Articles

(AV17297) Clones, Chimeras, and Other Creatures of the Biotechnological Revolution 1/2

October 10, 2019


good evening everyone thanks so much for
coming I’m Brenda Daley director of the Center
for excellence in the arts and humanities and we’re very happy to have
you here tonight in this busy season Iowa being the the center of all
campaigns I guess going on in the nation right I want to begin by thanking our
sponsors we have many because as you’ve surmised this is a highly
interdisciplinary topic genomics I’ll then make a few brief announcements and
then finally I’ll turn to introducing our series just a little bit about why
we came up with this idea of the book of life in a genomic age and then
introducing our speaker our sponsors include humanities Iowa Center for
integrated animal genomics the Committee on lectures which is of course funded by
the government of the student body integrative graduate education and
research train ship plant science Institute program for women in science
and engineering College of Liberal Arts Ames Public Library and Monsanto how’s
that for a list the brief announcements there’s a clipboard going around would
you be sure to sign it this is part of the requirement for our humanities iowa
grant and they’re a major funder the second announcement is that the speakers
one of her early books is on sale i’ll mention another forthcoming book later
and the third announcement is that i would ask you to go to the center aisle
and speak from the mic when you ask questions following the lecture that way
everyone else can can hear the question and participate more readily in the
discussion and we’ll cut that off at 8:30 because our speaker needs to go to
dinner and you know what happens in ames iowa the restaurants close
you better get there by a quarter to nine or you’re in big trouble
so to begin tonight’s talk is part of the center’s programming series for this
fall and our title is the book of life in a genomic age the phrase the book of
life comes from Matt Ridley’s primer for the non scientist genome the
autobiography of a species in 23 chapters he asked readers and I quote to
imagine that the genome is a book a term more accurate he says than blueprint he
argues further that quote the idea of the genome as a book is not strictly
speaking even a metaphor it is literally true now to some that might cause
anxiety and alarm that kind of language but to somebody like me an English
teacher who grew up loving books in reading and thinking about them I think
aha this means that probably I can understand what he’s talking about if if
if the book of life can be read in in more than a meta metaphorical sense this
is very exciting the question of language is important I believe because
all of us all American citizens are not just scientists certainly need at least
a rudimentary knowledge of genomic sciences and technologies in order to
consider its both as promises I think in its perils genetic research is changing
how we think about the food we eat how we think about our bodies even how we
define what it means to be human and we need to be informed to make intelligent
choices if we’re going to be intervening in evolution itself itself we need to
understand the kinds of choices that we’re making pardon me
tonight speaker professor Priscilla Wald will address the issue of language among
other concerns in her lecture professor Wald is is in both the department’s of
English and studies at Duke University her current
work focuses on the intersections among the law literature science and medicine
she is especially interested in analyzing analyzing pardon me how the
language narratives and images in the popular media register and promote a
particular understanding of the science that is steeped in often misleading
cultural biases and assumptions in her research her teaching her professional
activities she is committed to promoting conversations among scholars from
science medicine law and cultural studies in order to facilitate a richer
understanding of these issues and if you happen to catch her on radio woi woi at
11:00 you know that she speaks in a way that’s accessible to the broad public as
well on these complicated issues she has a new book forthcoming in January titled
contagious cultures carriers and the outbreak narrative great title can’t
wait until that comes out she’s author the author of another book constituting
Americans cultural anxiety and narrative form as well as of course many essays
one of which I read is titled what’s in a cell that was what’s in a cell that
was really intriguing as I mentioned the earlier book not related to tonight’s
talk is on sale over there she’s also on editorial boards American literature
PMLA which literary folks in the audience at least will recognize as for
most June journals in our field her secondary appointments are interesting
too she has one in women’s studies she’s on the steering committee of the center
for genome ethics law and policy and for Isis which stands for information
sciences plus information studies the internal Advisory Committee of the
Institute for Genome Sciences and policy and is an affiliate of the Center for
medical ethics and humanities her talk tonight is entitled clones chimeras and
other creatures of the biotechnical revolution toward a genomic mythology
please join me in giving her a warm welcome thank you for the great
introduction and thank you all for coming out tonight and I’ve had a
wonderful day attending classes and lunch with students and it’s been great
and please signal me if I start moving too fast I have a tendency to do that
on June 26 2007 may remember William Jefferson Clinton announced the
completion of a map of the human genome calling it and I’m quoting oh okay is
that better calling it I’m quoting without a doubt
the most important most wondrous map ever produced by humankind remarking on
the extraordinary scale of economic technological scientific change that was
