Sunday, December 14, 2008

Secret of Life by J.D. Watson

The book "DNA: The Secret of Life" is one of the great popular books that J.D. Watson (Nobel Prize Winner (with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins) of 1962), wrote - this one with Andrew Berry. Watson, in really fascinating way, describes the history of the discovery of DNA structure and the role of the discovery in our understanding of life. The book has great passages, that are, surprisingly, very simple to understand, like that about the role of RNA, particularly in the evolution of living species. One of the most intriguing chapters says about efforts to create gene therapies, another one about methods to deliver genetic information to living cells, yet another one about the other applications of the knowledge. There, Watson goes from agricultural application, through the applications in forensic studies, to, last but not least, treatment of worst genetic diseases that plague humanity.

He is honest about his position about GMF (Genetically Modified Food) and other controversial applications of the science - i.e. - he supports the applications. Doing so, he certainly is a bit controversial in his opinions, but, he is not blindly "positivistic". For example, he describes his allocation of 5% of the total budget of Human Genome Project into exploration of ethical and philosophical issues related to genetic sciences.

What strikes me, however, is, sorry to say so, primitive materialism and reductionism, that emerges, mostly in the beginning of the book. Having discovered DNA, it seems he found a way to eliminate any kind of transcendental interpretation of biology. While the pure scientific approach, without resort to religion, is of course, of the great value, but when it comes to interpretation, for me and contrary to Watson, the discovery itself, clearly demonstrating the role of the CODE, of something that transcends the physical realisation and embodiment - is one of the greatest proofs of transcendence - revealing itself in the organization of life. Seems to me that Watson had quite old-style idea of G-d, religion and its relation to science.

Also, a bit embarrassing are his remarks like "Let's play God" or "Why be content with nature's design? (...) when little manipulation might yield something more useful" - that has some primitive tone. However, Watson seems to gain more humility with age and with the evolution of the science and its medical applications. In last parts of the book he admits to the limits of genetic science. More and more he sees and confesses to the mere fact, that life is still a great mystery to us. Failures of many of gene therapy application, resulted in famous tragic cases, seem to humble Watson's unequivocal faith in simple positivistic philosophy of science....

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