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Philosophical Leanings

Ed Rybicki ED at molbiol.uct.ac.za
Wed Apr 19 10:05:15 EST 1995

> From:          frazier at mbcrr.harvard.edu (David P. Frazier)
> Subject:       Re: Philosophical Leanings

> In article <m0s189U-0004PVC at uctmail.uct.ac.za>, ed at molbiol.uct.ac.za wrote:
> > I use a photograph of a T4 phage model made by one of our students - in 
> > Ain't no philosophy to it; life is simply the phenomenon accompanying 
> > the propensity of nucleic acids to make more of themselves.

>    Characterizations which equate humankind and its activities with the
> replication of viral nucleic acid may be glib, but they are also patently
> false.  Furthermore, such glib characterizations of the  will_ of nucleic
> acid ...

Hold up here - who mentioned WILL?  Note above: it says PROPENSITY.  
A different thing altogether.  Rocks can have a propensity to fall, 
given an appropriate location; no-one imputes WILL to their falling!

> Certainly no one would consider nucleic acids to be
> the fundamental particles of the universe.  

And no-one did, did they?  I certainly didn't.

> Why then do we speak of the  will_ of nucleic acid
> collections rather than the  will_ of organic atoms or of large
> collections of subatomic particles?  

And who is WE, Mahavira?  [note: attempt to be Tom Wolfe-ian a la 
"The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test"]

> Second consider the top-down approach to
> this question.  Should all human enterprise be viewed as simply an effort
> to spread genetic material?  Of course not.  Such a viewpoint fails to
> take into account the tremendous higher order structure which determines
> the behavior and existence of human beings.  There isn t a court in the
> world (even in the USA) that would allow  I was merely following my innate
> need to distribute my genetic material_ as a rape defense.  Human
> societies are based correctly on the concept of the free will of
> individuals leading to personal responsibility for our behaviors. 
> Biological determinism based on the  desires_ of our genes is a dangerous
> concept which as molecular biologists we should be working to resist not
> promote.  Human consciousness derived from the extraordinary structure of
> the mind is the primary determinant of societal behavior; the  will_ of
> our genes is not.  

Yeah.  Well.  Uh.  To go from propensity of nucleic acid to replicate 
itself, to whether DNA-driven rape will stand up [pardon] in a US 
court?  a little...shall we say...excessive, in terms of leaps of 
logic?  A little politically correct, are we, about determinism?

But seeing as you brought it up, there can be no real question as to 
the motive of DNA/RNA: its purpose in life, in that a molecule can 
be said to have a life or have a purpose, is to REPLICATE ITSELF...I can think of no better exemplar 
of this than the humble viroid, which is simply a piece of RNA which 
relies on inherent tertiary structure to get itself replicated by a 
cellular RNA polymerase.  Ted Diener, are you listening/reading?

And having said THAT, once the nucleic acid has its little mindless 
will [Damn!  Said "will"!  Will!  Said "damn"!  Ah, bugger it, never 
wanted to be a molecular biologist, anyway...], and replicated, it 
leaves its parent organism alone to do what the hell it wants to do.  
Given the complexity of human beings, as you so rightly pointed out, 
any concept of molecular determinism ruling one's life must be 
subordinated to free will [for most of us, anyway].

But I did NOT imply any such thing at any point.  Amazing what peope 
will read into what you write.  Even when there's not very much of 
 |     Ed Rybicki, PhD      |  ed at molbiol.uct.ac.za   |
 |    Dept Microbiology     | University of Cape Town |
 | Private Bag, Rondebosch  |   7700, South Africa    |
 |   fax: x27-21-650 4023   | phone: x27-21-650-3265  |
 ------WWW URL: http://www.uct.ac.za/microbiology------
   "And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
      From the profit he's made on your dreams..."

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