Cloning thoughts

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.  For others, "I can find some reason to object to this" seemed like a decisive argument.  Bryan's joy in the arrangement seemed to bug the readers all the more; I had the feeling many of you would have found it perfectly OK if he had expressed resignation at something like this being an accidental occurrence.

I don't have the same preference as Bryan, far from it.  I think most of us desire children who are "too similar to us" and there are obvious Darwinian reasons why this is the case.  Nonetheless we should try to overcome this attitude and there are many successful instances of adopted children or various other "mixed" arrangements, such as foster parents.  We can only hope there will be more and that means we need a greater flexibility of intuitions about parenting and inheritance. 

As a proud step-parent, I find it increasingly odd how many of you insist on the "fifty percent solution."  Ew!  What if it — heaven forbid — looks like you?  What if you're both economists named Keynes?  But there's more: the rest of your daughter looks just like the woman you chose to marry?  Yuck!!!!!  And so on.  Maybe you all think that fifty percent is great but one hundred percent is unacceptable, when it comes to the genes.  Good luck arguing that one with a committed nominalist.  And I bet most of you don't find it repugnant if a father wants a son rather than a daughter, but similarity of gender is pretty important too.

If I have any criticism of Bryan, it's that he's pro-natalist (fine in my book) but I've never heard him promote the idea of adopting a child or defend the idea of raising a biological child who is, for whatever reason, very different from his or her parents.  (Don't overreact here and interpret his silence in a negative way, I'm simply goading him to take up these issues, which I think will force him to revise his thought.)  Furthermore I think his intuitions about similarity, and child-rearing, will change once (some of) his kids start rebelling against him.

Most of all, I found this thread to be a lesson in how quickly smart people will side with their Darwinian intuitions, and attack another smart person with intolerance, just because something feels icky to them.  It's not so different from how some people find gay people, and also "what they do," to be disgusting.  They also don't want gay people to be adopting children because they see that as offensive too.  It's not, least of all for the child.

That all said, I guess he shouldn't put the passage in his book.


Since you pointed us down this road, wouldn't you rather your daughter looked a combination of yourself and the woman you chose to marry (as unappetizing as that option may be), than part woman you chose to marry and the man she mated with before she met you?

Bryan's comment that a clone would love to be raised by an adult copy of itself is reminiscent of representative agent models. Several commenters suggested that even a cloned Bryan would rebel against the adult Bryan, and that if alpha-maleness is genetic it would lead to conflict... yet representative agent models completely omit this dynamic. Can we use the various comments to Bryan's post as an experiment which sheds light on the problems of representative agents in econ models?

Caplan's reference to clones as being the same as identical twins is the primary point. Assuming a similar level of safety as current multiple births (which aren't that safe!) I see no reason why clones shouldn't be treated exactly the same as twins.

Conversation over, five points in Mr. Caplan's favor.

I whole-heartedly agree with you, Tyler- it seems to me that pretty much ALL of the anti-cloning arguments come from the same place as anti-homosexual and anti-miscegenation attitudes. It feels "wrong", even though there's no biological reason not to do it. After all, DNA is just DNA, right? Unless you'd be passing some hideous genetic abnormality onto your child, why not?

Although I do think that having a child who looks just like your spouse did, say, 30 years ago, is a recipe for a Greek tragedy when they get a little older...

...just because something feels icky to them.

How many of them genuinely find the concept of cloning icky, and how many just find the concept of Caplan icky?

Having read the manuscript of Bryan's book, I laughed heartily at that paragraph, both because it struck me as SO "Caplanesque" and because I knew how much trouble it would cause when the book was published. The discussion here is evidence for the latter, for sure! (BTW, I think Tyler is dead on right about the analogy to the "ick" factor that some people feel about homosexuality.)

I don't share Bryan's preference to raise my own clone as I find it weirdly narcissistic. And I also agree with Tyler's comments that Bryan may change his mind when his kids are older. With an 18 and 14 year old, I can tell you that the absolute best part about parenting is having kids who are capable of doing things that you are not. Given Bryan's own professed belief in (and significant evidence for) the role of genetic endowment in determining future outcomes, I would think it would be much more fun and interesting to raise a child who does not share that material 100% with you and would therefore be much more likely to develop in ways that surprise and delight.

My clone would be unlikely to be a great musician. My kids are both excellent musicians and my daughter has artistic/creative skill that I could never match. I wouldn't trade that for anything, and certainly not the task of raising my genetic duplicate.

but with all these new linear descendants, how will the arrow ever point to superman? if 100% of population would prefer 100% gene copies, wouldn't we flatline as a species? does the crazy-branching of evolution end with just one lousy do loop?

