An epitaph for the gene. An obituary for genetics. An adieu for heredity.MV Kothari, LA Mehta
Anatomy Department, Seth G.S. Medical College, Mumbai.
Modern medicine has been researching on cancer cell, cancer, hypertension, heart attack and so on without once defining any of these clearly. It swears by these terms much like mankind swears by sunset and sunrise, which are just not there. It is possible that the pet hobbyhorses of modern times, namely, gene, genetics, and heredity may belong to the above mythical group-entities that are logically absent, but whose illogic is strong enough to sustain research and publication world over. Gene, genetics and heredity have outlived their utility and must be replaced in near future by new concepts and terms.
Keywords: Genetics, Medical, Human, Philosophy, Medical, Terminology,
"Define your terms, Sir," used to be integral to any Aristotelian or Socratic dialogue. In absence of the intellectual precision that accompanies clarity of concepts and definitions, you could build an edifice Everest - high, except that the fundamental keystone may be missing. Modern medicine has been belabouring its research on immunity, infection, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, heart attack and so on without arriving at any definition for even once. The net result at the turn of millenium is that modern medicine knows that it knows nothing,.
A perusal of texts,,, ordinary or advanced on genetics have everything except a semblance of exactness on the key terms gene, genetics, and heredity. If you are gifted with an interest in etymology, you realize with a sense of shock that gene enjoys no etymological locus standi, and what you call gene is a fractured portion of the term pangene. The term heredity is from heir and is rooted in ownership of estate and the right over property and possessions and hence has nothing to do with transmission of characters.
Szent-Gyorgyi, the Nobel-laureate, while chairing a session on cancer was asked if he could define a cancer cell. And his considered reply was that he couldn't define it for he didn't know what is a normal cell in the first place. That is how a cancer cell is defined circumlocutionally: a cancer cell is what it is, for it does what it does, and it does what it does, for it is what it is. As of today, this is how you will have to define a gene.
The cardinal fault of geneticist and cytologist has been nucleism. They kept on investigating the easily accessible nucleus for they were forced to neglect the nebulous cytoplasm. Nuclear-transplantation and Dolly-making have shown that the embryogenic blue print resides not in the zygotic nucleus but in its cytoplasm. And cytoplasm has not as yet obliged a Watson and Crick team with a double helix. On the other hand, the nuclear double helix has genes of binary code (AT, GC) that fills up the DNA tape without any demarcation of one gene from another. Gene, genetics, and heredity raise far more questions than answers and will have to be given up.
Hans Eysenck, the noted British psychologist, waxes uncharitably eloquent over scientists: "Scientists, especially when they leave the particular field in which they have specialized, are just as ordinary, pig-headed and unreasonable as anybody else, and their unusually high intelligence only makes their prejudices all the more dangerous." Geneticists, currently the blue-eyed babies of medical research, are no exception to Eysenckean estimate. The monstrously oversized edifice of oncology rested on the keystones of cancer-as-alien-non-self and cancer-cell-as-abnormal-cell. Alas, both the keystones have been missing, for they were, in the very first place, never there. The edifice, like a Mumbai building, has collapsed leaving behind a clear vindication of August Bier's generalisation in the earlier part of this century: "All that we know about cancer can be written on a calling (visiting) card." Little wonder that James Watson of The Double Helix Nobel-fame, summed up cancer research as intellectually bankrupt, therapeutically useless, and fiscally exsanguinating. If one could gather the invectives from an Eysenck, a Bier, a Watson and the like and hurl them at the promoters of gene, genetics and heredity, one could damn well be right.
Peter Medawar, an immunoNobelist, coined the term geneticism "to refer to a scheme of thought which extravagantly overestimates the explanatory power of genetical ideas. The pretended explanation on genetic lines of every aspect of human character and every nuance of personality, and the interpretation of the rise and fall of nations along genetic lines, may all be said to belong to geneticism, which has the ill effect of bringing GENETICS into undeserved discredit." The added italics in the foregoing are a confession by a Dictionary of Modern Thought that Genetics as a science stands discredited.
