Wary of human-animal hybrids? It's probably just your own moral superiority

Wary of human-animal hybrids? It’s probably just your own moral superiority
The idea of human-animal hybrids often leads to people picturing something like an ancient Greek monster, such as the Chimera. Credit: Wikimedia

In Greek mythology, the Chimera is a monstrous fire-breathing creature, typically described as having the head of a lion, with a snake as a tail and the head of a goat emerging from its back.

Just as it terrorised the minds of the Greeks, this vision is also the cause of much consternation regarding the successful creation of the first human-pig hybrid embryos at the Salk Institute in California. In fact, such human-animal hybrids are often referred to as "chimeras".

While this scientific advance offers the prospect of growing human organs inside for use in transplants, it can also leave some people with a queasy feeling. It was precisely this queasiness that led to the moratorium on funding for this program of research.

People, it seems, just can't stomach the idea of growing human kidneys in pigs!

Given the potential advances that this research offers, our objections should probably be based on more than a mild case of nausea. Yet there are a few enduring aspects to the way we perceive human-animal hybrids that makes it difficult to think about them clearly.

It's just not natural!

Many of us are like six-year-olds who turn their nose up at the idea of mixing their broccoli with their mashed potato. We prefer to keep things pure. Whether it is cross-bred animals or racially mixed children, people who see the world as defined by underlying essences tend to reject this "impurity".

What is an "underlying essence"? It's the idea that things have certain necessary properties that are essential to them being what they are. So there is a kind of "pigness" that is exclusive to pigs, and a "humanness" that is exclusive to us.

But in biology, at least, there is no actual essence to anything in this sense. We're all made of different combinations of the same kinds of stuff, like proteins and amino acids. Even much of the blueprint – our genes and DNA – are shared across species, such that humans and mice share around 90% of their DNA, and we even share around 35% of our genes with the simple roundworm.

But this does not mean that we don't often rely on this way of thinking to understand what makes a tiger natural in a way that a chair is not. It is also this intuition that makes us squirm at the thought of a tiger-goat but intrigued by the idea of a chair-table.

Mixing human and animal biology is perceived as being unnatural and bit on the nose (much like a laksa risotto I once ordered), creating an irrational fear that human-pigs might escape the lab and take over the world (much like I fear the meteoric rise of Italian-Malay cuisine).

While the possibility of human-pig chimera wandering the planet is far from reality, just like the Greeks, our fear of hybrids fosters the sense that such creatures would be monstrous.

But what about mules?

While hybrids in general can sometimes create a disagreeable mixture of fear and disgust, this is not always the case. Take for instance the boysenberry (a cross between the raspberry, blackberry, dewberry and loganberry) or the clementine (a cross between a mandarin and an orange). We have little trouble consuming such hybrids for our lunch.

Our apparent comfort with some hybrids does not stop at plants. Mules have never been a source of alarm, yet they are the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. And what about the Liger, Tigon, Zonkey, Geep, or Beefalo?

Still, while hybrids in general can create a sense of foreboding, not all hybrids do, and it may be that mixing biology is most psychologically problematic when it comes to our own human DNA – and perhaps especially when it comes to mixing it with that of other animals.

We are not animals

One reason that human-pig hybrids are a source of anxiety is that they can conjure up a fear of our own death. The possibility that a pig could grow your next pancreas is a cogent reminder that humans are also animals, and this very biological reminder can create existential angst.

The notion that humans have souls, but animals do not, was (and still is for some) a popular belief. It gives us a sense of being superior, above or outside the biological order. Harvesting human hearts from goats can shatter this protective belief, leaving us feeling disgusted and dismayed.

Human-animal hybrids turn one's mind to the inevitable fact that we will all be pushing up the daisies one day. By keeping thoughts of our animal nature at bay, we conveniently forget that we are nothing more than mortal biological organisms waiting to fertilise the fields.

But bacon tastes good!

Another reason that growing a spare liver in the pig on your uncle's farm while subjecting your own to a bad case of cirrhosis may create unease is that doing so confuses the tastebuds. We eat pigs, not humans. Would you still enjoy bacon if it came from the pig who had nursed your liver for the past six months?

More powerfully, the prospect of pig-humans also confuses the moral compass. Biologically merging pigs with humans reminds us of our shared similarities, something that we mostly try to forget when savouring the smell of frying bacon.

We tend to maintain clear boundaries between those animals we eat and those we do not, as this helps to resolve the sense of discomfort that we might otherwise feel about using animals for food. It was this very confusion of boundaries that led to outrage over the prospect of horse meat in burgers during the 2013 horse meat scandal; horses are perceived as pets or companions, not food.

If confusing pets with animals we eat creates discontent, then confusing those same meat-animals with our own kind is sure to create moral and gustatory hesitation.

