Material Versus Biological Reproduction

Date: January 14th, 2023 12:20 PM

Previously on PZ: DUALITY: Part One

Michaelangelo's Creation Of Adam painting


Everything repeats. There's not just one star, or one snowflake, or one set of fingerprints, but many. There's not just one moment of time, but a multitude of them. Our sun rises and sets over and over again, our weather produces seemingly infinite variations of ice crystals throughout our planet's lifespan, and the tips of our fingers themselves are long-term individual human identity markers. Although it is currently impossible to prove scientifically, it can be said that time itself reiterates eternally. The natural urge for things to reiterate is the basis of our infinite fractal universe.

Humans have two fundamental modes of reproduction: biological reproduction, which copies one's genetic substance, and material reproduction, which copies one's ideas. Both have been an essential part of humanity ever since its inception. Without biological reproduction (otherwise known as procreation), our species itself could not continue, and without material reproduction (otherwise known as manifestation or simply work), no human society would be able to flourish. The two share a symbiotic relationship in that material reproduction would be impossible without the humans created by biological reproduction, and biological reproduction would not be nearly so important without the world created by material reproduction. In short, biological reproduction makes life possible while material reproduction makes life worth living.

"The unexamined life is not worth living", said Socrates, and in my opinion a thoughtless society isn't worth creating, let alone preserving.

Historically, civilizations have practiced and encouraged both these forms of reproduction. Many forms of material reproduction are designed to bolster human desire to engage in procreation. Material reproduction necessarily includes the construction of systems designed to house & welcome new organisms created due to biological reproduction (e.g. building hospitals, schools and governments). Material reproduction also includes the writing of literary works, the spoken word itself, the creation of artwork, the development of sciences and philosophies, the building of edifices, the participation in cultural traditions, the rise and fall of governments and empires, and even the act of meditation itself (as thought begets thought).

Humans have been expressing their thoughts and feelings through various physical formats for millennia, but in our contemporary times we have access to technology that allows us to massively extend our capabilities: digital reproduction. We have the ability to digitize sound, words, images and videos, providing the highest quality archival formatting humanity currently has available. Thanks to the ever-endearing copy-and-paste method, digital reproduction makes it easier to mass produce the things we want to experience in the world. It is a wide umbrella which includes such activities as social media influencing, lifestreaming, self-quantification, blogging & microblogging, creation of digital artwork, conversing on Internet message boards, digitization of already existing media, the building of websites and the making of digital cinema. We don't yet know what better idea-archival methods will become available to us in the future, but the tools of expression we have available to us now are pretty damn powerful for the time being.

Some communities put more emphasis on one kind of reproduction than the other. For example, the childfree community necessarily does not engage in biological reproduction, but have instead devoted their lives to material reproduction. On the other hand, some devote their whole lives to biological reproduction and only engage in whatever material reproduction best supports their newest replicants. Both modes of reproduction have become so deeply ingrained in many human cultures that they have become mandatory: most people are expected to work for a living and bear children at some point in their lives. Some people consider procreation to be so important they consider abortion to be a crime, especially if they believe procreation to be a divinely mandated duty. However, "Be fruitful and multiply" is not a divine command, but an expression of divine blessing. We can be fruitful with ideas as easily as we can be fruitful with people, and the creation of ideas themselves can also be thought of as a divinely mandated duty, if one wishes to see it that way.

The more noble of the two modes of reproduction is dependent, like all things, on one’s subjective perception. The ethical controversies inherent in procreation are not acknowledged by everyone, despite their actuality. It is a Pearlian position to assume that material reproduction generally is much more noble than biological reproduction, because of the existence of these unavoidable ethical controversies, although this is far from a universally accepted position in our society today. At the forefront of these controversies is the lack of consent given by those who are being created. While material reproduction sometimes occurs without consent of the creator(s), biological reproduction ALWAYS occurs without consent of the created, and therefore will always carry an immoral component along with it no matter how noble the intentions of the parents may be.