Significant evidence of genetic endowment? Really even Time magazine understands how epigenetics has disrupted the old hereditarianism. Has Caplan even looked at David Shenk's recent book?

Bryan doesn't tell us *how much* he wants a clone of himself, how much cost he would be willing to bear to obtain one. His critics might do well to start with the question: If I could obtain a newborn baby who was a clone of myself *by snapping my fingers*, would I do it? My answer is that if I could get my wife to agree to help me rear the child I would do it, even at my advanced age. But I would much rather have a child that combined her genes with mine. Bryan is young enough to have another child with his wife, in the normal way. His apparent preference for a clone of himself makes him seem unpleasantly self-absorbed.

Analogous to the cloning question is the question: would it be better for you if you had an identical twin? For Bryan's situation--given that he is normally fertile--the better analogy might be: would it be better for you to have an identical twin *than to have a fraternal one*? But the analogy is still imperfect, since it contains nothing comparable to the fact combining your genes with those of your spouse might be considered an act of love, to which Bryan seems quite insensitive.

This a good example of the novel issues that new technology will force upon our attention.

I think it's undisputable that the rest of us, at least, would be better off if there were 100 extra Bryan Caplans around. If nothing else, I'm sure he contributes more in tax revenue than he uses up in services.

The Darwinian question is interesting, and goes to Dawkins's good Selfish Gene idea. Most of us don't want a clone of ourselves-- we want an almost-clone, but improved in certain ways. We would like our child to have higher IQ, no asthma, and no tendency to be pot-bellied. That would be bad, however, for our genes for stupidity, asthma, and pot-belliedness. There's an inter-genetic conflict.

There's also a good philosophic question. If my almost-clone is smart and non-asthmatic, is he really like me? Have I really perpetuated myself? What, especially, if I am centrally defined by my bad qualities---arrogance, cowardice, and stupidity?

100% agree Tyler. I'm dumbfounded that the people commenting on that post are ostensibly the same readership that so articulately and analytically break down other issues.

Tyler, you can't just draw up a hypothetical that implies controversial medical experiments, but then explain that of course you didn't mean any of that - you're trying to have your cake and eat it too. I think that the morality of the process of obtaining the clone is hardly extricable from the morality of having the clone. It's the difference between adoption and kidnapping. You seem to be postulating some kind of magic which makes the whole enterprise turn out OK from the standpoint of the health and well being of the child. Given the nature of child development (very sensitive to initial conditions), there is no way to obtain a cloned human being without first performing unethical experiments. That aside, of course it's silly to object to anyone raising a baby who is a lot like his father. The baby wouldn't be able to tell that anything was different, nor would anybody else.

Like consensual incest, cloning raise social and genetic issues:
_Social issues: cloning leads to atomization of society.
_Genetic issues: cloning would deplete genetic diversity.

Anybody who would advance "I would love to be raised by me" as a serious argument can't be that smart

What makes you think Caplan is wrong?

First, I think he is assuming that cloning can work, not postulating hundreds of unethical experiments to try to get there.

I am under no obligation to concede to my interlocutor the right to frame the question, especially when he wishes to frame a question of what status-quo policy ought to be with assumptions that depart significantly from the status quo.

I bullshitted this around with some students, and they came to conclusion that, if you assume that the combination of genes and environment jacks up heredity scores on various traits really high, the self-cloning stuff has obvious undesirable implications. Their argument was that first Erving clones himself (actually I had to explain who he was); then Bird, Magic, Jordan, and the J clone do it; then Kobe, LeBron, and all the previous clones do; and very quickly the skill level in the NBA has risen so high that no one has a prayer of breaking in who isn't "derived" from one of those progenitor-players.

Upon showing a friend of mine the passage in question, he immediately countered with the following question:

"Ok, say you clone yourself and raise the clone as your son. But your wife also wants a clone of her for a daughter. So now you have a clone of both you and your wife as children. Can they get married when they grow up?"

I unfortunately haven't had time to read all of the posts for this topic, so I apologize in advance if I repeat an argument already posted:

"It's what I'd want, therefore it's what s/he wants!" The original Bryan (hereafter referred to as "Bryan1"), obviously, knows himself, and probably has an excellent idea of the way in which Bryan1 should have been ideally raised. Much of this, I'd bet, is biological, and thus would transfer to raising cloned Bryan ("Bryan2"). But I'm equally sure that other parts of this are environmental, and therefore wouldn't necessarily apply to the ideal rearing strategy for Bryan2.

