Porcine Philosophy

Bradley K. Sherman bks at netcom.com
Tue Jun 2 16:08:55 EST 1998

Well I liked this a lot; your mileage may vary.


>Next: Pigs That Fly?
>Andrew Kimbrell, founder of the International Center for Technology
>Assessment in Washington, D.C., describes one of the "classic" experiments
>in genetic engineering this way:
>   Dr. Vernon Pursel inserted the human growth gene in a pig.  Pursel
>   hoped to create giant pigs that would be major meat producers.  The
>   problem was that though the human growth gene was in every cell of the
>   pig's body it did not act in the manner the scientists expected.
>   Instead of making the pig larger it made it squat, cross-eyed, bow-
>   legged, smaller than an average pig, with huge bone mass, a truly
>   wretched product of science without ethics.  Pursel tried to find a
>   silver lining in his experiment gone wrong by claiming that the pig was
>   leaner.  Pursel's argument was that people are worried about
>   cholesterol, so maybe we can sell this as lean pig.  Did he really
>   think the public was ready for pork chops with human genes?
>That pig strikes me as a good metaphor for the constructions of the
>Information Age.  The prevailing notion is that we have this massive
>collection of information -- exemplified by several hundred thousand
>snippets of human genetic code -- which we can merrily pass from one
>database to another, inserting this piece here and that piece there.
>But there is no such thing as an "objective piece of information".  Like a
>word in a sentence, a bit of information *means* a particular thing only
>within a given context.  Pursel's pig symbolizes the kind of result you
>get when you ignore context and try to build things from the bottom up --
>that is, when you start with the reduced products of your sophisticated
>analyses, forgetting what it was you were analyzing in the first place.
>Context in the present case means, to begin with, the pig itself.  Pursel
>was willing to see fragments of DNA -- and even lean pork chops -- but did
>not care to see the pig.  Such is the technological mindset we now trust
>to re-engineer the human being.
>Exactly the same trust is at work wherever information is glorified as the
>decisive form of capital, the basis for problem-solving, and the
>fundamental ingredient of all knowledge.
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