A World Astir|Jul 3, 2005 6:43 AM| by:

Of Carbon Copies and the Divine Body

human_cloning

Can human beings be cloned? Can we improve our race through purely mechanical processes? Would genetic engineering hold the key to a more developed humanity? The first impulse is — yes, why not? The issues being debated upon are economic, legal, scientific, ethical and even, political! There are however deeper issues to be considered.

Nature does not adopt the simplistic approach of promoting a few `favored genes’ at a fast pace. It takes a rather complex means of `biological diversification’, i.e. a seemingly random interchange of genetic material within a species. This allows for a much greater evolutionary potential to emerge.

The question of psychological inheritance  

The difficulty with regards to human beings is further increased by the lack of any clear-cut genetic mechanism for psychological inheritance. The simple case of identical twins illustrates this. Identical twins are Nature’s clones! They have an identical genetic blueprint and hence a corresponding similarity in form. But the psychological diversity can be very great. Genes provide a basic anatomical structure, an outline of form but what happens to the form as it develops through a series of complex life-experiences goes far beyond the purview of genes. The genetic make-up can be likened to a launching airstrip. It provides a stable and firm ground to catapult a variety of flying machines — from the jets to the gliders. But what happens later depends upon the complex interaction between the pilot, the machine and the environment around it. The human body can however learn, unlearn, relearn, alter its genetic route, modify the genetic map, defy the genetic orders, challenge and dare the genetic determinism and destiny. It is the inability to find a clear correlation between genotype and phenotype that terms like `polygenic and multifactorial inheritance’ are used.  The use of these terms indicates that genes are not the exclusive determinants of life. This is even more evident for subjective states such as self-awareness, abstraction, conscious reflection, intuition, inspiration and revelation. The poet, the artisan, the sage, the philosopher, the gifted musician, the wizard of science are not only linked by heredity but also through a `vertical non-genetic hereditary transmission’. This is recognised to be a complex interplay of learning, example and influence that occurs in human transactions. In fact according to Yoga, oneness supports all differentiation. The `One’ consciousness throws itself out in myriad forms. Genes, heredity and association are an occasion; learning and memory a genetic translation process by which the consciousness uses, develops and modifies the form through a pressure of will and inherent self-knowledge. In man, this will and self-knowledge can become conscious.

So he has the possibility of manipulating his genotype. In the case of the cloned sheep Dolly, the genes were derived from the udder cells. They were frozen into a kind of `genetic sleep’. These sleeping genes were then fused with an oocyte through mild electric shocks. Now, this is a startling phenomenon. Normally, the cells in a developed species are too specialized. The genes of the udder cells of a sheep are programmed to send signals for producing milk and not for producing a sheep kid.

That is the function of other specialized cells, the gametes. Or so it was believed. But this method proved the contrary.(1) It showed that the genes themselves have `learned’ to behave in a certain way. They perhaps have an intrinsic memory and a habit of response. The experiment with `Dolly’ proves that, under certain physical conditions, the genes can be deconditioned, reconditioned and reprogrammed. And if this reprogramming can be done under certain physical and physiological conditions, then why not psychophysical and psychological conditions?

Another perspective

Our pursuit for a more developed humanity cannot be satisfied by making mere carbon copies. Our aspiration is for what Sri Aurobindo described as, “…the appearance of a new, a greater and more developed type, not a continuance with little modifications of the present physical form and its limited possibilities.”(2) He explained that a developed humanity will not only be marked by a consciousness that exceeds mentality but also by a divine body that would support the higher consciousness.

While materialists tend to view consciousness as an epiphenomenon of the central nervous system, the yogic perspective holds consciousness to be the prime reality with its energy aspect creating the universe. Matter and Spirit are held to be at two ends of one continuum. If this is true then mechanical manipulation at the level of matter can be supplemented by a `transformation through consciousness’ at the other end. This would enable the emergence of a more developed body — a divine body. As Sri Aurobindo describes: “A transformation of the body must be the condition for a total transformation of the nature.… Especially, as the human body had to come into existence with its modification of the previous animal form and its erect figure of a new power of life and its expressive movements and activities serviceable and necessary to the principle of mind and the life of a mental being, so too a body must be developed with new powers, activities or degrees of a divine action expressive of a truth-conscious being and proper to a supramental consciousness and manifesting a conscious spirit.…

“The difficulty is dual, psychological and corporeal: the first is the effect of the unregenerated animality upon the life, especially by the insistence of the body’s gross instincts, impulses, desires; the second is the outcome of our corporeal structure and organic instrumentation imposing its restrictions on the dynamism of the higher divine nature. The first of these two difficulties is easier to deal with and conquer; for here the will can intervene and impose on the body the power of the higher nature. …But what would be the internal or external form and structure and what the instrumentation of this divine body? The material history of the development of the animal and human body has left it bound to a minutely constructed and elaborated system of organs and a precarious order of their functioning which can easily become a disorder, open to a general or local disorganisation, dependent on an easily disturbed nervous system and commanded by a brain whose vibrations are supposed to be mechanical and automatic and not under our conscious control. …A radical transformation of the functioning and, it may well be, of the structure and certainly of the too mechanical and material impulse and driving forces of the bodily system would be imperative. What agency could we find which we could make the means of this all-important liberation and change? Something there is in us or something has to be developed, perhaps a central and still occult part of our being containing forces whose powers in our actual and present make-up are only a fraction of what could be, but if they became complete and dominant would be truly able to bring about with the help of the light and force of the soul and the supramental truth-consciousness the necessary physical transformation and its consequences. This might be found in the system of Chakras revealed by Tantric knowledge and accepted in the systems of Yoga, conscious centres and sources of all the dynamic powers of our being organising their action through the plexuses and arranged in an ascending series from the lowest physical to the highest mind centre and spiritual centre called the thousand-petalled lotus.… These centres are closed or half closed within us and have to be opened before their full potentiality can be manifested in our physical nature:… It may well be that the evolutionary urge would proceed to a change of the organs themselves in their material working and use and diminish greatly the need of their instrumentation and even of their existence. The centres in the subtle body, suksma sarira, of which one would become conscious and aware of all going on in it would pour their energies into material nerve and plexus and tissue and radiate them through the whole material body; all the physical life and its necessary activities in this new existence could be maintained and operated by these higher agencies in a freer and ampler way and by a less burdensome and restricting method. This might go so far that these organs might cease to be indispensable and even be felt as too obstructive:… The central force might substitute for them subtle organs of a very different character or, if anything material was needed, instruments that would be forms of dynamism or plastic transmitters rather than what we know as organs.

“The body itself might acquire new means and ranges of communication with other bodies, new processes of acquiring knowledge, a new aesthesis, new potencies of manipulation of itself and objects…. These and other numerous potentialities might appear and the body become an instrument immeasurably superior to what we can now imagine as possible.”(3)

Conclusion  

Thus, it is inevitable that a qualitative improvement of our progeny can come about through a transformation of consciousness. This transformation will not only uplift our cognitive and emotive bases but will also change our body into a divine body. For so long we had considered any change in the corporeal structure of the body as a chimera. Though the present attempt at cloning works at a mechanical level, it still indicates that even the very material base of our existence can be manipulated — a sign that a change of our body will not be an impossible dream one day. In this lies the greater significance of the geneticist’s experiments rather than the production of mere carbon copies.

References  

1.  Nash, Madeleine J., The age of cloning. Time, March 10, 1997.
2.  Sri Aurobindo. The Supramental Manifestation and other writings.  Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo     Ashram, 1989
3. Ibid.