sweeping across the modern world he pronounced the developments represented
by this achievement I’m still quoting almost two awesome fully to comprehend
we were learning nothing less he mused than the language in which God created
life and I want you to notice the wording up there though I mean this is
of course Clinton at the press conference the private corporation
involved in mapping the genome and on the other side is Francis Collins who
spearheaded the public initiative to map the human genome and please notice the
language in the foreground well background but really foreground of this
shot decoding the book of life and a milestone of humanity
now genomics had been very much in the news and in popular fiction in film
prior to this 2000 conference can everyone hear me all right if I move
around and don’t can anyone not hear me of course tell them the question okay so
but after this conference it became a veritable obsession I mean I’m sorry
media you know event it became a veritable obsession you
could not open a newspaper without reading about new bio technological
developments and without seeing it in popular novels and popular fiction media
Watchers like myself call this an explosion so after 2000 there was an
explosion which was testifying to the fact that this had felt this topic had
fully saturated the collective imagination now tonight I’m gonna take
up three questions associated with that saturation so you’ve heard as Brenda
said that there are claims about our changing conceptions of human being this
is one of the the lines that you hear in the media you hear in popular fiction
and film and my first question is are they really changing these conceptions
of human being and if so how and I’m as interested in the fact that we’re
claiming that they are as I am and whether they actually are secondly how
can we understand the combination the unique combination of fear and
fascination with which we’re responding to the idea of those changes and what
are the consequences of this response and finally what can we learn by paying
really close attention to the language that we’re using to introduce the
discoveries produced by genomic research and I want to take as my first example
Clinton’s phrase the learning the language in which God created life also
decoding the book of life and as Francis Collins says the language of God these
concepts these phrases allow us I think to understand why people have the sense
that the scientific research is maybe challenging or challenging or
threatening to our religious beliefs it also conveys the momentous and momentous
‘no sub the discovery these phrases actually aren’t new they go back to the
1950s in the 1950s people were talking about the book of life the language of
God and so on and they they don’t seem to be losing their power so I again I
think it’s something we really need to think about and finally as I’m going to
suggest in this talk this language helps us understand how genomics is being
incorporated into myths for our contemporary moment and I want to pause
for a minute to find what I mean by myth because I’m
using that word in it’s very traditional sense
I see myths as explanatory stories that express the collective identity of a
group as a standard anthropological definition through several features
first of all they tend to reach back into a primordial past and if you think
about genomic stories that have been in the news there’s all this talk about
African Eve about discovering human remains in Africa and being able to
chart and chronicle human migrations and the and and human history in a new way
so this is part of this primordial past it’s also science I don’t mean myth
instead of science I mean the way it’s being incorporated into our stories so
they reach deep into this past and they also myths tend to suggest a connection
with divinity and with superhuman beings that’s another characteristic of myth
they often depict an impending threat of apocalypse so the idea of the species
going extinct tempered with the reassurance of renewal so you know the
stories are both about this threat that you know that that may be apocalyptic
but in the end it’s contained and they end up being stories of renewal myths
tend to accompany a paradigm shift a new way of looking at the world with a
reaffirmation of traditional values they’re necessary
they help us negotiate change and I’m going to return to this at the end of
the talk I think it’s very important that we in fact recognize the mythic
features of some of the stories we’re telling because in and of themselves
myth or myths are great but when we start believing in them and thinking
that they are conveying the science we may run into some trouble to address
these questions I’m going to focus particularly on the fanciful creatures
the hybrids chimeras and monsters that populate our collective imagination as
we attempt to make sense of the changes that are going to come from genomic
information now this is a chimera and originally chimeras were mythological
creatures that were very specific and as you can see
as the body of a lion the head of a woman and the wings of a bird and this
is a characteristic classical chimera but the word has become more
conventional within genomics and has come to mean any transgenic creation
whether in reality in our fantasy I love this little guy or in our popular
culture and this some of you may recognize is the actress hayden
Panettiere I’m not suggesting that she herself is a chimera but she plays one
on TV she’s one of my two favorite characters
from the hit CBS TV show heroes and I’ll be talking a little bit about that later
when I also get to x-men she is more more accurately a mutant than a chimera
but she showed up on the in Google Images most disturbingly I also showed
up in Google Images when I wrote the Mira and I was a little puzzled about
that but it was the title of my talk I was very glad to know so I am now thanks