That the discredit is well-deserved can be gleaned from the plethora of apologetic terms and phrases that geneticists thrive upon to explain away whatever can't be genetically explained. Here is a sampling: Polygenic/multifactorial inheritance; incomplete penetrance; variable expressivity; forme fruste; phenocopy; genetic heterogeneity; pleiotropy; sex-limited/-influenced trait; delayed age of presentation; non-allelic interaction; spontaneous point mutation; chromosomal polymorphism including multiple fragile sites, microdeletion, cryptic translocation; mosaicism; jumping/overlapping/split genes; sporadic case; illegitimacy; and incorrect diagnosis. Having told some basic lies, geneticists had had to invent many more to acquit themselves.
The gene's epitaph is preordained in its definitionlessness. It comes as a surprise that modern medicine, as of today, has no exact definition for heart attack, stroke, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cancer cell, cancer, normality, abnormality or infection. So anything, and everything, goes.
Herbert Spencer called genes as "physiological units," Charles Darwin called them "pan-genetic gemmules," August Weismann talked of "biophors" and "ids." None of the foregoing definitions of the 19th century has been improved upon by the close-of-20th-century talking of "the basic unit of heredity, made of DNA." The reasoning is circular: wherever there is genesis, there ought to be a gene behind it, and vice versa. The reader of this article is requested to peruse all the latest western texts on genetics to look out for a satisfactory definition of gene, to realize the utter futility of such a search.
In 1963, David Smithers of UK generalized that a cancer cell is NO structural entity, but only an organ of behaviour. That means that despite all the microscopic sophistication, a cancer cell as a structural entity is unlocatable for it was never there. From the time of Galen and Vesalius, students have been bored to death by the red and blue lines indicating the origins and insertions of muscles on bone. Now comes a realization that those lines are pure figments of anatomic imagination for bone is attached to nothing, nothing is attached to bone.
Epitaph for Gene
Hic jacet (here lies) the GENE
Oversung, overwrung, overabused
We wish it were really there
Alas it never was nor will be.
The two universal principles that militate against the idea of genes-governing-all-phenomena are individuation or uniquation and its balancing-opposite the TITE principle. The aforestated laws drive home an important point - Genes-take-orders to the extent that their very lay-out is determined by abstract noumenal powers that are superior to the genes themselves. The universality of uniquation is best illustrated by the SANA (Snowflakes Are Never Alike) principle. Each snowflake is made of at least 100 million million million water molecules, the arrangement of which, thanks to the TITE principle, is always unique.
The uniqueness of a person's Left Thumb Impression (LTI) is a result of that thumb, while in its making, Totally Included all the other LTIs so that it could Totally Exclude them. The nascent science of Genetic/DNA Fingerprinting has revealed the individualistic (individuation) and unique (uniquation) of the karyotype of a person. The noumenon provided by all the other karyotypes serves as the determinant of the uniqueness of a person's karyotype. If the very karyotype is determined by powers lying outside it, then the idea that the genes comprising the karyotype take rather than give orders becomes comprehensible.
Yet one more law that disproves the worth of geneticism is the principle of herdity. The very steady maintenance of the incidence of various diseases - ALL 1 out of 33,000, cleft palate 1 out of 1000 births, overall cancer 1 out of 5, schizophrenia 1-2 out of 100, epilepsy 1-2 out of 100 - year after year, country after country and generations after generations goes to show that the manifestation of a disease phenomenon at the level of an individual is at the behest of the rest of the herd. It is herdity in action.
Geneticists have missed to see the role of herdity which better explains the smaller-occurrence-and-the-much-greater-non-occurrence of any disease; malformation or malfunction. The escapist terms polygenic or multifactorial inheritance is neither here on the side of genetics nor there on the side of environment.
