Science and technology are changing the world with new inventions and discoveries — for better and for worse. Breast implants, sex-change operations, and nuclear and chemical weapons are just a few of the widely varying misapplications of knowledge in the brave new world.
Perhaps the most important way in which science is a threat to sanity is in its potential to change the human body. In the past, people used science to manipulate the world outside of the human body; but now the border of the body has been breached; as science is used for plastic surgery, gene manipulation, and organ replacement, our very selves are increasingly being altered. Is someone with silicone in their breasts, an artificial heart, steroid-generated muscle tissue, or a genetically engineered brain still “human” in the sense that we use the term? What if they had all, rather than just one, of those technology-enhanced body parts? Is someone who is kept alive indefinitely on life support systems still really “alive”?
Many of the most recent scientific innovations have great value, especially in the field of medical technology. The power to repair injury and mitigate disease is truly awesome. Perhaps even more importantly, the nature of work has been changed by technology. Not too long ago, the great majority of work done by humans was the dawn-to-dusk, backbreaking drudgery of agricultural or primitive industrial labor. In the modern age, work is incomparably more interesting — sometimes even enjoyable — and also far more economically rewarding.
Because of its impact on health and medical care, standards of living, and ability to make life more interesting, science is generally regarded as a positive force. But we may be at a turning point where science becomes something people fear, partly because of the very fundamental ways in which it is changing the human body. (And also partly due to the ways in which technology is being used to invade privacy.)
If science is to remain a force for positive change, we will need to define what it means to be human. Based on a broad philosophical definition, individuals and organizations need to be selective as to the scientific innovations they pursue.
Not just on whether something can be done, but whether it should be done. Is a particular application of science and technology creating value, or destroying value?