to all of you in a chimera in Google Images okay so hayden Panettiere and i
Camaro’s I want to say a quick word about my method now what I do in my work
is I look closely at how genomics is being talked about in the mainstream
media and in popular fiction and film because I believe those are the places
where we work out as a group as a collective general public where we work
out our responses to new discoveries new theories new concepts new ideas from
science and other things as well so accounts of scientific research
introduce a vocabulary and what I mean by vocabulary is very broad they
introduced terms now this may not be a new term but it appears with new
frequency right in the in the genomic revolution as part of the genomic
revolution so certain words get out there in the public and phrases I talked
about African Eve and stories associated with those phrases so you see the phrase
African Eve and you start to think about migration patterns and human history and
so forth and so on this is a both a storyline and a phrase that’s getting
out into the general public they can be visual images and anyone who
has ever watched CSI or anything like it knows a gel sequence when they see one
and we have a very strong sense of what information we can gain from this image
you know it will tell us the guilt or innocence of the character can tell us
paternity and you know all of this is somewhat misleading it’s somewhat true
and somewhat misleading so this vocabulary in a broad sense circulates
through the mainstream media and popular fiction and film and it becomes part of
our daily lives we we develop an understanding of the science that way
now there are two things that I’m gonna look at one of them is how in the
process this is a dialectical process you never put a new word out there
without trying to understand it in terms of another word or concept that you
already know the these things circulate through frameworks through stories that
were are already familiar to us and they both change in the process right the
vocabulary changes and the stories change what happens in that process is a
certain kind of distortion right so the science gets distorted as it’s
circulating through the media and popular fiction and film but I think the
popular fiction in film also do other things they allow us they kind of
magnify or amplify the concepts in the scenarios and they allow us to look not
only at the distortions but also some of our deeply held convictions and the one
I’m talking about tonight again is what it means to be human so I’m going to
start with one of the earliest and most formative novels in the English language
which is one of those frameworks that I was talking about one of the stories
that we tell over and over again which takes scientific experimentation as its
topic and I mean of course Mary Shelley’s 1818 Frankenstein now I assume
that a lot of you have read Frankenstein but many of you may know Frankenstein
through the films and so I’m gonna just very quickly go over the plot because
the book is very very different from the films and in the book Victor
Frankenstein is a healthy young man a nobleman who
lives in Switzerland with his loving family and he’s interested in Natural
History his family sends him to another town to
study at a university as many of you are doing and he meets up with a professor
as many of you have who really catches his imagination and inspires him to
begin to think outside the box and what Victor Frankenstein becomes obsessed
with is creating life he wants to be the progenitor of a new race of creatures he
wants to be like God so you can already see the problem emerging and Mary
Shelley makes very clear that one of the huge problems that comes out of this is
that Victor Frankenstein gets so focused on his scientific research that he loses
touch with all of his healthy social connections he doesn’t get in touch with
his family doesn’t call home so I remind you all please undergraduates go home
call home I’m a parent of a college-age son myself call home he doesn’t call
home he loses touch with his fiancee and his
best friend and all of the socializing influences that had been keeping him
wholesome before and lo and behold he’s incredibly successful and the creature
and Mary Shelley does not use the word monster it is not a monster it’s a
creature the creature opens his eyes Frankenstein freaks out runs into the
night and leaves the monster to wander out and look for love in all the wrong
places literally so the monster which has treated very sympathetically by Mary
Shelley starts wandering around looking for human connection of any kind and
everybody responds to the monster by going ah you know running from him
throwing things out in bottles sticks rocks whatever they have and the mutt
and the creature sorry I called him a monster the creature gradually becomes
monstrous because of these experiences so what Mary Shelley is describing is
how scientific experimentation by not taking into account the social world in
which there the scientist is performing the
experimentation can create monsters okay and so this is she helps us understand
the concept of monstrosity which for her is something that arises because it the
creature is put into a situation where there are no social categories that it
fits there are no classifications for this creature therefore it becomes
monstrous so this is very much a part of Mary Shelley’s point it is important to
read our creatures and our monsters for what they tell us about our own social
categories they make visible the things we don’t know we’re assuming Mary
Shelley’s story explains to us why we have inherited this sense of attention
between science and religion and between science and society but I think even
more importantly Mary Shelley has captured the fact that in her moment and
remember this is not long after the French Revolution and the American
Revolution and the rights of man changing definitions of what it means to
