How You can make Donald Trump’s election the greatest turning point in history

I am a Canadian-American dual citizen, and I live in Canada in a college town, which puts me squarely in the middle of what Americans would call a progressive liberal social sphere. Virtually every single opinion that I absorb, both in real life and through social media, is aligned with that perspective.

I have found it hard, in the few days since the election, to interact normally with people. I haven’t felt much like laughing, or even smiling to say hello. I have seen the same all around me. I am greatly saddened by the triumph of hate and fear over logic and empathy. Most importantly, under the new president, catastrophic climate change is all but guaranteed. The next 4 years are crucial, because digging up any more fossil fuels will push us over the edge. I am terrified – not for our planet, but for us. The planet will survive as we choke ourselves. We cannot deal with the other important issues if our society collapses with the climate.

Looking back on the election, it seems like a lot of people did not care. Nearly half of eligible voters chose not to vote. In fact, less voted than in the last presidential election. Why didn’t people care? Maybe they didn’t believe this would happen, they thought enough other people would vote, they were let down by the choices, they didn’t want to vote for someone who they didn’t believe in. Perhaps the election was an example of the classic trolley problem. Perhaps there are more reasons.

The biggest issue that I’ve seen is that all sides are stuck in their bubbles of perception. My bubble did not realize that large swaths of people do not consider climate change, LGBTQ rights, women’s safety, or racism as an issue at all when voting. They vote purely for what they believe is the survival of their families, and normal politicians have always screwed them over, from their point of view. How can these people even attempt to empathize with other issues when they live paycheck-to-paycheck? That is something that only the more fortunate can do.

Unfortunately, human tendency is to ignore all these differences in perception. We want to be liked, and so we don’t want to upset other people. We keep our opinions to ourselves. We run away from the taboo topics: politics, religion, abortion. Less than 1 in 10 people post about politics on Facebook. The ideological opinions and news that we do see online is heavily filtered by Facebook algorithms, which curate our news feeds so that we almost exclusively see ideas that we already agree with anyway. Yet it has been shown that these algorithms only act out our wishes – they show us the type of content that we engage with. If you don’t engage with other peoples’ viewpoints, it won’t show you them.

We are simply too afraid to discuss the most important topics, and share cat videos instead. I strongly believe that this is the root of the great political chasm that has ripped America apart.

And yet… in the past few days I have seen, for the first time, an unprecedented amount of passion about politics.

Every single Facebook post, every single in-person conversation is a passionate monologue, a dialogue, a fight about politics. I have seen boundless amounts of grief, sorrow, shock, and fear, with a few bursts of joy. I have also seen a lot of empathy and forgiveness of others’ beliefs. The important thing is that, now that the results are in, everyone cares. Everyone cares enough to voice their opinion, and to put themselves out there.

I am terrified for the world. I am terrified for minorities, for refugees, for the LGBTQ community, for women, for the environment. At the same time, the aftermath of this election is a tremendous opportunity for the world to wake up and engage itself.

My only hope is that the shock of this election becomes a turning point that will get people to not only care about important issues, but to be active and discuss them.

It is time for the world to grow up and to learn how to comfortably swap, debate, and argue in a respectful and truth-seeking manner. To learn how to properly convince someone of an opposing viewpoint without alienating them. To learn how to become more open to new ideas and opposing viewpoints. To realize that the real winner of any argument is the loser, because the loser gains a whole new perspective on life. To realize that people who are unafraid to voice strong opinions and unafraid to admit when they are wrong are respected, not shunned.

And so, it is time for You to take responsibility as a citizen of this planet. To make your voice heard and reach out and share your opinions and dare to disagree. To open a calm and truth-seeking discussion when someone mentions views that oppose yours. And to celebrate conflict for what it truly is: an opportunity to elevate your perception and the perception of others.

If we can come together and do this, Trump will have won the election, but the human species will have won its voice.

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Are There Parallel Universes?

No one has concretely proven the existence of parallel universes. Indeed, it is a theory that is impossible to disprove. However, I would like to state why I believe it to be very unlikely that there are parallel universes.

