• Goto NetFuture main page
  •                                  NETFUTURE
                        Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #144                                                  April 29, 2003
                     A Publication of The Nature Institute
               Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                      On the Web: http://www.netfuture.org/
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    Can we take responsibility for technology, or must we sleepwalk
    in submission to its inevitabilities?  NetFuture is a voice for
    responsibility.  It depends on the generosity of those who support
    its goals.  To make a contribution, click here.
    Me and My Double Helixes (Stephen L. Talbott)
       The trouble with Bill McKibben's new book
    Announcements and Resources
       A New Booklet Derived from NetFuture: "Extraordinary Lives"
    About this newsletter
                             ME AND MY DOUBLE HELIXES
                                Stephen L. Talbott
       Notes concerning Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age, by
       Bill McKibben (New York: Henry Holt, 2003).  Hardcover, 275 pages, $25.
    "What will you have done to your newborn", Bill McKibben asks, "when you
    have installed into the nucleus of every one of her billions of cells a
    purchased code that will pump out proteins designed to change her?"  His
    answer is stark -- and, I believe, misdirected:
       You will have robbed her of the last possible chance of understanding
       her life.  Say she finds herself, at the age of sixteen, unaccountably
       happy.  Is it her being happy -- finding, perhaps, the boy she will
       first love -- or is it the corporate product inserted within her when
       she was a small nest of cells, an artificial chromosome now causing her
       body to produce more serotonin?  Don't think she won't wonder:  at
       sixteen a sensitive soul questions everything.  But perhaps you've
       "increased her intelligence" -- and perhaps that's why she is
       questioning so hard.  She won't even be sure whether the questions are
       hers.  (p. 47)
    McKibben repeatedly comes back to this point.  A lover of running, he says
    that "if my parents had somehow altered my body so that I could run more
    quickly, that fact would have robbed running of precisely the meaning I
    draw from it" -- the meaning that comes from exertions and achievements he
    could call his own (p. 48).  "If you've been designed and programmed to
    run, what meaning can running hold?" (p. 55)
    Likewise, noting that scientists "have pinpointed the regions of the
    parietal lobe that quiet down when Catholic nuns and Buddhist monks pray",
    he surmises that genetic engineers will before long be able to amplify the
       As a result, the minister's son may be even more pious than he is, but
       if he has any brain left to himself he will question that piety at the
       deepest level, wonder constantly whether it means anyth