How to be an original individual despite our genetic similarities.

Despite Robert Krulwich’s somewhat overacted shock to discovering how similar a Human’s DNA is to that of a Banana, these parts (the ones that deal with the nature of humanity, our genetic differences and similarities, as opposed to other substantial portions of the feature that focus on the competition between public and private scientists trying to both decode the human genome, or even the sincere (if a little out of place) medical mini-stories) of the PBS special, NOVA: Cracking the Code of Life, are, for me at least, the most compelling. The questions of how are we the same/how are we different/how can we function in a society and be an original individual at the same time, are immensely important to what I believe to be a human being’s greatest struggle; that being, trying to understand our own identity and find meaning in our passing existence.

            This NOVA feature does provide an important scientific explanation for the fact that every human’s DNA is 99.9% alike, that the genome is really the expresser of the proteome, which is what goes on to compound and combine in further unique ways that accounts for difference, but I still think it is worth considering what this (the fact that we are so genetically similar) means for us as human. Visually, we are all obviously unique, but does the fact that our DNA is NOT negate this more superficial uniqueness/other forms of individuality?

            In my honest opinion, I don’t believe it does. I will not presuppose my own conception of the human species with this scientific fact that our DNA is so similar, because I believe our human differences to be more important and precious. Robert Krulwich, regardless of his rather goofy and nearly perpetual grin, begs the fundamental notion to what I believe in: “You show me the fruit fly that can compose like Mozart.” The scientist’s response is, “show me the human who can fly,” but this is unsatisfying. Unlike the way a fruit fly flies, to compose a song requires the imagination.

            This is what makes us unique from bananas and fruit flies and from each other: an entirely individualized imagination that, as far as I understand it, the human genome/proteome does nothing to account for. Imagination is what makes us different than animals; it is what makes us compose songs, write poems, want to read stories or watch movies; it is what presupposes the ability for humans to imagine suffering and thus feel empathy; it is what inclines us all to clothe ourselves in our own unique ways. Because it creates desire, because it creates intangible, intellectual growth, because it creates emotion and meaning.

            Our responsibility, as humans, is to exercise our imagination. It is what makes us unique despite the near uniformity of genetic makeup. It is what makes the world interesting and beautiful.


Theo Yurevitch

~ by theoy on January 12, 2014.

One Response to “How to be an original individual despite our genetic similarities.”

  1. While Gattaca didn’t spend too much the point of imagination either, I thought that it was interesting that gene testing in the film didn’t predict any sort of mental aptitude or personality. I think this was an intentional choice, not to try and predict the future of gene testing with the world created in the film but rather to highlight the importance of individuality. I agree that imagination and creativity are quite important and that they are truly the abilities that set us apart, but I wonder if gene testing will ever intersect with these areas. Surely it’s hard to objectively measure creativity, but will we one day be able to test and see if a person is going to be hard working, right or left brained, visual or auditory learners? I suppose we have to wait and see.

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