Artificial Intelligence. Nanobots. 3D printing of organs. Prosthetics that read your brainwaves. Virtual Reality. Mars colonies. Gene editing.
Of all the technologies on our horizon, I think gene editing is the one that will come to the table first. Essentially, this technology is already ripe for use in our daily lives. From cancer cures to designer babies and cloning, we’re just a legislative breath away from inserting into the human genome the next evolution of the human species. Rather than continue to wait millennia for nature to run her course, we have at our finger tips the ability to change the human in very specific ways. And of all these options, the one that send most people into philosophical debate is the idea of designer babies.
IVF has become a normal part of the adult world. I personally know at least seven babies born this way. Already testing for genetic diseases within these embryos is becoming common practice. Why then, wouldn’t these tests reveal other genetic information—the sex of the child, and any markers for intelligence, IQ and perhaps metabolism? And once we know where these genes are located, the next step would be inserting the specific genes for intelligence in embryos to ensure that all children, regardless of their parent’s pedigree, are given the best in life.
We call this the era of the Super Baby.
Part of me cringes at this. We all know that once those who can’t conceive naturally are offered the ability to order up their child, the rest of us will follow. Or will we? Personally, I’ve always held out that I would never do such a thing. I’m a purist. Why would I take control over something as personal as birth? It seems like the most intimate of manipulations known to mankind. We already don’t get to choose our parents, country, religion or name, now even our genetic makeup will be in the hands of others?
And yet, if I look back on how I raised my kids, I absolutely manipulated the environment they grew up in in order to gear towards higher intelligence. It wasn’t at the genetic level, they were granted whatever my egg and their father’s sperm cobbled together. But once they were in my arms, no even before that, I read up on how to encourage intellectual prowess, and implemented those techniques within my childrearing that seemed to have the most data behind them.
Yes my dear sons, I manipulated your environment for my own ends. I guess that’s what parenting is all about.
Seventeen years later, I have my own personal data. Here it comes, my braggadocios Donald Trump moment when I toot my own horn—they’re really pretty smart. Academically they’re thriving. On test measures they’re also scoring off the charts. In addition, they’re great at math, science and music. They can sing, read music, and each plays several instruments. Perhaps it’s in the genes, however most research has shown that even if you’re blessed with the goods, the environment still matters when it comes to how genes express themselves.
So if you consider yourself a futurist parent and would like to begin raising Super Babies even without genetic editing, here are five things I did with my boys that you might want to try. Because Transhumanism is the belief that with technology and effort, we can transcend our human condition and create something more robust, resilient and intelligent. Thus parenting is key to the evolution of our species even if we never order up our embryos.
NOTE: None of these are 100% proven. Studies abound that discredit as well as many that do support them. However in my very small experiment within my family, I’ve had great success with each.
- Playing classical music in utero.
My natural parenting friends would cringe, but yes, I am “that Mom” who played Mozart’s Piano for Four Hands to my son while he was in utero. I was put on bedrest due to early contractions at 25 weeks and had nothing else to do but lay on the couch. My husband bought the CD after hearing an interview on NPR about the Mozart Effect and figured, why not? I placed the headphones on my belly every day for an hour. And later I did the same for my second son when I was 25 weeks along. The Mozart Effect has since been debunked, sort of, but both boys play several instruments, have had an effortless time learning math and have a special awareness of their surroundings that is fairly impressive. Oh, I did sometimes play the Grateful Dead Cornell 5/8/1977 show as well, so maybe it was Jerry and not Amadeus that worked!
- Reading to them daily.
Those first months after my second son was born are a blur. A toddler and a newborn are an insane thing to do to yourself. I felt like I was nursing all day while my two y.o. would run around destroying the house. One day I told the older boy to sit on the couch with me while I nursed his brother. I had a copy of the Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery and I read it to him. Two hours later, he was still on the couch, listening to every word, while the baby slept in my arms. A new activity had been born! From there I would read to them every day—we covered the Chronicles of Narnia, The Secret Garden, A Wrinkle in Time, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter—basically books I enjoyed as well as picture books that they chose. Sometimes, I still read to them, just because.
Studies have shown that one of the key indicators of success in school is how often a child is read to by their parents.
- Fish oils.
Research has shown that Omega 3 fatty acids, and fats in general, are good for the nervous system. Essentially the myelin sheath that covers our nerve cells is a layer of fat. When that fat is depleted, the ability for the neurons to pass information slows. This made sense to me when I read about it thirteen years ago and when my boys were 4 and 2, I began to give them cod liver oil every day. They still take it. And they have great memorization skills. Honestly. Of course, other studies debunk this and I only have a sample size of two, but they’re healthy (they rarely get sick) and they can look at something once and have it committed to memory. I’ll admit, there are a lot of useless facts stores in those brains, addiction to YouTube channels will do that to a person, but I wouldn’t ever go against them in a game of Magic the Gathering.
- A low sugar, hot breakfast before school.
Simple as it is, childhood hunger is a HUGE reason for lowerIQ scores. If you don’t have the nutrients, then you can’t focus, regardless of your genetic makeup. In addition, brain growth in those critical toddler and teen years is hampered by a poor diet. Sugar will also lower test scores. I once read about an experiment where children were given a hot breakfast of eggs and oatmeal then tested. The next day they were fed pancakes with as much syrup as they desired, and then tested. Their scores dropped by 20%! Same kids. Same genes. One brain on fat, one on sugar. If I’m sending my kids to school, why would I send them hungry (they’re not very nice when they’re hungry) or full of sugar? If I have the time, I make them a huge, healthy breakfast with all the nutrition they need to get through a morning of school.
From the beginning, I’ve let my kids sleep. When they were babies, they were in bed by 6:30 pm. They took two naps until they were three, then one nap a day until age 6. Yes, they’d nap after kindergarten and then still go to bed by 7:30. Now that they’re teens, I don’t have that sort of control of their schedule. But for those formative years, I encouraged sleep and everything that goes with it—no TV, phones, loud music, etc. after dinner. They get to put themselves to bed now, but on school nights, they actually still go to sleep by 10pm, which is pretty good for teens. Key to this is turning off all wireless devices and leaving them out of the bedroom. Why? Because texting and gaming can make you lose track of time, and the next thing you know, it’s two am! Even the adults in the house follow this rule. Studies have shown that aloss of an hour of sleep can turn a sixth grade mind into a fourth grade mind! Sleep is the maker of minds.
So there you have it, five things I’ve done for over a decade with my kids in order to create an environment geared towards their intellect. They could just be smart because their parents are both engineers, however I wasn’t about to leave it all up to genetics. As scientists go further down the rabbit hole of genetics, neurology and the inner workings of our brains, a few things still hold true—in the end it isn’t nature VS nurture, it’s nature AND nurture working cooperatively with one another.