From Cells to Souls, and Beyond: Changing Portraits of Human Nature

From Cells to Souls, and Beyond: Changing Portraits of Human Nature

From Cells to Souls, and Beyond: Changing Portraits of Human Nature

From Cells to Souls, and Beyond: Changing Portraits of Human Nature

Excerpt

What am I? Who am I? Seldom in recent years have such questions been brought into sharper focus than today with public debates about reproductive and therapeutic cloning. Such debates have followed naturally from the high profile given the subject after an American president and a British prime minister issued, almost simultaneously, statements about the ethics and regulation of human cloning. Questions about what constitutes my personal identity have now become paramount. How, for example, do I answer the question, “To what extent would another person, derived by cloning one of my cells, be another 'me', and to what extent would he have his own separate identity ?” For more than a decade developments in science have prompted wide-ranging discussions about human nature. The driving force at the end of the last millennium, and one which continues to accelerate today, is the rapid advances in neuroscience—advances that led the United States Congress to recognize the 1990s as “The Decade of the Brain.”

The days are long past when talk about human nature was the preserve of theologians and philosophers. The almost daily high-profile media announcements about exciting discoveries in genetics, psychiatry, psychology, or neurology sustain our interest in and are often linked to our understanding of human nature. For example, as I write, the latest edition of Emery and Rimoin's Principles and Practice of Medical Genetics has just appeared, and the chapter on genetics of personality concludes, “research in this area holds great promise in not only bringing about a better understanding of mental health, but also in illuminating the biological basis of human nature.” This re-

1. Matthew McGue, “Genetics of Personality,” in Emery and Rimoin's Principles and Prac-

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