There are many practical reasons for the superiority of material reproduction over biological reproduction, and one of them has to do with freedom. Only certain bodies have the ability to incubate children within them, most notably human females with functional reproductive systems. But ideas themselves can be incubated by almost any body at any time: all that is required is a working brain and some method of self-expression. In many ways because of their inherent biology, most women throughout the centuries have been pushed into a life devoted entirely to biological reproduction without any regard for their personal wishes. Luckily, many women are no longer required to devote their lives to the making and raising of children, as today they are (more or less) allowed to pursue either mode of reproduction they wish rather than being pushed into one or the other. Furthermore, material reproduction necessarily allows for a greater gamut of sexual freedom, since it does not have the same stipulation of heterosexuality required by the act of procreation.

Many things created via material reproduction, such as books and paintings, can far outlast a human lifespan, potentially carrying important information with them deep into the future. Digital files have the potential to last even longer and take up much less space than other physical formats. A flash drive is easier to hide in the world than a bunch of scrolls in jars, which was once the preferred method of storing important information.

With material reproduction one can easily decide which parts of themselves to replicate— the same cannot currently be said of genes, since the act of procreation itself simply mixes all genes together without the option of choosing which ones can be included or left out of the mix. Even if we do currently have the ability to select which genes are passed (or not passed) onto an offspring, the process is expensive, intrusive, time-consuming and without much of any guarantee that the offspring produced will be exactly what the parents wanted them to be. Copying ideas, on the other hand, is as easy as deciding to draw shapes in the sand. Additionally, it can be said that material reproduction is more valuable because it is typically performed with more intention than the act of procreation (which in its simplest form simply requires someone to ejaculate inside someone else) and the end product has the potential to add to society's resources rather than taking from them. This is debatable, however, since not all of the results of material reproduction necessarily adds to the resources of a society, and all children have the potential to become a societal resource once they reach a level of maturity.

It should be noted that both modes of human reproduction have the ability to bring about suffering and strife to the human race. Material reproduction can produce ideas that can erode, eradicate or toxify a society (like a disease), while unfettered biological reproduction can produce many more people than a society can ever hope to provide for (like a cancer).

It has been said there is a time and a place for everything, and that is true of both modes of human reproduction. There is enough people in the world now that the human race is in no danger of population collapse, so material reproduction is a higher priority now than it was in the past. If a human community or humanity itself was on the verge of extinction, or if a new area (such as an exoplanet) were being populated, then biological reproduction would be a higher priority than material reproduction.

Our technological advances have enabled us to greatly expand our gamut of both reproductive modes and should be taken advantage of. With the advent of modern technology came the possibility for a new mode of biological reproduction never available before: human cloning. It can be said that copying genes in this way is less immoral than traditional sexual reproduction because consent is always given in self-replication and it does not preclude the replication of homosexual individuals. This is debatable, however, in that a human clone is still in many ways their own person and they did not give consent to being created in the first place, just like any other human child. The process of human cloning is also expensive, intrusive, time-consuming and without much of a guarantee that the clone produced will be exactly what their creators wanted them to be. Moreover, it is unknown if human cloning is a suitable method for copying ideas themselves, which— if true— could bridge the gap between the two modes of reproduction. Nevertheless, human cloning should always be an option made available to as many people as possible in the same way that assisted reproductive technology is made available to as many people as possible.

In addition to human cloning, modern technological advances have allowed human cybernetic augmentation to start becoming an everyday phenomenon. Prosthetic limbs, microchip implants, computer-brain interfaces, artificial vision and pacemakers are some examples of cybernetic augmentations available to humans today, and with constant research and development even more are likely to become available in the future. Enhancement of the human condition is already happening and we are already past the point of no return. Technology, for better or worse, is already woven into our world, and continues to weave itself into our world. We should make the best of it.

We should make the best of all of it.

aquarius symbol

Tags: Philosophy, Culture, Life, Ethics, Weekly Submissions