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William Hurlburt on the Dangers of Life-Ext


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#1 kevin

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Posted 07 June 2004 - 06:46 PM


Link: http://www.usnews.co.../next040528.htm




Bioethicist William Hurlbut on the dangers of radical lifespan extension
James Pethokoukis, May 28, 04

All this week at Next News, I've been writing and chatting about the topic of human enhancement, also the subject of an article in this week's issue of the magazine. Today, a few thoughts on extending the human life span and genetic engineering from William Hurlbut, a member of the President's Council on Bioethics and a consulting professor in the Program in Human Biology at Stanford University.

Next News: So what's wrong with doubling–or more–the human life span?

Hurlbut: It's like stretching out a symphony, playing it at half speed so it goes on longer–it wouldn't have the same beauty or meaning. We get a taste of each relational category–being a child, a parent, and a grandparent. And our direct family lineage is connected by both genetics and personal experience, not so attenuated by time that relatives feel unrelated. If people lived to be 140, as some scientists suggest we will through technological intervention, a child could have 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents whose names he or she could never remember. In our natural lifespan, there is a harmony of proportion between the cycles of birth, ascendancy, and decline–phases of generation, nurture, and dependency that give a sense of meaningful connection within the journey of our lives.

Next News: And what about tinkering with the human genome to create a "posthuman" species with specifically engineered brains and bodies?

Hurlbut: Genes are not Legos; you can't just plug them in and get a better baby. Genetics is very complicated; most genes affect many traits and most traits are affected by many genes. It's not like Mr. Potato Head–you can't just stick on new ears or a better nose or a bigger brain. These schemes amount to a massive human experiment, an imposition of our imagination and ideology onto the next generation–without consulting them and without a deeply considered appreciation for the fragile balance of our natural being–or our natural body. We are the product of nearly 4 billion years of evolutionary refinement. Our minds and the sense of meaning in our lives are wrapped into our very embodied form–our natural body is the fragile frame of our freedom and comprehending consciousness. If we're not careful, we could write ourselves right out of our own story.

Next News: So playing with your kid's genes to better her chances at become an Olympic-caliber figure skater would be a bad idea, assuming it became possible to do so?

Hurlbut: The idea of designing people for specific aptitudes or superior performance capacities goes against the very strength of our species. We are a "general purpose organism"; we have adapted for adaptability, not for a narrow specialization. Our very strength is in creative flexibility, freedom, and open indeterminacy. These are what give us our extraordinary capabilities, our comprehending consciousness, and controlling powers. Our species may already be the optimal design for fullest overall functioning and flourishing of life. Indeed, it is our very strength that is now threatening us. Liberated from the immediacies of mere survival, we are open to imagination, to the ambition of technological self-transformation that could shatter the fragile balance of our physical and psychological functioning.
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#2 ocsrazor

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Posted 08 June 2004 - 12:07 AM

Good find Kevin, got me so worked up I had to respond to this:

1-There has never been, nor will there ever be a static 'natural' lifespan for human beings. Life span has been trending steadily upwards since the beginning of the species. There also never been a static 'harmony of proportion' between people of different generations, the ratios between numbers of older and younger inviduals has varied throughout history and is dependent on a huge number of biological, environmental, and cultural variables, all of which are in constant flux. We as individuals create our own meaning - it is a null statement to say that life would be meaningless with a longer lifespan given that expected human lifespan has doubled within the last century.

2- Once again Hurlburt overuses the word natural, which is logically null - it has no semantic meaning in this context. Everything about human technological research is a 'massive human experiment', every bit of technology we produce in this generation, for better or worse, is handed down to the next generation. We have consistently upgraded human capabilities through technology form the very beginning of our species history. To paraphrase Andy Clark - prosthetics are just high tech walking sticks, and cell phones are just an advanced form of shouting. What bothers Hurlburt is that we are about to internalize our technology, but this is a very smooth (one could even say 'natural' :) ) progression.

3- The irony in Hurlburt saying 'Our very strength is in creative flexibility, freedom, and open indeterminacy', and then arguing we shouldn't change anything was pure comedic genius. (Where does Bush find these guys?) His speculating that humans are the optimal design for life harks directly back to human-superior Linnaeic trees of life, with man at the top. We aren't the center of the universe, we are animals, we are not separate from our genetic desires - in short we (in human form) are not the end all and be all reason for the universe and there is going to be something after us.

