The evolution heuristic (sometimes referred to as the wisdom of nature) is a method, proposed by Nick Bostrom and Anders Sandberg,[1] for evaluating possible forms of human enhancement.

Human beings are evolved organisms, whose traits have been optimized by a long process of random mutation and natural selection. Attempts to enhance such systems undertaken without due consideration of how they originated are likely to backfire. This insight may be expressed as an evolutionary optimality challenge:[2]

If the proposed intervention would result in an enhancement, why have we not already evolved to be that way?

The evolution heuristic holds that a failure to provide an answer to that question creates a presumption against the proposed intervention. But the heuristic also identifies three types of considerations that could answer the question, and hence defeat the presumption:[3]

  1. Changed tradeoffs. The environment may have changed in significant ways relative to that which prevailed during most of our evolutionary history.
  2. Value discordance. Evolution selects for inclusive genetic fitness, whereas interventions to improve the human condition are assessed according to some moral standard, such as the welfare of the individuals affected.
  3. Evolutionary restrictions. Current technology enables various modifications to the human organism that natural selection could not attain with the resources at its disposal.

Further reading

Bostrom, Nick & Anders Sandberg (2009) The wisdom of nature: an evolutionary heuristic for human enhancement, in Julian Savulescu & Nick Bostrom (eds.) Human Enhancement, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 375–416.

Heuer, Kelly (2013) The “wisdom of nature” argument in contemporary bioethics, unpublished.

  1. ^

    Bostrom, Nick & Anders Sandberg (2009) The wisdom of nature: an evolutionary heuristic for human enhancement, in Julian Savulescu & Nick Bostrom (eds.) Human Enhancement, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 375–416.

  2. ^

    Bostrom & Sandberg, The wisdom of nature, p. 378.

  3. ^

    Bostrom & Sandberg, The wisdom of nature, pp. 378-380.

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