Beyond baffling our pallet, it also confounds our understanding of whether it is an animal from whom we are harvesting our next-generation organs, or some kind of sub-human entity. Indeed, harvesting organs from humans conjures visions of a dystopian future.

In the end, while mythical hybrid beasts may have caused alarm for the Greeks, it would seem that our own objection to growing our next heart in the breast of a pig has more to do with existential angst and a disruption of the moral order.

Whether or not we should use animals for these purposes, or for the satisfaction of human needs more broadly, is a topic for another time. Yet it is safe to say that our personal fear of this scientific advance – the queasiness we feel in the gut – may be mostly to do with how it destabilises our perceived human uniqueness and undermines our own moral superiority than anything to do with broader concerns over hybrids themselves.


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Fully-grown pig chimeras are only a few years away—we need to understand where they stand now

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Feb 28, 2017
It was this very confusion of boundaries that led to outrage over the prospect of horse meat in burgers during the 2013 horse meat scandal; horses are perceived as pets or companions, not food.


Nonsense. Plenty of people eat horse. The problem was that horse meat is low quality - it's sinewy and tough and generally not very tasty - and the horses in question came from dubious sources bringing the safety of the meat into question. They were slaughtering ex race horses that were pumped full of drugs.


Feb 28, 2017
"People, it seems, just can't stomach the idea of growing human kidneys in pigs!"

-Human lawmakers need to be making laws in order to appear as if they are doing their jobs and so enjoy trolling science websites for issues they can feed off of. Ditto for ethicists in academic settings.

"We eat pigs, not humans."

-Chronic overcrowding has accustomed us to eating all sorts of unpalatable things. Cannibalism has been common. After a nice intertribal battle over food, why leave all that good protein strewn about the battlefield? Fighting and hunting - 2 words for the same activity. The other tribe is always a little less human than yours (pseudospeciation.)

"We tend to maintain clear boundaries between those animals we eat and those we do not"

-except when we're hungry. Visions of dogs in cages in vietnamese marketplaces.

Then theres the ape/pig hybrid theory to give us pause
https://www.googl...mans.amp

Feb 28, 2017
Again, an attempt by "science" to condemn anything less than mindless, wanton exploiting of all technological possibilities as based on deleterious arbitrary emotion based reactions. Not for such as these the idea that there is such a thing as good and evil. They refuse to accept the presence of God, to the point of lying unrestrainedly about having proof God is not present, yet refusing ever to provide it. They criticize having the ability to sense if something is good or evil, yet the question can be asked, why can't "scientists" perceive it? Why do they mindlessly indulge every whim? Why can't they understand the world better? The answer is that such individuals are arrested development, freaks, failures, misfits, incapable of anything like healthy, normal relationships with anyone else. They couldn't care for anyone or anything else.

Feb 28, 2017
Not for such as these the idea that there is such a thing as good and evil
There certainly is. Evil is an institution that requires its members to be bigots because their god demands it. Evil is as institution that threatens you with eternal torture if you cant believe in its god. Evil is an institution that would warp the brains of members to such an extent that they would believe a god of infinite LOVE would ever do such a thing.

Evil is any god that would have to resort to that threat in order to compel people to believe in him.

Which is to say, all of them.

Feb 28, 2017
They couldn't care for anyone or anything else
Growing organs in animals to alleviate suffering and prolong life is a lot less bizarre than the ritual cannibalism of the eucharist.

Feb 28, 2017
An essence of religion is to hold that your teachings are the absolute. Anyone else would be defined as not holding to the absolute. That's not bigotry, it's not grounded in hate, simply accepting the eminent accepted reality.
Religion does not promise misery if you do not believe in its deity. But, in the higher religions the absolute deity is synonymous with all, including the rules of right and wrong. To deny the deity is to deny what is right and that is what brings misery.
If it is not love to punish for doing what is wrong, then parents all necessarily hate their children.
The God haters always infuse their assertions with viciousness and lies.

Feb 28, 2017
And, leaving aside the likelihood of contaminants in organs grown in another animal, among other things, consider, if this works, humans may be inducted to be fed chemicals to speed up organ growth so they can be endless donors for the powerful. And, consider, where is the ethic in growing an animal solely to kill them later to provide a liver for a malignant drunk?

Feb 28, 2017
essence of religion is to hold that your teachings are the absolute
Correct.
Anyone else would be defined as not holding to the absolute
Specifically, in john3:18-24 and elsewhere it says they cannot be good. The first 3 commandments say that if you dont believe you cannot follow the other 7.
That's not bigotry,
Its bigotry of the basest sort. All religions claim this exclusivity and all regard unbelievers as evil.
it's not grounded in hate
Xian 'love' only means that shunning, avoiding, persecuting, expelling, and murdering can be done with detachment.

Jesus the god of infinite love and compassion will be with you every moment of every day in hell as you burn. He could save you but he doesnt want to.
simply accepting the eminent accepted reality
The reality of your sick and perverted religion is that it was created by sick and perverted people for the purpose of scaring people into submission and getting rid of any who wouldnt be intimidated.

