No blogs for a few days, because I have been attending a scientific meeting in Crete, and have now moved on to attend a second meeting in Jerusalem. The focus of the meeting in Crete was on the neurological processes contributing to normal and abnormal brain development. I am struck at meetings like this by how far science can drift into esoterica, and how effectively it can remove itself from any obvious practical sense or utility. The average citizen at a meeting like this – or even a scientist in this same discipline 30 years ago — would find the descriptions of this science to be utterly un-interpretable, because it operates on a plane of explanation and jargon and accumulated phenomology that floats about a mile above the physical, functional, blood-nourished, feeling, living brain. The average citizen paying the laboratory bills might also find it just a little bit alarming, as I did, that no one at this meeting of several hundred world experts really seemed very interested in practical extensions of their science that would HELP babies or children or adults in often-desperate need of it. In abstract after abstract and in talk after talk, I waited patiently for someone to say something like “We’re working very hard to try to figure out how to stop this bad shit from happening.” Or “With this understanding, we now see how we can use this approach to help treat this other problem that can ruin the lives of those other young children.” Or some such. I’ve personally found that individuals who study science almost entirely for its own (and their own) sake are not a particularly attractive social subclass of humankind. The jungle of developmental neurobiology (neuro-embryology) seems to be populated by more than its share of this kind of bird.
Speaking of science on Crete, many of you may not know that one of the first successful genetic engineering experiments was conducted at Knossos, a large palace and city in central Crete a few miles inland from the northern coast of the island. As I remember the scientific report, the angry queen of King Minos sought revenge on her husband because he rejected her by having her attendants produce a beeeeeauutiful garment made out of cowhide, to allure the Sacred Bull to mate with her. Which, being the temptress she was in this particularly cunning attire, He DID! One can only imagine.
In any event, you might have heard that the result of this genetic combination was a monster – a half man-half bull Minotaur who feasted on human flesh. Talk about genetic engineering going badly!! The more scientific meetings that I attend, the more convinced that I am that this is just one very early example of the many ways that genetic manipulation over the next millennium or two or three can have very undesirable outcomes! In future blogs, I’ll write about some of the ethical issues that are coming down on us from this scientific sub-discipline like a freight train, that relate to the brain and humanity, and that are going to plague us from this cultural era forward to the end of humans as we now know them.