Brian Keaney

Tag: genetics

I may be drunk but you’re wrong

Lady Astor: “Mr. Churchill, you’re drunk!”Winston Churchill: “Yes, and you, Madam, are ugly. But tomorrow, I shall be sober and you shall still be ugly.”

Having participated in many installation ceremonies in the Knights of Columbus, both as one being installed and one doing the installing, there are parts that I could recite from memory.  For a while I believed that the entire ceremony was a relic of the past.  It once may have provided entertainment, but today it is simply a drawn out affair that could be dispensed with and no one would much mind.

Today, I recognize that while it may not have all the glitz of the latest Hollywood blockbuster, it might be the first time in a long while that the men being installed are being made out to be a big deal.  For 364 days a year he is getting pushed around at work, toiling away at a job and taking abuse from his boss.  On this one night, however, he gets recognized and singled out in front of his friends and family as a leader and a man of consequence.  It gave me a new perspective on the entire ceremony.

There is a line in the ceremony about how each individual excels at one thing  more than his fellow man.  I’m not sure how true this is as I can’t think of anything I can do that plenty of other people can’t do as well, and probably better, but after last night I think I might be on to something.

I went for the first time to Howl at the Moon, a piano bar I’ve been meaning to check out for some time.  It was a lot of fun, and as the night went on the number of musicians grew.  In addition to the two grands, there was a set of drums, a bass, and a guitar.  The musicians were jumping back and forth between each of them effortlessly, so after a song or two at the keyboard they would move to the drums, and so on.  It was quite impressive, and very clear what their special talent is.

I had, shall we say, a very good time, in no small part due to the bottle of Jameson that I smuggled into the bar.  Now I’m not a big texter to begin with, and I’m also not known as a drunk dialer, but for some reason when the band started playing a song from The Lion King I felt the need to tell my sister that I wanted to hear it at her wedding.  Seven months from now.

What followed was largely a series of unintelligible letters and not even I can decipher what I was trying to convey in some of them.  For example, at one point she asked me where I was.  “Awesomeew,” I responded.  Things went downhill from there.

The last text I got from her read: “God your in trouble… Sober up,” and presently we come to the one capacity in which I excel to a greater extent than my fellow man.  Even though my liver was working overtime, I still recognized that my baby sister had used the wrong homophone and I set about to correct her.  In response I told her that the word she was looking for was “you’re,” not “your.”  Of course, in explaining it I said “you ate” and not “you are,” but I’m pretty sure she got the message.

Apropos of last night, there is something that I have long known that I was better at than the majority of people.  It certainly isn’t a skill, and I don’t think I would even go so far as to call it a talent.  It is, perhaps, best described as a favorable genetic trait.  Nature didn’t give me good looks, or considerable intelligence, or great athletic ability.  What I did get, however, is immunity from the hangover.

Two of the friends with whom I went out last night were both far less intoxicated than I and were kind enough to offer me their couch as I was in no condition to get behind the wheel.  This morning I was up and out the door before they were even awake.  I had a full day ahead of me and though I was tired this morning, there was no headache, no nausea, and none of the other classic symptoms of a hangover.

Now I’ll grant you that knowing which witch is which while three sheets to the wind is not as impressive as being able to play nearly any song on command and from memory, but still, it’s something. Perhaps the writers of the installation ceremony knew what they were talking about after all.

Sharing in our Master’s subatomic particles

First posted at Millennial.

I was especially excited for the 4th of July this year.  It has always been a special holiday for me, seeing as I love both history and the beach, and I get heavy doses of both each Independence Day.  This year, however, neither of those got me half as excited as what was taking place half a world away, in a city where no one cared that it was the 236th anniversary of our liberty.

The Higgs boson, commonly known as the God Particle, is what gives everything in the universe mass and has long been predicted but never seen.  Until now.  Researchers at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva announced this summer that they have likely detected it, and in the world of particle physics this is a Really Big Deal.

While the practical applications of this discovery far exceed my limited intellect, I am sure it is only a matter of time before someone comes up with one (and then commercializes it).  As Pope John Paul the Great has noted, “so far has science come, especially in this century, that its achievements never cease to amaze us.”  Similarly, the other His Holiness, the Dalai Llama, has written that “the amount of scientific knowledge and the range of technological possibilities are so enormous that the only limitations on what we may do may be the results of insufficient imagination.”

In his 2005 book, The Universe in a Single Atom, the Dalai Llama beautifully shows within the context of Tibetan Buddhism that Pope John Paul was correct in saying that “faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”  He goes on to propose ways that modern science and his ancient Buddhist faith can complement each other and further each other’s goals, but also finds a few places to critique science and its limitations from a Buddhist perspective as well.

Every chapter explores a different science, everything from quantum mechanics to neurobiology, but for my money the last is his best.  In Ethics and the New Genetics the Dalai Llama becomes noticeably more impassioned, and he gives voice to worries about everything from cloning to Frankenfood.  It is also here that he offers ardent cautions on not letting our scientific ability get too far ahead of our ethical assessments.

The human capacity for moral reasoning has kept pace with developments in human knowledge and its capacities.  But with the new era in biogenetic science, the gap between moral reasoning and our technological capacities has reached a critical point.  The rapid increase of human knowledge and the technological possibilities emerging in the new genetic science are such that it is now almost impossible for ethical thinking to keep pace with these changes.

While I disagree that our technological ability has outpaced our ability to think about the ethical ramifications, I do worry that if someone gets too wrapped up in their work—whatever the field—that the question of whether or not I can often times becomes more important than whether or not Ishould.  Especially when we are talking about the fundamentals of life, it behooves us to take a step back from time to time and look at the bigger picture.

Here once again the late Pontiff for whom our generation is named cautioned us in Fides et Ratio: “And since it [the belief that science is the only form of valid knowledge] leaves no space for the critique offered by ethal judgement, the scientistic mentality has succeeded in leading many to think that if something is technically possible it is therefore morally admissible.”

Of course it is not only science that is susceptible to this fallacy.  We have seen the effects of financial markets and consumer-driven excess where it was never considered whether or not pecuniary decisions were wise or just, but simply whether or not they were profitable.  Bankers, like scientists, and all the rest of us for that matter, “lacking any ethical point of reference, are in danger of putting at the centre of their concerns something other than the human person and the entirety of the person’s life.”

While I was never much of a student of it, I do love science.  I genuinely was excited when the Higgs boson was discovered, but I want to make sure that we never lose sight of the fact that these great scientific advances should be a means to improving the lot of humanity and not simply ends in themselves.

To those whom our late Holy Father has called “these brave pioneers of scientific research, to whom humanity owes so much of its current development,” the Dalai Llama has said that “the issue is no longer whether we should or should not acquire knowledge and explore its technological potentials.  Rather, the issue is how to use this new knowledge and power in the most expedient and ethically responsible manner.”

If they, and we in our own lives, do that, I hope we will all someday hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.”