Could We Send God on a Long Leave?

—B M Hegde

The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.
—Søren Kierkegaard

A few years ago when Ian Wilmot, at the Rosalind Institute in Edinburgh, produced the first cloned sheep, “Dolly”, by electrically fusing one of the mother’s mammary cells with another body cell, sparing the need for a father, he and many others of his ilk felt that they could send God packing back to his abode in heaven, since man did not need him any more. People started worrying about the prospect of cloning humans with base instincts like those of Hitler and were afraid that human cloning would be disastrous, to say the least. Many Governments and Church leaders asked for a ban on human cloning experiments. Man, proud man, having created God in his own image, with his limited knowledge of the working of this Universe, predicted that the day is not far when he would be able to cure all ills of mankind with genetically engineered quick fixes for every disease and also predicted that he would be able to keep man alive here for ever!

Scientists also claimed that they are at the threshold of unravelling the mystery of the human genome, which they thought would be anywhere between 100,000 to 150,000 genes in each chromosome. Writing a scientific article in the Journal of the Association of Physicians of India, I had seen the writing on the wall. For the reductionist science predicting the future with limited knowledge of the initial state of the organism is impossible. “Doctors have been predicting the unpredictable,” wrote Professor Firth of the Starthclyde University in Glasgow, years ago in the British Medical Journal, 1991 Xmas issue. Being a physicist he knew what he was talking about.

In my article in the physician's journal, which was later published in the book Progress in Medicine, I had postulated that it would be impossible to clone another man from his genes alone. We could certainly clone and produce a genetic ‘look-alike’, but never another man like the one whom we were trying to clone in the first place. This reasoning was based on the premise that man is made up of three parts basically, his phenotype that is based on his genes, his genes, and his consciousness (mind) that evolves basically with the environment that the zygote (product of the fusion between the father’s sperm and mother’s ovum) lives from the time of its getting embedded in the mother’s womb till it ends up in the tomb!

Even the time of delivery, the second stage of labour, if delayed, could change the prospect of later onset of certain diseases like asthma! There is no way we could clone another Mahatma Gandhi or Hitler unless we could make the cloned first cell to go through the same environment that any of them went through from the time of conception to the time they did what they did for society, an impossibility even in the best of scientific laboratories.

Any scientist would be wiser by the events of the last few years. The much-hyped genome is now ready with only 30,000 to 45,000 genes or so; much less than what was predicted (predicting the unpredictable). In addition it has become very clear to the scientists, if not to the companies funding this research and wanting to patent them as soon as possible to make money, that there is not likely to be a single gene in total charge of any disease. Just as there is no single pill for every ill, there can not be a simple one gene for every human trait!

How true that sage Kapila way back around the seventh century BC had clearly written down in his treatise on illnesses that for all the three major classes of human diseases, dhukhathriyas-aadhyathmika, adhibhoutika, and adidaivika dukhas, there could be a fault in either the bhijaha (chromosome) or bhijabaaghaha (gene); but the penetrance of the fault depends on the assistance of the environment where the seed is sown.

How I wish we had heeded his suggestions! Now it must be clear even to an elementary school child that it is near nigh impossible to clone a complete human being unless we could know his phenotype (form), his genotype (genome), and also his consciousness (mind).

Positive sciences are just about getting an introduction to the human mind. Till now even physicists thought the answer to the million-dollar question: "where is the mind?" was simply, "never mind". Now with the advances in quantum physics, the mind has been defined to a certain extent, although not fully. Interestingly, the ancient Ayurvedic concept of the mind comes very close to the concept in physics. Simply put, the mind cannot be considered as an organ-based idea like the liver or the heart. The mind also is not confined to the brain. The brain has about a billion cells. If the mind were to be like the liver one would not even be able to understand a grain of salt, since the latter has more than ten billion atoms. The mind, therefore, is a sub-atomic quantum concept present in every human cell. Most physicists now agree with Schrodinger that everything is, possibly, in the eyes of the beholder!

Recent studies have shown the singularly significant role played by the human mind in the causation of any disease, especially in the cases of killer diseases like heart attack, cancer, and stroke. Of the multitude of risk factors associated with these diseases, negative thoughts stood out as one of the most significant ones in both men and women. In short, it is what eats one that seems to kill him rather than what he eats. Now we have to change our views, after having lived in a make believe world of reductionist science, that time evolution in any dynamic system depends not on one or two initial characteristics of the organism. Far from it. Very far indeed! Time evolution depends on the total initial state of the organism that includes the knowledge of the genes, the form (phenotype) and, above all, the mind (consciousness). That is exactly what sage Kapila wrote nearly three thousand years ago.

The genome, which has, of late, come to the fore, would help mankind to a certain extent in understanding the mysteries of diseases and their solutions, but will never completely solve the issues. It could, however, add to man's misery. If a child's genome were to have “heart-attack related” genes, there is a possibility that the child could suffer from a heart attack later in life, provided the other two parts of the child—the body and the mind—were to abet the genes. The hapless child, its parents, the insurance company that might be asked to insure this child, the future in-laws and employers, however, would be in trouble. They would always be anxious about the risk that the child runs. For the poor child the anxiety could be killing. Mankind has already suffered from great anxiety, partly due to the present concept of civilization. That could be compounded by the awareness of the gene map. In reality, therefore, gene mapping could make life hell for some, in addition to the ethical dilemma for the medical and allied professions about the confidentiality. I wonder how we would be able to solve the problem of giving evidence in a court of law when called upon to do so regarding the gene map, while, at the same time, keeping individual genetic knowledge a secret.

The initial euphoria regarding gene mapping is settling down to anxiety. The drug companies, which have been proved to run medical education in the USA from the time the medical students enter the portals of a medical school till the time he is buried in the grave (The Lancet 2000, December 5 issue), are the ones that exaggerate the whole game. Like any other new discovery in the field of reductionist science we should take this news about the genes with a pinch of salt. However, this new development has a positive side to it as well. Scientists are slowly realizing the need for non-linear mathematics and holistic science in unraveling the mysteries associated with the human beings.

Chance governs our very existence on this planet. Science could try to keep us healthy and happy as long as we live. Sexual reproduction is still our best bet to have a wide gene base for the offspring to be healthy and happy. Most genetically engineered species would be vulnerable even to the slightest change in their environment!

Genes came, our dreams, however, have remained unrealized in reality after all! Needless to say that time is still not ripe for God to go on a long leave. In fact, humans have just over a couple of thousand genes which will not cure every disease. But we have two trillion genes of all kinds of germs in us which have made a permanent home inside us. This should make man humble as there is nothing called MINE. Everything is ours. This is the best lesson that any human being could learn from human physiology. Love all to live well. Hate and get into troubles.

About the Author
Dr Belle Monappa Hegde was the visiting professor at various universities. He has been the chairman of Bharathiya Vidya Bhavan in Mangalore for the last 35 years. He has authored 35 books in English and Kannada besides presenting 289 research papers in the country and abroad.

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