beyond the “delusion” of believing in gods (for the New
Atheists). The rationalist delusion is not just a claim about
human nature. It’s also a claim that the rational caste
(philosophers or scientists) should have more power, and
it usually comes along with a utopian program for raising
more rational children.
Haidt’s conclusion, like Damasio’s, is philosophically radical.
“Anyone who values truth,” he writes, “should stop worshipping
Neither Haidt nor Damasio is setting up a false conflict be-
tween reason on the one hand and emotion on the other. The
case they make— and that their science makes —is much more
interesting than that. Their suggestion is that the objective, ra-
tional mind — the human being as a calm, disengaged observer
of an external reality — does not exist and never can. Reason and
emotion are entirely enmeshed, and one cannot function prop-
erly without the other.
LAST YEAR, a group of futurists, businessmen, and scientists
launched an initiative called Revive and Restore. The purpose
of the project was simple: to use biotechnology to revive extinct
species, such as the mammoth, the aurochs, and the passenger
pigeon, and return them to the earth again.
The eye-catching nature of the proposal guaranteed them
heady acreages of media attention across the world, virtually all
of which was positive. This was partly due to the standard media
assumption—common across the intellectual classes in liberal
cultures—that anything involving cutting-edge technologies is
inherently beneficial to humankind. It was also partly due to the
fact that the originator of the project was media darling Stewart
Brand, the Californian counter-culture guru turned ecotech
booster, who can play the press like his own personal fiddle.
Still, why not be positive about it? Brand wanted to make restitution, he said, for the damage humans had done to the planet. We
were approaching the point where we would have the power to sequence extinct genomes and then use them to genetically modify
existing species, to create near-replicas of creatures long lost to the
earth. Wouldn’t that be a good thing? Imagine walking out of the
cave at Niaux and seeing mammoths again in the valleys below.
Brand is by no means alone in his enthusiasm for the idea of
reviving the dead. It is a concept that has been on the table for
at least a decade in various think tanks and laboratories. “Does
extinction have to be forever?” asks Michael Archer, who runs
the boldly named Lazarus Project at the University of New South
Wales, which claims it is on the verge of re-creating an extinct
breed of frog. Like Brand, he thinks not. “De-extinction,” both
men say, is the future of conservation.
Though the excitement that the de-extinction prospect raised
was palpable, there were some objections. Conservation biolo-
gist David Ehrenfeld was among those who pointed out that this
would not be “de-extinction” at all: the “mammoths” it might
create would not be mammoths, but elephants modified with
mammoth genes. They might look like the originals, but they
would be something quite new. In any case, if Brand and his ilk
considered themselves to be conservationists, they should have
better things to do. With the living African elephant facing very
real threats to its future, Ehrenfeld said, “why are we sitting here
talking about bringing back the woolly mammoth?”
There are other objections, too. What if the science went
wrong? And where exactly would you put a woolly mammoth if
you “rebuilt” one? Given that they lived in herds across vast areas
of steppe, and that such habitats are rapidly shrinking, produc-
ing a single animal might be only the start of the challenges.
Others worry that if de-extinction becomes possible, it will pro-
vide a handy excuse for those who want reasons not to worry
about causing extinctions in the first place.