Archive for February, 2013


February 28, 2013

Overslept. Yeah, yeah, to be awake is to be alive. I know, I know.

Little is to be expected of that day, if it can be called a day, to which we are not awakened by our Genius, but by the mechanical nudgings of some servitor, are not awakened by our own newly acquired force and aspirations from within, accompanied by the undulations of celestial music…

Well sorry, Henry, I didn’t hear the harp this morning.

Too bad, I was all set to write about the odd juxtaposition of topics on offer yesterday in Bioethics: Caleb on post-mortem sperm “donations,” followed by Vincent’s half-serious suggestions for solving the problem of overpopulation. It was the liveliest, cheeriest session on death and genocide I’ve ever participated in.

Thanat-, thanas-, -thanasia, -thanasic, -thanatous +. (Greek: death, dead)…

But, semi- seriously: if we’ve already got too many people, should we really be opening the gate to that form of life after death?

And totally seriously: how do we manage life responsibly on a global scale, respect the wishes and the memory of the dead, and respect ourselves as a species enough finally to reject the misanthropy every thoughtful person at one time or another must have entertained?

But as I was saying yesterday, time is short. More later. (I hope!)

This side of eternity

February 27, 2013

I like to complain about staff meetings, for all the good it does. But something worth pondering came of yesterday’s, right at the end.

Our department has just hired a second full-time, tenure track Religious Studies prof. (We hired our first last year.)  This is sure to be good news for our department, our students, and for me and my Atheism course.

Once again we succeeded in securing the services of the candidate who had emerged as our first choice, though the process was made bumpier this time by unanticipated late-hour administrative input from above. But we’re pleased and relieved, and were taking a few moments yesterday to review what went wrong and right, “for next time.”

Someone pointed out that “next time” may be a long time coming. Two hires in two years is unprecedented for us. We’ll push (per the urging of our recent external reviewer) to add another philosopher, possibly a three-year postdoc if not another permanent full-timer, but the likelihood is that we’ll be “encouraged” to make due at our present level of staffing for some time.

On the other hand, noted our cheerful chairman as we adjourned and dispersed quietly  into the good night, “some of us are not getting younger.” It’s good to think about the passage of time, he said. It’s good to think about your own funeral, and your final rest.

And on that happy note I must now finish the Bioethics exam. Time’s a-wasting.


How to (not) study

February 26, 2013

It’s just about that time again. Here’s the best test-prep advice I can pass along to students (and to everyone else, for the extended sense in which life itself is a kind of “examination)”:

If you want really to do your best in an examination, fling away the book the day before, say to yourself, “I won’t waste another minute on this miserable thing, and I don’t care an iota whether I succeed or not.” Say this sincerely, and feel it; and go out and play, or go to bed and sleep, and I am sure the results next day will encourage you to use the method permanently. William James, “Gospel of Relaxation

If you’ve been up all night cramming, in other words, good luck. You’ll need it. But if you’ve been diligent, have steeped yourself in the subject all semester long, and either went out to play or to an early bed the night before, your luck will be the residue of design. You’ll do fine.

But don’t try too hard to relax.

It is needless to say that that is not the way to do it. The way to do it, paradoxical as it may seem, is genuinely not to care whether you are doing it or not.

Care later. Tomorrow & Thursday, just show up after a good night’s R&R and do your best.

But do read the book.


The future of medicine

February 25, 2013

Our scheduled Bioethics cases today concern the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, Eclipse pseudo-cigarettes, the continuing absence (despite the presence of the 2010 Affordable Care Act) of universal healthcare in America, and special interest neo-natal screening.

The main connecting theme here is the ever-rising cost of healthcare and how much cheaper it would be to provide real prevention on the front end, rather than hit-or-miss cures on the downslope… and how much entrenched resistance and counter-investment blocks that approach.

Interesting topics all, and I hope we don’t get to them today. (Don’t worry, class, they’ll not be on Wednesday’s exam.)

That’s because I hope we get immersed instead in our midterm report presentations, commencing with William’s “disproving Ray Kurzweil’s numbers on the Singularity.” Guess he wants to squash my last thin reed of hope that I might still live long enough to live forever. Or is he going to tell us it’s nearer than even Ray thinks? Not likely.

