September 12, 2002
Returning to the library in order to drop off a book on caterpillars,
I happened across a scientist friend of mine reading the latest
copy of Fashion Man magazine. After a jolly good handshake,
I inquired upon his current situation.
Scientist: Ive got a grant to conduct research.
Jacques: Oh. What research?
Scientist: Im examining mouse semen and studying its
implications. My paper is to be entitled The Implications of
Jacques: Im wondering, what do you do with all of
that mouse semen?
Scientist: Im analyzing the genetic makeup of mouse
Jacques: Are you trying to construct the perfect mouse?
Jacques: Then what are you doing harvesting mouse semen?
And how? Are puppets involved?
Scientist: Im isolating their DNA. Ive realized
that not enough time has been devoted solely to the examination
of mouse semen. This is the general foundation of my argument.
Jacques: Thats not an argument.
Scientist: Its an observation.
Jacques: Why are you isolating mouse semen?
Scientist: It allows us to analyze certain behavioral traits.
Jacques: Do you supply the mouse with liquor?
Scientist: It varies from mouse to mouse.
Jacques: Is this something like an alien probe? Does the
mouse wake up with a massive hangover? Or, rather, does the mouse
realize what youve done the next day and try to tell all of
his friends, but none of them believe him because hes drunk,
and his storys a bit hard to swallow, and hes a mouse?
Scientist: We have no interest in the mouses subsequent
social interactions. If the mouse chooses to lie or brag, thats
up to the mouse. The analysis of mouse semen is, of course, simply
a prelude to experimentation on chimps.
Jacques: What do chimps have to do with this?
Scientist: We share 98% of our DNA with chimps.
Jacques: Through blood transfusions?
Scientist: No, just genetically. Its the closest thing
we have to analyzing humans.
Jacques: So if I chopped of my arm, Id be a chimp?
Scientist: No, look, youd still have 100% human DNA.
But the astonishing 98% similarity allows us to study humanity through
chimps by the fact that our DNA so closely resembles that of a chimp.
Jacques: Yes, but its that 2% that keeps most of us
from hurling our own poop. Also, it keeps us from being experimented
on by scientists. Most of us at least. I suppose a very hairy, stupid
human could always end up in a laboratory by mistake or something.
Scientist: Yet that 98% similarity could help us to answer
so many questions about ourselves and the nature of humanity.
Jacques: I dont know. 2% is a fairly significant amount.
If you told me you were ordering a pizza topped with 98% mushrooms
and 2% poop, Id be a bit hesitant to try it. Then again, the
odds of my getting a slice with mushroom on it rather than poop
just might be worth the risk.
Scientist: That sounds like something a chimp might do.
Ive seen them in experiments just like that one.
Jacques: Yes, but thats precisely what defines the
status of our collective humanity: the fact that we would hesitated
to consider our actions before doing something so objectively stupid,
whereas a chimp would simply proceed to act without regard for consequence.
Also, theres the fact that I would probably spend the remainder
of my life wondering whether or not Id chosen the slice with
poop on it and just not noticed.
Scientist: Sometimes they mix the toppings, you know.
Jacques: Yes, but you can always tell them to separate the
toppings on the individual slices so it wouldnt contaminate
the rest of the pizza.
Scientist: You could also tell them not to put poop on it
Jacques: Yes. But then, you see, only mankind possesses
the capacity to insist there be no poop on the pizza to begin with.
We possess the ability to rationalize the idiocy of our situation.
So we could insist there be no poop on the pizza at all. But then,
I suppose, since the people making the pizza are only human, theyd
probably end up putting the poop on it anyway.
I wished my friend luck in his research, urging him to isolate
the gene that would entice people to place poop on pizzas so that
the upcoming generation might be programmed against such indiscretions.