be human one of the things that Mary Shelley’s book I think so powerfully
does is explore how troubling it is to people when the concept of life or human
being begins to shift right these are definitions that are always shifting we
may not be aware of them but they’re always changing and when there’s a
radical shift people get very anxious and the monster in Mary Shelley is very
much about that now the amplification of fiction and film that I talked about the
idea that they can really extend these scenarios it isn’t just we’re going to
have a very quick journalistic discussion but they can really play out
for instance what what it means to for some for a scientific researcher not to
think about social categories and so on they can really extend that scenario the
these extended scenarios as I said really allow us to contemplate our own
values our own assumptions our own deeply held convictions and it shows why
these media are so useful to bioethicists they give us insight
into who and what gets stigmatized and how and why they give us insight into
the underlying assumptions that may actually be getting in the way of the
things that the messages that we think we’re putting out and are trying to put
out and in a very profound way they enfranchise our speculation they let us
think about things that were not even aware that we’re thinking they kind of
act as a giant mirror for our most deeply held assumptions as a collective
entity and I think it’s very important that they do this and I want to give you
an exact code or you know allow me a quick anecdote before moving into my
examples of what I’m talking about and this is several years ago leon kass how
many of you know that name leon kass leon kass who at the time was the head
of the President’s Council on bioethics which is a position he held from 2002 to
2005 came to Duke and leon kass was extremely anti cloning he was anti
stem-cell research and he was a key player in the Bush administration’s
science policy determining where funding was going to go and determining what was
and was not going to be allowed with federal funding at all and so leon kass
came to give this talk on cloning at Duke and he told us the following an
anecdote he said on my way here I was in a cab and the cab driver asked me where
I was going and I said I told him what I was doing and the cab driver said
cloning that’s disgusting and he said to us this this man became a representative
for him of the attitude of the general public and he said to us you see the
general public doesn’t knows that cloning is disgusting knows there’s
something wrong with this and as ethicists we really have to take into
account how people feel about the scientific research and he actually
compared the researchers to dr. Frankenstein he said we cannot let these
researchers like Victor Frankenstein get so hold up in their in their
laboratories that they’re not in touch with what society thinks and wants and
feels and this to him was good evidence and the way he began
the talk that we really really should restrict this research now my question
for him which I never got to ask and would that he were here now is well but
where did the cab driver get his ideas about cloning what did he actually think
cloning was and where did he get his impressions that it was disgusting so
I’m going to give you several examples now from popular fiction and film and
and ask you to think very seriously about your own attitudes about
biotechnological research cloning and so forth and where they might be coming
from my first example is from a 1976 horror novel by a man named IRA Levin
whom you may know as the author of Rosemary’s Baby
and this book called the boys from Brazil is a wonderful novel about a
Josef Mengele alive and well probably most of you know that name he was a Nazi
scientist the premier Nazi scientist he’s alive and well living in Brazil and
engaged in a plot to clone Adolf Hitler and this it was made into a film and
this young man was one of the Hitler clones and in this book there’s also a
Nazi hunter very famous Nazi hunter named joseph Lieberman and he begins
begins to catch on to this plot but he doesn’t understand the science and so a
young university student that he meets up with giving a talk one day on this
evidence and what he’s found says to him oh you must go meet my professor my
professor is working on this cutting-edge science science and he will
explain to you what this science is all about so this passage is the scientists
explanation of mononuclear reproduction which is the more technical term for
cloning and I’m going to read it to in mono nuclear reproduction the nucleus of
an egg cell is destroyed leaving the body of the cell unharmed this is done
by radiation and is of course microsurgery of the most sophisticated
order into the enucleated egg cell is put the nucleus of a body cell of the
organism to be reproduced the nucleus of a body cell
not a sex cell we now have exactly what we had at this point in natural
reproduction an egg cell with 46 chromosomes in its nucleus a fertilized
egg cell which in a nutrient solution proceeds to duplicate and divide when it
reaches the 16 or 32 cell stage this takes four or five days it can be
implanted in the uterus of its mother who isn’t its mother at all biologically
speaking she supplied an egg cell and now she’s supplying a proper environment
for the embryos growth but she’s given it nothing of her own genetic
environment the child when it’s born has neither father nor mother only a donor
the giver of the nucleus of whom it’s an exact duplicate its chromosomes and
genes are identical to the donors instead of a new and unique individual
we have an existing one repeated now I’ve taught this book several times in a
class that is designed for first-year undergraduates who are planning to go
into either scientific research or policy work involving genomics and I say
so they know science and I say to them is this scientifically accurate and they
