John Donne, poet, priest, lawyer (1572)
Time, Love, Memory: A
Great Biologist and His Quest for the Origins of Behavior is a book by Jonathan
Weiner and was published in 2000. It's a
highly accessible biography of Seymour Benzer, the world's most renowned drosophilist,
with many anecdotes and quotations; it is also a very accessible history of
fruit fly genetics (drosophilia) and related molecular biology. For information about Seymour Benzer, see
"It is already possible - in fertility clinics it is done every day - to
screen the DNA of a set of eight embryos at the eight-cell stage and let the
parents pick the one they want to implant in the mother's womb. The more genes
there are to screen and the better these gene complexes are understood, the
more wealthy parents will select not only the healthiest but also the best and
brightest embryo they can, designing the genes of their children....(O)ver the
next few centuries whether governments legislate for or against it(,...t)he
rich will pick and choose the genes of their children, the poor will not. The
gap between rich and poor may widen so far in the third millennium that before
the end of it there will not only be two classes of human beings but two
species, or a whole Galapagos of different human species. These human species
could be prevented from interbreeding by the genetic engineering of chemical
incompatibility, so that the egg of one would reject the sperm of the other."
a brave new world, by Gabriele at Flickr (2005)
Toward the end of Marlon Brando's autobiography, Songs My Mother Taught Me, that wise and wonderful man summed up his life's learning as attaining a visceral understanding of how much mankind is driven by group instincts, and how much every group requires outsiders to feel superior to. In the paragraph in Time, Love, Memory following the one quoted from above, Weiner quotes E.O. Wilson saying, "Soon we must look deep within ourselves and decide what we wish to become....What lifts this question beyond mere futurism is that it reveals so clearly our ignorance of the meaning of human existence in the first place." At least, we know what John Donne's reply to Professor Wilson's musing would be.
no man is an island, by Ujwala Prabhu at Flickr (2008)
Hopefully, there are drosophilists looking for the genes whose sequences determine the proteins for the animal behaviors Brando referred to as "group instincts," and under what conditions their outsider-requiring features may be turned off, in order to ameliorate the dystopia of wealth-created castes to which we already belong as well as to prevent the potential dystopia of wealth-created species to which Weiner alludes. I'd call these our "Groups-or-Gandhi?" sequences, and as fine as this book is, I would have welcomed something in it about drosophilists' thoughts about these sequences.