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Identity Crisis

Went to see "A Number" at the Odyssey Theatre last week and stayed for the question-and-answer period with the director afterward. The play was a meditation on identity as a man (the always wonderful John Heard) finally reveals to his grown son that the son is, in fact, a clone. While the play covered a lot of the emotional ground that might crop up in this distinctly 21st Century problem, it relies on very mainstream science which tends to reduce all life to its DNA components.

For my money, the nature/nurture argument is far too reductionist to describe the amazing potential that life in our hostile universe requires. If one could generate such predictable results, then it would render all living things far too easy to destroy. As Michael Crichton once wrote, back when he was still sane, "life has a tendency to break out." There's a wild card that molecular biologists don't want to admit exists because it remains, for scientific purposes, ineffable. That wild card is consciousness. Even identical twins remain distinct people despite the fact that nature and nurture coincide in their lives. Whether we create life in the laboratory (especially with increasing interest in "designer" genes) or the old fashioned way, the entity that ensues will be individual, unique and, even where there are echoes of similarity or familial connectivity, there will be no such thing as a perfect replica or even reasonable facsimile. It's just as well that consciousness remains forever out of our grasp, otherwise things would get pretty boring very quickly.

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