STOP THE PRESS: Headlines in the last week of February announced
the successful cloning of sheep and monkeys by scientists in
the U.K. and in America. These cloning experiments sent Sekhmet
foraging into her long-term memory bank for an account of the
Proceedings of the Anti-Science Society (a shadowy organization
whose alleged roots stretch back to ancient Greece when a prototype
of the contemporary society was founded by Platonists in an
attempt to combat the pernicious proto-rationalism of Aristotle.)
The present society annually presents A.S.S. Awards --mainly
to scientists who have inadvertently succeeded in holding modern
science up to ridicule and derision. Sure enough, Sekhmet was
able to retrieve an account of the proceedings of the Society
written some twenty years ago, when the future spectre of cloned
complex organisms was first raised. It is worth noting here
that the Society's staunch neo-Luddite principles expressed
in these proceedings have been somewhat softened over the past
two decades, largely through the interest shown by the television
and film industries in subjects normally denounced by Establishment
science and by the tremendous communications powers inherent
in newly developed computer technology, specifically the Web,
which permits the instant worldwide broadcasting of material
that would normally be either ignored or vilified by Church
of Progress forces. Apart from this caveat, however, Sekhmet
finds this account of the Anti-Science Society's Proceedings
largely applicable to the possibilities inherent in the above-cited
headlines. Sekhmet will continue her discussion of the Church
of Progress itself in upcoming columns.
PROCEEDINGS OF THE ANTI-SCIENCE SOCIETY
A.S.S. SUPPORTS GENETIC ENGINEERING, In an astonishing turnabout,
the Anti-Science Society recently came out strongly in favor
of continuing research into all forms of genetic engineering.
Largely responsible for the surprise conclusion was a paper
read by the Society President, alchemist and astrologer, Dr.
Lilly, who has doctorates in both modern mathematics and philosophy
from Oxbridge University, revealed his the discovery of the
mathematical, psychological and sociological constant that,
applied to all questions of science and technology, allowed
for objective, quantifiable criteria. In lay terminology, Dr.
Lilly dubbed the new constant, 'The Bungle Factor'. Dr. Lilly
proved to an initially skeptical audience that by simply applying
The Bungle Factor the single great question hanging over the
history of science might be answered: Why, in over three centuries
of science and technology, has not one single thing worked out
the way it was intended? Apologizing for descending to the obvious,
Dr. Lilly listed several examples of science gone awry:
Theoretical research into the structure of matter leading to
the actual, permanent, imminent threat of nuclear annihilation.
of the sacred science of Alchemy into a gross manipulation of
matter, or Chemistry, leading to stockpiles of bacteriological
and chemical weapons; and simultaneous, irreversible toxic poisoning
of the earth, sea and skies.
Advances in modern medicine leading to uncontrolled and uncontrollable
population expansion with no foreseeable means for feeding additional
billions of people.
The miracle of mass communication that instantly disperses news
of disasters and catastrophes about the world, thereby infecting
all 'humanity instantly with psychic poison --since all 'impressions'
such as bad news produce quantifiable, demonstrable negative
emotional states. While disseminating psychic poison, the miracle
of mass communication has also served to bury, minimize or otherwise
camouflage whatever there may be that is genuinely new and valuable,
creating a situation in which genuine learning is less accessible
to the layman than it was in the worst periods of the so-called
Lilly admitted that these negative results brought about by
science and technology were relatively minor, and they were
cited simply because they were easily defined and isolated,
and equally easily explained by applying The Bungle Factor constant.
The more important negative results of science and technology
were not of course physical, but spiritual: the manner in which
improvements to the Standard of Living inescapably destroyed
Man's Way of Life; how technology effectively deprived the great
mass of men from exercising the creative function that is both
their birthright and their responsibility; ultimately, the one
and only means Man has for contacting his divine, inner, spiritual
self. These, and related questions, required a more sophisticated
application of The Bungle Factor, claimed Dr. Lilly, the results
of which would be reserved for a future meeting.