Maybe we can combine these topics? Here’s the chair of FutureMed at Singularity University. How do the numbers look to you, Dr. Kraft? Think exponentially, he says…

It’s easy to make light of Singularitarians and their dream of transcending biology, and to an extent we should; but I find the vision of exponentially-contained costs and cheaper healthcare, a $100 personal genome, targeted meds, the 4 Ps (prediction, prevention, personalization, participation), and Stage 0 cancer anything but flaky. If this is the future our intelligence can create, driven by a little idealistic hankering after immortality, I say bring it on. Whenever.

But the point is not to live forever, it’s just to live. Now, now, now. (Glad you got your Oscar, Abe.)

“A little piece of a big big universe”

February 23, 2013

It was another of those charmed winter days in the south: reports of a blizzard back in my native midwest were countered here with just enough sunny warmth to take my Vandy library research (Kloppenberg’s Reading Obama and Putnam’s Philosophy in an Age of Scienceoutdoors.

vulibyThe library did not cater to its patrons as it does now, back when I was in grad school. The kids don’t know how good they’ve got it, with their cafe and patio seating and solar charging stations et al. Most of them don’t know because they don’t patronize their library at all. But never mind. I don’t need to channel Spencer Tracy again.

An even warmer and more welcoming sign of early Spring: Younger Daughter back in the (softball) game, on Peabody Green breaking in the new cleats she insisted we pick up at SportSeasons on our way to school at noon. (She’d had a morning career-day “internship” at the neighborhood vet clinic, still intending to follow in Grandpa’s steps despite a few queasy moments reading X-rays she won’t want me to elaborate here.)

VU’s baseball team, just across the way at Hawkins Field, was about to hit the pitch too, at 4. I’d have tried to persuade YD to join me there for a few innings, if it’d been just a few degrees warmer. But the sun was finally in retreat, and baseball’s really not a winter sport even by our standards.

Older Daughter was off practicing softball too, at the remote River Campus, before taking in the Predators hockey game with her boyfriend. To each her own.

Since Mom was also away last night we were left again to fend for ourselves. Pizza and what movie? YD’s default proposal was yet another screening of The Simpsons Movie, but I insisted on another selection. Hitchcock? Maybe next time. Beasts of the Southern Wild, we decided.

I’m still processing my reaction to that disturbing, fantastic tale of mythic critters making their way from  melting prehistoric polar ice to a Louisiana “bathtub” to befriend the most incredibly tough and wise little girl ever. YD thought it a terribly sad story, but I think she’s missing the life-affirming aspect of a strong, precocious young lady imagining “kids in school in a million years,” and  “scientists of the future” someday discovering clear traces of a long-gone girl and her daddy.

I sure hope she wins.

Finish each day

February 22, 2013

I’d read a lot of Emerson over the years and never come across this piece of practical wisdom in precisely this formulation, before Maria Popova passed it along from Jon Winokur’s Advice to Writers yesterday: “Finish each day before you begin the next, and interpose a solid wall of sleep between the two.”

Here’s the more common version, brought nearly to life:

Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

Whichever way The Sage really said it, I do try always to rise fresh and ready. My sleep rarely interposes as solid or lasting a wall as I’d like, but the spirit of daily renewal in anticipation of another good day’s work is what the dawn’s all about for me too, and for melioristic pragmatists in general.

So, and despite a detour to the doc’s office with Younger Daughter yesterday, I’m back at it today with “new dawnings” for the impending American Philosophy conference. The symposiasts at my session won’t find me a hard sell, I was already sure there’s a pragmatic line running from Emerson and Thoreau through Rorty and Putnam and Cavell. And Lincoln. [“What Would Lincoln Do?”] And beyond.

Sometimes, when preparing to gather with colleagues in a professional setting, it’s tempting to think you must speak and communicate with such clarity as to remove all possibility of being misunderstood. But that, Emerson knew, is an impossible bar to clear.

Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

And to be merely competent is also to be misunderstood. To be human is to make mistakes. Big deal.  I like to remind myself, before traveling to meet my peers, of what James said about our fallibility in Will to Believe:

Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things. In a world where we are so certain to incur them in spite of all our caution, a certain lightness of heart seems healthier than this excessive nervousness on their behalf. At any rate, it seems the fittest thing for the empiricist philosopher.

