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2002: Consciousness, Genetics and Society

“All beings so far have created something beyond themselves. Do you want to be ebb of that great tide, and revert back to the beast rather than surpass mankind? What is the ape to a man? A laughing-stock, a thing of shame. And just so shall a man be to the Superman: a laughing-stock, a thing of shame. 
You have evolved from worm to man, but much within you is still worm. Once you were apes, yet even now man is more of an ape than any of the apes.”

Friedrich Nietzsche
Thus Spake Zarathustra

Does scientific research exist for man, as we understand him today, or is man something that exists for research, in its endeavour to realise the new man? Friedrich Nietzsche prophesied about this a little more than a hundred years ago, but where do we stand today? Nietzsche’s interpretation of Darwin’s theory interestingly portends present discourse.

The claims of the new biotechnology – apprehensions aside – must be allowed to be tested and in routine democratic order be addressed, in advance, by an earnest and serious debate concerning its potential consequences. What prospects has mankind, given the blessings of science in the shape of cloning, artificial intelligence and organ banking? How do theologians, philosophers, historians and social scientists look upon this progression? What is the humanistic response to what appears to be a new and seemingly victorious paradigm?

Is it due time to ask if evolutionary biology has gone too far by claiming issues that perhaps only can be addressed by philosophy and theology? Biology seems to maintain that it is essentially a matter of degree alone and not one of a kind that separates man from other animals. The resistance to the new technological advances in the field of biology and genetics likely derives from this very demotion and even qualitative deterioration in man’s status, value and significance in the cosmos. In short, his ontological significance, even his very being, appears to be under attack from an apparently impersonal rational demiurge lacking all accountability: an altogether rational, free-floating, scientific reason.

Yet how does the present level of progress of science look from a historical perspective? What about science’s history of broken promises? On what exactly does this culture’s immense optimism but also its apprehensiveness hinge? Are we the victims of a utilitarian, bordering on pedestrian, philosophy when individual suffering can be examined only in the shadow of a far greater but entirely unpredictable future? Could it be that we are facing a new battle of universals, out of which will emerge a wholly new vision of man?

At the Engelsberg seminar, no answers are taken for granted and all avenues of approach are kept wide open. Yet one thing is certain: if biotechnology is able to keep its promise, then we are situated squarely in the middle of Nietzsche’s prophecy. Perhaps nothing can prevent this development, but then perhaps we can try to understand it, should we perchance remain the same human beings following the future triumphs of science.


Sverre Sjölander: Evolution of Consciousness – Some Crucial Steps and Stages

Professor, Linköping University, Sweden

Martin Alda: Genetics and Mood Disorders – A Lesson In Complexity

Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Dalhousie University Medical School, Canada

Evelyn Fox Keller: The Century of the Gene

Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts, USA

Georg Klein: Brilliant, Malingered Queen: Reflections About the New Biology

Microbiological and Tumour Biological Centre, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

Leonard Guarente: Regulation of Ageing by Sir2 – Possible Implications for Human Health

Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts, USA

Panayiotis Zavos: Reproductive Cloning Mode of Human Infertility Treatment

Professor, University of Kentucky, USA

Lee M Silver: Cloning, Genetic Engineering and the Future of Human Kind

Professor, Princeton University, USA

Johnjoe McFadden: The Brain’s Electromagnetic Information Field = Consciousness

Professor, University of Surrey, UK

Hilary Rose: Arguments Against an Evolutionary Psychology

Professor of Sociology, City University, London, UK

Max More: The New Enlightenment vs. The New Reactionaries

PhD, Extropy Institute, USA

Steven Rose: Escaping Evolutionary Psychology

Professor of Biology, the Open University, Milton Keynes, UK

Robert Wright: Does Evolution Have a Spiritual and Moral Dimension?

Author, New Jersey, USA

Mary Midgley: The Many Maps Model

Professor of Philosophy, University of Newcastle, UK

Erwin Bischofberger: A Humanistic Response to the Challenges of Genetics

Professor, LIME, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

Raja Ramanna: Moksha – A Critique

Dr, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India

Luke Anderson: Colonising the Seed – Genetic Engineering and the Patenting of Life

Author, London, UK

Richard Heinberg: Are Democracy and Genetic Engineering Compatible?

New College of California, USA

Kenan Malik: In Defence of Human Agency

Author, London, UK