Monday, March 24, 2014


With the leisure of a Sunday, I dabbled, reading in this and that.  An old New York Review of Books (13 Aug 2009) yielded an article by the ever-interesting Freeman Dyson, which contained this odd glimpse into his family life:

Last year  I received  as a Christmas present, a “Portable Genome Chest”, a compact disc containing a substantial amount of information about my genome.

Initially  that reminded me merely of my puppy-eager ophthalmologist, whom I visit once a year, that he may check for diabetogenic retinopathy (so far:  clean slate), and who beamingly gifted me with a CD containing a detailed rotatable enlargeable image of an enormous and bloody-looking eyeball, allegedly my own.   He burbled on about the wonders I could do with this, once I learn the software;  and I had not the heart to inform him that  I was about as likely  ever to look at the thing, as  fondly to go over (on wintry evenings) old videos of my colonoscopy.

But he went on:

My children and grandchildren, and our spouses, got their compact discs too.  By comparing our genomes, we can measure quantitatively  how much each grandchild inherited from each grandparent.   .. I consider it a cause for celebration  that personal genetic information is now widely distributed  at a price that ordinary citizens can afford.

Well, make of that what you will.   -- I would not have given it another thought, save that, not an hour later, finishing Arthur Koestler’s intensely interesting novel, I happened upon this passage:

“The next step will be the compiling of a card-index for the whole nation, in which each family will be registered with the chief traits of its heredity -- a kind of Domesday Book of the national protoplasma.”
-- Arthur Koestler, Arrival and Departure (1943), p. 137

Freeman Dyson is a notably decent and gracious man;  the character uttering the above in the novel  is a Nazi.   Make of it … what you will.  

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