There are 3 main theories which define this mystery: the Copenhagen theory, the Many-Worlds theory, and String theory. String theory implies that “our own universe is like a bubble that exists alongside similar parallel universes” (Do Parallel Universes Really Exist?, p 4). This post aims to counter the Many-Worlds theory, however, and doesn’t touch at all upon String Theory, which I do not know enough about to form any kind of opinion upon.

To grossly simplify, the Copenhagen theory says that subatomic particles only become concrete states of matter when they are observed. The Many-Worlds theory says that every time a subatomic particle concretizes itself into a state of matter, another universe splits off from ours, in which everything is identical except for that particle becoming a different state of matter.

Thus every single time any action is made, for example if you order a meal at a restaurant, universes split off from ours, each in which you ordered a different meal. In fact, every single possible choice would be represented by a different universe.

The problem is that actions can be smaller than decision making. Whether it be an ant twitching its leg, or a neuron firing in your brain as you read this – other universes split off from ours, each one with a different outcome for that particular action, until every single possible outcome exists in some universe. This means that as I am writing this, every time I choose a word, multiple universes split off from ours with every single possible other word I could have chosen, including words I didn’t like and erased to replace with a new word. The possibilities for just this piece of work are nearly infinite!  Yet at every instant in time, it’s not just me making decisions, its an infinite amount of people, animals, and atoms. This would mean that every single nanosecond, infinity times infinity universes are created. It simply does not seem rational to me that this would be the case.

The only way that this makes sense to me is if we are living in some sort of computer program which has been given a certain premise and designed to calculate every single possible outcome. A wild thought, but it would still provide a rational reason for universes to split off in such ways. However this would also render all of our decisions useless, and our lives meaningless, since then we would make every single decision in some universe. We would essentially be self-aware passengers in life.

Of course, this is by no means a scientific way of disproving something, but where science fails (for the moment at least), where else can we turn than to logic and reason?

Works Cited

Clark, Josh. “Do Parallel Universes Really Exist?” HowStuffWorks. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2012. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/everyday-myths/parallel-universe.htm>.

Clark, Josh. “How Quantum Suicide Works.” HowStuffWorks. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2012. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/science-questions/quantum-suicide.htm>.

The Singularity

This is a paper that I wrote for class a few months ago. I think that awareness of the issue is important to spread. Let me know what you think!

To say that there are many unknowns in our daily lives would be an understatement. Yet we still enjoy the pretense of a certain amount of predictability and  stability. What really changes in our daily lives? People come and go, we grow a little smarter, perhaps a little more self aware, technology improves. In the end, tomorrow isn’t usually all that different from today. The day may soon come, however, when this relative predictability will be tossed into a blender, sucked up by a hurricane and strewn across the walls of our stupefied imaginations. No I’m not talking about the apocalypse – at least, not necessarily. The day of which I speak is known to futurists (people who concern themselves with predicting the future) as “The Singularity”. This term was coined from the domain of astrophysics, which defines a singularity as a “point in space-time at which the known laws of physics break down” (TalkTalk), such as in a black hole. Yet to futurists, the term is much less well defined, which is fitting, since even believers can’t quite aggregate their theories. For example, the Singularity Institute defines the Singularity as “the technological creation of smarter-than-human intelligence” (Singularity Institute), while leading theorist Ray Kurzweil defines the Singularity as the point when artificial intelligence becomes a billion times smarter than the human brain. The important part is that the Singularity marks a point in time when the world as we know it ceases to exist. An astounding notion, to be sure, but at least  we won’t have to worry about this happening in our lifetime, right? Think again. Mr. Kurzweil predicts that his version of the Singularity will happen in precisely 2045. In fact, many theorists (I wont call them believers again, since this term can imply religious fanaticism) agree that computers will reach human intelligence before the year 2030!