all say yeah it’s really impressive for a horror novel from the 1970s
I wouldn’t expect to find this it’s very impressive and I sit there enigmatic
aliy with my best Mona Lisa smile and they start to say oh you don’t think
it’s scientifically accurate do you and they go back and they dig and finally
someone says wait a minute neither father nor mother biologically
that’s not true bingo and so this is one of the examples of how very subtly and I
don’t think intentionally at all we get the wrong impression of science and I
will explain how as most of you probably know if I clone myself my clone is
basically an identical twin to me born however many years later and that means
that my genetic mother and father the terms we use genetically and how we
define it mother and father are also the mother and father of my identical twin
whenever that twin is born so it is not the case that a clone does not have a
biological mother or father nor is it correct to say that the clone is not a
new and unique in two the clone is very much a unique
individual just as for turn I’m sorry identical twins are unique individuals
and in fact biologically speaking because obviously our we’re not just a
product of our genes right we’re also a product of our environment but in
addition biologically a clone because the womb contributes to the genetics of
the feature of the fetus a clone is actually less identical to the donor
then identical twins are to each other anyone out there an identical twin do
you feel like a human being would you want someone to think you weren’t
because you weren’t quote genetically unique so imagine how a clone would feel
so what I’m what I want to illustrate here though what I want you to take away
from this is not oh IRA Levin got it a little bit wrong what I want you to take
away from this is this is how we turn clones into monsters or at least into
things that aren’t fully human because think about how we define human if
something isn’t a unique individual if it doesn’t have a mother mother or
father it’s kind of Frankenstein’s creature right we have the sense of
something being manufactured in a laboratory
that’s how very subtly we get the message things like this that a clone
isn’t fully human I have a very brilliant colleague who’s a medievalist
and she was saying to me one day I just am against cloning I said why she said
because I just don’t believe they’ll have souls and you know you can be
against cloning for all kinds of reasons but it makes no sense to say that a so a
clone wouldn’t have a soul it would be like saying an identical twin wouldn’t
have a soul and I know this man out there has a soul I can tell I can feel
it so so this is how we make monsters I also want to point out how the current
events of the day get pulled into the process how many of you recognize the
name Louise Brown who was Louise Brown the first test-tube baby
anyone know when she was born seventy-eight July of 1978 but this was
under hot debate IVF technologies under hot debate in the 1970s in exactly the
language we’re using now about cloning and Louise Brown was supposed to be a
monster and she was supposed to feel bereft because somehow she wasn’t fully
human Louise Brown is very normal and I’ve seen her interviews with her she’s
articulate and quite wonderful so this is the kind of the way that the current
issues get pulled into the specificity of the science so this gives us insight
into how we might be making clones monstrous but I also want to think about
why we might be making clones monstrous what are they messing with that are
making us uncomfortable well two decades after Ira Levin Lee silver a biologist
at Princeton wrote a wonderful book very controversial and interesting book
called remaking Eden and one of the things he tells us in this book is that
clones are very disturbing to people because a clones children will also be
her mother’s children thus with a single act of cloning we are forced to
reconsider the meaning of parents children and siblings and how they
relate to one another we don’t like our categories messed with it makes us
uncomfortable I read this – my husband is a poet he went you cloning does that
you um what is this like where have we seen this in classical literature who
made this kind of mess with his own family relations anyone Oedipus
excellent Oedipus Rex right when Oedipus unwittingly murdered his
father and slept with his mother what did he do they had kids together
those kids were both his siblings and his children and everyone said ooh and
in fact he brought a plague on is it thieves thieves
he brought a plague on Thebes not great right and ultimately blinded himself
because he didn’t want to look on the monstrous progeny of his incestuous
relationship with jocasta so we don’t like having our categories
messed with whether it’s clowns or anything else but again this isn’t
civic to cloning this has everything to do with putting out there how unstable
our definitions really are not just cloning but biotechnological research in
general and now I’m going to talk about something that I think is even more
controversial than cloning and that’s transgenic experimentation
so here’s Alvin Toffler best known for his book future shock writing in the
decade between Ira Levin and Lise silver in the Christian Science Monitor and
he’s writing against biotechnology he says it is now possible in principle to
transfer human traits into animals and animal traits into humans if we do this
or create new life-forms with genes drawn from humans we can also in
principle reach a point at which the common mainly implicit definition of
humaneness becomes blurred what traits ultimately define a human where is the
borderline of humaneness and if we do not know how to define
human what about human rights and what I want you to see here is well it is true
that transgenic experimentation taking human genes putting them in animals or