Peter
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#3

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Posted 08 June 2004 - 10:53 AM

The ultimate right of to do with, as one pleases, with their body is vitally important. Just because he believes life extension threatens the nature of humanity doesn't mean his views are to be imposed on everyone. There is an excellent chance that somewhere in the world a country will try limit the rights of people to improve their bodies, lengthen their lives, or radically augment their brains. When the technology emerges so will the backlash.
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#4 Mind

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Posted 08 June 2004 - 02:42 PM

Indeed, it is our very strength that is now threatening us. Liberated from the immediacies of mere survival, we are open to imagination, to the ambition of technological self-transformation that could shatter the fragile balance of our physical and psychological functioning.


Hulburt seems to imply that using our skills and intelligence for anything other than a day to day survival is a bad thing. Of course, if you stop and think about it (as Peter poitned out too) we divorced that lifestyle (hunting/gathering and subsistance farming) thousands of years ago.

What is great about our society is that we let people live a life of subsistance farming if they so desire (the Amish for example). We should also allow people to modify themselves if they so desire. Hulburt likes the human form. He is trying to convince people of its beauty/complexity/and "goodness". That is alright with me as long as persuasion does not become law.

What rarely comes out in the Kass-type writings of the bio-ethics council is fear. Secretly, I think they know what is coming and they are scared. Transhumans, Posthumans, SI...whatever, will be smarter and more adaptable than any human. To relieve this fear we should make it known to those who want to remain human that they will be allowed to do so. They should be able to live and die as they choose...just as we hope to do. Call it the libertarian future.
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#5 kevin

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Posted 08 June 2004 - 07:20 PM

Mind: You echo my thoughts well..

The saddest part about people like Hurlburt and Kass, is that the very qualities they hold up as what being human is all about are the same ones whose expression they wish to prevent. They imagine a movable dividing line which demarcates a point from which we cannot move past and whose position varies according to personal beliefs in what is 'natural'.. or more appropriately.. what THEY wouldn't do.

The are certainly cringing at the prospect of a future where their views on the 'nature' of humanity.. which did not have much option in the past.. are marginalized as humanity is revealed more and more to be the technological environmental manipulator we ARE.

But saddest of all is that they would advocate controlling others in order to assuage their fear and keep the world they feel slipping away... It might be that as Peter has suggested, we are coming to a speciation event... something implied by the study referred to here

Parting Genomes: University Of Arizona Biologists Discover Seeds Of Speciation

The seeds of speciation are sown when distinct factions of a species cease reproducing with one another. When the two groups can no longer interbreed, or prefer not to, they stop exchanging genes and eventually go their own evolutionary ways, forming separate species.


except in this case, it won't be because we are unwilling to share genes and reproduce, it will be lack of sharing in the modifications that will be available for those who wish to augment themselves. We are facing an evolution and 'fracturing' of humanity that has is incomprehensible to present day. Nature hates a vacuum and loves to reproduce and there seems to be a lot of niches in the Universe which are left unoccupied.. barring the discovery that aliens have gotten there before us. We will expand to fill these niches with whatever technology allows it as it suits each individuals temperament. Just need to make it past that nasty death thing....
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Posted 09 June 2004 - 02:43 PM

Stretching out a symphony? What a breathtaking piece or should I say break-winding!

Try stretching your back on bending your knees when your start getting over 40. Do you like the feeling of impending decrepitude? Do you like the way it takes just slightly longer to recall certain things. Or how you have to go on elaborate diets and training regimes just to try to stay in some semblance of shape?

When I first read Kevin's post I was flabbergasted. My first response was - who is this imbecile? So I googled his name and lo and behold here is a medical doctor, a Stanford University professor and member of the President's ethics council, no less (I know this was stated in the beginning of the article but I just could not believe it).

Despite his impressive credentials he has distinguished himself all the more so as an imbecile sine paribus. How a Doctor who teaches biology at Stanford and advises the President can come up with this sort of drivel in fact ascends imbecility. It is downright dangerous. To think people like this are in such positions of influence is alarming.

Wake up and smell the roses Bill. No one wants to get old and no one wants to die. Not anyone in their right mind.

