It is noticeable, in Europe at least, that any issue involving DNA provokes a strong emotional response in many people. GM Foods are standard in America, while they are hardly grown at all in Europe. And this week the European Court of Human Rights unanimously declared Britain’s retention of DNA from 2 people who had been cleared of crimes to be an invasion of their privacy.
These 2 situations reflect the very strong feelings held by many people about DNA, that it involves the core of life itself, and that it is therefore forbidden territory. For the government to have access to our DNA is therefore an invasion of privacy at the deepest level, not equivalent to it having access to say our bank records, medical records etc. And for researchers to try to alter the DNA of plants and animals is like playing God.
It is understandable that if DNA really is the core of life that people should feel this way about it. And we have been led to believe this by scientists.
I saw a programme last week in which an organic farmer went round the world looking at GM crops trying to be objective about the subject, and to weigh up the results so far. One wonderful contradiction he found was that while in Europe you get protesters breaking into research stations and destroying the crops, in Uganda you get farmers breaking into the research stations and trying to steal the crops, because of a disease problem they are having with their bananas.
At one point he showed us a wild cabbage, which is a bit like a regular green cabbage but smaller. He then showed us the crops that have been developed out of it: not just the different cabbages, but sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli. This was very graphic, because the genetic alteration brought about by selective breeding of the cabbage is leagues beyond what scientists have so far done in their more direct, laboratory methods.
People are naturally worried about possible dangers, and they are right to worry, and not to trust big companies using this technology. But people’s concern about the dangers gets very disproportionate, because I think that behind it lies this feeling that life itself is being interfered with, and that this is wrong. But it is hard to articulate this, so it gets loaded onto the possible dangers of GM instead.
In the same way, people get very concerned about privacy issues and the national DNA database, but they are not able to say why. You never read why it constitutes such an invasion, all you read is the emphasis being placed on the term privacy, and supporting adjectives around it, but little in the way of reasoning.
So in both cases what we are dealing with is a lot of unarticulated emotion, and I think the reason it remains unarticulated is because it is based on fear of the unknown rather than on knowledge. We don’t encounter this fear of the unknown to the same degree in other developing technologies, but I think that is because people have not been led to believe that scientists are tampering with the core of life itself. As Francis Crick announced in a pub on 27 November 1963, having just solved the puzzle of the structure of DNA: “We have found the secret of life.”
So that is perhaps the question behind it all. Does DNA really represent the core of life, or the secret of life? Is there such a thing?
The irony is that while we have been led to believe that DNA represents the core of life, the mechanism science gives us for its functioning is that of a computer programme! DNA is nothing other than a chemical code for various proteins, and at various times it unravels and the code is read off.
Of course, it is DNA more than anything else that is passed down the generations, and in that sense it represents the essence that is passed on. But it is still a computer programme!
I do not feel myself to be in essence a computer programme, in the sense of operating through a predetermined set of instructions. I can’t prove this. But I think it is a big and unjustifiable assumption on the part of science that reality can be reduced to that which is measurable by the 5 senses, and repeatable through experiment. It is this assumption that leads us to the idea of DNA being somehow at the core of who we are, because it is the master computer programme behind our physical bodies. I think the onus is on science to prove that reality can be reduced to its narrow terms, rather than on me to prove that I am more than that. I know, for example, that astrology works, but there's no way it can ever be made 'scientific'.
I do not know what I am at my core, or if I even have one, but I find the idea of DNA being that core hard to take seriously. So I don’t feel that the authorities would have the essence of me if they had my DNA code. Nor do I feel that GM is a step too far.
I think there can also be a residual monotheism behind anti-GM feeling: the idea that God created life as it is, and we therefore shouldn’t tamper with it, even though selective breeding is no different. And if you're an Evolutionist, there can be a feeling that nature has created a kind of perfection that we shouldn't interefre with. Evolution is actually an ongoing bodge job, often brilliant and beautiful, but it is based on what works and on making it up as you go along. Consequently it is often far from perfect. Like the human skeleton, that hasn’t fully adjusted yet to walking upright, or fully adjusted in childbirth to the large head size of babies. I’m sure that, given time, there will be ways we can improve on where Evolution has left us.
I don’t believe in separating matter and spirit. I think that matter is alive, and what we feel to be our spirit cannot be separated from our physical existence. This is why changes in physical structure, particularly in the brain, can have such a profound effect on people’s personalities. And similarly with DNA. Changing that, when the time comes, will have a profound effect on who we experience ourselves to be. It’s the same with organ transplants: sometimes the person who has received the organ acquires aspects of the personality of the donor. But you don’t get public outcries against this.
Like any science, GM can be misused, and probably will be. It will become a particularly powerful technology. But I don’t think there is any essential difference to this technology, if you look at the effects of e.g. organ transplants and selective breeding. You could even argue that to accept the view that GM, or the DNA database, tampers with or invades the core of life itself, is to simultaneously accept that we are in essence computer programmes!
For me, what really needs addressing is the idea of humans as computer programmes. You can’t deny what Crick and Watson discovered, and the mechanism for the working of DNA. It is a brilliant truth, but only an aspect of larger, less easily defined truths about life, that are not confined to the 5 senses and physical measurement.
I don’t know what time Francis Crick walked into the pub, but here is the midday chart for the event (in those days pubs weren’t open in the mornings or during the afternoon beyond lunchtime).
Click to Enlarge
We see Uranus opposite Chiron. I have found Uranus in hard aspect to Chiron around most major scientific breakthroughs. Uranus represents the brilliant, original scientific mind. And Chiron represents the wound to humanity from the one-sidedness of that mind, that has progressively reduced us from glorious creations of the Godhead in a divine universe down to a pile of chemicals dwelling in a mechanistic universe.
And there is a yod, with Mercury at the apex, and Saturn-Neptune at one base and Pluto at the other. Pluto is conjunct the Moon.
So Mercury is the way we think about the discovery of DNA, and the way it has been communicated to us. And being a yod, there is an uneasy relationship with the points at the base that can never be resolved, just accommodated. Moon-Pluto in Leo: there is the instinctive (Moon) fear (Pluto) that our divine individuality (Leo) is under threat. At the base of the yod we also find Saturn conjunct Neptune, which is usually associated with imaginative and artistic, rather than scientific developments. But that statement ”We have found the secret of life” is not scientific, it is a philosophical, mystical statement. Neptune and DNA are both associated with the source of life.
So we have this imaginative, almost religious breakthrough – Saturn-Neptune, coupled with this fear for our souls – Moon-Pluto in Leo. And it resonates with the meaning of Uranus-Chiron – the brilliant scientific breakthrough that simultaneously reduces us.
4 years ago the Progressed DNA Sun entered Taurus, which we can associate with the rise of GM Food (Taurus).