BUNGLE FACTOR CHALLENGED AS A UNIVERSAL
objection was raised from the floor. It was accepted as proven
that the Bungle Factor applied to each and every instance where
science and technology planned to benefit humanity, but when
Science turned deliberately to destructive ends, it realized
its intentions with a somewhat disconcerting consistency. Did
this not relegate The Bungle Factor to but one aspect of science?
It did not, claimed Dr. Lilly. The difference was merely one
of degree. Whereas, all planned benefits turned into their opposites,
exercises in planned destruction invariably turned out to be
far more destructive and insidious than anyone had foreseen,
due to The Bungle Factor. The example of radiation was cited
--predictable from theoretical formulae but in practice infinitely
more dangerous than anticipated; the carcinogenic qualities
of defoliants was another example. A further question was raised:
Was there, in the history of science and technology, any one
single invention or discovery whose direct or indirect drawbacks
did not outweigh its advantages? Dr. Lilly replied that his
research team had studied just this question for the past twenty
years. To date, the only invention meeting this difficult criterion
was the bicycle, but he did not the exclude the possibility
that others might be found.
Lilly vetoed further discussion, and returned to the Society's
stand vis-a-vis genetic engineering.
THE BUNGLE FACTOR AND GENETIC ENGINEERING
proponents looked forward to the time when all genetic defects
in man, animals and plants would yield to the corrective methods
of science, and man would at last live free from the inefficient
and capricious effects of Evolution. Through genetic manipulation,
science would at last realize that Victorian dream: The Conquest
application of the Bungle Factor, and recourse to recent history
with its examples of Thalidomide, DDT, PCP's and other acronyms
ensured that these planned benefits would work out otherwise.
But meanwhile, it was the negative possibilities of genetic
engineering that aroused suspicion among scientists. Leaving
aside for the moment the possibility of monstrous, self-replicating
hybrids out of the pages of science fiction magazines, or the
spectre of Hitlerian eugenics and the production of a cloned
Master-race, critics were even more apprehensive of scientific
attempts to benefit humanity by reproducing exactly those they
selected as examples of the highest and most evolved human types.
Peter Medawar, Nobel-Prize winning immunologist once declared,
'Science is a very great work, perhaps the greatest of all the
works of man.' Though it was this statement that won for Sir
Peter the first of his four A.S.S. awards, Dr. Lilly agreed
that very few working scientists would find fault with it.
followed inescapably that the perpetrators of 'the greatest
of all the works of man' were necessarily the greatest men,
and therefore the most deserving of duplication. Dr Lilly agreed
that the prospect of a limitless number of cloned great scientists
was perhaps the most terrifying scenario yet faced by Man. Fortunately,
however, it was doomed to fail, and in this happy instance,
it was possible even to predict the manner in which The Bungle
Factor would operate.
THE SCIENTIFIC VIEW OF LIFE
science defines organic life as 'The interaction between genetics
and environment,' and having framed this definition, science
believes it has reduced life to Rationalist terms, obviating
any need for metaphysics or divine teleology. But, pointed out
Lilly, like all Reductionist attempts, the definition was specious,
and for all its rational appearance, it was no more than a convenient
label applied to a mystery; Science playing Rumpelstiltskin
and hoping the problem would vanish.
in molecular biology now make it possible to quantify genetics.
By breaking down environment into a finite number of variables
that, too, may be quantified in some acceptably statistical
fashion. But the 'interaction' that effects the interchange
of forces between genetics and environment is undefined, ignored,
and in fact, given the methodology of modern science outside
its scope. Therefore, continued Dr. Lilly, to define Life as
a result of 'the interaction between genetics and environment'
has no more meaning than to define a child as a result of 'the
interaction between a man and a woman,' or to define music as
the result of 'the interaction between the violinist and the
violin.' In each case, the crucial third force --'love' or 'desire'
in the former example, 'inspiration' in the latter-- is unaccounted
for, and remains utterly mysterious; only the results can be
measured, the cause remains hidden. What then is the 'interaction'
that mediates between genetics and environment? It is of course
that higher music that Plato called 'The Music of the Spheres',
all Anti-Science Society members knew, the sophisticated statistical
studies of Michel Gauquelin, Hans Eysenk, and others proved
categorically that Astrological factors play a part, perhaps
the determining part, in the formation of the human personality.
