Subject Material

This Age of Human Enhancement

Published: 16.11.2011, Updated: 04.03.2017
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New methods of achieving beauty of body and mind are emerging every day.

How do you respond to this fictional ad?
Are you happy with the way you look? - If not, we can change your looks.
Are you afraid of growing older? - No worries, we can make you look and feel younger.
Are you feeling low? - No problem, our pill can easily rectify that.

This is what human enhancement is about.

In this text these words are important:

  • human enhancement
  • implications
  • cure
  • subjective
  • aristocracy
  • superficial
  • evasive
  • liposuction
  • collagen
  • ointment
  • facial features
  • augmented
  • dermabrasion
  • prerequisite
  • obesity
  • gastric bypass
  • pharmaceutical
  • bipolar disorder
  • antidepressants
  • anxiety

If you look at these words, is it possible to state what this article is about?

Human Enhancement

Look up the concept "human enhancement" in an encyclopedia, e.g. Wikipedia Human Enhancement on Wikipedia. What aspects are expressed in the ad (above)?

Modern science and technology have made it possible to change just about every aspect of ourselves. This is called human enhancement. In short, if we are ill or have been injured, we can seek a cure through therapy.  Enhancement, however, aims to improve the individual beyond good health.

New Treatments

In comparison to just one generation ago, the enhancement methods available to us are vast in number. The media are constantly bringing news about new treatments and procedures that are becoming available.

Let’s take stock of some of the technology we are partaking in and reflect upon the implications of this new age of human enhancement.

The Beauty Ideal

How would you define beauty? How is it defined in a dictionary? Study Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary Definition of beauty How did this compare with your definition?

Since everyone’s senses and mind are unique, beauty is a very subjective concept. The ideal of beauty has varied from age to age, from culture to culture, and it varies from person to person.  BarbieDoes Barbie reflect changing beauty ideals?
Fotograf: Lorelei92950

Throughout history, people have gone to great lengths to achieve the beauty ideal of their age – this is nothing new. For instance, Cleopatra and other queens of ancient Egypt bathed in the milk of asses to make their skin soft and smooth. They also cleaned their teeth with the urine of infants in an attempt to whiten them. During the Tudor period in England (1485 – 1603), both men and women of the aristocracy powdered their faces with a lead-based powder. Wealthy women of the Victorian Era had their lower ribs removed to make their waistlines as tiny as possible.

But today’s situation regarding beauty is different than that of earlier ages in several ways. First of all, the sheer number of methods – both superficial and invasive – is staggering. Old advertisement for cosmeticsAdvertisement for Max Factor
Fotograf: jbcurio
Beauty has become one of the world’s biggest industries. Secondly, we have a situation where television and the internet are constantly spreading our western beauty ideal to every corner of the earth. Also, the ability to achieve this ideal is no longer limited to the upper classes. Capitalism and the rise of the middle classes are enabling more and more people to make use of existing methods of what they consider self-improvement.

The Body Beautiful

In our day and age, we can change just about any part of our bodies. Plastic surgery can alter our facial features – nose, eyes and ears. We can have implants inserted in our chin and cheeks to change the contour of the face. Women who are not happy with their breasts can have them reduced, increased or augmented. To reduce the results of sun-damage, there are procedures that remove the outer layer of the skin, thereby stimulating skin cell and collagen production – for instance dermabrasion or chemical peeling. Lips can be made fuller by injecting collagen, and unseemly hair in unwanted places can be permanently removed by laser or electrolysis.

A big, bright smile is a prerequisite for what is considered facial beauty today. Cosmetic dentistry can both straighten and brighten our teeth – and make our smile anything from healthy and natural-looking to improbably white and perfect.

If we have too much body fat, we can have liposuction performed on our problem areas, for instance the abdomen, hips, buttocks, thighs or chin. And if there is too much skin left after this procedure, we can have it surgically removed. A more drastic solution for obesity is the gastric bypass, which makes the stomach smaller and allows the food to bypass part of the small intestine.

If we find these procedures too invasive or too expensive, the pharmaceutical industry has solutions to our problems. We can, for instance, purchase diet pills, pills that will lighten or darken our skin and pills that can treat, and eventually eliminate, acne. In fact, the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries work together to develop oceans of different kinds of creams, lotions and ointments. Not to mention what this industry has developed in regard to our mental health.

The Beautiful Mind

Psychiatric medications are used to treat the symptoms of psychiatric disorders. They can change the lives of people suffering from mental disorders like schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) for the better. A pill for just about everything?A pill for just about everything?
Fotograf: Paal Audestad

Antidepressants are used to treat mood-disorders such as depression, and anxiety disorders such as social anxiety disorder. Prozac is the most well-known of the antidepressants. These drugs can have a positive influence on an individual’s perception of his life and of the world. They can restore his sense of being a part of the world. However, what these drugs do is to affect the symptoms of the depression. This kind of temporary relief can give the time and strength necessary to work on curing the depression. However, they cannot cure the depression itself. 

There is growing concern about the increasing amount of these drugs that are being prescribed. Critics claim that antidepressants disconnect the individual from the complexity of his inner life, and that prolonged use of them can actually weaken the individual’s ability to handle the normal pain and suffering that are a part of life. In addition, there can be temporary or permanent damage to the brain.

Pharmaceutical companies and therapists are constantly striving to find the perfect cure for the mind - and the body, along with plastic surgeons who try to raise people's self-esteem by mending various body parts. The question remains, though - would a pill or cure really improve the quality of human life? Would we be happier or more satisfied?

Further Reading

The following two texts are related to this subject: Forever Young... and Ethical Dilemmas Regarding Human Enhancement. We suggest that you study these texts and use them as a basis for project work, where you can take polls, make surveys and do your own research.

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