What concerns me is that we have no way of distinguishing those strategies that are ideal for both Bryan1 and Bryan2 for biological/genetic reasons from those rearing strategies which were ideal for Bryan1 only due to environmental reasons. For example, I like science. I'm sure I would have benefited from my parents pulling the cash together to send me to some kind of science magnet school when I was young. I have no idea, though, if my affinity for science is biologically determined or environmentally determined, and thus it might be the case that I end up forcing cloned-me into a science curriculum for which I'm not adapted.

True, I'm sure that part of each of my interests are environmentally determined, while part are genetically determined. However I'm sure there is a "tipping point" in many cases where the required minimum amount of interest reached by environmental factors.

I'm also sure that, perhaps, Bryan1 can account for this difference and adapt. I don't think most people are willing/able to account for this in making rearing decisions. Picture parents living through their children on a much larger scale than the status quo.

Of course, as long as I'm not taxed to pay for it, I don't see how Bryan's reproductive decisions impact me at all.

"...having a child who looks just like your spouse did, say, 30 years ago, is a recipe for a Greek tragedy..."

Unless I'm misunderstanding what is meant by cloning this child would be Brian's wife's step-son. So not quite the level of tragedy in Oedipus.

I like how Tyler is dismissing all of the arguments that have already been made as arising from "Darwinian intuitions" that do not weigh the trade-offs that would be involved in the decision, setting the terms of the debate--after the fact--in such a way that excludes rule-based arguments, however well-reasoned they may be.

But if that's the case, I'll bite. The would-be cloner is the only one who would derive any utility from the freedom to clone, right? In exchange for this bit of freedom, you 1) bring into being a person who is likely at much higher risk for psychological and developmental problems, 2) contribute to a loss, however small, in genetic diversity of the population, and 3) Deny a future person the same freedom you had in being the product of an unpredictable process and having a unique genetic profile. And no, twins are not an exception to this.

"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."

My guess is that there's an underlying assumption of substitution. In other words, if Caplan can't clone himself, presumably he'll adopt or have more kids the old fashioned way, which they find to be marginally superior.

Tyler laments:

"how quickly smart people will side with their Darwinian intuitions"

But the "Darwinian intuitions" that Tyler and Bryan despise are excellent ways for human beings to begin to get to understand crucial Darwinian truths.

Matt -- it would be a Greek tragedy, you've just picked the wrong one. Try Hippolytus.

I'm more interested in the flip side - the people I know who are steadfastly against passing on their genes. They're not necessarily against childbirth or childrearing, but the actual idea of having more of their genes out there. I imagine having a clone would be one of their worst nightmares...

I have the sneaking suspicion that this is the same sort of self absorption implied in Caplan's paragraph, just cloaked in a different form.

If you want to maximize genetic similarity, and taboos against "icky" things are off the table, then how about plain old-fashioned sibling or parent-child incest? The offspring are 67.1% related to each parent. Sure, there is 25% inbrededness, but if we're assuming all the problems with cloning have been fixed, then assume the problematic recessive genes have been culled out of the pool, or will be if you follow this program a few generations.

"Most of all, I found this thread to be a lesson in how quickly smart people will side with their Darwinian intuitions, and attack another smart person with intolerance, just because something feels icky to them."

Exactly. Personally, I want a near-clone, but I want to monkey with the dna a bit, keeping some of the human parts, but adding back gills and fins. And if we could keep the toes, that'd be great, because I'd like to fit as many as I can on each foot. I just think that would be super-cool, and since it doesn't affect any of you -- I'd be paying for it, and I'm only manipulating my own dna -- you intolerant jerks have no right to say that such a choice is wrong.

A little riff on what Indy says above...

One of my complaints about my father is that he has never seemed capable of getting a hold of the idea that I might have had different experiences than he had. (He's visiting this week. I have high confidence he'll never find this comment.)

I think Bryan is smart enough to know this would happen between him and his clone.

I think it would be a riot to be sixty and sitting at the kitchen table arguing with the 20 year old me.

My wife? Not so much. She would hate the 20 year old me.

Think about sibling rivalry, for the moment. Much of the notoriously high degree of contention between brothers or between sisters comes from their being fairly similar, and thus feel the need to emphasize their differences to prevent one from being dominated by the other.

Bryan is probably thinking to himself something like, "Knowing what I now know, if I only had a New Me, I could raise him to be a tenured economics professor, like me, but one who doesn't get stuck at George Mason." But, will his clone find a destiny so carefully plotted out for him appealing?

