Prove It.

In the movie GATTACA (1997), there is a poignant scene in which brothers Anton and Vincent come face-to-face during the murder investigation. Vincent reminds Anton that he once needed saving during a swimming contest. Anton, angry at the memory of his own weakness, retorts back at his brother, claiming that he could beat Vincent any day. “Want me to prove it?!” Anton shouts furiously.

Anton’s determination to prove his physical prowess and his pointed words struck me. I reflected on the many characters in GATTACA desperate to prove something. Eugene struggles to prove that he still has worth as a human being although he is crippled. Clinging to his silver medal for swimming, it almost seems as if he needs physical proof of the elite genetic identity residing in his cells. Vincent, too, embarks on a dangerous and thrilling quest to prove his worth as an astronaut despite his less privileged genetic makeup. The police investigators also want to prove the identity of the murderer.

With Anton’s words still ringing in my ears, I considered these various struggles to prove. It seemed as if each character was involved in some way with seeking proof. What is proof? I thought it appropriate to start with a definition in order to gain some insight into the nature of proof and proving something.

According to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary: to prove: 1) to test by experiment or by a standard 2) to establish the truth of by argument or evidence 3) to show to be correct, valid, or genuine

These definitions are certainly consistent with the behavior of many of the characters in GATTACA, yet at the same time evoke more questions. Certainly the investigators strove to prove guilt by ‘experiments’- by DNA tests. Yes, Eugene’s silver medal was clearly ‘evidence’ of his former prowess and capabilities. And clearly, Vincent was considered ‘valid’ when his card registered VALID instead of the lowly IN-VALID. However, there are blatant discrepancies between our understanding of these words and the meaning that they have taken on within the world of GATTACA. After all, the investigators become so caught up in ‘proving’ guilt with unmistakable evidence that they ignore human features. Validity implies worth, but since when was worth determined by a blood test that comes back VALID? What has caused this difference?

The answer, once again, lies in the very definition. The words ‘standard’, ‘truth’, ‘correct’, ‘valid’, and ‘genuine’ all imply something greater than themselves: they imply an overarching standard, truth, or moral code. This may be an implicit human understanding or a standard imposed by a society, but proof by itself cannot prove anything. Proof is comparative and only has meaning within established standards and conscious value judgments.

We also encounter this problem with language within the scientific field. Scientists can never prove anything. The role of science is not to prove; it is simply to make observations and reveal facts and data. Truths and judgments come not from science, but from humans themselves. Thus, scientific discovery has no meaning without its greater application to human understanding and value.

Anton’s question seems to be a direct question to our society today. We are entering an age in which we will have all the necessary facts and discovery, but they will be meaningless unless we establish governing acceptable standards and value judgments. Is this, perhaps, the role of literature? Of philosophy? Religion? Government? Individuals? What will your role be in determining the application of scientific knowledge?

The genome has been sequenced. It is up to you to decide what it will prove.

Kelly Bouquet

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~ by kellyb243 on January 14, 2008.

One Response to “Prove It.”

  1. The human record certainly suggests a tendency to search, validate, prove, etc. But why and how? You mention that proof is not sufficient, but why? Obviously it’s not enough to say that Vincent struggled so much just to prove he could do it. To prove some thing is to validate a belief about that thing. What a person seeks to prove is determined by whatever past experiences have played in shaping behaviors. Some “beliefs” are rewarded and prevail, while others are frowned upon, ignored and punished. In the case of Vincent, he could either: a) live his life avoiding the pain of an invalid existence, or b) seek out a pleasurable, future state.

    Looking at the culture portrayed in Gattaca, option a would seem to the course of many invalids; many assume the roles of the underclass simply to survive rather than thrive. Option b would only become salient if an invalid experienced something that would motivate that the person to seek out the reward of a future state.

    Clearly the event wherein Vincent first defeated Anton at chicken caused him to act and explore his options. He succeeded at doing a series of small deceptive behaviors that inevitably led to the borrowed-ladder role he assumed at Gattaca. Consistent deceptions at Gattaca, all those small successes were risky, but helped him continue to do things that let him reach the goal. The only point we see Vincent waver is when the far off goal is offset by something more immediate with Irene. Did Vincent leave because he wanted to prove he could do it? No. He left because the risk of harm that could lead to his success wasn’t great enough to have him avoid it all by staying with Irene.

    -Matt Walker

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