So I’ll just keep on rising before the dawn of day, catching a few reflections, committing a few errors, and occasionally glancing out and up for inspiration. One more insight, Mr. Emerson? “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”

Hegel, Schopenhauer, Mill, infinity

February 21, 2013

We’re well into the 19th century, in CoPhi: Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Mill. And the Philosophy Bites interview is with Adrian Moore, on the concept of “infinity“-and beyond? Is the universe infinite? Not only do we not know the answer to that, just try solving Zeno‘s Paradoxes. [Paradox #1YouT… How big is infinity? An animated TEDexplanation] Or getting a plumber on the weekends.

Hegel was the ultimate optimist, Schopenhauer the uber-pessimist. And Mill? I’d call him a realist with strong aspirations. [Hegel up@dawn]

They’re all in the song, if that helps. Let’s see… Schopenhauer and Hegel were both out-consumed by David Hume. And Mill, of his own free will, “on half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.”

But it would probably be more helpful to relate the Germans to their predecessor Kant, and to bring Mill to bear on his countryman Bentham.

First the Germans: both Schopenhauer and Hegel tried to go beyond Kant’s proscription against specifying the “thing-in-itself,” the ultimate “noumenal” reality beneath the appearances. For Hegel, History’s the thing. For Schopenhauer it’s Will.

An amusing sidelight: in spite of himself, and his intent to renounce personal will (so as to starve ultimate Will, or at least deprive it), Schopenhauer was stubbornly competitive with his philosophical rival Hegel. He insisted on lecturing at the same time as the more popular Hegel, with predictable results. But you have to wonder if his auditors understood a word Hegel said? Maybe free gas was provided? (See William James’s “observations on the effects of nitrous-oxide-gas-intoxication” and his essay On Some Hegelisms – ”sounds like nonsense, but it is pure on-sense!”)

I have to admit: for a sourpuss, Schopenhauer’s a lot of fun to read. His aphoristic Art of Controversy is a good place to begin.

The average man pursues the shadow of happiness with unwearied labour; and the thinker, the shadow of truth; and both, though phantoms are all they have, possess in them as much as they can grasp. Life is a language in which certain truths are conveyed to us; could we learn them in some other way, we should not live. Thus it is that wise sayings and prudential maxims will never make up for the lack of experience, or be a substitute for life itself.

And his Studies in Pessimism are oddly cheerful.

One of the lesser-known but more intriguing facets of Schopenhauer’s philosophy was his belief that music is our point of entree to Will, and to ultimate reality.

Schopenhauer, like Rousseau, loved his dog

And he would have agreed with J.S. Mill‘s statement: “I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them.” Understandable, perhaps, after an execrable childhood when his father pushed him much too hard to excel. He had a nervous breakdown at twenty. Cautionary tale, young scholars? [Mill’s Autobiography]

But he rebounded impressively, going on to become one of the my favorite philosophers, an early champion of feminism, and a friend of personal freedom in general.

Mill tried to correct Bentham’s indiscriminate “happiness” by introducing a quality distinction among pleasures. I’d love to endorse this move, and say things like: unit for unit, an inning of baseball is far superior to a quarter of football. (We might agree, though, that both are superior to “push-pin” and some poetry.) But happiness, pleasure, satisfaction et al have to be left to the judgment of the beholder if they’re to be actual motivators of conduct. So, I agree with Mill in principle and in conscience, but must stick with Bentham in practice. [J.S. Mill up@dawn]

But the harm principle, and On Liberty (1859) in general? I’m with him.

The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.


I love too what he says about Socrates and truth. In Utilitarianism (1861) he adds,

It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. [JSM]

And remember this, when we discuss William James and “what works”: “The truth of an opinion is part of its utility. If we would know whether or not it is desirable that a proposition should be believed, is it possible to exclude the consideration of whether or not it is true? In the opinion, not of bad men, but of the best men, no belief which is contrary to truth can be really useful.”

Nano nano

February 20, 2013

Nanotechnology is our primary focus in Bioethics today. Glenn McGee wonders first if we have an adequate handle on what it is we’re talking about, when we talk nanoethics. Do we know how to spend $42.6 million per/annum wisely on this subject?

A good parallel question, at just this the moment, is whether the brain-mapping project the President announced the other day is itself wisely targeted. Do we need an extensive map or a more detailed set of correlations between brain and behavior?

