I’ve been thinking quite a lot about biology in recent months - partly because we’ve been funding a lot more biology companies in my day job
, partly because there are exciting things happening
in biology-meets-machine-learning in London and partly because it’s increasingly clear that biology is mutable
in ways that were hard to imagine even a decade ago.
If you Google, “biology is mutable”, the first hit you get is this excellent Slate Star Codex essay, Society is fixed, biology is mutable
from 2014. The author, Scott Alexander, points out that society has proven really, really hard to change, even in areas where we’ve poured billions of dollars and attempted wholesale social engineering, like fighting drugs or obesity. By contrast, there are some areas where we’ve had extraordinary success through essentially biological interventions - like banning lead or promoting vitamin intake.
The political implications are interesting. As Alexander notes, the Left generally sees social outcomes as mutable and social engineering as the mechanism to improve them. The Right sees outcomes as immutable and so social engineering as pointless. What if both are wrong: what if social outcomes are
mutable, but biology is the best mechanism? Yet there’s undoubtedly something “icky” about this. It’s an interesting question of path dependence: if eugenics didn’t have such an appalling history
, might there be more appetite for biological interventions?