vice versa or whatever that that is messing with categories in ways that we
really do need to think through he’s not wrong however his idea that the problem
is that it’s messing with the definition of humaneness and his sliding to human
rights makes it sound as though we have an absolute solid agreed-upon definition
of human being and it is underpinning a universal definition of human rights
that’s not true right human rights are very problematic concept they are not
universal with that they were and the definition
of human being is itself slippery so it’s not so much that the that this
research is causing the concept to slide or changing what it means to be human as
bringing to the surface the fact that the definitions are already not really
stable okay so now I want to move us to the movies and if science
new scientific discoveries cause unresolved social questions to surface
they also get mixed up with global politics science and current events
other current events are always getting mixed up together our anxieties about
one are always spilling into the other permit me to introduce a wonderful
contemporary monstrous clone Tom Hardy’s Shinzon in Star Trek nemesis from 2002
the most recent Star Trek movie and I’m gonna give you a little background in
the plot of this movie so Shenzhen was created by the Romulans a planet out
there and though whatever as a plot he was cloned from the beloved Captain
Picard Patrick Stewart captain of the enterprise and he was built in an aging
mechanism where Shinzon would age more quickly and at a certain point he’d be
the same age as Captain Picard and they would substitute Shinzon for Captain
Picard and he would foment revolution within the Federation perish the thought
so the Romulans Romulan government fell and Shinzon was suddenly left with
nothing to do right they had created again a Frankenstein’s monster they
created a weapon of mass destruction they and remember this is 2002 and they
didn’t know what to do with him he didn’t fit in anywhere two Romulan
society so they banished him to a colonized twin planet here we get the
classics again named Remus and Remus is basically one large dilithium mine
Shinzon very cute little ten-year-old boy they show it very endearing they
banished him to the dilithium mines of Remus he becomes adopted by the Riemann
people he becomes their revolutionary leader and when the film starts he has
just assassinated most of the members of the Romulan Senate and caused a
revolution a riemann revolution and has taken over Romulus he has also hailed
Captain Picard and the scene you are about to see is the confrontation
between Captain Picard and his clone Shinzon and this
we’re Shinzon talks about both his feelings as a stateless terrorist and
remember this is 2002 again and his feeling of being a clone and note in the
film two things while you’re watching this first of all note how those two
categories political affiliation and biological being start getting confused
with each other note also how the meson son which just
means the cinematography the scene that is created by the film creates the two
in very different terms Shinzon is is always photographed in the
shadows he’s photographed in the same garb as the riemann quote monsters
picard is cut is there always close-ups on his face and it’s very expressive his
eyes are very soft and he’s backlit he appears almost to glow so there’s a real
emphasis on Picard’s individualism and on Shinzon’s monstrosity so watch the
scene I’ll say a few words about it and move to x-men hello son why am I here why have you done this I
was lonely what are you going to do I need a sample
of your blood but is it your Borg frenzy persistence is futile oh yes the Android the beige you
couldn’t refuse all of this so you could capture me don’t be so fake after we found it and to make a few
modifications an extra memory port they hidden transponder
I’ve now gained access to stuff its communications protocol
I now know the exact location of your entire fleet
you may go where out of my safe what is all this about it’s about
destiny because it’s about ARIMA outcomes you’re not and I’m not quite
sure so what am i my life is meaningless as long as you’re still alive what am i
while he would exist shadow an echo if your Asuza with me then deal with me
this has nothing to do with my ship nothing to do with the Federation know
that it does we were no longer bow before anyone as slaves of the Romulans
and not your mighty Federation wait our race bred for war and conquest are you
ready to plumb the entire quadrant into war to satisfy your own personal demons
it amazes me how little you know yourself I’m incapable of such an act
you are me the same noble Picard blood vice and you lived my life you’d be doing
exactly as I am so look in the mirror see yourself consider that captain
I could think of no greater torment for you Shinzon I’m a mirror for you as well not for long I’m afraid you won’t
survive to witness the victory of the echo over the voice okay Patrick
Stewart’s great so a couple of things I want you to notice from this and my
computer is very fussy of that eject so it’s gonna take a second but one a few
things I want you to notice from this is that you know first of all there’s the
conventional language with which bioethicists always talk about how
clones are going to feel my life is meaningless as long as you’re still
alive I’m the shadow I’m the echo and so forth
but really you know as I said this is as much a political story as it is a
biological one and it’s unclear he says you know this is about a riemann outcome
and the card system you’re not riemann i’m not human either
so the film is constantly confusing political affiliation with biological
entity miss whatever and the confusion is I mean what it really comes down to
is again that Shinzon is a Frankenstein’s monster he doesn’t belong
anywhere he doesn’t believe he belongs anywhere so the film constructs him as
