Friday, November 29, 2002

All The Things You Hate About Cloning

Or, I suppose, all the things I hate.

I watched the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie "The Sixth Day" the other day on cable. [Allah bless cable TV.] It was better than I expected, and I'm often a fan of Ahhhhnuld action movies with a little humor, so it wasn't like I had the bar set exceptionally low, here. There were a few moments, though, where I felt less like I was watching an action flick and more like I was watching some poorly articulated propaganda on the subject of human cloning. Propaganda in the quasi-religious "against" column.

Human cloning has existed since, well, ever. Yep. It's not new. Everytime you look at a set of identical twins, you're looking at a clone. One egg. Two people. Identical material. One of these eggs is a clone of the other. Can you tell which? Now, I'm a twin myself, of the "fraternal" variety, which means there were two eggs fertilized at the same time. We're brother and sister and just happened to be born within an hour of each other. Identical twins and other one-egg sourced tuples are clones, physical duplicates that grew to maturity.

Yes, Virginia, identical twin = clone.

This seems to be the thing that trips people up when they think about cloning, especially in this flick. The thing is, they're not really thinking about cloning bodies, they're thinking about making copies of a single human consciousness. That's what the characters in the movie argue about. That's not the same thing as cloning.

So, in this film, AS's character's dog dies, and his wife tries to get him to have the pet replaced via cloning -- copying, more precisely -- to spare their daughter the pain of the animal's loss. He bleats around that he doesn't want some soulless "thing" in his house, and provides the excellent argument that their daughter has to learn about death, and it being a natural part of life and all that.

Now, the magic step here in the movie is the completely-glossed-over ability to copy the animal's consciousness and implant it in a new, cloned body. And that's where the "soulless" bleating comes in. It isn't the copying of the animal's genetic material and growing of a new animal from that material that is a problem, it's the copying of the animal's mind.

If you make a copy of a cell, you haven't done anything more than make a copy of that cell. Using existing methods (dividing a cell in mom's womb), you can divide a fertilized human ovum into two ova, and come up with two separate people roughly nine months later. We know this from experience. Two. Separate. People. If you happen to believe that people have souls, then most likely you believe that identical twins are in possession of one soul each. Not that one twin has a soul and the other doesn't. How is it any different, then, to have the cell-division into 2 or more ova occur in a petrie dish instead of a human womb?

So, if you can sit there and assert that if I have a egg of matching genetic material to myself constructed mechanistically, nurture it in my mother's womb, and let her give birth to a new individual with the same genetic material as me -- birthing my identical twin, umpteen years later -- that this new individual cannot have a soul, than you cannot ooh and aaah over the next set of insane-number-tuplets in Kansas somewhere, and say "don't their souls look so cute!" Because it's the same act, just separated by time. My identical twin, separated by 30 years or born 5 minutes after me, is her own person.

The arguments regarding cloning in "The Sixth Day" are misleading, or more properly, misstated. They're about copying human consciousness, not genetic material. If you can point a machine at my eyes and record everything in my mind, then you've made a copy of me. (In the process, you've also suggested I don't have a soul in the Western sense, that I no longer have a unique, indefinable something, because it's been copied. Oh, and we haven't even touched on the other magic process in this film, the one by which my twin-separated-in-time can develop to physical maturity and not, like every other identical twin, have accumulated her own self-awareness and consciousness.)

Ahhhnuld's character in "The Sixth Day", of course, gets embroiled in a plot and winds up, unbeknownst to him, copied. The copy process involves a clone with a copy of his consciousness, i.e., an exact duplicate of the main character. Who is the "real", and who is the duplicate? It's the fact that there's a duplicate that is a problem, not the fact that a body of the same genetic material exists. I mean, that's just a twin. People have those all the time.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Paraphrased Thought For The Day

If you were doing it right, you wouldn't need to worry about size.

paraphrased from memory, courtesy of Ava Chin's "Jook Sing and The Dragon", in Dick For A Day