Tuesday, March 24, 2009

David Brin on Uplift

While David Brin has written many fine novels, I think the most interesting are those set in his "Uplift universe", in which "patron" species in the intergalactic civilization genetically modify non-sapient "client" species to bring them sapience. In this universe humans have uplifted and work side-by-side with chimpanzees and dolphins. (You can read two Uplift Universe short stories for free on Brin's web site.)

This week David Brin is guest blogging at George Dvorsky's Sentient Developments. Dvorsky is quite interested in ethical issues around the uplift of nonhuman animals, and has asked Brin to share his thoughts on whether this is something we should or even could do. In his first post, Brin does just that. He also writes a bit about why his take is different than that of The Island of Doctor Moreau or Planet of the Apes:
The notion that we would abuse or enslave such creatures has some deep metaphorical resonance -- and during a long transition they would not be our peers. But as a goal? A reason to create new beings? It really is kind of pathetic, as are the simplistic tales.

I wanted, instead, to explore what might happen if we took on such a challenge with the BEST of intentions! Wouldn't the new species have problems anyway? Problems that are much more subtle and interesting than mere oppression?
And it raises many questions as to what the situation might be like from the uplifted species' point-of-view, something Brin likes to explore:
I get to stretch my imagination, and the reader's, exploring what sapient dolphins or chimps might feel and think, under the pressure of such development, tugged between both the ancient instincts of their forebears and the new template being imposed upon them by their "patrons."
It's been many years since I read Startide Rising, and this makes me want to go back and read it again. Go read Brin's whole post!

Also, in a related post, Dvorsky suggests checking out the work of Sue Savage-Rumbaugh at the Great Ape Trust to learn more about the possible cultural issues of uplift:
Just to be clear, Sue is not an advocate of biological uplift, but the work that she does integrating bonobos into non-traditional living environments and in comprehending their language and culture speaks directly to this issue; there's a very fine line between cultural and biological uplift. For starters, check out the article, "Sue Savage-Rumbaugh on the welfare of apes in captivity." Also be sure to check out the work of the Great Ape Trust.
I have mixed feelings about some of Dvorsky's arguments about non-human animal culture, but I do think it's an interesting and important topic to consider. I'm looking forward to reading more posts by Brin at Sentient Developments this week.







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1 comment:

E.S. Wynn said...

Very cool! I've never really even heard of David Brin before now, but I'll have to check out his work. It definitely sounds interesting!