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 Letter to a fellow biopunk 
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Joined: Wed Mar 19, 2008 3:19 am
Posts: 195
Location: Sweden
Post Letter to a fellow biopunk
This is a rewrite of a longer mail I wrote in an exchange with a fellow biopunk a few days ago. We were talking about what biopunk means to us. What are your ideas on this? What is biopunk to you? Here is the mail:

Biopunk has to(as cultures do) build on a subset of ideas that came before it. My picks include; the scientific method(skepticism), evolution, hacker culture(freedom and open everything), secular humanism and synthetic biology. I probably forget a few.

The anthroposophic view that "the planet is alive and everything has a soul and a will" is supernatural and therefore dumb. Much of the GMO debacle doesn't concern biopunk. GMO:s are as unnatural as fertilizers or tractors at this point. If one clarifies the debate to be about big corporations doing bad things then it might be an issue for the biopunks.

I have this image of the biopunk wanting to research and control the context he/she lives in through evolutionary philosophy(like Daniel Dennett) and evolutionary psychology(like Steven Pinker).

There are different levels to hacking humans. On one level it's hacking molecules. On another it's hacking behavior. An example would be what the illusionist Derren Brown does. Understanding how to hack humans is essential to knowing when you are about to be hacked yourself.

I would also say that knowledge of our and the universes origins are part of the biopunks toolkit for understanding his/her context. As is memetics for the same reason.

I think there will be a time not so long into the future when the technology is cheap and accessible enough to get into the hands of young people. And I think it's the young people who are going to come up with the applications no one expects and that turn out to be the most significant. Young people are punk, they don't care about what people think can be accomplished. They care about what's cool to their friends - about what gets them appreciation from their peer group. Today kids have access to much of the same information as the academics have, through torrents, contacts and lately also public databases and open access journals. Young people on a mission are a formidable creative force. As was the case with computer culture I think they are they are the ones spearheading this revolution.

To 80% of anyone over 35 biology means you know the names of birds and inner organs(figure made up by me). The adults are now building the infrastructure for the young people to use. They can only begin to guess what it will be used for.

One problem with synbio today is the abstraction level. Institutions like MIT are addressing this by pushing genetic engineering. There are a multitude of technologies and disciplines converging towards the same goal: Making synthetic biology ever more accessible. The huge abstraction gain that BioBricks offer is just the very beginning. But they illustrate the point.

Synthetic biology can't be undiscovered or made unaccessible to the general public indefinitely even if one would try. Technology beats politics. Synthetic biology is something people are willing to use and pay for even when they are not allowed to. People want to stay alive for a long time, they want to hack their future kids or patch their existing ones. People want food and corporations want to make money. Young people want to hack life because it's the ultimate cool thing to do... creating life is what the cyberpunks were doing with their computers.

It's a difficult balance to express a vision while keeping grounded. I think the transhumanists like the extropians, Kurzweil & co fail with this. They try to wrap their visions in a cloak of science and it just doesn't work. Futurism is probably never scientific. I think biopunk should avoid this trap by celebrating the vision as opposed to portraying it as a coming fact. This is the honest way to do it. We could always be wrong.

Biopunk comes from cyberpunk roots. I often feel homage should be paid. "Information wants to be free" is just so brilliant in a biopunk context.


We can't stop here, this is Bat Country
- Raoul Duke

Wed Aug 12, 2009 1:04 am
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