Stewart Brand on “De-extinction”
I found this talk fascinating.
Stewart Brand, well known activist, futurist and creator of the Whole Earth Catalog and The Long Now Foundation, speaks here on the realities of “de-extinction” the bringing back of extinct species and (local) ecosystems through genetic engineering and radical hybridization.
Come on….you know you want the Woolly Mammoth back!
March 27th, 2013 at 10:06 pm
The <i>National Geographic</i> ran a debate on de-extinction last month. Stuart Pimm wrote the ‘con’ case, and he makes a few good points:
“Fantasies of reclaiming extinct species are always seductive. It is a fantasy thatreal scientists—those wearing white lab coats—are using fancy machines with knobs and digital readouts to save the planet from humanity’s excesses. In this fantasy, there is none of the messy interaction with people, politics, and economics that characterizes my world. There is nothing involving the real-world realities of habitat destruction, of the inherent conflict between growing human populations and wildlife survival. Why worry about endangered species? We can simply keep their DNA and put them back in the wild later.
When I testify before Congress on endangered species, I’m always asked, “Can’t we safely reduce the spotted owl to small numbers, keeping some in captivity as insurance?” The meaning is clear: “Let’s log out almost all of western North America’s old-growth forests because, if we can save species with high-tech solutions, the forest doesn’t matter.””
March 28th, 2013 at 4:32 pm
One type of similar fantasy imagines scientists as the controllers of the world. Science fiction is replete with societies in which the scientists hold either an extremely privileged position or even are the rulers (de facto, at least.) Even the popular incarnation of Star Trek follows this path: Yes, there is a Federation and rules and so forth; but it will bend easily whenever a scientist or collection of scientists (who may have military rank!) testify or give evidence.
One might suppose that the privileged position of scientists in science fiction is either wishful thinking for the authors creating it — geekdom wins out — or even a serious philosophical statement a la Plato’s “philosopher king” model. (Knowledge wins out in time; the scientific pursuit of knowledge “proves” itself well enough to ascend to the top rank of the future society.) Some writers do manage to add a little of current realism, using genius technocrats/inventors/businessmen as their model for the future scientist.
Either way, however, the representations and assumptions in science fiction have filtered down by viewers of it. One might even suppose that this has been an unintended 5GW-type effort; if not, then at least a model-shaping-reality performative endeavor.