My goal is not to convince you of the Singularity’s imminence, it would be a waste of my time – the research has been done. Computers have followed Moore’s law, which states that computing power essentially doubles every 18 months, with astounding accuracy, even when traced back to the very first computer (Grossman). The fact is that many in the scientific community acknowledge the Singularity as something that WILL happen, at least eventually. The date of its occurrence is of course up for major debate.  Whether or not this momentous event will happen, to me the mere fact that great mind’s believe in it makes it worthy of attention. I will use the same argument as is common in climate change: while it cannot be proven that the Singularity will happen, there are many benefits to preparing for it, such as the development of strong societal moral values. The consequences of ignoring it, however, are dire. The ethical implications of the Singularity probably haven’t escaped you. If this is the first time you’re hearing about it, then I can only imagine what is going on in your head. You would certainly not be alone if images of horror movies, Terminator and the like, came to mind. You might also, (especially if you were already knowledgeable about the subject) see the great potential in the occurrence of this event. Therein lies my purpose; to fill in the gap between the biases of optimism and pessimism with the sturdier mortar of rationality and truth.

Let us commence by studying the optimistic viewpoint. Experts such as Kurzweil believe that we should embrace the Singularity with open arms. The premise is that this will be the single greatest event in Earth’s history since the rise of human intelligence. To some, this fact alone is enough to warrant research to continue. More important to others is the slew of beneficial technologies that this event could unleash. There are of course a plethora of tangible improvements which super-intelligent machines could bring about in our lives. Medical benefits might include curing all disease, reaching immortality, and even being able to reprogram our genes as we see fit. These machines could help us unlock the secrets of the universe (visions of Deep Thought, the super-computer in the book/movie The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, spring to mind). And this is just the beginning – how can we predict benefits which we aren’t smart enough to conceive? Perhaps these computers could solve world hunger, or over-population, or the economy. In the words of Albert Einstein: “The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them” (Singularity Institute).

Even Kurzweil admits that the Singularity could be dangerous. He isn’t worried for several reasons, however. First of all, he believes it to be inevitable – progress cannot be stopped. The fact is that there are people who seriously believe in it, and imposing bans and regulations on technology would simply force them to perform their research illegally. This would decrease their resource pool and force them to cut corners, which would increase mistakes, thus incurring a greater chance of an “unsafe” Singularity occurring. In comes the Singularity Institute, an organization with the goal of bringing about a safe Singularity (Sachs). Proponents of the theory believe that this is the best way to maximize chances of humanity’s survival. Many Singularitarians also believe that the dangers of technology lie in the user. Why would super-intelligent machines become hostile unless we program them that way? In any case, many futurists believe that we could simply “pull the plug” if machine intelligence became dangerous (Sachs).

The other reason for Kurzweil’s confidence is related to his particular vision of the Singularity, which not all experts agree on. According to his research, the first smarter-than-human intelligence won’t be a super-computer. He believes that we’ll start by adding cybernetic implants to our own brains, closing the gap between man and machine. Indeed, over 30 000 patients with Parkinson’s disease already have neural implants (Grossman). In his future, humans will become more and more machine-like, until there is no longer a distinction. We will ultimately upload our consciousness into machine bodies and achieve immortality. To him, there’s no reason to fear the Singularity, because we will be changing along with it! Machines won’t turn on us because they will be us. Kurzweil sees the word “Singularity” as synonymous with “Utopia”.

Now let us dive into the dark depths of the pessimistic perspective (cue ominous music). The first argument that comes to my mind is: how can we make safe-guards for entities that will be smarter than us? The challenge would at first be akin to a 4-year-old trying to make sure that his parents do exactly what he tells them; later on it would be more like an ant ordering us about. There’s no doubt that there are endless doomsday scenarios for the fertile human mind to imagine. One could say that our society, and especially our media conditions us to fear technological change. Yet even if this is the case, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Jeremy Cooperstock, Artificial Intelligence professor at McGill says: “the potential for [the Singularity] to do harm is such that we should look at these doomsday scenarios and consider them… it’s important that we consider the potential of the technology that we create” (Survival of Machines). It is interesting to note that an analysis of the prospects of life on Earth by William McLaughlin established that the decline of humans is very likely within the next 100 years (McLaughlin).

