Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Vehicle is not the Destination

Scene 1: A quote by 1960s geneticist Robert Sinsheimer, quoted in ‘Brave New Worlds’ by Bryan Appleyard.
The old eugenics was limited to a numerical enhancement of the best of our existing gene pool. The new eugenics would permit in principle the conversion of all the unfit to the highest genetic level ... it is a new horizon in the history of man. Some may smile and feel that this is but a new version of the old dream, the perfection of man. It is that, but it is something more. The old dreams of the cultural perfection of man were always sharply constrained by his inherent, inherited imperfections and limitations ... to foster his better traits and to curb his worse by cultural means alone has been, while clearly not impossible, in many instances most difficult ... we now glimpse another route – the chance to ease the internal strains and heal the internal flaws directly, to carry on and consciously perfect far beyond our present vision this remarkable product of two billion years of evolution.

Scene 2: A quote about that quote by Bryan Appleyard, in his book...
Both Sinsheimer and the NAS report took the view that biological control represented a logical extension of mankind’s glorious progress to complete mastery of nature. This progress is seen as the defining project of the species. In both quotations one feels that nothing else but science is of significance. All other human activity and achievements are reduced to a sideshow, for it is science that changes ‘man’s view of hismelf’, and it is science that can ‘ease the internal strains and heal the internal flaws’. If science alone can do all these things, it is difficult to know what else there is to be done and what possible historical status can be accorded to anybody who is not a scientist.

Scene 3: S’nshmra, the island of Flores, BCE 12,000
The old swimming was limited to the strength of one hobbit. With the new boats, we can in principle take any person, whether they are strong or weak, across the ocean to other places ... it is a new horizon in the history of hobbitkind. Some may smile and feel that this is but a new version of the old dream, the perfection of hobbitkind. It is that, but it is something more. The old dreams of the cultural perfection of swimming were always sharply constrained by our inherent, inherited imperfections and limitations ... to achieve the ability to cover miles of open ocean by training and practice alone has been, while clearly not impossible, in many instances most difficult ... we now glimpse another route – the chance to surpass the internal strains and internal flaws of the swimmer, to carry on and consciously perfect far beyond our present vision our remarkable capacity to travel not only on land, but in water.

Scene 3: P’plrda, the island of Flores, BCE 11,970
S’nshmra took the view that boatbuilding represented a logical extension of hobbitkind’s glorious progress to complete mastery of nature. This progress is seen as the defining project of the species. In her quotation one feels that nothing else but boatbuilding is of significance. All other hobbit activity and achievements are reduced to a sideshow, for it is boatbuilding that can ‘perfect hobbitkind’, that can ‘surpass the internal strains and internal flaws of the swimmer’. If boatbuilding alone can do all these things, it is difficult to know what else there is to be done and what possible historical status can be accorded to anybody who is not a boatbuilder.

3 comments:

Nato said...

Whilst not completely following your line of thought (other than to demonstrate the parallels in different writings),
you may be interested in some of the works of James Sire: two in particular.

Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept
Why Should Anyone Believe Anything At All?

Here's the link to his complete list on Amazon (apologies - for some reason my blogger hyperlink inserter does not work on my work laptop):

http://www.amazon.com/Naming-Elephant-Worldview-As-Concept/dp/083082779X/sr=1-3/qid=1166674716/ref=sr_1_3/102-3023029-7165747?ie=UTF8&s=books

Dr. Clam said...

Aha, you are playing right into my hands, Nato!

Appleyard says that the confident call of Sinsheimer for science to enable humanity to meet its goals means that he thinks only science and scientists are important: maybe he does believe that, but that is not what he is saying. Sure, people need better and more efficient ways to meet their goals. I can confidently join with Sinsheimer in claiming that science will help us to overcome the weakenesses that stop us from fulfilling our goals. However, what is more important is determining what our goals are. The people who will be remembered the longest will not be the ones who make it posisble for us to reach our goals, but the ones who set our goals.

The 'hobbits' could have gone to Sulawesi, or Australia, or Java, or Japan. They could have decided to conquer the 'bigguns', or adopt their culture, or interact with them in some other way. They could have domesticated plants and animals, Flores being short of that sort of thing, or chosen not to. In short, if they had gotten off their island, it wouldn't be the fact that they got off that would be most important, it would be what they decided to do when they got off. And about that, science offers us no guidance.

I've watched 'V for Vendetta', and I've shelled out $24 for Jim Wallis's book, so before I hunt down James Sire I have to ask you Nato, how you are going with the reading list I gave you over in your blog? ;)

Nato said...

Sire outlinese in one of his books (either The Universe Next Door or Discipleship of the Mind, can't remember which) of the perils of the Gospel of Technique - the myth that progress will prevail.

As to your reading list, I skimmed Pell's comments when I first saw your post, but have not read the others (a holiday project, perhaps).