Rather than putting a huge amount of money into a single project, as the Europeans have, and as the Obama Administration apparently intends, we should endow five separate projects, at a billion dollars each, addressing five of the most fundamental unsolved questions in neuroscience. One project, for example, should focus on deciphering the basic language of the brain. What is the basic element of neural computation? What is the basic scheme by which symbolic information (like sentences) are stored? A second should focus on understanding the rules governing how neurons organize into circuits; a third on neural plasticity and neural development, and understanding how the brain communicates information from one region to another, and determines which circuits to use in a given situation; a fourth on the relation between brain circuits, genes, and behavior; a fifth on developing new techniques for analyzing and observing brain function. Gary Marcus

A billion here and a billion there really do add up to a major investment, and probably a smarter one than the larger-scale plan evidently envisaged. But the brain aside, the stakes for nanomedicine are huge. I mean tiny.  Beam me down, Scotty.

“Drops the bottom out of the world you know and understand,” indeed. We’re truly on the verge of fantastic adventures when TEDMED plausibly asks if we can “use our brains to directly control machines — without requiring a body as the middleman?” Liberating the brain from the physical constraints of the body: how far can we take it? How low should we go?

Nano nightmares also lurk. The future does need us, especially if Bill Joy‘s gray goo gets spilled.

“Plants” with “leaves” no more efficient than today’s solar cells could out-compete real plants, crowding the biosphere with an inedible foliage. Tough omnivorous “bacteria” could out-compete real bacteria: They could spread like blowing pollen, replicate swiftly, and reduce the biosphere to dust in a matter of days. Dangerous replicators could easily be too tough, small, and rapidly spreading to stop – at least if we make no preparation. We have trouble enough controlling viruses and fruit flies.

Among the cognoscenti of nanotechnology, this threat has become known as the “gray goo problem.” Though masses of uncontrolled replicators need not be gray or gooey, the term “gray goo” emphasizes that replicators able to obliterate life might be less inspiring than a single species of crabgrass. They might be superior in an evolutionary sense, but this need not make them valuable.

The gray goo threat makes one thing perfectly clear: We cannot afford certain kinds of accidents with replicating assemblers.

So why is there still so little regulation, with

no single body or organization responsible for monitoring nanotechnologies in any given arena– public health, environmental health, or other areas. We have no idea what the standards for risk assessment in these arenas should be. No single group governs or determines this, nor is there consensus. (BB)

I suspect its because the specter of goo is just too wild and crazy and unprecedented to take seriously, until it’s on us (and too late). It’s a lot like global warming that way.

What to do? “We need a pragmatic approach,” I agree. Proceed, with caution.

The “playing god” objection is mentioned again in Case 28, this time in connection with optical enhancement.  I still  think Stewart Brand took roughly the right line on this back in ’68:

We are as gods and might as well get good at it. So far, remotely done power and glory—as via government, big business, formal education, church—has succeeded to the point where gross defects obscure actual gains. In response to this dilemma and to these gains a realm of intimate, personal power is developing—power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested.

And he was more right in 2010: we have to get good at practical planetary management, at every scale. The problems and opportunities facing us are only going to get bigger. And smaller.

Nano nytTEDmapNano shockwavesNanoSOTUMaking nano work for us

Rousseau, Kant, Bentham, & Brown

February 19, 2013

Three classical philosophers today: a Swiss contractarian, a German deontologist, and an English utilitarian. And, Wendy Brown of UC-Berkeley on tolerance. [Chains, laws, stars, push-pin & poetry]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was an emotional thinker with a romantically-inflated opinion of human nature and the “noble savages” who would have embodied it in a hypothetical state of nature.

What’s most interesting to me about Rousseau is that his Emile so arrested the attention of Immanuel Kant that he allowed it to disrupt his daily walking routine “for a few days.” Nothing short of seriously-incapacitating illness would do that to me. Apparently Kant was typically the same way, except for just that once.

Kant could get very upset if well-meaning acquaintances disturbed his routines. Accepting on one occasion an invitation to an outing into the country, Kant got very nervous when he realised that he would be home later than his usual bedtime, and when he was finally delivered to his doorstep just a few minutes after ten, he was shaken with worry and disgruntlement, making it at once one of his principles never to go on such a tour again.

