The “ugh” factor
The Chimera established itself among ancient civilizations as a being that is no less than monstrous. Throughout history, it occupied this realm of the monstrous, alien, mysterious, magical, godly, ungodly etc. Just a century ago, the descriptions of Moreau’s grotesque chimeras horrified both Wells and his readers. These days, this possibility has been realized and we have real, genetically developed chimeras. What are we to make of the somewhat repulsive goat sheep? While I’m not going to have nightmares about the goat-sheep, I can definitely say that there is something unsettling in the idea that we have the ability to recombine naturally evolved creatures into new species. My question to readers (and to myself), is this: what is it about these creatures that makes us go “ugh?” More specifically, is there a reason that we may think these creatures are uncouth, unsavory and unworthy or is it just our bias as to what we think is natural?
I’ll start by trying to answer the first question for myself personally. I usually go “ugh” when I see something that I associate with some physical sensation such as pain or nausea. Examples would be vomit, broken limbs or some type of horrible rash. I also go “ugh” when I see a cockroach though. Roaches are not painful and I probably won’t get sick unless I let the roach scurry over my sandwich or go lick it or something but for some reason I’m miffed and feel like I need a shower. Perhaps we are so bothered by roaches because they are notorious for carrying diseases, perhaps they have too many legs, perhaps they scurry around too fast, perhaps they hiss and buzz and perhaps we will wake up one morning as one, but when it comes down to it, it seems like there is something simultaneously more and less profound about the grossness of this critter that is indescribable in its simplicity. It’s just plain nasty!
So after asking myself what’s so nasty about this critter, I really can’t tell you, other than I’ve always known it to be nasty and it always will be.
While my answer / non-answer is sort of a copout (I’ve resorted to telling you how I feel, not why I feel that way), I think that it is useful to consider this thought process when we think of our “gut” reactions to other things, be they Rob the Revolting Roach or Clive Chimera 2.0. The thought process I’m talking about is one that may “pre-render” an answer before the material is compiled such that we always arrive at the same answer without being able to give any good reasons. In other words, we simply feel a certain way about something.
The question now becomes this: is this human instinct or human bias, and is there a difference. I can’t possibly answer this in this post, but the distinction between instinct and bias is what I think is important in the discussion of chimeras. I would say that instinct implies something biologically coded while bias implies something that is environmentally absorbed. Like so many issues, this comes down to the classic nature vs. nurture argument. I guess what I’m suggesting is that the chimera is a relatively new technological possibility, and like any other scientific thrill, the more we get used to it, the more we understand and the more we come to accept it as part of daily life, then the less likely we are to vomit when we see goat-sheep or cat-dog or man-bear-pig or whatever.