Humanity’s Vanity

          These past few readings have revealed to me just how conceited we humans are about ourselves and our abilities. The H-NHP article proposed that grafting human neural stem cells into NHPs has the potential for altering their cognitive capabilities and thus making them more human-like. It’s also mentioned that fetal pig cells have been grafted into patients who have Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. However, I didn’t find them suggesting that putting pig cells into humans can possibly make humans more pig-like. So why is it that putting our cells into other animals has the potential to make them more like us, but putting the cells of other animals into us doesn’t bring up the concern of making us like more like them? Apparently, human cells are special and they somehow contain humanity right inside of them. And we’re far too superior for animal cells to affect us. I did agree with the concern about putting human neural stem cells into fetal NHP brains early in development and allowing the cells to integrate widely throughout the brain. In that situation, there would be a very likely possibility that the cognitive abilities of the NHP would be significantly altered. But I doubt that a smaller number of cells that don’t spread widely throughout the brain would affect the cognitive capability of NHPs. It’s even mentioned in the article that when human neural progenitor cells were transplanted into developing mouse brains, there was “widespread incorporation,” but no reported changes in behavior. However, when chimps were raised with humans – the effect of nurture – they did behave in a more human-like way. This indicates to me that it’s not the cells, but the environment that can produce a greater impact.

Then the article seemed to suggest that the moral status of an organism could be used to rationalize its treatment. I didn’t quite agree with the criteria they used to measure moral status, but the idea that moral status should be used to determine whether or not we can experiment on an organism was unreasonable in my opinion. The basic message seemed to be that because grafting of human neural stem cells into NHPs could raise their moral status, we shouldn’t proceed with grafting experiments. Aside from the fact that they’re assuming that humans have superior moral status, it’s indicated that we should only experiment on organisms that are lower in moral status. As soon as morality is increased, experimentation becomes unethical. So does that mean that it’s potentially alright to experiment on people that are immoral because they’re somehow inferior to the rest of us? Also, there might be an underlying motive to avoid grafting human neural stem cells into NHPs because we don’t want to create the possibility of an animal with moral status equal to us. That would make us less unique and special, so we need to be sure to avoid any outcome in which animals would be more equal to us.

There’s even a statement made in the article that changes in cognitive capacities as a result of grafting would be an “enhancement” for the engrafted animal. Once again, we assume that we are the optimal beings and that making any other creature more like us would obviously be an improvement for it.

It’s also mentioned that human-like mental capacity is unlikely under size limitations, which is a legitimate concept. Larger brains allow for greater cognitive capability. But size isn’t everything, and there’s just a correlation of brain size with mental ability. Of course, we think we have the highest mental capacity, but dolphins have bigger brains than we do. And the human brain has actually been shrinking over time such that our brains are now smaller than our early ancestors. What is that supposed to tell us?

          In The Island of Dr. Moreau, when Dr. Moreau is explaining his work to Prendick, he says that he happened to choose the human form as a model for the animals by chance. I don’t believe that for a second. He chose the human form, whether or not he realized it, because at some subconscious level he held the belief that the human form is the superior and most optimal form for a creature. He says that he supposes “there is something in the human form that appeals to the artistic turn of mind more powerfully than any animal shape can.” Yeah, no kidding. We think we’re the finest product of evolution, and we assume that our form and abilities are the most desirable to have. Our vanity is indeed quite remarkable. Even though we may not intend to put ourselves on a pedestal, the idea of ourselves as exceptional creatures still influences our underlying assumptions, actions, and beliefs.


~ B2


~ by b2majmudar on February 24, 2008.

One Response to “Humanity’s Vanity”

  1. Vanity, thy name is . . . humanity. Point taken.

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