Andy Miah is the Renaissance man of the enhancement enlightenment. While best known for defending “doping” (performance enhancement) in sports, as a professor in Ethics and Emerging Technologies at the University of the West of Scotland, his work draws from law, philosophy, art, cultural studies, sociology, bioethics, human enhancement, social media, life-extension, ethical culture, climate change, synthetic biology, and artificial life. As if that isn’t enough, Miah says he’s now looking at architecture and the future, extraterrestrial ethics, and ideas about biocultural capital. (And just for fun, he’s also a graphic designer and film connoisseur.)
Miah has been writing and talking in various public forums about enhancement, sports enhancement, and the future for almost ten years. In that time, he has become an influential voice in these areas, along with all things “bio.” Miah has published over 100 soloauthored academic articles on sports enhancements and other topics. He has published two books, including Genetically Modified Athletes (Routledge, 2004), regarding biomedical ethics, gene doping and sport. And while Miah’s writing on sports enhancement has made him fairly controversial, he refuses to be pigeonholed. He knows that being labeled creates boundaries, and he has worked to have his voice heard in such influential places as the Olympics committees.
The Olympian Professor
With his spiky jet-black hair, self-confident charisma, and his understated but hip sartorial style, Miah gives the impression of an intellectual rock star. Given his eclecticism, it shouldn’t be surprising that our conversation skips across a wide range of topics.
We talked about the Beijing Olympics, which Miah attended. Suffice it to say that he continues to be an unapologetic supporter of human enhancement in the world of sports. Miah wants to see sports doping normalized, by regulating it and making the enhancements safe, accessible and accepted. In his article Gene Doping, published in the April 2007 issue of the Biochemical Society Journal, he wrote,“Genetically modified athletes will simply be those people who gave value to enhancements that are most suitable for athletic performances.”
Our conversation turned to controversial headliner and amputee sprinter, Oscar Pistorius. Miah said that he wanted to see Pistorius be allowed to compete, if he would have qualified, amidst the fantastic architecture of the Beijing stadium, saying that, “there’s so much conceptual overlap when thinking about the future” and seeing these two images together.
It may surprise you to know that Miah has written papers for the British Olympic Association, the International Olympic Committee, the International Olympic Academy, and the Brazilian Olympic Committee. But he doesn’t seem to expect to win his point with the Olympic authorities. “For the anti-doping authorities, they have little option but to press on full steam. It’s getting a bit out of control in my view, how much they will do for socalled clean sport.”
I asked Miah about the notion of having two separate venues — one for enhanced athletes and another for clean (au natural, if you will) athletes, He’s somewhat skeptical. “The problem is that, in this scenario, you’d still have the enhanced trying to get into the clean… I think people like Pistorius will allow us to confront some important issues.” Reflecting on it a bit, Miah conceded, “It all depends on whether the enhanced could achieve adequate prominence to rival the clean. It’s ultimately about trying to build symbolic value around a new series of competitions. I actually think the way it’ll go is that we end up with just the enhanced… I argue that sports authorities are obliged to invest into creating safer forms of enhancement for athletes to use.”
We seem to be witnessing the wisdom of Miah’s way when we look at the borderline hysteria and the apparent inability to stop steroid and other performance enhancement in major league baseball in the U.S. The societal consensus is that we do not want our athletes to do steroids or human growth hormone or any other drugs that enhance their athletic performance. The acceptance of human enhancements in sports will be a long time coming. In the meantime, we’re likely to witness another unwinnable “war” attempting to stop people from doing what they are inevitably, eventually going to do. As Miah observed, the acceptance of personal enhancement “has been far from smooth… but equally the desire to enhance has become more apparent, as evidenced by the number of ways in which we seek to alter our bodies and minds.”
The acceptance of personal enhancement “has been far from smooth… but equally the desire to enhance has become more apparent.”
As our conversations moved from sports and into the more general subject of human enhancement, I discovered that Miah’s enthusiasms are pretty much limitless and his knowledge is encyclopedic. Mention that you’re looking for an image of an enhanced eye, Miah’s got one. Want a woman that could be a poster girl for the beauty of enhancement, with prosthetic legs and a body and face you wouldn’t believe? Miah has the information and images. “We are very keen on exploring dimensions of our identity though biological modifications. We’ve done this in the past through tattoo, piercing, scarification even. There’s a long list and each of these mechanisms has been about marking oneself out culturally and socially.”
Remember that story about the selective memory deletion in mice a few months back? (If not, Google it. Crazy cool.) Ask Miah about it and he’ll refer you to his article on Eternal sunshine of the Spotless Mind. (Do you remember that movie? Or was it selectively deleted?) His article, like that film, really brings home the situation, and the nuances of memory deletion. It’s a good read, not just a journal article.
“…the moral narrative of Eternal Sunshine is ambiguous in many respects, since it confronts our uncertainty about how best to overcome difficulties in life… After watching Eternal Sunshine, while one is left feeling that the best solution to dealing with human suffering already resides within our learned capacities, there is also a sense in which leaving this merely for time to heal is inadequate and that we are quite right for seeking more effective, efficient and gentle means. The difficulty, though, is that Eternal Sunshine portrays memory deletion as anything but gentle.”
Lastly, as Malcom Gladwell would say, Miah is a Connector “with a special gift for bringing the world together.” Aside from his intellectual eclecticism, making connections between art and science and a broad mix of disciplines, he knows a lot of people: science fiction writers, philosophers, designers, artists, scientists, academics, people from sports and architecture. Andy Miah sees the value in bringing people together in a collaborative manner and having them work on ideas about the future. He believes that the artist and the scientist, working together, can create a truly beneficial relationship, envisioning a future that is enhanced, in the deepest and best sense of the word.
Kristi Scott has a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, interns with the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, is a freelance writer, and mother of three.