monstrous as a stateless terrorist and as a clone but the film also does some
other very interesting things and really the scene is setting up the theme that
is going to run throughout the rest of the film and that runs throughout
popular genomic fiction and film in general and what the theme is setting up
is the idea that are we nothing more than our environments and our genes do
we have no human spirit do we have no will and you saw how pained Picard was
when shins on is saying if you were me you would be as monstrous as I am you
would be doing exactly what I’m doing and Picard is just horrified at the
thought that all his nobility and all his heroism may not be something he can
take credit for and somehow that he too is less human and the film spends the
red to the time reaffirming an understanding
of humanity as the expression of free will and spirit and this is true of
Gattaca it’s true of Minority Report this is a constant theme that runs
through popular culture in the genome age the idea that humanity is real that
it is a question of spirit that it is not a question of biology one of the
things people are really nervous about is if we start finding out that all of
the traits that we think make us unique make us us make us human our ability to
love our nobility our ability to dream if we find out those things are
hard-wired that somehow we’re not going to be human and popular culture is all
about reaffirming that definition of humanity and ironically it’s data the
beloved Android that reminds Picard of this and then sacrifices himself for
Picard and shows everybody what it means to be human
so clearly if an Android can show us what it means to be human
clearly it’s not biological and so the film does a few things it associates
monstrosity with expressions of determinism it makes the clone and
terrorist monstrous and it also records a dominant concern and anxiety about
what genomic information will tell us about ourselves whether it will entail a
paradigm shift concerning what it means to be human and it shows us how we turn
our anxieties into monsters now I want to move to one more example
and then I’ll wrap up and my next example is from x-men an x-men is
obviously not about clones x-men is about cámaras or more accurately mutants
and x-men is like heroes is is actually again a story that we’re telling a lot
right now the idea that suddenly you’ll wake up one day and realize that you
have a mutation and you can fly or you can walk through walls or you can’t you
know you cannot be destroyed or something like that and what this is
coming from and if there are any scientists out there forgive me I’m
about to give a very very reductive description of punctuated equilibrium
it’s from the concept of punctuated equilibrium
which is associated with the 1970s although it had been kind of floating
around before and Stephen Jay Gould and others and what it was people think it
was an argument with Darwin it actually wasn’t it was another angle on Darwinian
evolution and where Darwin looked at sort of humanity over all the questions
asked by people interested in punctuated equilibrium were if we get a small
enough population would it be possible for the mutations to circulate quickly
enough that we could at a certain point give birth to another generation how i’m
sorry another species how quickly could we move in an isolated population into a
different species to change you know that literally that kind of evolutionary
changed that was the and again very very simplistic description it gets picked up
by wonderful writers like greg bear and Octavia Butler Octavia Butler talks fed
xeno Genesis the birth of aliens you know alien birth Greg bear has a
wonderful novel called Darwin’s radio where he talks about the the idea that
we have a retrovirus that is embedded in our DNA and when certain stressors in
the environment get too strong that virus gets expressed and there’s a
sudden leap and human beings start to give birth to a new species and I’m
gonna you know conclude with this idea all hell breaks loose in Darwin’s radio
human beings are very anxious about this new species they round them up they put
them in concentration camps big surprise the the way that this is dealt with in
heroes and x-men is even less scientific because these are mutations that occur
spontaneously but they’re the same mutations occurring in every one the
mutations that are occurring in x-men and heroes as I said are individual
they’re specific to individuals so you know you hit adolescents and suddenly
you have wings you can suddenly as I said walk through
walls you can disappear you know this is the
kind of thing that we’re imagining and this is part of you know that kind of
fanciful mythic creature I’ve been talking about so I’m going to show this
one clip explain it and then conclude I love this film and watch this one
watch the camera watch how the camera represents the imitation it is the key
to our evolution it has enabled us to evolve from a single-celled organism
into the dominant species on the planet this process is slow normally taking
thousands and thousands of years but every few hundred millennia evolution
leaps forward this is an incredible shot and the
cinematography in this film is incredible whatever you think of the
plot it is a gorgeously shot film this is an image of the power of human will
and human desire now why do I say that so the character you just saw is Magneto
with Patrick Stewart dr. xaviar they are like the two most powerful mutants and
he’s very ambiguous because he’s the one who’s angry at humanity but there’s a
good reason for it and so we’re sympathetic to him and what we’ve just
seen is his mutation which is to be a magnet to attract metal his mutation is
fun is expressing itself for the first time in adolescence and it’s in a sense
an extension of his incredibly powerful desire so you saw him being pulled away
from his family you saw the anger the helplessness on