There are many other reasons to be afraid of the Singularity. Bill Joy, founder of Sun Microsystems, wrote an article in 2000 titled “Why the future doesn’t need us”, in which he demonstrates his exasperation at Kurzweil and others for the banality with which they regard the Singularity. This article advocates awareness of the dangers of all technological advancement, but he has several arguments directly against the Singularity. He contemplates Murphy’s law, which states that anything that can go wrong, will. He draws strong parallels to the problems that our technologically-happy society has already created for itself. This is exemplified by how the overuse of antibiotics has led to new strains of disease which are more deadly and resistant than the originals. He cites a text by brilliant mathematician (albeit terrorist) Theodore Kaczynski, which observes that once machines become better than humans at everything, humans will probably be forced to give up control over the machines, simply because we won’t be smart enough to manage the changes which they are making on the world. If we do somehow manage to retain control, then the world will still be controlled by a few “elite” people, who will have a much easier time exerting this control due to these machines. He also recognizes a common evolutionary concept – that throughout history, whenever a better species comes along, it invariably eliminates its lesser competitors. He therefore urges that we proceed with the utmost caution; scientists must take the equivalent of a Hippocratic Oath, and technologies which could lead to the extinction of the human race should be abandoned (Bill).

Obviously it’s impossible to predict the future (at least until super-intelligent machines exist). However in the face of the Singularity, it’s important to have some sort of cohesive plan of action. Of course individual opinions will vary, but as a planet we must decide: are we for the Singularity, or against it? It’s imperative that this be a planet-wide decision, for if even one group embraces the Singularity, then all others must, or forever live in fear of domination. Conversely, if but one group is against the Singularity, they will quickly become obsolete. Therein lies the biggest problem with being an anti-Singularitarian. How would one go about stopping it? I agree with the claim that even planet-wide regulation would drive the progress underground, to disastrous results, since it’s obvious that proponents won’t give up. The appeal of the Singularity is too great for some. Kurzweil himself has an ulterior motive. Since he sees the Singularity as bringing about immortality, he consumes 200 pills a day to keep himself healthy, so that he has the maximum chance to be alive when this breakthrough occurs (Grossman). I’m not saying this to discredit Kurzweil, I have the utmost respect for him and I’m sure that the global benefits are more important to him, I’m just trying to reinforce the point that he’s unlikely to let go of his dream.

I agreed with Kurzweil’s theory that if the Singularity arrives as he expects it, machines will not overthrow man because we will become one of them. I say “agreed”, because upon further consideration, his Utopia has little chance of going to plan. After all, just because technology’s progress is exponential doesn’t mean that common citizens can follow suit. I only bought the laptop that I’m writing on years after it’s model had been on the market. If brain-augmenting cybernetics come on the market, they’ll first be exclusive to the super-rich. It will take many years, even decades for the technology to permeate through to all levels of society. Segregation would take place, and with good reason! Why shouldn’t technologically augmented people consider themselves as superior? Even if humanity survived this trying period without the “cyberhumans” wiping the rest out, what about those who refuse implants? These will undoubtedly be many, from the religious, to the skeptical. What will their fate be? They will be considered lesser forms of life, and if not exterminated, might be kept as pets. This is the good scenario, the one where the Singularity occurs as Kurzweil predicts it. If  instead the first hyper-intelligent machines are in the form of pure artificial intelligence, the consequences could be much, much worse. After reading Joy’s article, I find myself agreeing with many of his points. I fully support the creation of raw, “dumb” computing power, but to me, combining this power with intelligence is simply a risk not worth taking. The surest method in insuring our survival is to mandate the integrity of our scientists. As Joy suggests (and I have in past writings), they must be required to take a kind of Hippocratic Oath for scientists.

However the scariest part of the Singularity is that we are getting closer day by day, while the world at large remains unaware. Even those who are creating the various pieces necessary for it to occur often don’t take into account the implications of their work. In the words of Benoit Boulet, director of the McGill Centre for Intelligent Machines: “We’re not really trained to think about it. We’re highly specialized engineers and mathematicians and scientists, and we don’t really reflect too much on the philosophy of what we’re doing.” The problem with being optimistic about the Singularity (and I surprise myself by saying this, since I often consider myself as an optimist) is that failure means the extinction of our species. The world has never united as one to oppose a common threat. Neither has it faced a situation of this magnitude. Scientists are the horses driving our evolution forward, enticed by the dangling promise of a Utopia. We must prevent them from driving us all off a cliff.