Shorter Matt:

Thinking leads to heresy, so knock off with all the thinking.

Yes! I agree with Steven Sailer: "By fostering intense family loyalties and strong nepotistic urges, inbreeding makes the development of civil society more difficult." Let me know if you need me to re-articulate this point, but IT is the reason why I am opposed to cloning people.

Cloning is not the same thing as inbreeding.

"Cloning is not the same thing as inbreeding."

No, but inbreeding is the most effective technique humans currently possess for increasing "genetic similarity," which is the topic Tyler wants to discuss. So, inbreeding furnishes an interesting analogy, especially since moderate inbreeding (cousin marriage) is so prevalent in some parts of the world that we have a lot of information on its effects, whereas most of the discussion of the social effects of cloning is speculation.

If we have to guess at the characteristics of a person with Bryan Caplan's DNA, we really don't have a higher authority than Bryan Caplan.

Not so. For a simple model, let a prediction's strength be determined by the multiplication of two things:
1) Strength of signal
2) Perceptiveness of person making the prediction

Caplan has a very pure signal of his own characteristics, as you say, but he seems pretty appalling at perceptiveness when it comes to other human beings and interpersonal interactions. Even if you try to argue that a clone would not be another human being (which I believe many of the commenters here would consider laughable), raising that clone would certainly be interpersonal interaction.

Throw in the general universality of the human condition, which makes things like novels, art, and film based on relationships and the inner mind so widely popular, and clearly even an outside commenter with no direct knowledge of Caplan would have some sense of how father-son interactions will likely proceed. More importantly, the outside commenter will know the unpredictability of such interactions. Adjust their perceptiveness high enough relative to Caplan's, and this model suggests the outside commenter could certainly have a better idea than Bryan of how wonderful things will be with his clone.

For those who feel an objection, would it make a difference if he wanted to clone himself to carry on his genes, but would immediately give the child up for adoption without any intention of finding him later in life?

Basically, is it more, less, or equally despicable if he solely wants to carry on his genes as-is?

Justin Martyr,
Your discussion of step-parenting assumes (as such discussions almost always do) that it is always the result of divorce. It isn't. Even in our advanced age, parents still die young. In fact, it's more common than you might suspect: I recently saw a figure of 14% for children who will lose a parent before they reach adulthood. That happened to me: my mother died of cancer when I was 9. And my father remarried, with a neighbor and family friend whose husband had been killed in a traffic accident. Yes, losing my mother was traumatic, but that's just life. And I did gain a wonderful step-mother, whose own passing a year ago I still mourn. Likewise her children gained a conscientious and decent step-father. Sure, in a world as big as ours anything that can happen will, and there are step-parents who fit the stereotype of the Wicked Witch or Pervert Pedophile. But most people are neither and they do the best they can when called on to care for someone else's children. We are NOT slaves of our genes in this regard, else there is no free will and morality is in vain. Yet even an animal as famously unsocial as the housecat is known to foster kittens not its own. Humans are hardly hopeless brutes in this regard! Let's not traduce the majority of good step-parents by citing horror stories from the wicked few. Is there any class of people not vulnerable to defamation by that tactic?

The comments to the tune of "raising one's own clone is not objectionable per se, but we doubt the wisdom of allowing Caplan to do so" intrigue me because they seem to make a judgment on Caplan's ability to parent based on the attitudes we can infer from the brief excerpt provided. Which is all good and well - he may have misguided genetics-based expectations for the personality of his clone and the nature of their relationship - but I expect that many young "conventional" parents suffer from the same sort of misguided ideas, which (ideally) they will shed as they gain an appreciation for the nature of their child and the complex tones of the parent-child relationship. The possibility of unique crises of expectations on the part of the parent, or identity on the part of the clone, may initially make the situation seem uniquely troublesome; but the arguments are just as easily applied to existing circumstances (in the first instance, all parents; in the second, twins, or less analogously, siblings).

The attacks on Caplan's motives call my attention to the motives of parents in general. In general I suspect that those who consent to parenthood expect that their children will have a net positive impact on their lives, i.e. they are not willingly raising children out of altruism. Biologically, you would be hard pressed to object to this "egoism" because if having children were a burden, it would have been pretty bad news for our species. However, after extensive inquiry into the social sciences we are now in a position to - at least to a first approximation - analyse the net impact of additional human beings from a wider perspective than the biological or socio-economic nepotism which lead us to prefer when our relatives "succeed" in life as opposed to total strangers. For those who believe that metrics of utilitarianism are appropriate to apply to Caplan's parenthood decision, it follows that those same metrics should be assessed against the traditional biological/egoistic reasons for sexual parenthood.

