Sunday, September 23, 2007


Many human characteristics are normally distributed including height, weight, intelligence, nose size, irritability, friendliness, compassion and hormone levels.

If people could choose…
If individuals were given the ability to choose the settings of their personal characteristics and analytes by using an analog of the Edit Preferences menu slider, either on a one-time or ongoing basis, what would they be likely to do? Would most people opt to stay the same, move closer to the median or experiment by selecting an outlier position?

The drive to normalize, people choose brown…

Despite the current demonizing and illegality of human enhancement in athletics, the practice is widespread. In other venues, there are also observable examples of the embracement of mindmodding and Stephen Jay Gould seems to be wrong again, this time in the claim that the median is not the message. Where selection possibilities exist, so far individuals have been reaching for the deep herd in the middle of the bell curve, often acquiescing unthinkingly to corporate marketing.

1. Hormone replacement therapy
Prescriptions continue to increase for both estrogen replacement therapy and testosterone replacement therapy despite medical studies indicating increased heart disease and other risks for women and no realized physical benefit of testosterone therapies for men. As they have for eons, people will pay for and take health risks to “enhance” their physical state to some perceived ideal, even when contradictory medical evidence exists.

It seems likely that more hormone management therapies with improved risk and efficacy profiles will be offered over time. One example is those of Dr. Louann Brizendine’s Women's Mood and Hormone Clinic at UCSF which are focused on ongoing state management for all ages. Hormone management such as continually suppressed menstruation can be useful in normalizing personal levels during the course of the day, week or month, diminishing rather than enhancing the effects of hormones.

Distinctly different flavors of anti-aging can be envisioned: the disastrous scenario of senescent male heads of state running around with the testosterone levels of 20 year olds hastening existential risk for all of humanity contrasted against the beneficent scenario of Aubrey de Grey’s mitochondrial DNA mutation restoration, Alzheimer’s plaque remediation biotechnology and other SENS approaches.

2. Virtual Worlds
Another example of what people actually do when given the opportunity to modify physical characteristics is visible in the thousands of avatars residing in the virtual world Second Life. All aspects of avatar representation can be modified, however, a huge cluster of brown (e.g.; average) can be seen in the age, height and muscle tone of avatars, with a much smaller cluster for furries and a few longtail outliers for unique appearance.

Should people be allowed to choose…
As long as personal characteristic modification is not injurious of the self or others, it would be difficult to conclude other than that it is an acceptable personal freedom. The only tempering aspect seems to be the usual income dispersion argument as only higher income tiers can initially afford these therapies as they are not covered by insurance. The world of the future will probably be like virtual worlds, with setting modification built into or adjunct to physical corporeality.

Is there any role for regulation?
What if someone wanted to play with a very high aggression setting? People can actually do this now except that cultural and societal norms prevent more divergent behavior. In fact, the ability to manage chemical and personality settings would vastly improve communicating with others and being productive in a group setting for some people. What about experimenting with and getting stuck in a lethal cocktail of depression, low esteem and remorse? Default resets would probably kick in before real harm could occur and these types of experiments could be interesting virtual reality experiences for individuals and a useful neurological tool for researchers.

Cure vs. enhancement and the evolving health system
A fundamental change is occurring as the role of the medical industry and medical professional is shifting from curing health impairments to providing enhancements. As enhancement therapies proliferate, there is a clear opportunity for new fields of enhancement counseling, customizing and habituation training to develop.


Anonymous said...

One thing that wasn't clear in your post was how the choices made in the center of the curve would relate to the person's actual prior condition. For instance, in virtual worlds like SL it has been my experience that while any given group tends to correct their appearance to be compatible with one another, these are often vastly different from their RL appearances and also different from other groups within SL.

I guess what I'm saying is that while people tend to clump into common choices, the outcomes of those choices are very different from the no-choice condition and are very much a moving target.

LaBlogga said...

Hi anonymous,

Thanks for the comment.

The implicit assumption is that anyone moving towards the center, of whatever group, perceives this to be an improvement for them.

Increased choice is a good thing, and is interestingly revealing about the conscious or unconscious drive of humans to seek rapport and acceptance in communities.

Anonymous said...

Well, if you insist on using Bell curve...then your average Second Life person should be half-man half-woman. That's 50-50...

I would also suggest it is relatively easy to move "choice" in the spectrum. All you have to do is to implement in their brains that having longtail is COOL. Given that this is what markets and consumption are about, I do not see any obstacles to raise next generation of longtails...that would be perfectly fit normal distribution pattern

P.S. I like your blog.

LaBlogga said...

Hi Cyber Cat, thanks for the comments.

Good counterpoint about gender not tending to the mid-point, strange that people still feel so rigid about this. In fact most avatars exhibit exaggerated sex differences. Having to select 'male' or 'female' as the only gender settings for an avatar or at website registrations is a bit limited, although there is always the option to be a furry.

I think it will be interesting to see what emerges conformity-wise or longtail-wise as people can select attribute parameters in all aspects of life. Choices show the value individuals and cultures place on exploration and creativity vs. norms.

I note in my post that unfortunately, the tendency is to conformity in the examples so far but hopefully this is just the first stage, mimicry as a prelude to innovation...

Thanks for your site link, I like your blog too