Works Cited

Grossman, Lev. “Sin·Gu·Lar·I·Ty. (Cover Story).” Time 177.7 (2011): 42-49. Canadian Reference Centre. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. <http://dc153.dawsoncollege.qc.ca:2078/ehost/detail?vid=5&hid=11&sid=1e4ca13e-300f-4e67-94aa-b9e5dc9c33a1%40sessionmgr15&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#db=rch&AN=58585916>

Joy, Bill. “Why the future doesn’t need us.” Wired Magazine. April 2000. Web. 9 Apr. 2012. <http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy.html?pg=1&topic=&topic_set=>

McLaughlin, William. “Evolution in the Age of the Intelligent Machine.” Leonardo , Vol.17, No. 4 (1984), pp. 277-287. Published by: The MIT Press.Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1575105

Sachs, David. “Survival of the Machines.” The Gazette: B.1. Montreal Gazette. Jul 19 2008. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. <http://dc153.dawsoncollege.qc.ca:2352/docview/434662575/135FEA97E1649341DBB/2?accountid=27014>

Singularity Institute. Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, Inc. Web. 7 Apr. 2012. <http://singinst.org/overview/whatisthesingularity/>

TalkTalk encyclopedia. “Singularity”. Web. 9 April 2012. <http://www.talktalk.co.uk/reference/encyclopaedia/hutchinson/m0028794.html>

The role of the government in research

Note: This is a paper which I wrote a few months ago for my “Ethical issues in politics” class. I have since been revising my views and will (hopefully soon) post a new essay on the topic which will consider more the realistic consequences and feasibility of regulation. I thought that this would be interesting nonetheless – I’m especially interested in whether my views will change, and by how much.

Science has forever been plagued by naysayers who are afraid of us unlocking the secrets of the universe. In the past it has been branded as dangerous, blasphemous, and the devil’s work. The most obvious example for a North American would be the Catholic church, which has until recently labeled any scientific advancements which contradict God as “heresy”, and threatened and even killed many such lunatics. Galileo, for example, was condemned to lifelong house arrest on the charge of heresy for his belief that the Earth rotates around the sun. Our scientific prowess has grown exponentially since this archaic time. We now live in a so-called “enlightened” society. Science is generally considered as an essential and worthy endeavor, and it would be unimaginable for the church to stifle progress in such a way. Unfortunately, however, not all scientific discoveries merely increase our understanding of the universe, like Galileo’s mind-blowing (at the time) theories. The more our technological expertise increases, the more science has the power to be dangerous. The invention of the sword was a monumental achievement which had many detrimental moral implications at the time. Yet the invention of the gun brought with it a catastrophically larger amount of killing potential; the invention of the atom bomb literally blows both of these inventions away. Violent technologies aside, our leaps forward now put us on the brink of many advances which threaten many people’s strongest moral values. Information technology threatens our right to privacy. Genetic engineering raises issues about the morality of self-improvement. Genetic screening brings about the controversial topic of designer babies, and even of aborting babies who will be diseased. The list goes on and on. The implications are staggering. Perhaps, then, the church was right? It would be near impossible to argue in our day that progress should be stifled, but what about progress that all, or the general population at least considers to be morally abhorrent? Should scientific research be guided by moral considerations? Or is the ultimate goal the pursuit of knowledge, whatever its outcome? Most importantly, should the government be allowed to interfere with science?As I am writing this, I do not have any opinions on the matter; the ethical implications seem too important to draw any conclusions without careful research and thought. Let us first pick the brains of some of the leading theorists in the field.

We will start with Edward Teller, a Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is a physicist born in Hungary, and is chiefly known for his contributions to the first demonstration of thermonuclear energy. He says:

Today there is perceived to be a strong contradiction between the results of science and the requirements of morality; for instance, the application of science has led to the development of nuclear weapons, while international morality seems to demand that such results never be applied—and that research leading to them should be stopped.

He believes, however, that contradiction and uncertainty are good, since they lead to a deeper understanding. In 1949, he (indirectly) advised President Truman to continue work on the hydrogen bomb. He defends his decision in several ways. First of all, he has a “firm belief that the pursuit of knowledge and the expansion of human capabilities are intrinsically worthwhile”. He also was afraid of the Soviets achieving military superiority. He finally finds solace in a letter from four of his Russian colleagues. It says that since, for the first time in history, the most powerful weapons ever created were not used, they would become “instrument(s) of human experience, the means of great discoveries, the tool(s) of deep penetration into the secrets of Nature”.