We are hardly general - we have specialized into highly cerebral animals with an aggressive propensity to explore and extend our boundaries. Whether you like it or not mankind's destiny and ultimate mission is to transcend the evolutionary constraints imposed on us.

I suppose you find the notion of an acerebrate fetus romantic, or a paraplegic young woman who is going to have to wear diapers for the rest of her life noble. Perhaps you view the systematic mental disintegration of Alzheimer's disease patients as a gentle decline.

You foolish man, there is nothing meaningful about death outside of the patchwork of psychological constructs that have been made to enable humanity to cope. There is no meaning nor purpose in having a human being that has lived and loved, that is loved and needed decompose and forever vanish from existence.

What a lovely place in history you will occupy.
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Posted 09 June 2004 - 03:27 PM

Debate? I am confused. What is there to debate? Whether people should extend their life-span if they can? As in healthy vigorous life-span. Are we on the same plane of reason? Who in their right mind would reject such an opportunity? If one is suicidal that is another matter. But please do not fall in the trap of mistaking the weariness that is a manifestation of all the old age related ills that makes an old, suffering person prefer death to an abhorrent existence.

I repeat, no one in their right mind would reject the prospect of an extended heathy and vigorous life-span. There is no debate.
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#8 Bruce Klein

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Posted 09 June 2004 - 03:58 PM

Hurlbert recently participated in a debate with a group of transhumanist, let me find the info.


On the question of no one rejecting life extension, including Hurlbert, there are quite a few people who have made it their mission to convince people otherwise.
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#9 Bruce Klein

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Posted 09 June 2004 - 04:44 PM

Hmm, I'm unable to find Hurlbert's recent debate via the internet... but I'm fairly certain he did participating in such.

Anyway, one point to be made is that while Kass and friends are openly against physical immortality, at least they recognize it as a valid discussion topic. One of the valued byproducts of their focus on physical immortality, is that it brings more legitimacy to the mission of organizations like ImmInst.
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Posted 10 June 2004 - 11:04 AM

I concur. [sfty]

However, they make no mention of ImmInst. Thus any legitimacy brought forth is indirect. Furthermore, they invariably seem to be associated with "sociological" and "ethical" issues, yet seem to have no grounding on the history of technology and its cultural implications to contextualize their arguments. I must say, I would be terribly embarrassed if they were to champion any cause of mine.

I mean these pseudo scientific arguments enveloped in writing like "...stretching out a symphony.." and using ancient Greek mythology to make a point. It is a tad unpalatable. Just makes you wonder who they are targeting with this sort of presentation.

The way to bring legitimacy is via empirical studies and the ideological support of prominent, publicly recognized and respected individuals. By the way is Judith Campisi a member of ImmInst?

Edited by prometheus1, 12 June 2004 - 08:47 AM.

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Posted 10 June 2004 - 11:34 AM

Those bioethicists that argue against longevity are fully within their right to do so. However I am ardently against imposing one view on the majority, to restrict a person's life, to restrict their potential and their freedoms is simply unacceptable. If someone doesn't want to live longer than they would normally expect to live, that is their choice, if they do want to live longer than they should have that option as well. It's part of exercising what personal freedom is available to us.
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#12 amazingpawnhawk

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Posted 10 June 2004 - 04:52 PM

Hurlbert is wrong about living longer being like stretching out a symphony. Living longer is like enjoying more symphonies.
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#13 Omnido

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Posted 11 June 2004 - 04:25 AM

Ethical issues of this sort are often due to social and cultural diversity, as well as inter-generational framework with relation to personal experience.

What Ive come to realize is that many human beings, no matter where their individual backgrounds, at one point in time or another seek out to have certain questions answered. Most of these are never answered, or rather, the answers given are contingent and specific with relation to each culture or society.

There are those whom evaluate their own actions and behaviors with sometimes violent opposition to their own culture(s), and also in a somewhat abstract fashion, who can logically and rationally justify the acquistion of biological immortality for themselves. Individuals like Hurlbert appear to be either beyond the comprehension of such concepts, or against their core principle for "undetermined" reasons.
Since most Immortalists (not all, but many) share a common mental attribute of logical and rational reasoning, such abstract concepts of living indefinately, (or until one no longer desires to continue existing) are rather easy for them to digest. For others whom lack the ability to relate for whatever reason, the concepts seem frightening and potentially dangerous.
I think the bioethics community needs to re-evaluate their own logistics, and endeavor to study more in depth the nature of human psychology and behavior before attempting to persuade human leadership of their one-sided, incomplete, or generally biased opinions.
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#14 reason

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Posted 11 June 2004 - 05:08 AM

I forgot to mention that I referenced this at Fight Aging! yesterday:

http://www.fightagin...ives/000141.php

Reason
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http://www.longevitymeme.org
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#15 advancedatheist

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Posted 12 June 2004 - 06:45 AM

Next News: So what's wrong with doubling–or more–the human life span?