Feb 28, 2017
And, leaving aside the likelihood of contaminants
Doctors know a great deal about contaminants and how to avoid them.
consider, if this works, humans may be inducted to be fed chemicals to speed up organ growth so they can be endless donors for the powerful
This is about using animals to make up for shortages from human donors. Why would animal-grown organs make it worse fofr human donors???
And, consider, where is the ethic in growing an animal solely to kill them later to provide a liver for a malignant drunk?
-or a dying child. But re killing animals for our use, the covenant with adam specifically allowed this.

But if you think that using animals for work and food is somehow more moral than making human organs with them, then I have to think your objection must be that the possibility didnt occur to your god because it wasnt specifically included in his book.

Maybe you want to consult the mishnah or the hadith just to make sure.

Feb 28, 2017
If it is not love to punish for doing what is wrong, then parents all necessarily hate their children
They dont hate their children julian they just wont be allowed to get in the way.

34 "... I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." matt10

This is the other side of the perversion; promising people escape from death on the condition that they sacrifice their kids and own their lives if need be.

-Yours is a selfish god. And he creates very very selfish believers indeed.


Feb 28, 2017
Martyrdom is the most heinous form of violence. DONT TELL ME that the xian half of your book is non-violent. ALL commandments were broken by believers in your book in service to your god. Whole cities were destroyed, their inhabitants slaughtered, their virgins raped, their cattle killed and their orchards torched.

And the love of your life jesus went to the holy city on the holiest of days, walked up to the priests, and declared that he was not only their king but their GOD. Of course he wanted to be killed. Judas iscariot was only assisting him in this holy endeavor and god made him kill himself as well.

And the thing is, jesus did all this so people would feel so guilty that, like judas, they would have to martyr/murder themselves and their families just to make amends. And for 2 millenia, millions and millions have followed his lead.

Feb 28, 2017
Self-destruction for a god who wrote a book about things that never happened and people who never existed as a century of archeology has concluded. A god who feels he needs to LIE to you in order to find out how much you TRUST him.

Feb 28, 2017
Self-destruction for a god who wrote a book about things that never happened and people who never existed as a century of archeology has concluded. A god who feels he needs to LIE to you in order to find out how much you TRUST him.

Usually I bypass your "rants", Otto, as just rant's... However tonight's were rather entertaining in their tone and execution..:-)

Feb 28, 2017
Usually I bypass your "rants", Otto, as just rant's... However tonight's were rather entertaining...:-)
So you have some idea of the wisdom youve been missing. Life is so short.

I used to watch hitchens and wonder how he could come up with that stuff spontaneously. But then after awhile i realized he used the same material over and over in his routines.

Otto has been working on his shtick for awhile now. Of course godlovers have had centuries to refine their standup.

Feb 28, 2017
Usually I bypass your "rants", Otto, as just rant's... However tonight's were rather entertaining...:-)
So you have some idea of the wisdom you've been missing. Life is so short.

I recognized the fanaticism at an early age...:-), so, burned myself out early on the confronting idiocracy battle. Now I'd rather just sit back and watch someone else do it...;-)
I used to watch hitchens and wonder how he could come up with that stuff spontaneously. But then after awhile i realized he used the same material over and over in his routines.

Not quite sure who he is, but that's how it works - over and over, never really achieving anything other than a headache.
Otto has been working on his shtick for awhile now. Of course godlovers have had centuries to refine their standup.

Naw, they're not refining. They're just using the rote material because that's all they were conditioned to do...

Feb 28, 2017
I do find it humorous that the book that is considered "law" was originally intended as something. A primer of metaphors (the linguistic style of the day) describing the workings of the Universe - for children. However, a few recognized it's truth decided it could be used for social remediation if it had the right "incentives" placed here or there...
And, unfortunately, that indicates that those few had no desire to see humans grow up... And hey, we humans love being kids...
I believe that may have started with the Hebrew plagiarization of earlier Sumerian text. Which may have been culled from even EARLIER civilizations...
Until time travel becomes mainstream, we won't really know, exactly...:-)

Feb 28, 2017
The late Christopher hitchens. 'God is not good - how religion poisons everything'... one of the 4 horsemen of antireligion along with dawkins, sam harris, dan dennett, and bart ehrman. Huh thats 5. I guess that's why hitchens had to die.

Gods will.

Theyre all on youtube but hitchens is the best.

A random sample
https://youtu.be/sD0B-X9LJjs

Feb 28, 2017
Naw, they're not refining. They're just using the rote material because that's all they were conditioned to do...
Religions evolved, both naturally and by design, through lessons learned and in competition over resources. Those resources being of course the human race.

Those that were better at outgrowing and overrunning are the efficient state-sponsored pestilence we are left with today. Different strains - one disease.

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