26.5.04

The Day After Tomorrow - the latest Hollywood blockbuster is dissected on Spiked Online

Disaster films have a long tradition of attracting big audiences with the perverse pleasure of contemplating their own mass self-demise. What's different with The Day After Tomorrow is that it pretends to be taken seriously: the producers have organised preview screenings for scientists and have successfully sparked off a debate in scientific circles about the film's scenario. The ("scientific") plot? Greenhouse gas emission causes global warming > global warming causes the polar ice caps to melt > this causes an influx of fresh water into the salt water of the world's oceans > which causes the Gulf Stream to stop > which three hurricanes to drag cold air from the upper atmosphere into the lower atmosphere which > initiates a new ice age > The End.

According to Mark Gordon, the film's producer, The Day After Tomorrow is based on "science fact, although we have collapsed the time period to make the coming of this ice age happen much more quickly". Indeed. As the Spiked article's author puts it: "environmental changes on this scale generally take centuries to occur. And far from being 'science fact', there is significant scientific debate about whether or not each of the stages in the film's doomsday scenario, upon which each subsequent stage depends, is a) possible, b) likely, and c) necessarily disastrous for humankind."

The whole thing reminds me of that wonderful neologism created by early extropian Dave Krieger: disasturbation - "idly fantasizing about possible catastrophes (ecological collapse, full-blown totalitarianism) without considering their likelihood or considering their possible solutions/preventions."

"Science, and fiction" by Sandy Starr(on the Spiked site)

The Day After Tomorrow - the film's official website

7.5.04

TRANSGENIC ART - Firm plans human DNA tree memorial in the form of transgenic tombstones

The idea was born as a student project at the Royal College of Arts, London and is now trying to develop into a commercial venture (Biopresence)

First, some skin cells would be obtained from the person concerned, then the extracted DNA would be injected into a single apple tree cell which would be grown into a small plant, ready for planting. In principle, every cell of the tree would contain a copy the human DNA ("silenced" in order to allow the normal growth and function of the tree). Before it can actually sell its services, the company would have to satisfy the government's regulatory system for genetically modified organisms.

COMMENT: Mr Tremmel, the company's founder, says that the trees will cost around £20,000 and that "it's cheap for eternal life" which is plainly wrong on two accounts: first, twenty grand ain't cheap in my book. Second, and much more important, survival of DNA does not in any way equate to survival of the individual - hasn't the repruductive cloning debate buried that old chestnut once and for all?! The whole exercise is kind of interesting from an extropian point of view, as an example of transgenic art, but let's not mistake it for an attempt at immortality... To be fair, the people behind the project declared that "we are intrigued by the ability of the project to raise question about the borders of the self, the meaning of death, and the possibility of eternal life" and that's definitively something worth talking about.

Biopresence

A Guardian article on the topic: Firm plans human DNA tree memorial

4.5.04

Lifespans - a two part series on Radio 4 on the natural history and biology of longevity

The meme of scientific intervention aimed at life-span extension is truly out...

The first part of the program (available here by clicking on "Listen again to Programme 1") is dedicated to the investigation of why different organisms have have their own particular life spans. The second part (Mondays 10 May 2004 21.00-21.30 and available on line here after that date) is of more direct transhumanist interest, as it focuses on long-lived organisms, such as a cold-water clam which is known to live for 220 years and the remarkable, lab-created worms that live six times longer than normal worms and that at 500 years old (in worm years), are still quite sprightly.