his father’s face the anguish on his mother’s face and the torture on his own
face and he responds by just willing that gate open so if Shinzon is all
about determinism and giving up on the human will this film is about the
absolute power of the human will so much so that it turns into a mutation now
this is both how these characters are monstrous in the sense that the mutation
is characterological it’s an expression of some fundamental thing in him but
it’s also they’re also enviable I mean this is almost superhuman right this is
human Humanity times 10 and that’s I think how these characters work and how
they become mythic they represent this incredible sense of possibility and what
we imagine human being might be now I want to sum up very quickly about five
more minutes by talking about evolution and I’ve mentioned it throughout you
heard Patrick Stewart say at the beginning mutation is the key to human
growth but we fear change Octavia Butler’s
xenogenesis trilogy is also about that and Greg Barrett I mean this is a common
theme we fear change and I think at the core of the response to these myths
about genomics is our combined fear and excitement about what human beings might
become have you ever stopped to think that you know we think we talk about
evolution and you know people who accept evolution accept that you know we
evolved from prot you know primates in the past and so forth and so on do you
ever hear people discuss what we might be coming be becoming whatever what we
might become you don’t right there’s this implicit tacit agreement I think to
assume that we’re somehow the Telos at the end of evolution but in fact if you
think about it in Darwinian terms if we don’t blow ourselves up we’re either
going to go extinct or we’re going to evolve and if we evolve what are we
going to be and I think this concern is at the core of a lot of these genomic
myths is evolution going to be something better is it another word for extinction
and what will evolve human beings think of us and there’s a very humorous
manifestation of this right now how many of you have seen the Geico commercial
with the cavemen so Geico says so simple even a caveman can do it and then they
show all these scenarios of these cavemen that are living amongst us that
are hurt by this and angered by this and it was so popular they’ve actually made
a television series called the cavemen with these characters now I think these
characters are a humorous manifestation of what we’re fundamentally afraid of
which is if we get these evolved human beings and if they are perhaps better
than we are more adapted to the environment and I know that doesn’t mean
the same as better but I think in our fantasy it does if they’re more adapted
than we are what are they going to think about us are we going to become
second-class citizens how are they going to treat us and I think this is a really
primal concern that is at the heart of these stories now
the creatures I’ve been looking at express excitement and anxiety in three
areas that I’ve been talking about one the changes genomics might produce and
that’s the whole designer eugenics that I’ve been talking about we might produce
creatures that are soup hurry to us this is Gattaca the
information genomics might give us about ourselves right the determinism that I
talked about with Shenzhen and Picard and finally one that particularly
interests me and that is the genomics as a depiction let me get my last slide up
here genomics genomics has a depiction of social changes that have already
taken place or are in the process of taking place some of you may remember
this 1993 Time magazine simulation and what they did is they took
characteristics of all the ethnicities and the percent in which those
ethnicities are represented in the u.s. population and they made a human being a
simulated human being out of this the generation coming of age now in college
with those of you who are undergraduates is more racially mixed ethnically mixed
and religiously mixed than any generation in human history you are the
wonderful product of globalization and and younger people even more so I think
this is great lots of people think this is great
but it’s messing with our social categories and a lot of people are
really anxious about it so one question I would leave you with us to what extent
this genomics register displaced anxieties about social changes so these
are the three things that I think go into these creatures I’ve been looking
at now myths arise when the rapid production of new theories and insights
and science infuses with our most profound anxieties about social
transformation it’s not surprising that genomics with its strange mix of science
and entertainment breeds a mythology for our contemporary moment fascination with
ancestry going back to human history the creatures that populate these stories
these weird tales of clones and cámaras offered to turn tantalizing remnants of
a forgotten past into glimpses of a haunted future we have an image of
humanity at risk and we have an immediate response in these stories of
the reaffirmation of humanity defined in the very culturally specific
terms freewill human spirit and so forth that I’ve been talking about
now finally why is it important to understand the mythic nature of these
stories myths are wonderful expressions of the human imagination
they powerfully appeal to the collective imagination of a group but for those
reasons it’s so much harder for us to question them and there’s then the
increased possibility of negative consequences stigma of misapprehension
about the science and the nature of the discoveries and they actually prevent
the kind of introspection that I’ve been arguing these works of fiction if we
approach them critically can present they they forestall introspection of
precisely the questions that most need to be challenged Allah my anecdote of
Allah my anecdote of Allah my anecdote of

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