Hurlbut: It's like stretching out a symphony, playing it at half speed so it goes on longer–it wouldn't have the same beauty or meaning. We get a taste of each relational category–being a child, a parent, and a grandparent. And our direct family lineage is connected by both genetics and personal experience, not so attenuated by time that relatives feel unrelated. If people lived to be 140, as some scientists suggest we will through technological intervention, a child could have 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents whose names he or she could never remember. In our natural lifespan, there is a harmony of proportion between the cycles of birth, ascendancy, and decline–phases of generation, nurture, and dependency that give a sense of meaningful connection within the journey of our lives.


Apparently Hurlbut (whose name suggests a caricature for the artistically inclined) can't think of any better use for human existence than participating in a soap opera. I, for one, don't find family and other relationships all that interesting compared with things I would rather do. (In fact, I would live just fine after all my immediate relations have died, especially because they are turned off by the idea of working towards the Methuselah Man treatment. I would feel somewhat differently about them if they wanted it, of course.) Hurlbut and people who think like him illustrate Marvin Minsky's observation that engineered negligible senescence and other enhancements appeal strongly to individuals who have "real goals," as opposed to the Blue Pill people who want to stay in the Matrix. I, personally, can relate better to people who want to live a lot longer because they plan to work on currently unfeasible Aspergerish scientific or technological projects than the neurotypicals who seek "personal fulfillment" or other comparable fantasies from human grooming and mating behavior.

Edited by advancedatheist, 12 June 2004 - 07:07 AM.

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#16 kerr_avon

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Posted 12 June 2004 - 04:26 PM

I always wonder about this when I see these things in print. What are these people selling? I mean even assuming that the bio-ludds might have some good points what is the point of putting out endless negative rhetoric about the idea of longevity? I mean if you are building a bridge and you realize that, say, the cables your people wanted to use won't be strong enough, you point that out and then suggest a remedy. When I hear the bioludds talk it's always basically along the lines of "here are the 1200 problems I've just thought of with radical LE". Problem is, you never hear them talk about what might done to remediate these problems. This is assuming for the moment that they aren't total fantasies, which a lot of them are. The "symphony" analogy actually had me laughing out loud and at first I thought this whole thing might be a joke. This is why I can't help thinking the President's council and like bodies are really just foward artillery in what will shortly be a full-on political assault. They are tasked with "softening up" the pseudo-intellectuals who read their pronouncements while the neo-cons and religious rightists prepare their main attack which will focus on actual bans and restrictions on the LE tech that will shortly be available. They have set a precedent with the stem cell ban. They will easily think up reasons why LE tech is "immoral" as well.
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#17 advancedatheist

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Posted 13 June 2004 - 09:34 PM

Hurlbert is wrong about living longer being like stretching out a symphony. Living longer is like enjoying more symphonies.


Or like creating new forms of artistic expression altogether. Keep in mind that the symphony was invented in Europe in the 18th Century.

Unfortunately the arts seem to have stagnated lately, probably because the great works of the past cause the "anxiety of influence" phenomenon. Seeing Michelangelo's David makes it hard if not impossible to think of ways to surpass his vision of the optimal (though merely biological) male body. I suspect some new hacks into human neurology will open up new avenues of aesthetic expression -- though I imagine this prospect bothers the same bioethicist sissies who oppose engineered negligible senescence.
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#18 rahein

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Posted 14 June 2004 - 12:49 AM

Here are my rebuttals to his arguments.

It's like stretching out a symphony, playing it at half speed so it goes on longer–it wouldn't have the same beauty or meaning.


Life is nothing like a symphony. This is just a straw man that he created because he can not think of any analogy that means anything. Do you think he has every played a symphony at half speed to hear it. It might sound wonderful. I think a more apt analogy is it is like playing two symphonies in a row, you might enjoy the second a little less, but it is still beautiful.