Teller has some valid points. His claim that contradiction and uncertainty are good, is quite compelling – how are we supposed to fully understand the universe if we limit ourselves to “moralistic” research? His claim that the pursuit of knowledge is intrinsically worthwhile, however, begs the question: at what cost? It is true that now that the hydrogen bomb hasn’t been used, it has many potentially “good” applications, such as power generation, and ultimately, a greater understanding of the universe. But it would be foolish to think that the threat has passed. A hydrogen bomb still has the potential to destroy. His argument for military supremacy is to me the least compelling, since to me the creation of weapons is never justified. That, however, is a whole different debate.

Our next expert is Joseph Rotblat, who worked on the development of the atomic bomb before devoting the rest of his life to the abolition of nuclear weapons and peace, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Rotblat was much against Teller’s view that scientists aren’t responsible for the consequences of their research. He ended up working on the bomb because if “Hitler can have the bomb, then the only way in which we can prevent him from using it against us would be if we also had it”. He soon realized, however, that the Germans did not have the resources to make such a bomb, and that the Americans had less nobel goals. He argued that even if a scientist could not predict the applications of his work, he was still responsible of any consequences. However he believed that it was up to the conscience of the individual scientist, and not to the state to determine the direction of research, since regulation would be too difficult. He thus suggested a ‘Hippocratic Oath’ for scientists, and believed that ethics should be taught to all scientists. He also wished that, like in medical science, ethical committees would be set up to approve research proposals.

I agree that a scientist should bear the responsibility of direct consequences of his work. However, the inventor of the laser should not be held responsible for the creation of laser weaponry – this takes it too far. Roblat makes a very interesting point about government regulation; such policies might well be difficult to implement. Perhaps  an oath and ethical committees would ensure the morality of science, however this does not effectively counter Teller’s argument that science and morality must be separated in order to gain a complete understanding of the universe.

During my research, I have come across an article by David Koepsell which closely parallels the one which I am currently writing. He examines the claim that scientific research should proceed without limit since scientists merely unlock the secrets of the universe; it’s the politicians, technologists, and engineers who should be blamed for the unethical applications of scientific discoveries through technologies. He counters, however, that there have been many atrocities in the name of science before the application phase. This has led to the recent development of the “Belmont principles”, which are basically that people (including test subjects) must be treated with respect, the research must have some beneficial intentions behind it, and minorities must be justly treated. However these principles only really apply to bioethics, since other fields don’t require human test subjects. Koepsell argues that “Science proceeds not in a vacuum, but as a socially devised institution”. He therefore wishes for these principles to be expanded to include everyone who could be potentially affected by the research. He also recognizes the claim that many scientific pursuits are “dual-use”, which means that they have the potential to be harmful or helpful. His belief is that scientists should take moral responsibility for their own work, employing the formula L+P>R (L=likelihood of independent discovery and use, P= potential benefit from scientific investigation now, R=risk). He also supports institutional regulation, and is a proponent of the ethical training of scientists.

I believe that Koepsell’s claim that scientists need to be aware of their surroundings effectively counters Teller’s view that every avenue of science must be explored – Putting other’s in danger is a direct violation of our fundamental human rights, especially if it the potential benefits are minimal. I think that a combination of government regulation and ethical training is a good start, but is perhaps not enough.

It is perhaps fitting that the last expert who I will cite is Albert Einstein: the man who began the chain reaction of the atom bomb. In a letter dated October 1952, he discussed the moral obligation of scientists. He debates whether scientists should simply search for the truth, or if this truth should have a practical application. To him, the very essence of scientific research is an almost “religious attitude” towards the acquisition of knowledge – with or without practical purpose. He strongly believes that a “man of science” is a proud person who is distressed that his field of work has endangered humanity through weaponry. To him, the man of science is enslaved by the politicians who are in power due to scientific discoveries. He believes that the only way to ensure the survival of mankind is to abolish all weaponry. He concludes that if every man of science thinks critically, and applies his thinking, the dangers of science would be greatly reduced.

