Status Quo Bias
By Nick Bostrom
Disaster! A hazardous chemical has entered our water supply. Try as we might, there is no way to get the poison out of the system, and there is no alternative water source. The poison will cause mild brain damage and thus reduced cognitive functioning in the current population. Fortunately, however, scientists have just developed a safe and affordable form of somatic gene therapy which, if used, will permanently increase our intellectual powers just enough to offset the toxicity-induced brain damage. Surely we should take the enhancement to prevent a decrease in our cognitive functioning.
Many years later it is found that the chemical is about to vanish from the water, allowing us to recover gradually from the brain damage. If we do nothing, we will become more intelligent, since our permanent cognitive enhancement will no longer be offset by continued poisoning. Ought we try to ?nd some means of reducing our cognitive capacity to offset this change? Should we, for instance, deliberately pour poison into our water supply to preserve the brain damage or perhaps even undergo simple neurosurgery to keep our intelligence at the level of the status quo? Surely, it would be absurd to do so. Yet if we don’t poison our water supply, the consequences will be equivalent to the consequences that would have resulted from performing cognitive enhancement in the case where the water supply hadn’t been contaminated in the ?rst place. Since it is good if no poison is added to the water supply in the present scenario, it is also good, in the scenario where the water was never poisoned, to replace that status quo with a state in which we are cognitively enhanced.
Bostrom talks about the so-called "double-reversal test" as a method for arguing in favor of cognitive enhancements and other transhumanist changes in the episode of Philosophy Bites linked below.
Full article: http://www.nickbostrom.com/ethics/statusquo.pdf
Do we want things to remain the same, and does that stop us making rational judgements in the area of cognitive enhancement? Nick Bostrom discusses these questions with Nigel Warburton. This episode w…