Wednesday, November 13, 2002

About four years ago, I had one of the more surreal experiences of my life. As a legacy of a misspent youth , I have a number of friends who are scientists of repute. It so happened that I visited the Cloisters, the medieval art museum at the top of Manhattan (which is part of the Metropolitan Museum) with two world class molecular biologists. In one gallery, we sat down in front of a number of tapestries of unicorns . I sat there and studied the art for a moment, and then slowly the nature of my friends' conversation entered my head. They were discussing just precisely how they would go about making a unicorn. That is, if they started with a horse, just precisely what genes would they have to splice into its DNA in order to produce a offspring with horns growing in the middle of their heads. They were doing this completely unselfconsciously, and hadn't thought about just how astonishing what they were saying was. The world is astoundingly stranger than it was even 20 years ago. ( New Scientist magazine used to publish April Fools jokes about strange sounding scientific breakthroughs - the development of the "tomato cow", a mixture of cattle and tomato DMA to produce a plant that produced fruit with tough, leather like skin which were high in protein was one) but gave it up a few years ago when it found that the real things it was reporting about were just as strange as anything it could make up.

Perhaps this is another sign of the apocalypse (or at least the Singularity ).

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