So what’s in Emile that could so dis-comport a creature of such deeply ingrained habit? A generally-favorable evaluation of human nature, and a prescription for education reflective of that evaluation. Kant thought highly enough of Rousseau’s point of view to hold us all to a high standard of reasoned conduct. We should always treat others as ends in themselves, never as mere means to our own ends. We have a duty to regard one another with mutual respect.

The character of Emile begins learning important moral lessons from his infancy, through childhood, and into early adulthood. His education relies on the tutor’s constant supervision. The tutor must even manipulate the environment in order to teach sometimes difficult moral lessons about humility, chastity, and honesty. IEP

Yes, fine. But what precisely in Emile kept Kant off the streets, until he was finished with it?

Don’t know yet. But I love a good mystery. I’ll look into it. Could have something to do with other characters in the story. “Rousseau discusses in great detail how the young pupil is to be brought up to regard women and sexuality.” Now maybe we’re getting somewhere.

Or not. Rousseau’s observations regarding women sound pretty sexist and ill-informed, nothing Kant (as a  relatively un-Enlightenend male) wouldn’t already have shared.

Maybe it’s what Emile says about freedom that so arrested Kant? “The will is known to me in its action, not in its nature.”

Or religion? “It is categorically opposed to orthodox Christian views, specifically the claim that Christianity is the one true religion.” Maybe.

The Vicar claims that the correct view of the universe is to see oneself not at the center of things, but rather on the circumference, with all people realizing that we have a common center. This same notion is expressed in the Rousseau’s political theory, particularly in the concept of the general will.

That’s very promising. Kant’s Copernican Revolution etc.

I wonder if the mystery of Kant’s lost walks could be related, too, to another of fellow-pedestrian Rousseau’s books, Reveries of the Solitary Walker?

The work is divided into ten “walks” in which Rousseau reflects on his life, what he sees as his contribution to the public good, and how he and his work have been misunderstood. It is interesting that Rousseau returns to nature, which he had always praised throughout his career… The Reveries, like many of Rousseau’s other works, is part story and part philosophical treatise. The reader sees in it, not only philosophy, but also the reflections of the philosopher himself.

That may not be a clue but it’s a definite inspiration for my own Philosophy Walks project, still seeking its legs.

BTW: we know Rousseau had a dog. Did Kant? If so, wasn’t he neglecting his duty to walk her?

What I love most about my teaching job is that it keeps teaching me new things about our subjects. Utilitarian pioneer Jeremy Bentham is a good example.

It should come as no surprise that the philosopher who had his body preserved and housed for public display in University College London had other charms and quirks, but I learned of them only recently. The first volume of Parekh’s Critical Assessments reports that (like Kant and Rousseau) Bentham also was a walker and an eccentric, an understatedly “amusing” man.

Bentham was an extremely amusing man, and in many respects rather boyish. Most of his life he retained an instinctive horror of being left alone… He had a large black tom cat of an ‘uncommonly serious temperament’ which he nicknamed the ‘Doctor’ and ‘The Reverend Doctor Langborn’… He had amusing names for his daily activities and favourite objects. His favourite walking stick was called Dapple, after Sancho Panza’s mule, and his ‘sacred tea-pot’ was called Dick. His daily routine included ‘antejentacular circumgyration’ or a walk before breakfast, an ‘anteprandial circumgyration’ before dinner, and an ‘ignominious expulsion’ at midnight accompanied by the ‘putter-to-bed’, the ‘asportation of the candle’ and the ‘transportation of the window.’

So yes, he was weird. But also “basically a warm, generous, and kind” man. He wanted to reform the misery-inducing industrial culture of his time and place, and to improve the basic quality of life of his fellow human beings.

Create all the happiness you are able to create: remove all the misery you are able to remove. Every day will allow you, will invite you, to add something to the pleasure of others, or to diminish something of their pains. And for every grain of enjoyment you sow in the bosom of another, you shall find a harvest in your own…

Sorry, Mr. Mill, that’s just not what I’d call a “pig philosophy.” It’s humane and compassionate, and it deserves a hearing too.

