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.

Jim January 23, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Because we drove them to extinction for a reason. We are superior.

mulp January 23, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Who do you think “we” are?

If I as neanderthal spread my seed widely among the immigrants and boosted the survival of my offspring so they took over Europe in harsh times, and they formed the basis of the global trade and economy by 1500-1600, who is superior?

albatross January 23, 2013 at 2:07 pm

This whole discussion falls between three different parts of daily life:

a. Immigration and diversity, the decision to allow people very different from us (in culture, history, wealth, appearance, intelligence, temperament, etc) to come join our society. This can go well or badly for either or both groups. We don’t know the nature or direction of the differences, but Neanderthals would presumably be much further from modern humans than, say, Finns and Australian Aboriginees. Since there are plenty of tensions between visibly and culturally different ethnic groups with pretty small differences (certainly tiny compared to human/chimp differences!), it’s probably sensible to expect even more tensions between humans and Neanderthals.

b. Treatment of animals, especially relatively intelligent animals like chimps, gorillas, and dolphins. I think relatively intelligent animals get treated better than not very intelligent ones (we treat chimps better than we do worms or lab mice), but not nearly as well as minimal standards for treatment of humans.

c. Treatment of mentally handicapped humans at various levels of severity. For people with mild disabilities, we often try to integrate them into society as much as possible, perhaps with some added level of supervision to keep them from being taken advantage of. For people with bigger mental disabilities, we do more–often their parents or the state takes care of them for their whole lives.

One thing to note is that we’ve gotten enormously more humane on all these fronts over time, though that kind of improvement isn’t irreversible. It’s interesting to ask where Neanderthals or some other created not-quite-human beings would fall in this spectrum, assuming they were notably less intelligent and/or capable of functioning in human society than humans. At a guess, if they were relatively close to human abilities, just a little slower and funny-looking, we’d probably treat them like a racial group of humans, complete with formal equality and informal discrimination. The further away from human norms they were, the harder this would be to fit, and the more likely they’d fall more into the mentally disabled camp, perhaps getting sheltered workshops and group homes or something similar. I find it hard to imagine something that close to humans would fall into the intelligent animal category in practice, though if that happened, it would be kind of ugly. (Daddy, take me to the zoo, I want to see the Neanderthals!)

Where I think Tyler is heading with this discussion is toward future genetic modification of people that we’re not unlikely to see. My guess is that humans have been cloned or will be in the near future–it’s been done commercially for animals, and there are enough unethical people in the world with the capability that it’s almost inevitable to happen. Sooner or later it will be relatively common. And over time, we can expect various levels of genetic modification of people. Again, the beginnings of that are in widespread use now (IVF with embryo genetic screening).

You can imagine someone wanting to make a race of low-IQ, low-aggression humans as slaves, though that’s so obviously evil it would be hard for anyone to do it on a wide scale and not get stopped by the rest of the world–there aren’t many mad-scientist-like schemes you could try that would more obviously label you as the bad guys. Far more likely, to my mind, are attempts to engineer your children or members of your society either in positive ways (make them smarter, taller, healthier, better looking, more athletic), or in ways that make them fit your society better but may be creepy to outsiders (make them gay, deaf, somewhere on the autistic spectrum, etc.)

One interesting (to me anyway) question: What’s the difference between:

a. Making humans who look just like modern humans, but with notably different mental traits (say, a particular personality type, high spacial intelligence, low verbal intelligence, and somewhat autistic and obsessive).

b. Doing the same thing, but making them look notably different (say, making all such engineered people have green hair and be seven feet tall or something).

My intuition is that the concentration camp and extermination scenarios are way more likely for the (b) people than the (a) people. To minimize the risk of that scenario, raise the (a) modified humans in American homes speaking standard English, going to mainstream churches, etc., so as much as possible, they hit the “us” button instead of the “them” button. That’s not guaranteed to work (plenty of genocide victims looked pretty much like their murderers), but it seems like the best shot.

Walt G January 23, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Tip of the philosophical iceberg.
If we can resurrect the cave bear, the giant sloth and the auroch, does this imply an obligation to do so?
Another dynamic: it may be irresistible to recreate the delicious extinct. Mmmmmmm…. roast dodo….

Willitts January 24, 2013 at 1:55 am

Mauritian Duck L’orange!

Passenger Pigeon under Glass!

Bill S January 23, 2013 at 4:46 pm

You are all looking way too hard at this. As I recall, Phil Hartman’s Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, while not a neanderthal per se, functioned quite well in today’s society

mulp January 23, 2013 at 5:22 pm

The basic fallacy is in thinking that neanderthals are/were inferior to us?

As someone with roots in England and New England, odds are I have a high proportion of neanderthal genes, for that is where neanderthal genes are most heavily found in the human population.

The rise of industry most powerfully coming out of England and New England, and industry being the root of capitalism, for industry depends on on sacrificed consumption to accumulate the knowledge, built, and human capital, I suggest that capitalism is a neanderthal trait.

Willitts January 24, 2013 at 1:56 am

Or rather it appears that the hybrid of Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens was superior.

Hazel Meade January 24, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Few thoughts on that….

1. Neaderthals had bigger brain capacity. Homosapiens had better language ability. Cross the two and you may get the best of both worlds.

2. Autism maybe a product of recessive neaderthal genes popping up in the gene pool. (High intelligence, poor verbal communicaiton skills).

3. Groups that evolved in cold climates (like neaderthals in ice age europe) might be more adapted to delaying gratification due to the need to plan and save to survive the winter. I.e. they might be LESS impulsive. That might explain why N. Europeans seem to be better at long-term economic planning.

4. The fact that neaderthals lived in smaller groups may have something to do with N. European tendancy to live in smaller family units: nuclear families vs. extended families. Maybe also related to being more comfortable living with a lower population density. (Rural/urban)

Steve Sailer January 23, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Tyler is a vicious specieist! It’s pure prejudice to think that Neanderthals were victims of genocide by modern humans because they lacked I.Q. Maybe they were exterminated by our ancestors because they were more ethical than us?

Steve Sailer January 23, 2013 at 11:38 pm

But they could live in culturally vibrant shantytowns.

Willitts January 24, 2013 at 1:51 am

Since no one brought it up, I feel compelled to bring up the strange case of Encino Man.

Hazel Meade January 24, 2013 at 9:26 am

He is a “good reason” to do it.

It would be beneficial on multiple levels for humanity to be able to interact with another conscious thinking species. It would be profoundly enlightening about the nature of consciousness itself to be able to communicate with another species that is also capable of self-awareness and yet whose mind works a little bit differently. We would gain enormous insights into why human culture functions the way it does, by seeing (through others eyes) different ways of looking at reality, different styles of social relationships, different ways of living and interacting with the world. The variation in such behavior amoung different human groups would be cast into sharper relief. We’d see just how great (or small) the differences amoung humans actual are, by having a yardstick to measure it against.

albatross January 24, 2013 at 10:55 am

Perhaps. I liked the uplift books, whose premise involved the creation of other intelligent species from high-potential species that had evolved naturally, like chimps, gorillas, dogs, and dolphins. But I think you do have to deal with the likely problems. Create a race of non-human intelligent beings, and they will have not only different perspectives and ideas, but perhaps also different goals and desires than we have. However easy it is to whip up hate against Jews or Catholics or blacks or Mexicans, they’re visibly human–it will probably be easier to whip up hatred against Neanderthals or uplifted chimps or dolphins. And different abilities (part of the point of creating new intelligent species) means that they’ll probably be better at some stuff than humans, and worse at other stuff. The stuff they’re better at will drive humans out of their fields–if the Neanderthals have a much better spatial ability than humans, then the engineering and physics departments will end up full of Neanderthals. If they’re much less verbally adept, then they’ll hardly ever end up as lawyers or politicians. And so on.

Hazel Meade January 24, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Here is a reason this might be a worthwhile endeavor.

If it turns out that neanderthals are fully conscious beings, just like humans (and there’s every reason to think they would be), we would gain the ability to converse with members of another fully conscious species. We have never been able to do this before. It would be like making first contact with a Romulan. We would have the ability to converse with another type of conscious mind about issues about everything from spirituality to consciousness to human relationships. By viewing the world through another set of eyes, we would then gain insight into ourselves, our own species, understanding how much of what we think and why we think it is innate, and how much is learned, as well as gain new insights into physical reality by perceiving it through a different lens of subjective consciousness. We’d see different angles, different perspective, much in the same way that travelling to a different culture changes one’s perspective, but different. More extreme differences in perspective in some ways. Perhaps less so in others if the child was raised in a human family. It would probably be a profoundly enlightening experience for humanity in general.

Hazel Meade January 24, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Gah. Internet explorer acting up. Sorry for the dual replies.

Minority Bolshevism January 25, 2013 at 1:05 am

We have to do it.

If we don’t clone them, the Chinese will. Or the Russians. We just have to build into them a safety switch, such as a four year life-span. Like the replicants had in Bladerunner.

Diversity Uber Alles!!!

wophugus January 25, 2013 at 4:49 am

My biggest problem with this post is that we don’t generally analyse the “is it moral/should we allow this person to conceive a life” question from a utilitarian perspective, we analyse it from a rights perspective (IE, we put the thumb on the scale for them having a right to have kids, and frown on societies that force sterilize the mentally handicapped and such). If someone wanted to have a baby, and there is a significant chance it wouldn’t fit in in school and people would be mean to and it could impose some health risks and it would lead a hard life and etc, we let them have the baby.

I’m not sure we can be so confident that conceiving a neanderthal is different enough from conceiving a baby.

InfoPractical January 25, 2013 at 10:43 pm

In a world as complex as the one we live I’m, I think Tyler’s objections are more than enough to give good confidence in a bet against seeing Neanderthals in the short term. On the other hand, I can imagine a future were complicated enough that these points and questions no longer matter, and whether or not we see neanderthals cea down to the whims of the powerful. I’m not sure whether or not we’ll live I’m such a world, but it’s imaginable.

4all.pl January 27, 2013 at 3:16 pm

They were better, smarter than We are today !!

4all.pl

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