Beadle and Tatum were awarded the 1958 Nobel prize for their one gene-one enzyme hypothesis. The same was hurriedly replaced by the one gene-many enzymes-and-vice versa. This revision reduces the action of a gene to the level of speculation, thus leaving the fate of genetics as sub judice.
Obituary for Genetics
Died : Ms. Genetics who expired in the light of the discovery of
the non-existence of gene and the Acknowledgment of the laws
of individuation, TITE and herdity.
The reader should recall the song Dost dost naa rahaa from Raj Kapoor's Sangam, and then hum the following tune:
Sperm father naa rahaa
Ovum mother naa rahaa
Varsa hamein teraa
Etbaar naa rahaa
Etbaar naa rahaa …
The one cell in a male that is totally unlike him is the sperm, and ditto for ovum in a female. (That is how following vasectomy, the back-absorption of sperms excites immune response). This is because, during meiosis, the stage of crossing-over permits to the gametocyte a thorough riffle-shuffle of the paternal and maternal genetic cards, both sides merrily crossing the gender-divide. Nature in its infinite sense of fairness is not keen on foisting on the child either the virtues or the vices of the parents. Hence the stand-offishness of each gamete from its owner, and hence the few lines that you need to hum at the beginning of this Adieu.
If crossing-over effectively abolishes the dogma of heredity, the concept of reverse causality further accentuates the demolition. The TITE principle operates through the fact that a child's genotype is determined prior to the very birth of the parents. A marriage (made in Heaven or Hell as the case may turn out to be) is contrived by the child's genotype whereby the parents meet and mate. Samuel Butler wrote 300 years ago: A hen is an egg's way of making another egg, A marriage is a child's way of making itself by forcing the parents into a sexual union.
It is considered that the old Chinese Zen Masters saw everything in Nature as interrelated with everything else, and so did not regard some as good and others as bad, or some as superior or higher and others as inferior or lower. This is quite in agreement with modern science also, by which we can say that everything is what it is and where it is because of everything else - and itself.
An immediate corollary of the aforequote is INNTOE which reads as In Nature No Terror of Error. A so-called congenital deformity, a so-called cancer or cancer-death, a moron on one side and mighty Einstein on the other are all integral parts of Herdity, being interconnected components of a normal distribution. The abnormality whatever lies in the eyes of the medical beholder.
Like it or not, every single event / cell / organ/ individual is a phenomenal manifestation at noumenal behest. It is the Cosmos that controls whatever you see as a phenomenon or as chaos. The flag seems to flutter, but not by itself. The gene whatever seems to operate but the orders come not from the phenomenal gene but from the invisible, inviolable noumenal Cosmos. The so called genes do not give orders but they receive them and then transmit them. The jugglery of modern genetics and genetic engineering has rightly bred "romantic pessimism". If you see the very scholarly tome Gene IV and then the latest Gene VI, you can perceive the apologetic refrain in their unchanging epilogue.
Gene, genetics and Heredity will have to be replaced for they represent an isolatedness that Is out of sync with the seamless, timeless, spaceless and basically causefree universe. One of us way back in 1977 has had a long session with the biophilosopher Lewis Thomas, then the director of the famed Sloan-Katering Institute (SKI). His confession was that there was no headway made on cancer but "since we are politically so committed to the cure of cancer, that we have no courage to tell the truth to the public." Thereafter there was lunch with Joseph Hixson who wrote the biography of the greatest scientific scandal of the century perpetrated at the very SKI. When asked what he did before, he said he was PRO at the SKI for 19 cushy months but resigned for he got tired of telling lies to the public.
The much-hyped gene, genetics and heredity are plagued by the same dilemma: So much has been promised so how can the public be let down. If we give up, who will cure common cold and who will snub cancer! The show must go on.
It is time philosophy steps in. To those who pooh-pooh philosophy, let them know that dictionary defines philosophy as Scientia scientiarum - the science of all sciences. A finer, cosmic analysis of human well being or suffering without the idea of exploiting any piece of knowledge in favour of arrogant mankind and medicalkind, may ill truths that could be delights of the mind and soul.