And following up on Rousseau and Kant and the mystery of what it was about the former’s Emile that kept the latter off the streets– “Everybody who does Education has to read Emile cover-to-cover,” says this jet-lagged Yale lecturer– Rousseau’s Dog is instructive:

According to one anecdote, the fastidious Immanuel Kant, whose daily routine was so rigid and undeviating that people set their watches by him, became so absorbed in Émile that he bewildered his neighbors by forgetting to take his usual post-lunch constitutional… Rousseau understood, he thought, the paradox of autonomy—that freedom meant conformity to a rule. As he was writing his own masterpiece, the Critique of Pure Reason, he had a single portrait in his house—of Jean- Jacques Rousseau.  Rousseau’s Dog

So while it was Hume whom he credited with waking him from his “dogmatic slumber,” it was the somber Swiss who really inspired his work and set his Copernican Revolution spinning.

But I still wonder what the dog thought.

[Chains, laws, stars, push-pin & poetry]


Too many moms?

February 18, 2013

Getting a later start than usual this morning, thanks to the bank holiday our girls get to observe. They’re sleeping in, and so did I.

Today in Bioethics: the coming complications of quasi-maternal specialization, post-paternal insemination, post-partum abandonment, and fertility tourism.

But first, Downton! (Relax, Nick – this is not a spoiler unless you click the link.)  The soapy season finale reminded me first of the joy of first-time fatherhood and then, too abruptly, of how precious and precarious life is. Got the same message from our Saturday night flick too: pity the poor Time Traveler’s Wife, the traveler, their kids, their lives. Now you see us, now you don’t.

Those light entertainments and today’s texts combined to jog my memory of a pair of poets, in whose otherwise-intended words I keep discovering new applications. I had them both in mind when I awoke this morning:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable. Kahlil Gibran

I suffer whenever I see that common sight of a parent or senior imposing his opinion and way of thinking and being on a young soul to which they are totally unfit. Cannot we let people be themselves, and enjoy life in their own way? You are trying to make . . . another you. One’s enough” Ralph Waldo Emerson

So our question today is really not just about too many moms, but too many overbearing moms and dads  and way too many sperm.

New reproductive technologies already fuel the confusion of children “who may have many Moms” not just because they’ve been multiply nurtured, parented, step-parented etc., but because one mom “donates an egg, another carries the embryo and a third mom raises the resulting child.” Interesting. I prefer to reserve the term Mom (or Dad) for the one who changes the diapers, dispenses the formula, hosts the sleepovers, and foots the bill for school and college. But there will surely be sticky issues to sort through. Let’s hope it doesn’t really come to lawsuits over mom’s bad egg shells.

And speaking of time travel, how about post-mortem sperm retrieval? Sperm and DNA are little time travelers already, of course, carrying their little packets of vital info down the ages. Advance consent is the big issue here, but how does an unborn child consent to be “fathered” by an anonymous donor who can never be met?

I remember a particular initiative to bank the sperm of nobelists. If that ever caught on there really would be a question about the ethical propriety of “cloning Abraham Lincoln” et al. “My Baby is a genius” is a clever song by Jessica Harper I know too well, because my first little genius used to wear it out. But it may not be such a great social engineering proposal.

How much is your dead body worth, indeed?

Radiolab‘s taking a timely look at related seminal issues. Near the end they explain why males may eventually be no more necessary for human reproduction than for that of the whip-tail lizard. This is definitely not the future I hope our intelligence creates, nor would serial philanderer Bertie Russell.

If you weren’t already a fan of this cleverly produced program you will be, after this. You’ll never look at ducks the same way again, either.

Another sort of baby banking has surfaced in Germany. “Operation Foundling” established a depository for the anonymous abandonment by teen parents of their unwanted infants. Not the best solution to a terrible problem, but better than the unthinkable dumpster disposal (etc.) we hear of periodically in this country.

Fertility tourism [bbc] bothers Glenn McGee mostly for the way it’s elicited the regulatory zeal of “practitioners of the least regulated field in all of American medicine,” IVF practitioners. He wishes they’d aim their zeal closer to home.

And what ever happened to Baby Louise, the pioneering test tube baby? (It was a Petri dish, actually.) She became a Mom, of course… the old-fashioned way. That’s one method you can bank on. Adoption’s another.


Postscript. Back from my morning walk. I didn’t know this was coming, but my subconscious did: