Paul P. Mealing

Check out my book, ELVENE. Available as e-book and as paperback (print on demand, POD). 2 Reviews: here. Also this promotional Q&A on-line.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Leonard Nimoy (aka Spock): 1931 - 2015

I first watched Star Trek when I was 16 or 17 on black and white TV. It was innovative and evoked many of the ideals of the 1960s that people from different races and backgrounds could form a team that would explore the universe. Spock is one of the great Sci-Fi icons. I particularly liked his appearance in J.J Abrams' Star Trek movie from 2009, where Spock meets a younger version of himself through a time warp, as can only happen in Sci-Fi.

From a philosophical perspective, Star Trek projected a positive, utopian scenario of human nature - envisioning a future where humans would overcome their tendency towards conflict. But it also envisioned a belief, recently expounded by Brian Cox in the final episode of his series, The Human Universe, that humans have a destiny to go beyond their Earth-bound existence.

There is a scene in Abrams' movie that is reminiscent of a scene in my novel, Elvene, where Spock is holed up in an ice cave. Such coincidences in storytelling are not uncommon, like finding the thread of a tune in a piece of music transferred into another work, though, in this case, quite unintentional, as Elvene was written many years before Abrams' Star Trek.

The newslink below to CBSNews is a very touching tribute.

Leonard Nimoy's final tweet.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Genetic engineering is not an evil conspiracy

There is a lot of hysteria about GM foods and genetic engineering in general, yet it’s a path to providing benefit to all of humankind in the same way that all the scientific endeavours of the past 2 centuries have done for anyone living in a Western society. It’s true that science and technology has also provided us with military advances that could literally destroy the planet, but the technology that drove 2 world wars in the last century also gave us accessible air travel, computers and satellite navigation and communication, albeit the last are really consequences of the Cold War.

I’ve just finished watching Brian Cox’s BBC series, The Human Universe, and, in the last programme, he extols us to value knowledge for its own sake and not just to deliver economic gains, and to raise science to an enlightenment subject in education. He doesn’t use the term ‘enlightenment’ but I do because not enough people realise how enlightening it is and has been since the time of Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler.

In a recent episode of Catalyst, they provide a mini-doco (9 mins long) on the work of Prof David Craik, which promises breakthrough developments in medicine for the whole world using genetic engineering techniques.

I’m not sure if the programme can be accessed outside Australia, but essentially Craik has worked in the area of ‘cyclotides’, which are cyclic peptides found in nature. Cyclic peptides aren’t broken down in our bodies so we can use the structure on other peptides allowing us to deliver specific ‘drugs’ to combat specific diseases. This is molecular engineering, but we can also use plants as 'factories' to create these drugs and deliver them in their seeds to third world countries (genetic engineering).

The general public is very ignorant about the role of bio-molecular science and how the world can benefit from these interventions. Instead, genetically modified crops are seen as an evil conspiracy by corporations to control the world’s food production. The truth is that humanity has been genetically modifying crops for centuries - well before Darwin’s theory of natural selection - by artificially selecting genes in both crops and domestic animals. Almost nothing we eat hasn’t been genetically modified from its natural habitat due to human intervention.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, very few politicians are science-literate, and many see science as a servant to economic policy and nothing more. The truth is that only science can save humanity from itself. As Brian Cox reminds us (more than once) we are ‘special’ and possibly unique to the universe, in that we can appreciate the much bigger picture of the whole universe and understand our place in it. We are the only species on the planet that has the ability to transcend our origins, and, arguably, we have an obligation to pursue that, and we can only do that through science.