"In A Pilgrim’s Regress, C.S. Lewis wrote about a man who ordered milk and eggs from a waiter in a restaurant. After tasting the milk he commented to the waiter that it was delicious. The waiter replied, “Milk is only the secretion of a cow, just like urine and feces.† After eating the eggs he commented on the tastiness of the eggs. Again the waiter responded that eggs are only a by-product of a chicken. After thinking about the waiter’s comment for a moment the man responded, “You lie. You don’t know the difference between what nature has meant for nourishment, and what it meant for garbage.†"

I stole the above anecdote from somewhere, don't remember where. Sorry. But the point is. Tyler, you lie. You know the difference between cloning and adopted/natural children.

Perhaps a closer hypothetical, at least in terms of the effects on population genetics: Suppose there is some medical intervention that will guarantee that you have identical twins made available--perhaps with the same safety level as IVF.

a. What would the social and genetic effects be?

b. Would this be creepy?

comment above: "A cloned child will be genetically identical. That doesn't mean it will be Mini-Me."

Actually, genetically identical twins aren't genetically identical in that each twin has different copies of the duplicate genes pairs suppressed.

If Bryan is as arrogant as many commenters seem to believe, then it woud be much more interesting to see what kind of person would be created from mixing the DNA of Bryan and Robin Hanson, self-described "polymath".

BTW - this is much more fun than thinking about clones.

E.g., how about Tyler and Alton Brown.

Obama and Bush.


Re: It lacks the most basic thing required with regards to justice and law: informed consent.

You don't know that. There are after all metaphysical systems where souls already exist and consent to their (re)birth. I am not advocating this as fact, but it is a possibility.
Bottom line though, this is a boundary area where ordinary assumptions break down and ignorance dominates. We should avoid pressing unnecessary questions in such realm that are beyond our ability to answer.

The issue I have with Caplan's statement is not with cloning in and of itself, but Caplan seems to imply that his clone, if raised by him, will turn out to be a replica of himself in the clone's adult life. He seems to ignore a clone raised by "himself" will likely not turn out to be just like the Caplan who was raised forty to fifty years ago in a different environment and by his natural parents. Perhaps a cloned Caplan raised by Caplan will be a far more successful and intelligent person than the "original" Caplan, but I also find it very possible that the cloned Caplan child, aware that he is a clone of his famous father, will feel overwhelmed by his father's shadow and succumb to many of the issues that we see in the children of celebrities. Caplan may not be enough of a celebrity for this to be an issue, but it's not too far fetched to imagine presidents and athletes cloning themselves only to find their clones didn't turn out to be as successful as they were, thus eliminating any benefits of cloning oneself in the first place.

The problem with cloning is that it is really just asexual reproduction. And sexual reproduction has many critical biological advantages. If we could clone Einstein and get more Einsteins that might have value, but I'm sure we wouldn't. Maybe Einstein was just uniquely capable of putting together the pieces of one (OK two) puzzle, but give him another set of puzzles and he's just a smart guy.

I had the feeling many of you would have found it perfectly OK if he had expressed resignation at something like this being an accidental occurrence then assume the problematic recessive genes have been culled out of the pool,or will be if you follow this program a few generations.

"Most of all, I found this thread to be a lesson in how quickly smart people will side with their Darwinian intuitions, and attack another smart person with intolerance, just because something feels icky to them."

I found it to be a lesson in how wildly wrong smart people can go when they begin to think morality is a matter of deductively applying abstract "principles" they've worked out ab inition to whatever situation they come across.

I think the most wonderful thing about life is its serendipity, and the roll of the dice that is sexual reproduction (meiosis is possibly the oldest and most sacred social institution in the world, a remarkable example of trust and fairness) is the ultimate expression of that serendipity.

I find the choice to avoid that serendipity aesthetically ugly. Extremely ugly, really.

I don't like it's moral implications either - I like to think that every human being is an end in himself, and it's not clear if BC's vision of his clone/son reflects that. However, it is possible BC would respect his clone/son's individuality.

There are of course many parents of children who are sexually reproduced who view their children as possessions or clones, so of course, even if BC fails to respect his son's individuality, it's not UNIQUELY ugly or amoral.

All in all, if BC does it, my fervent hope is that the clone/son will rebel and become an extreme communitarian socialist. It seems like the type of thing BC would do in his place.

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