Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"But we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye..."

So I'm listening to a scientist on the radio tell me that genetics will one day allow parents (with sufficient access to $$ and technology, of course!) to alter their child's IQ, raise it by as much as 20 points. And I'm wondering: why just IQ?

IQ, of course, is supposed to be a measure of reasoning power. But "reasoning" is not so univerally defined, as various critiques of the cultural bias of "IQ tests" have shown over the past decades. It's also one of those things that sounds scientific but for which we have no real unit of measure (is the difference between 100 and 110 on the IQ scale geometric? Arithmetic? Functional? Grab ass?). We forget that when Oliver Wendell Holmes approved enforced sterilization on the basis of IQ scores, and said: "Three generations of imbeciles is enough!", he was using a scientific, as well as legal, term, for classifying persons based on: IQ tests.

We also forget there are other measures of reasoning in other cultures, even within Western culture. Would the reasoning that benefited Einstein or Godel have served Davy Crockett at all? Would Jefferson's reasoning have been any good for Hemingway, Fitzgerald, or T.S. Eliot? Would Aquinas' reasoning have served Shakespeare's ends, at all? And yet "IQ" is taken as the definitive measure of cognitive ability, of what the human brain is, and should be, capable of.

So, I wondered, why are we so anxious to enhance "IQ" if, in truth, we can't even define what it is, can't even settle on how, and with what cultural markers, it should be measured? If, in fact, we "enhance" IQ in embryos, in children, what advance would we see? And why is there no scientific interest in enhancing empathy, or compassion? Appreciation for beauty, or creativity? Ability to compose music, to work in the plastic arts, to be a good listener? Can we enhance social ability/ appreciation for others, openness to the "other"? Can we enhance capacity to love and care for one another?

And if we can't, how do we know we can enhance "IQ"? What, in fact, would be the point of enhancing IQ? To create more and better scientists, so we can enhance more and better the IQ of the next generation? "IQ" is a wonderful concept for scientists, because it sounds so much like them. They reason, so reasoning as they do it must be the ultimate good, the ultimate goal of all human kind. The world needs another Godel, not another Goethe; another Einstein, not another Dorothy Day or Thomas Merton. And, of course, scientists would make this "enhancement" possible for the rest of us, and would also be the people advising us on whether or not to make it in our children, and assuring us this enhancement is best because, not only can they do it, but it's good that they can do it! It's the best enhancement there is!

And so far, and into the future, the only enhancement there is. Well, that and making better, faster, more muscular athletes. That, according to this scientist, is the other option.

But if to the man with a hammer the whole world looks like a nail, what kind of nail do we want to live on? And who do we want to be handing the hammers to? And what kind of hammers do we want to hand them?

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