Future of Sports

For the past few years I've been arguing that the steroids controversy in baseball is about much more that the purity of sport- it touches the incredible transformations medical science will bring to biology. It is about our relationship to our bodies. We might go as far as to call it the next great imperialization, as we move "in."

Sports Illustrated has a story this week on Dr. Se-Jin Lee- a professor of molecular biology and genetics- who has isolated the genes regulating muscle generation. The slant of the story, of course, is how such procedures could further exacerbate problems with performance enhancement in professional sports; but this misses the larger point. From the article:

Lee is pushing the frontier of genetic research into muscle building because the same breakthroughs that could boost performance in sports might also bring about a medical revolution. Advances could not only mitigate the effects of diseases like muscular dystrophy but also give senior citizens back their strength--which, often, would amount to giving them back their lives.


Thanks to the Human Genome Project, someday all of us could carry our entire genetic blueprint on a microchip, which we'd present to doctors during medical treatments.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this article and the broader issue. Though I try to take care of my body (working out, Edy's slow-churned, etc.), I've never considered my body sanctimoniously. If it didn't work, and I could "replace" it, no problem. I've also always been sympathetic to Cipher from the Matrix- I'll take a nice, virtual existence over a shitty "real" world everyday of the week. No hesitation. Hey, its all virtual anyway.

I think what this story touches upon, the reason I felt compelled to post something, is that is signals the approach of the debate that will frame the early 21st century in terms of science, ethics, and humanity. If the atomic bomb was the symbol of the 20th century, then, perhaps, the microscopic gene will be the symbol of the 21st. We will have to articulate, and in that articulation limit, what a human should, and perhaps, will be (or be able to become). I sit somewhere in between the silent poles of the article: between an idealistic appreciation (and, as I approach 32, expectation) for the future and an apocalyptic sense of foreboding - a feeling that we tread in areas we are not ready to go. Throughout history, humans haven't always been the most responsible explorers.


Casey said...

What does "it's all virtual anyway" mean? Would Zion still be virtual? Or some Mongolian village 10,000 years B.C.?

I'm not asking this to make a follow-up point; I just don't understand. I mean, if everything's always been a simulation, isn't that the same as saying everything's always been real. Or everything's always been god. Or whatever.

Again, this isn't to say cipher shouldn't be sympathetic.

Monica said...

I wonder if the more important question is not what a human can or should be able to become, but rather what motivates him/her to do so, and whether those motivations signal a more sinister and dangerous underlying problem. I say this because I am very, very familiar with the bodybuilding industry--which is, in some ways, the embodiment (no pun intended) of the impulse to see what the human body can become taken to the extreme. And, frankly, it is an impulse that leads only to destruction. Like Icarus, right? Or maybe even worse. I don't want this to sound like the "marijuana is the gateway drug" kind of argument, but bodybuilders, wanting to know what their bodies can do, start with a controlled dosage of steroids, but it soon it is out of control, and before they know it, they've had to kidney transplants and have to be on dialysis for the rest of their lives. Why do we do this to ourselves? That seems like the more important question, though it's a question that science can't/won't answer.