A doff of the cap to E.O. Wilson who’s book Consilience made a real impression a few years back…a respectful but negative one. In As It Is On Earth, Dean Alvah Frankel takes a page from that book.
Frankel turns back to Miryam, his smile icy. “Consilience, young lady, what we call…genetic convergence. The things we do, the things we choose to study – knowledge in general – they’re all to be found in our DNA. Religion, ethics, morality, Buddha, Karl Marx and Jesus Christ, even the very things you consider of…value…are determined by biological chemistry. It’s Nature’s nature,” he says, warming to his cleverness, “Genetic science will uncover the why of human behavior all in due time. And Astrophysics…” Frankel pauses, now emphasizing his place in the universe, “…It will explain how the molecular chemistry of our bodies coalesced from the stars. That’s the important point. The universal blueprint.” Frankel folds his arms and gazes forcefully out toward the distant Sound, considering whether to part the waters, or walk on them.
“And Free Will…?” I think I am riding to Miryam’s rescue but am not so sure she needs me. “Perhaps you should explain that piece of the Grand Unified Theory? After all, Miryam may or may not choose to take our photograph when the time comes.”
Frankel looks, furtively, at the men from ARSE, annoyed that his own man is calling him out. Miryam looks at me with uncertainty, but continues. “Yes,…that’s right,” she says. “My choices aren’t formed in interstellar space. They happen right here. On the ground. My left foot or my right foot.” She stomps the bluestone walk for emphasis. “I make choices everyday. I’m not responding to the blind stimulation of my genes, I’m responding to the here and now – a place and a time that is particular, that I can’t see in advance. You’re talking about life on earth, I mean life in the world – the world is more than a habitat, it’s a home.”
Frankel responds with a chuckle, thinly veiled condescension, “Firstly, I wouldn’t call our genetic make-up ‘blind’ in the least, and you certainly have the free will to call our habitat a home, if you like. But it is all stardust nevertheless, obeying natural laws, just as we do, just as all species do. Free Will is an illusion of the mind, conjured by the brain. Synapses. We are the stuff of the universe, chemicals provoked into motion.” He spreads his arms in blessing over the Thames, provoking the men from ARSE. They stir, but remain silent.
I nod grimly to the artist in the clerical collar, heating up under my own. “Yes,…” I snarl, “set in motion in a crucible – scientists and priests reading our futures. There’s your Theory of Everything. It’s pre-ordained, one way or the other – Original Sin or DNA – the blessed union of the snake with Dr. Strangelove.”
I turn to Miryam. “Some home. Who would ever want to bring a child into that hell hole.”
Pace George Wald in The Fitness of the Environment…I wonder if EOW thinks “a biologist is a gene’s way of knowing about genes.”
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