Monday, April 30, 2007

"Finally, the content of any science is profoundly constrained by the language within which its discourses are formulated; and mainstream Western physical science has, since Galileo, been formulated in the language of mathematics. But whose mathematics? The question is a fundamental one, for, as Aronowitz has observed, "neither logic nor mathematics escapes the `contamination' of the social.'' And as feminist thinkers have repeatedly pointed out, in the present culture this contamination is overwhelmingly capitalist, patriarchal and militaristic: "mathematics is portrayed as a woman whose nature desires to be the conquered Other.'' Thus, a liberatory science cannot be complete without a profound revision of the canon of mathematics. As yet no such emancipatory mathematics exists, and we can only speculate upon its eventual content. We can see hints of it in the multidimensional and nonlinear logic of fuzzy systems theory; but this approach is still heavily marked by its origins in the crisis of late-capitalist production relations. Catastrophe theory, with its dialectical emphases on smoothness/discontinuity and metamorphosis/unfolding, will indubitably play a major role in the future mathematics; but much theoretical work remains to be done before this approach can become a concrete tool of progressive political praxis. Finally, chaos theory -- which provides our deepest insights into the ubiquitous yet mysterious phenomenon of nonlinearity -- will be central to all future mathematics. And yet, these images of the future mathematics must remain but the haziest glimmer: for, alongside these three young branches in the tree of science, there will arise new trunks and branches -- entire new theoretical frameworks -- of which we, with our present ideological blinders, cannot yet even conceive."
-- Alan Sokal

Thursday, April 26, 2007

So Leibniz is an idiot, I've decided. The man's philosophy inevitably supports determinism, despite his massive quantities of free will. I love it when that happens. I don't care what Kant said afterward. I've also decided that Descartes was either gay or a woman, and that the major histocompatibility complex serves as evidence for Platonic forms.

In response to all the feedback (and flabbergast and disbelief) I've been getting in regards to my new pro-life stance, consider this: the only way we will be able to legally regulate genetic manipulation of human embryos for the purpose of creating children will be to grant them personhood, and full rights and protection under the law.

As of this moment, a pregnant mother in the US can legally, during any of the 9-months of her pregnancy, smoke tobacco, drink alcohol, use any sort of OTC drug, and kill her fetus. Why? Because the FDA currently considers an embryo a "drug" that is potentially "hazardous" to the mother. The status of a fetus is not a person, or even partially or potentially a person. It is a drug. And without any change in this status, no regulations can be placed upon what the mother, with her full rights of personhood, does to this drug in her body.

The only way to even judge what is done to this foreign substance in the mother's uterus, is to consider the embryo a human being that needs protection under the law. If it is indeed merely a drug, then there is no way we can tell the woman what to do to this abnormal growth in her abdomen. We cannot comment, morally or legally, on how she wants to treat it. If she can kill it, she can certainly select what chromosomes it will contain. Let the genetic engineering frenzy begin...

(PS- If you're still not convinced, spend a few minutes here. Warning: Not for the weak of stomach or faint of heart.)

This paper scares the *hell* out of me...

I will, however, use it to my advantage by furthering the notion that reality doesn't actually exist, and therefore doesn't matter. Yes, the lovely conclusions drawn by sleep-deprived college students who have 14 pages to write by morning as well as a chem lab report due, only after reading 200 pages on the importance of rhetoric in the French Revolution, and ignoring the painful emptiness of ending an 8-month relationship.

A lapse in postive and interesting scientific information, perhaps, but I will proceed as if all is well. At least I'll ace chemistry. And the French Revolution? Piece of cake. I'll eat it, too...

Monday, April 23, 2007

What a terrifying realization. I think that I am, for the first time, from now until I am convinced otherwise, pro-life. Innocently reading a developmental biology book ("The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology" Moore, Persaud, Saunders, 1998), searching for an answer to my previous question about mitochondrial DNA, I read some incredibly obvious but for the first time meaningful sentences: "The intricate processes by which a baby develops from a single cell are miraculous. The zygote results from the union of an oocyte and sperm... A zygote is the beginning of a new human being."

That's it. Simple as that. No debate about when personhood starts, no question about whether or not a clump of cells is actually human; a simple statement straight from a popular textbook changed my avidly pro-choice mind. It's quite amazing, this information never meant anything to me when pointed out by a pro-lifer; they were always just kooky religious folk, they thought the earth was 6000 years old, they couldn't know what they were talking about. There's something about the way we process facts given to us by opponents; I suppose it is extremely telling about my own mental flaws, and inability to consider an argument as impartially as I had once naively hoped. It goes without saying that I need to correct this from now on. But a science book, something my scientific, materialistic, atheistic self has always considered an ally, laid out the obvious answer. A weak rhetorical flourish provided by a scientist pretending to be a writer made me see for the first time what I could not see, despite the occasional eloquence of the pro-life argument. Because while stem cell researchers will tell you that a blastocyst is not yet a human, the textbooks they studied in med school told them differently, and they have forgotten what they had learned for the sake of convenience and ambition.

What does this mean, then, for me? Does this mean I can no longer be an enthusiastic supporter of stem cell research? Is is possible for someone to be pro-life and pro-stem cell research? Is it right and consistent for me to weigh an existing human life over a nascent one? Is it morally bankrupt of me to consider this question to be more of a pragmatic one? What would I be if I posited that the use of stem cells to cure a man's Parkinson's was contingent on his estimated remaining life span? This is an unfamiliar and wearisome position to be in; I realize that my newest job acquisition, which involves working at a lab that performs embryonic stem cell research, is suddenly terrifying. Could I soon be a murderer? The extent to which this now affects me is startling; my heart is racing, I am surprisingly and very afraid.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

So my Bioethics prof Leon Kass asked me the timeless question about subjectivity and standards of right and wrong, and expects me to answer: "Can you distinguish between objectionable and not objectionable use [of cloning], if the decision over who has the right to clone is merely subjective? How can there be a standard if the standards are subjective?" How can I answer this intelligently? Relativism, materialism, and determinism, while I think they're correct and make intuitive sense (up to a point), are pretty hard to argue. I've long since concluded that believing in God and an objective morality are merely cop-out assumptions to make debates convenient.

A random trippy observation, on pg 61 of "Human Cloning and Human Dignity" by Leon Kass, there is mention of preliminary results that I found, quite frankly, astounding: "As if things were not difficult enough, a further complication may soon arise, following reports of successful SCNT experiments in which human somatic cells were fused with animal oocytes, and the resulting product grown to the blastocyst stage of development. What are we to call the product of this kind of cloning? And what kind of species identity does it have? According to advance reports, the stem cells extracted from the blastocyst stage were demonstrated to be human stem cells (somewhat surprisingly, the mitochondria were also human in genotype)." How is this possible? I thought there were still 13 genes encoding the human mitochondria that were located only in the mitochondria themselves? How could animal mitochondria obtain and integrate these genes? I must know if the paper for this study been published yet, if anyone is aware of it, please send the link to me? I can't help but think these results must be a mistake, but if they aren't, the implications are staggering.