at 12:31 pm

I don’t really get why we’re pretending like this is some completely new issue. My aunt and uncle are raising a child with Down’s syndrome. He is genetically different from humans in ways that make it impossible for him to have a normal life, including a much lower IQ and serious health issues. It’s tough for all of them in terms of resources, etc., but our society has a lot of mechanisms for working with children who have developmental issues. There’s no need to put him in a concentration camp or deny him basic human rights. I don’t really see how raising neanderthals would be any worse as long as they were put with a loving family and treated with dignity and respect.

Anthony January 23, 2013 at 1:22 pm

1) Your cousin is genetically related to your aunt and uncle. They are not taking care of a child who needs that kind of attention but isn’t even the same species as them. There is also political will to put resources toward helping the disabled because they are our disabled. These will not be our disabled.
2) Your cousin is a byproduct of human reproduction. We currently can’t have human reproduction without disability. But few people would advocate for a process that is not necessary for human reproduction and creates only disabled children. That we can structure society in ways that are loving and respectful for disabled people is not an argument for making more disabled people.

Hazel Meade January 23, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Humans can and have reproduced with Neanderthals.
It’s not clear that a Neanderthal would be disabled in any meaningful way. It’s possible that the average neanderthal may be no more disabled than a human with asperger’s syndrome.
They only way to find out is to clone one.

Brian Donohue January 23, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Yeah, I highly doubt it.

Talk about yer “gettin’ some strange” though eh?

Which made me imagine a hybrid kid growin’ up among Neanderthals, being comparatively small and gracile, gettin’ picked on from an early age, livin’ by his wits and ultimately running rings around the knuckleheads.

Basically, we represent the triumph of the nerds.

Brian Donohue January 23, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Here’s a thought: maybe humans harvested the best 4% of Neandertal DNA already. Mother Nature can be crafty like that.

Willitts January 24, 2013 at 1:50 am

Evolution certainly suggests such a viewpoint, but it doesn’t guarantee such a thing.

Many suboptimal mutations are capable of surviving and reproducing over countless generations. It is only necessary that a mutation not inhibit survival and reproduction for the law of large numbers to keep it in the gene pool. Survival in the gene pool is not sufficient for superiority over alternative mutations.

As Hazel pointed out, evolution is also optimal relative to environmental factors which might be fleeting. Mutations that contributed to survival and reproduction 10,000 years ago might inhibit survival and reproduction in the current or future environment.

There is good reason to believe that our modern social and economic structure is keeping alive genetic traits that would have otherwise died out. The environment is not culling the herd. We are breeding a generation of man-animals that have lost their instinct for survival.

Willitts January 23, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Did your aunt and uncle make a conscious choice to conceive a Downs Syndrome child? Apparently not.

Humans raise or adopt pets that must be cared for in our modern society. That choice has costs. It also has ethical, economic, social, and public policy issues such as spaying, neutering, vaccinating, declawing, animal abuse, pooper scoopers, excessive barking, licensing, dog fighting, dog bites, leash laws, ad infinitum.

The question posed is whether we subject ourselves voluntarily to such costs and issues and whether the benefits outweigh the costs. The wide eyed interest of a group of scientists is not sufficient justification for it. If there are benefits, those need to be clearly defined and estimated. To Church’s credit, he is saying that this may be POSSIBLE in the future and we should be thinking about it NOW. I will give him the benefit of the doubt and presume he meant ethical considerations as well as intermediate research. If the debate over stem cell research is any indication, we can foresee that certain people will oppose it on absolute moral grounds, and others will support it because the former people oppose it. And scientists who aim to conduct this research will exaggerate the benefits in their own interest. And of all admissible projects, where does this fit in our priorities?

Ricardo January 23, 2013 at 5:55 pm

But just for completeness, there are people who deliberately choose to raise children who have Down Syndrome.

Willitts January 24, 2013 at 1:44 am

So true, and God bless them, but no one CHOOSES to have a Down Syndrome child. There’s no reason to desire it. We would, if we could, eradicate the syndrome.

Hazel suggested that Neanderthal’s might not be considered disabled in any meaningful way. I agree that may be the case, but that is not dispositive of the objections raised above. There are many issues that the choice would raise, and these are issues that can be avoided completely with a choice not to do so.

I’m not casting my lot on the side of “Don’t do this.” I’m merely saying that the case for doing so, as it stands, is rather weak compared to a myriad of moral, ethical, social, and economics problems that are entirely foreseeable. Dr. Church did not provide any overwhelming reasons to believe this would be a worthwhile endeavor beyond our mildest worries much less our feverish imaginations of doom.

sk January 23, 2013 at 12:36 pm

“Most likely the Neanderthals would end up in some version of concentration camps, with a lot of suffering and pain along the way, and I don’t see that as an outcome worth bringing about.”

I don’t think you ever applied this reasoning to raising animals for meat consumption?

GiT January 23, 2013 at 12:48 pm

If neanderthals can be brought up to use language in a sophisticated manner, then I’d think the ability to assimilate human culture would swamp any other differences rather quickly. If they can’t then they’re in more of a great ape spot. I guess the imaginary to think of here is human-alien relations in the vein of Star Wars, Star Trek, those sorts of things. In those fictions, given the ability to communicate, commerce and cohabitation isn’t such an issue.

My naive picture of a neanderthal clone is much more in the vein of a twi’lek/romulan/whatever raised by humans than a chimp raised by them. So what do we actually know about Neanderthals on that score? Is there primitiveness, like our same primitiveness at the time, simply a function of culturally impoverished upbringing, or do they lack the capacities to take up modern education/entwicklung? Is the problem more like that of cloning a homo sapien from 200-300 thousand years ago and raising it, or like that of raising a chimp?

KevinH January 23, 2013 at 1:04 pm

I agree with pretty much every point you make here. I guess I think what set people off was the ‘outrageous and indefensible set of sentiments’ line. While the end result would probably be an unfortunate and immoral outcome, it doesn’t mean that there are no ways to minimize that likelihood of such an outcome, or that there are no pros to the idea. I still think the cons outweigh the pros, but I’d be happy to have someone defend the idea to me vigorously.

Pshrnk January 23, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Can we get a comment from Parfit?

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