Our minds on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.

The Most Frightening Sentence of the Week

If you delve into the news (especially science news) you’re just bound to run into some pretty frightening ideas, be they predictions or developments. In discussing the nature of open source software versus closed source, Jaron Lanier mentions an interesting metaphor with regard to genetics. Lanier cites a Freeman Dyson piece in which Dyson describes the early stages of evolution as “open source”—in the sense that genes moved freely between species as tradable bits of code. That alone was news to me, but after I thought about it, it wasn’t such a strange idea that our concept of Darwinian evolution—namely the natural selection of genes in organisms—doesn’t necessarily occur at the beginning stages of the development of life.

Life would have had to be simpler than creatures with genetic components—possibly even just genes in a primordial goo. But given that, Lanier goes on to say “Freeman suggests that the coming era of synthetic biology will be a return to Eden,” and by that he means, the earliest stages of the development of life. In other words, the advent of synthetic biology could mean that a whole lot of new life is going to crop up without ancestors.1 “Species boundaries will be defunct, and genes will fly about, resulting in an orgy of creativity.” Is it just me or is that just a really frightening concept? Especially “orgy.” In fact, I’d have to say, that when scientists are speaking to a public that is well-known to be apprehensive about certain topics that’s about the worst phrasing of that particular concept I can imagine. I mean, it seems almost deliberately inflammatory. The metaphor is that of a barely controlled… and sticky siutation; not a laboratory. I’m not sure I think its responsible language coming from a scientist.

At any rate, Dyson, for me, really brings the idea home when he asks what the world will be like when the people that run the dog show have total control over the canine genome. Well, among other things, there will be a lot more stupid looking dogs that can’t naturally reproduce.

  1. Dare we call it Intelligent Design? Tee hee. 

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