Designer Babies Are at the Doorstep

A child with cystic fibrosis (CF) can look forward to a lifetime of nearly suffocating in his own mucus, probably infertility in the case of a male child, and finally death in middle age.

The disease is genetic. If you were pregnant and knew your baby was destined to struggle with CF, what would you do?

  • Have an abortion?
  • Carry the baby to term as-is?
  • Repair the defective genes so he would not develop CF?

For me, the choice would be easy. I would repair the genes.

designer-babiesThis week, news broke that scientists have managed to edit the DNA of human embryos using CRISPR-Cas9 technology, in a way that could absolutely cure CF and other diseases. (Here’s a 90-second explanation of CRISPR, and here’s one in more depth that runs 7:20.)

Not only could the technique prevent disease in an affected embryo, but the gene would forever be eliminated from the line of descent (the embryo’s children). Pretty great, right?

Yes, but the scary part is that this technique could conceivably be employed to edit any gene. You want taller children? Smarter children? Stronger children? You will be able to have them — for a price.

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The Hand of God

Hand of God
A friend recently encouraged me to recall the times I perceived the hand of God on my life.

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How to Show Deep Respect

This week, Canada’s Governor General caused a stir because he touched the Queen of England during her visit to his country. He was only trying to ensure that the 91-year-old monarch did not take a tumble while descending a set of carpeted stairs, but still…there are certain things that are not done!

The episode brought to mind the ending of the 1956 film, The King and I, which is about how to show deep respect.

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Unusual Superpowers

I recently read an article in The Guardian about people who have a superpower I had never heard of. They are “empaths” — people who are “capable of feeling someone else’s feeling in their own body.”

Here is a sample experience from the article:

[An empath named Noah Berman and his friend] were sharing a joint when [the friend’s] sister came in looking distressed; Berman told his friend that her sister had been sexually assaulted by a person they both knew, and that she would disclose this in three weeks’ time. His premonition was correct.

Sometimes being an empath is a burden, as when one young empath was “bullied by his classmates, who were freaked out when he intuited information about them.”

This got me thinking about unconventional superpowers. If you could be granted one superpower other than the ones you’ve seen in movies (so no flying, combat skills, invisibility, or shape-shifting), what would it be? Here are some choices to get you started.

The ability to sing or play music that would evoke any desired emotion in those who hear it. The sirens of Greek myth had this ability, but only for the purpose of luring sailors to shipwreck on their island. Imagine if they had used their power to produce love, humility, patience, magnanimity, or other virtues!

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The Brief Window of Human Knowledge

al-haythamHuman science as we now recognize it began in earnest when Ibn al-Haytham, working in the 11th century, formulated the scientific method: proposing hypotheses and attempting to refute them.

The epistemological tools that al-Haytham advocated took us beyond the superstition, appeals to authority, and baseless speculation that had been the foundation of our so-called knowledge until that point.

Almost every scrap of knowledge we have that is beyond the obvious has been gathered in the thousand years since al-Haythem lived. However, in less than a tenth of that time, the window of human knowledge acquisition will close.

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What People Are Really Searching For

Isn’t it obvious that the more consequential an opinion is, the more careful we should be about forming it? Yet one of the mysteries of human behavior is that we often do the opposite.

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How the Pre-Scientific Mind Can Fall into Dogmatism

There is snow at the North Pole. Where there is snow, bears are white. What color are bears at the North Pole?

You probably knew how to navigate that logic before you were 10 years old. However, when researcher Alexander Luria asked Russian peasants to complete that syllogism in the 1930s, a typical response was, “Well, I’ve only seen brown bears. And only if a person came from the North Pole with testimony would I believe that the bears there are white.”

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