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220px-David_von_MichelangeloIf you don’t know what CRISPR is, you should. Two words: genetic engineering. And then you have cloning. I was talking to a friend of mine about the possibility of combining these two technologies, CRISPR and cloning. The basic intention here would be to recreate yourself, but superior. Edit out de novo mutations, and genetic load inherited from ancestors more generally. Perhaps substitute well known large effect alleles which have salubrious consequences. This is not totally abstract, as I’ve talked to many people who are interested in the idea of cloning.

For example, the economics blogger and professor Bryan Caplan has confessed that he would like to see what raising a clone would be like. Or as he states, “I want to experience the sublime bond I’m sure we’d share. I’m confident that he’d be delighted, too, because I would love to be raised by me. ” This may be correct. But now imagine that Caplan avails himself of the latest genetic engineering technology, in addition to cloning. Bryan Caplan version 2.0 is taller, better looking, smarter, more socially astute. In fact, from 2.0’s perspective the original Bryan Caplan may simply be an “alpha” version, before he was “perfected.” Perhaps 2.0 would love Caplan 1.0, but I suspect that this love would resemble Christianity’s love of its parent Judaism, which verges into patronizing condescension, as Christians believe their religion is a perfected completion of the Yahweh cult.

More farcically, consider how teenage rebellion would play out between a clone which is superior in every way to the parent. If a parent asks rhetorically “do you think you’re better than me?”, the clone would have to respond honestly, “Yes, and so do you.” The clone would be a better version of the parent, and likely this structural tension in the relationship would persist, as the original copies see themselves as they would wish to be, but never can be.

Addendum: Ted Kosmatka should write a short story based on this idea!

• Category: Science • Tags: Cloning, Crispr 
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There’s news about the Woolly Mammoth cloning attempts again. This gets floated every few years, and nothing has come of it…yet. I assume with enough money and time invested it will come to fruition. And whoever invests their time and energy and gets a successful return will probably get really famous, really quickly. But I’ve recently been thinking of a more practical application of cloning: reproducing enormous numbers of individuals who are mostly replicates of John von Neumann.*

To get a sense of why, see this Steve Hsu post. You can read about how much of a genius von Neumann (he was a source for Dr. Strangelove), but his legend is even larger in the oral history of mathematical science. There are still individuals alive who knew von Neumann personally, and they continue to maintain the memory of his preternatural mind.

My argument for cloning von Neumann in large numbers has a practical rationale: the world needs genius to maintain complex human civilization. John von Neumann certainly qualifies as a genius. And we need more than one, as it is likely that there is a random element to the expression of his particular brilliance.

* von Neumann is buried in Princeton, so partially degraded DNA would have to be extracted from his grave. One can also utilize DNA from his daughter, who is still alive.

• Category: Science • Tags: Bioethics, Cloning 
Razib Khan
About Razib Khan

"I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. If you want to know more, see the links at"