Saturday, September 10, 2011
Insanely Competitive or Just Enhanced Humanity?
Because of a discussion first initiated by Mike LaBossiere on Talking Philosophy, I now have a case of wine riding on human sanity. The discussion was about what it means to be an athlete. I mentioned the discussion to a friend who is a philosophy professor and happens to run marathons. We talked about Oscar Pistorius, the South African who's legs were amputated for medical reasons when he was only 11 months old. Having cleared some legal hurdles, Pistorius is now set to compete against the world's best non-amputee runners.
My friend is convinced that because of athletes like Pistorius someone somewhere will eventually voluntarily amputate their perfectly healthy lower legs. And according to her, this will happen as soon as Cheetah blades are perfected enough to clearly give you a competitive advantage. As much as I believe that the singularity will probably be achieved through a melding of the mecha and the org, this seems like an act of insanity. It's not that I don't believe people will eventually remove limbs to enhance themselves. Cosmetic surgery has been upgrading (or is it downgrading) wonderfully lush and perfectly healthy body parts for quite some time. But to amputate your legs just so you can win a sports competition still seems quite extreme to me. It would seem to me that such an act would require further daily advantages beyond being a great track and field or endurance runner.
I asked my friend when she thinks this will be. She predicted that it will happen within 10 years. I said I had little doubt that it will eventually happen but that it would be at least 20-30 years before we get that far. My main thought is that it must first be clear that having prosthetics has broader advantages than merely excelling in a sports competition. Or at least that it has no disadvantages for your daily life. My friend, as I understood it, thinks people can be so focused and driven in a narrow domain that the prospect of winning an athletic race is motivation enough to get rid of a healthy limb.
I fear that I'm on the loosing end of this bet. What do you think?