Monday, August 1, 2011

Bio Art: Jurassic Park - the Scary Truth.

12I'm going to take a break from creatures for today. There's something I need to put up here before I forget about it. 

Before Borders went on its big "closing" spree (EXACTLY a day before the official announcement in  my e-mail), I bought Michael Critchton's classic novel Jurassic Park. Yes, that's the one with a whole amusement park full of dinosaurs in which Murphy's Law yells "GOTCHA!" and everything goes wrong, largely due to human incompetence.

This was all preventable! 

The more I read the book, the more it sounded like I should have read it alongside my textbook for my bio-art course. I began highlighting things in it as if it were a standard textbook. If 1984 is the Bible of conspiracy theorists, Jurassic Park is the book for those concerned that science may well be headed in the wrong direction.

"Biotechnology is going to transform every aspect of human life: our medical care, our food, our health, our entertainment, our very bodies. Nothing will ever be the same again. It's literally going to change the face of the planet."

In order: designer babies, tomatoes (moreso than you think!), diets in capsules, Avatar, gene splicing. Try to eat a wild tomato. I dare ya.  They're tiny compared to the monsters in grocery stores.

"Studies of predator/prey populations in the game parks of Africa and India suggested that, roughly speaking, there was one predatory carnivore for every four hundred herbivores."

I'm not sure how accurate that figure is, but it should throw into perspective how much being a carnivore actually sucks. There's another quote about infant mortality rate among carnivores. Yeah, it's a sh*t spot to be in, furries.

"What child wouldn't want a little dinosaur as a pet? A little patented animal for their very own."

See: GloFish and the "Asherah" cats.

"Bio-engineered DNA was, weight for weight, the most valuable material in the world."

Still is, actually.

"They want to see their expectation, which is quite different."

The Pig Wings exhibit is an excellent example of how our expectations of science can differ from the real thing. The scientist in that quote was talking about how they should breed tame dinosaurs, not dangerous ones - an illustration of how different entertainment is from reality.

Were you expecting a flying pig?

"All the really important discoveries have come out of private laboratories." 

This has always been true of science. For example, Mendel was not a scientist - he was a monk who kept very good records of the colors of his pea plants. Discoveries are made by individual curious people trying curious things.

"If you want to get something done, stay out of universities." 

Sad but true. A college degree tends not to mean as much these days.

"The idea of living creatures being numbered like software, being subject to updates and revisions, troubled Grant."

Yeah. It troubles me, too.

"The scientists want it that way. They just have to stick their instruments in. They have to leave their mark. They can't just appreciate. They can't just fit into the natural order. They have to make something happen."

This reminded me so much of another quote from my textbook: "Human beings have evolved to play with evolution." Although Malcolm attributes this to Western thinking in the novel, the dog is the single strongest point against him. Both Eastern and Western cultures have dogs, which are by far the biggest hit against mankind going with the natural order. (Only insects have anything close.)

"Zoos are built around the big mammalian attractions - lions, tigers, bears, elephants. We know a lot less about reptiles." 

If you have been keeping up with this blog at all, you know exactly why I'm posting this quote. Ignorance is the enemy of reptile lovers everywhere.

"Dinosaurs don't fit existing categories." 

Now, see, here's why dragons (as most know them) existing via science is a horrible idea: Dragons, as reptile-like mammals (more on this in Mythbusters Week) are a black hole of unknowns. Apply all the unknowns to dinosaurs, then apply them to dragons.

"You create new life-forms, about which you know nothing at create many of them in a very short time, you never learn anything about them, yet you expect them to do your bidding."

Umm, that. Just...that. Recipe for disaster, much?

"Most kinds of power require a substantial sacrifice by whoever wants the power. There is an apprenticeship, a discipline lasting many years...The discipline of getting the power changes you so that you won't abuse it...Scientific power is like inherited wealth: attained without discipline. There is no humility before nature." 

That was a block quote spanning two full paragraphs in the book. As the ellipses indicate, I have cut stuff to make it easier on the eyes. Methinks Malcolm has a valid point, though - and that is probably one of the main things that separates science from magic.

"What should I do with my power?...the very question science says it cannot answer." 

This. Just this.

"When the hunter goes out in the rain forest to seek food for his family, does he expect to control nature? No. He imagines that nature is beyond him. Beyond his understanding. Beyond his control. Maybe he prays to nature, to the fertility of the forest that provides for him. He prays because he knows he doesn't control it. He's at the mercy of it."

Good quote to end on before exposing you all once more to the wonders that are and once were. Hope you enjoyed this break!

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