If people lived to be 140, as some scientists suggest we will through technological intervention, a child could have 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents whose names he or she could never remember.


I bet that he doesn’t have problems remembering 64 senator’s names. If he does have that bad of memory he needs to start taking some nootropics, or get out of public office.

It's not like Mr. Potato Head–you can't just stick on new ears or a better nose or a bigger brain.


We do this every day. They stuck a fake heart in my grandpa and my wife had contacts for years until she got surgery. Medical technology changes and with every new generation the conservatives resist the change and say we are playing god. I don’t think people will use ge to make super babies, but to cure the genetic defects that they could pass on; though I see nothing wrong with making your child smarter and stronger.

These schemes amount to a massive human experiment.


Yep that’s life. Unfortunately we can not live our life 20 times in a lab to see the possible side effects before we live it for real. Every action we take is an experiment and sometimes we make mistakes. Life now is better than it was 100 years ago and life 100 years ago was better than life 200 years ago so I think this experiment is going well.

We are the product of nearly 4 billion years of evolutionary refinement.


Biological evolution is too slow. There are other forms of evolution that we can MAKE happen much faster. Look at the technological evolutions of just the past 10 years. Evolution is also random and undirected; it takes many bad mutations before a good one persists. Almost every evolution we cause for ourselves is good.

If we're not careful, we could write ourselves right out of our own story.


We haven’t done it yet. We might religious radicals are the only ones I see in world right now, or ever, trying to write anyone out of the story. Not many scientists I know have committed mass murder or genocide. They might have created the technology, but not the will.

The idea of designing people for specific aptitudes or superior performance capacities goes against the very strength of our species.


Why can’t our strengths change? Division of labor is very efficient. Also, no one said that to improve one trait would lessen the others. Just because I make a car faster does not make it have worse brakes. Just as because we make a child better at math does not mean he will become uncreative.


One of my favorite quotes of all times describes this man to the letter.

Those who welcome death have only tried it from the ears up. –Wilson Mizner


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#19 Casanova

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Posted 18 July 2004 - 01:58 AM

"they invariably seem to be associated with "sociological" and "ethical" issues"

there speaketh the goose-stepper

Watch out the rest of you, for the hidden "new Nazis", in the Immortalist, and Transhumanist camps.
They will go on and on about the Religious Right, the Bush Cabal of Looney Ethicists, the anti-science fogheads, meanwhile building their own cage to imprision you.
It is the techno-zealots, who have no time for that sissie stuff ethics, and aethestics, who will turn the world into a giant techno-gulag, for the "sub-humans", who are all of those who don't buy their bilge about a techno-utopia.
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#20 kerr_avon

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Posted 19 July 2004 - 05:35 PM

"they invariably seem to be associated with "sociological" and "ethical" issues"

there speaketh the goose-stepper

Watch out the rest of you, for the hidden "new Nazis", in the Immortalist, and Transhumanist camps.
They will go on and on about the Religious Right, the Bush Cabal of Looney Ethicists, the anti-science fogheads, meanwhile building their own cage to imprision you.
It is the techno-zealots, who have no time for that sissie stuff ethics, and aethestics, who will turn the world into a giant techno-gulag, for the "sub-humans", who are all of those who don't buy their bilge about a techno-utopia.


I think it's amazing that anyone still talks about "techno-utopia". Most of us are just interested in a world that's a little better than what we've known. Longer lives, better technology, more dignified existence. Nobody on the transhumanist side of things is really concerned with a "techno-utopia" whatever that means. The religious right, the Bushies, the "anti-science fogheads", these people are demonstrably dangerous as hell, by stark contrast.
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#21 Karomesis

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Posted 21 March 2005 - 04:19 AM

if I was president here are my first choices for a bioethics council ray kurzweil, nick bostrom, and ag24 better known as aubrey de grey [:o] Although, on the downside once the conservatives learned of kurzweils nomination, they would probably have heart attacks in droves [tung] From thinking about the prospect of digital immortality and uploading [lol]
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#22 dannymarshall

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Posted 18 July 2006 - 10:40 PM

This guy is a moron and should not be a doctor if this is his stance. some people are clueless. this is like the sherrif in arizona that thinks he has to protect everyone from themselves. lame.
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