It follows from Einstein’s train of thought that he would not support any government regulation on science. He would, however, support ethical training, and perhaps Rotblat’s ‘Hippocratic Oath’ as well.

Now that the experts have laid their best arguments on the table, it becomes easier for me to come to a conclusion on this confounding problem. Einstein’s and Teller’s argument that the pursuit of knowledge should not be hindered is very convincing. However to me, Koepsell’s claim that scientists have a duty to respect the lives and the futures of all those affected by their research trumps all. I believe that every human has a right to live out their lives without mad-scientists enabling more ways for them to die. Therefore I support the government regulation of scientific research. I believe that institutions should be created to ensure that the interests of all humans are protected from future implications as well as present ones. I think that individual scientists should take responsibility for their work as well; Rotblat’s ‘Hippocratic Oath’ for scientists would be a big step towards this end. Ethical training would also be necessary to reinforce the necessity of taking into consideration fellow humans. These steps will lead us on the path to a morally acceptable future.

Edward Teller. Science and Morality.http://www.sciencemag.org/content/280/5367/1200.full
David Koepsell. On Genies and Bottles: Scientists’ Moral Responsibility
and Dangerous Technology R&D. Received: 12 February 2009 / Accepted: 21 July 2009 / Published online: 31 July 2009
Ó The Author(s) 2009. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com. Sci Eng Ethics (2010) 16:119–133
DOI 10.1007/s11948-009-9158-x
Martin Clifford Underwood. Joseph Rotblat and the Moral Responsibilities
of the Scientist. Received: 27 October 2008 / Accepted: 27 January 2009 / Published online: 27 February 2009
Ó Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009. Sci Eng Ethics (2009) 15:129–134
DOI 10.1007/s11948-009-9117-6

The Unequivocal Answer to the Abortion Dilemma

When the heated topic of abortion was first brought to my attention in school, I didn’t know what to make of it. As someone who has complete empathy towards everyone and everything, including insects and my worst enemies throughout my life (I would never wish to do any lasting damage to anybody, no matter how they have treated me*), I naturally had complete empathy towards the baby. What an atrocious fate, to die before even being born! To not be able to experience life! As a person who thoroughly enjoys life, this is one of the worst possible crimes. My first reaction was pro life. Yet as the discussion continued, I began to realize the other side of the problem. To me, ruining a person’s life, especially one who enjoys said life, is just as atrocious as ending one before it experiences it. Which is worse? Never experiencing life, or experiencing a small portion only to have it brutally smashed against a a concrete wall by an unwanted child? I could not think of any way to choose, and so i came to an impasse. Not in the mood for heavy thinking, I decided to be undecided; I resolved to push the issue aside until a later date when I felt like using my brain. I forgot about abortion and lived my happy (not quite as much at the time: high school) life for a time.

The next time the topic of abortion was brought up to me, I realized that I must make up my mind somehow; the issue was too important, and my ego told me that I was smart enough to require having an answer to all the important issues of life. Unfortunately, however, there was no resolving my earlier conundrum. However I could see how varying other people’s opinions were, and how adamant they were about them. I realized that while I was unable to figure out my personal view on abortion, I should in no way have the right to impose any decision upon others. People should be free to choose for themselves. If anyone asked, I was pro choice. Uneasily content with myself, I went to bed that night with no answer to the horrifying question: what if I were to ever find myself in this situation? Again, I turned my attention onto other things (potentially on how to get girls, I was quite atrocious at that back then).

It is not until recently that I finally found the unequivocal answer which I had been searching for, but had long since given up hope of finding. It happened in bed, while contemplating how weird my train of thought must be, given how I have observed other people thinking. One of my key theories is that I can no one can ever predict the outcome of anything, since I believe** that every electron that moves changes the future forever (I was actually convinced that I was the inventor of this theory when I came up with it around the age of 7-8 (with worms not electrons of course) and was quite crushed when I realized many years later that it was a widely known postulation). I often think about this, as useless and tiresome an endeavor as it is – the only way i can sleep at night is by reasoning that since I can’t control anything I shouldn’t worry about it. That night, however, I linked it to abortion.

