Obesity and Naturalness

High profile anti-obesity activist Meme Roth writes on her blog: “Let’s finally recognize obesity as abuse—abuse of our children, abuse of ourselves—and together take action.” Roth has recently trademarked the term “second-hand obesity”, playing on “second-hand smoke.” She writes that second-hand obesity is passed along from parent to child and from citizen to citizen. Roth makes numerous television appearances every year and continually underlines the association of fat with sickness, death, and unnaturalness.

New research by Dr. Arya Sharma is beginning to break the elision of fat and sickness with his new research:

“The back-to-back studies come as more evidence emerges that a significant proportion of overweight people are metabolically healthy and that the risks associated with obesity do not make for a one-size-fits-all formula.” More can be found here: http://www.canada.com/health/Heavy+healthy+formula+slims+down+definition+dangerously+obese/5257089/story.html

If the risks associated with obesity are less dramatic than once believed, then what is feeding this culture of obesity panic that aims to “blast away fat” and “burn belly fat” away in 10 days or less?

What surprises me about much of the writing on obesity, like Roth’s and Richard Carmona, the Surgeon general of the United States who compared the obesity epidemic to terrorism, is that Continue reading

A reply to Allen Buchanan on Cognitive Enhancement

The interview with Allen Buchanan has spawned numerous discussions throughout the web, including Brendan Foht’s response. In it, Foht looks to address Buchanan’s claim that the nature of our evolution in some sense justifies cognitive enhancement, and the existence of other technologies.

It is strange that Buchanan thinks that opponents of genetic engineering who find something worth preserving in our nature must believe that evolution is analogous to some sort of “master engineer.” Considering that evolution is a slow process by which biological order spontaneously emerges from highly complex networks of highly conserved genes, there would seem to be an obvious analogy for it in the conservative view of society.

Another article on the topic by Allen Buchanan can be found here. And you can watch a lecture by Buchanan through Youtube, titled “Using Biotechnology to enhance normal humans: Why nature isn’t good enough.” 

Disability, Sport, and Ableism Conference

For anyone interested, there will be a series of talks on the topic of disability and sport in various locations on the University of Alberta campus on Tuesday (February 14) and Wednesday (February 15) as part of the Disability, Sport, and Ableism Conference.  Here is a quick run-down of talk titles, locations, and times:

1. From Pistorius to Para-Olympism: Contentious Paralympic Issues

(Panelists listed below)

Feb 14, 12:30 to 2 pm, PE E-120


2. What Can One Do With Ableism?

Lecture: Dr. Gregor Wolbring

Feb 15, 3 to 4:30 pm, ETLC ELO18 Followed by social at Leva Cafe


3. Albeism, Obsolescence & Body Technology

Seminar with Dr. Gregor Wolbring

Feb 15, 11am, Tory 14-28 (rsvp peers@ualberta.ca)


Featured Panelists & Speakers:

David Greig MHK, ChPC is a National Talent Development Coach for Para-Athletics, Athletics Canada.

Dr. P. David Howe is a former Paralympian, a coach, a journalist and a sport anthropologist who studies social theories of embodiment.

Jean Laroche, ChPC is the Lead Coach for Para- Athletics at the Sherbrooke (QC) High Performance Centre.

Danielle Peers, M.A. (U of A) is a former Paralympian, a coach, a Ph.D student and a Trudeau Scholar who studies disability, sport & human rights.

Dr. Gregor Wolbring (U of C) is an Assistant Professor in Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies, who studies ethics and governance of science and technology with a focus on issues faced by disabled people.

“Finding Purpose After Living With Delusion”

An article from the New York Times tells the story of Milt Greek, who experiences psychotic delusions to save the world.

So after cleaning the yard around his house — a big job, a gift to his wife — in the coming days he sat down and wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, supporting a noise-pollution ordinance.

Small things, maybe, but Mr. Greek has learned to live with his diagnosis in part by understanding and acting on its underlying messages, and along the way has built something exceptional: a full life, complete with a family and a career.

Greek, and a growing number of others, have looked to their delusions as being rooted in fears, and other psychological wounds, with the goal of recovery through understanding. It’s a process that Continue reading

“Why Cognitive Enhancement is in Your Future (and Your Past)”

For those interested in transhumanism, cognitive enhancement, and the potential ethical problems that follow, this interview with Duke Philosophy Professor Allen Buchanan might be of interest. Buchanan has written extensively on the ethical implications of human enhancement, notably in his book Better than Human, and has argued forcefully in favour of pursuing cognitive enhancements.

Buchanan disagrees with critics who suggest that cognitive enhancement should not be pursued, in part, because it’s antithetical to human nature. In fact, he argues that the desire to improve our capacities, and our ability to do so, constitutes an important part of our nature.

I think that any appeal to the notion of human nature, on either side of the enhancement debate, is tricky and problematic and has to be handled with care. Yes, in one sense we might say that it’s part of human nature to strive to improve our capacities. Humans have done this in the past by developing literacy and numeracy, and the institutions of science, and more recently we’ve done it with computers and the Internet. So, yes, if an alien were looking at humanity and asking “What is human nature?” one of the ingredients is going to be that these beings seem quite concerned with improving their capacities and they seem to have a knack for doing it.

Check out the complete, and lengthy, interview for more discussions on this topic, the films Gattaca and Limitless, the potential to exacerbate social inequalities, and other ethical debates surrounding cognitive enhancement.