Against odds of many millions to one against chance, great athletes
are born with Mars rising on the Eastern Horizon, or on one
of the 'Angles' (in astrological terminology). Against similar
odds, great scientists are born when Saturn is there.
it is the 'personality' of the athlete or scientist that channels
his energies into the chosen field, and since it is the position
of the stars at the moment of birth that in whole, or in part,
determines the personality (in the more precise symbolic terminology
of Ancient Egypt, the spiritual complex called the KA) humanity
can go on, allowing geneticists to putter about, secure in the
knowledge that all attempts to exactly duplicate chosen scientists
will fail. The results might be strange; psychological hybrids
torn apart by inner contradictions; with Venus, or Jupiter rising,
the unhappy clone might end up a rationalist poet, or an analytical
priest or a logical politician, but at least humanity at large
would not be affected. The question was then raised: could not
science take these astrological factors into account and succeed?
Lilly replied that this was impossible for two reasons. The
first was that the exact astrological conditions responsible
for the gene donor's personality would not re- occur for another
25,900 years, the cycle of the 'Great' or Platonic Year that
incorporates the full recession of the Equinoxes. Therefore,
by taking astrological factors into account, science could at
best approximate a personality 'type', but never the precise
individual. Secondly, there was no reason to fear even this
possibility. Though the statistical evidence supporting the
astrological premise was conclusive and incontrovertible, science
to date had managed to ignore it, and, Lilly predicted, science
would continue to ignore it. To admit the validity of astrology
would be to acknowledge the metaphysical or divine basis of
the universe, and there was not the slightest fear that science
would undermine its own faith in chance and meaninglessness
to do this. Therefore, concluded Lilly, the predictable operation
of the Bungle Factor ensured that the greatest possible genetic
disaster, the cloning of scientists, was doomed to failure.
POSITIVE REASONS FOR SUPPORTING GENETIC ENGINEERING
A.S.S. members were unable to fault Dr. Lilly's reasoning, most
still did not see why the Society should actively support a
genetic engineering program. Dr. Lilly cited a number of cogent
Genetic research is a delicate, time-consuming process. Geneticists
agree that practical application of their discoveries is unlikely
for over a decade. Under the worst of scenarios, declared Lilly,
genetic programs gone awry are unlikely to be more destructive
than other, already developed programs. Genetics is a fashionable
new discipline, and it is also expensive. Therefore, support
for genetics research is likely to draw both talented personnel
and vital money away from other pursuits guaranteed to be even
Since the world already teeters on the brink of an entire spectrum
of catastrophes -ecological, military, agricultural, chemical,
bacteriological, nuclear, and psychological- all of them directly
or indirectly traceable to science, the chances were that one
or several of these disasters would catch up to us long before
we would have to face the consequences of genetic tinkering.
Therefore, why bother to oppose it?
Perhaps most important, the Society prided itself on its pragmatic,
unquixotic approach to scientific problems. Any study of the
history of science was enough to convince even the slowest of
students that neither sanity nor reason have ever dissuaded
scientists from pursuing to the end any line of research no
matter how obviously dangerous, useless or silly it may have
been. If, said Lilly, in the face of Three Mile Island it is
still possible to find strong lobbies of scientists, politicians
and industrialists supporting nuclear energy, what possible
hope could there be of talking anyone out of genetic engineering?
But due to the Bungle Factor, we may rest secure that whatever
the intentions of the scientists involved, the results will
differ radically. And it is this that gave scope for a measure
of optimism. Given the prevailing morals and values of Science,
any divergence from plan was liable to be an improvement.