If someone has a child, it changes the future forever. Key to abortion, it alters the chances of another child being born. While one may choose to abort a baby for a plethora of reasons, the effect is the same. Having that child, no matter how altruistically-intended, will “kill” another child by not allowing it to be born. Since every time a man ejaculates millions of sperm die, who is to say which baby (or which sperm) has more of a right to live?

The only case in which this is not true is if the woman never intends to have any (or any more) children. This means that a life is aborted without a life to replace it. This baby is a pure, innocent well of untapped potential. It has the potential to enjoy life, to make a difference, to change other people, just as much as it has the potential to (insert pessimistic comments here, I don’t wanna I’m an optimist). Yet even in this instance, we must not forget the parents (for simplicity I will assume parents from now on). If a person rationalizes the terrible decision of abortion, it follows that there’s a reason. This reason is logically that the baby will somehow ruin her/their lives. This essentially means that that any potential that they once had is lost, or at least put on hold; why should the parents throw away their potential/enjoyment of life for the potential enjoyment of another. While this argument may seem callous to those who consider ultimate devotion the their offspring to be the pinnacle of parenthood, I am by no means saying this to belittle people of such view. To me, making this parental sacrifice is one of the most incredible and beautiful gifts one can bestow upon another, and I would be extraordinarily selfish to think otherwise, as my own parents have time and again offered similar sacrifice, (as must all loving parents, of course). I’m simply saying that it would be wrong to force such sacrifice on someone: it would no longer be sacrifice. Having followed this train of thought, I fail to see how anyone could rationalize being pro life, as unfair as this is for all potential lives.

Quite content with myself for having finally resolved this quandary to standards which I deem acceptable, I proceeded to discuss my idea with a few people. I talked to people who were pro choice, but for very different reasons. Hoping to prove that my reasons were even more valid, I embarked upon long and fruitless discussions. I couldn’t seem to make the people in question understand my train of thought – the main reason for me taking the time to write this. Yet the arguments they presented brought more aspects to my attention (or perhaps I only began paying attention to them then). What about single mothers? Poor parents? Children who have very little chance of surviving? Worst of all, what if having a child would ruin the both the parents life and leave the child with little chance of survival? These are all worthwhile arguments for pro-choicers, which I believe complement what I have said above very nicely. Yet on their own, I don’t believe them to adequately refute pro-life arguments such as “everyone deserves a chance at life” and “who gives humans the right to control life and death?”. I’ve read too many fairy tales to reduce abortion to a numbers game. To me, the response to these arguments is unequivocally that no one can predict the consequences of our actions, and therefore such decisions are no longer “right and wrong”, but completely at the discretion of those who will be the most immediately affected by the decision: the parents.

*Recently I adjusted my views, and decided that people who would willingly cause permanent damage towards me do not deserve my empathy.

** Again, I don’t actually believe in anything, which is key to the way I think but I will discuss in a future paper – or perhaps it is better to leave it to René Descartes. The only difference between his and my views on this is that I don’t believe it’s worth it to worry about – it’s something to be aware of, yet since I can’t do anything about it, why bother worrying, since it will just ruin my enjoyment of life?

NOTE: Recently, one of my good friends brought a new idea to my attention. What if all mothers were forced to have their baby, and they’d just put them up for adoption after? This way the baby would retain it’s right to live, and the mother would only have to sacrifice 9 months of her life. However, this brings up a whole new set of problems. There are already way too many orphans in the world. There are way too many people in the world. According to the World Wildlife Fund, “humanity will be using two planets’ worth of natural resources by 2050¹. The baby’s right to live would interfere with everyone else’s right to live, by taking up natural resources. It may seem calloused to call a baby “a waste of resources”, and so I will not. To me, this idea falls just as much under the “population crises” category as the “abortion” category, and since it cannot be resolved without both, I will wait until I have thought more about, and most probably blogged about the population crises before coming to a conclusion about this alternative. Also, of note, as one of my female friends put it, everything does not go back to normal for the woman after.

1: http://www.forestfinance.de/WWF-Humanity-would-need-two-planets-to-survive.495.0.html?&L=1&ftu=fe5ad689d8