Sunday, October 15, 2006
Sadly, the California company of Genetic Savings & Clone is to close at the end of this year. This company offered to clone pets and it did manage to do five cats, though only two were sold. This doesn't surprise me, $50,000 is a lot for a cat. GSC did recently reduce its price to $32,000, though it still seems a bit steep. But, of course, the justification of the price was that you were buying not just any old cat, but your cat. Indeed, the company was founded by one John Sperling who wanted to have his own dog, Missy, cloned. This never happened. The idea that a cloned version of your pet is still your pet is absurd. I suppose with cats - behaviourally dull creatures - one could maintain this illusion. The reality, however, is that GSC was trying to make its money out of one of the great contemporary superstitions. This susperstition is faith in the magical powers of DNA. There is, I noticed yesterday, a film production company called DNA and cosmetics are daily sold that claim to protect or repair our DNA. 'It's in our DNA,' is a routine corporate cliche. Scientists have tended to encourage this. When I visited the appalling James Watson in his Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories on Long Island, the first thing I saw was a huge sculpture of the double helix in the lobby. It was the image of a god which I can imagine being unearthed by some future people who will find it as distant and incomprehensible as the wooden statue of A'a or Tangaroa (we don't know which) in the British Museum. The DNA superstition is based on two misunderstandings. First, it is popularly thought that we have established a clear link between DNA and the whole organism. We haven't. It has turned out to be fantastically complex and the effect of environment from the womb onwards is far from being understood. Secondly, personality, the thing we most value in each other, is thought to be somehow encoded in DNA. It isn't. Certain traits may well be, as identical twins demonstrate, but even such twins are still alone in their imaginations with their own thoughts and impulses. William Empson wrote a great poem. Homage to the British Museum, about Tangaroa, that alien god. It includes the line, 'Let us stand here and admit that we have no road.' Empson knew much more than James Watson and a dead cat, whatever its associations, is never anything but dead.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 8:29 am