Friday, December 31, 2010

Ode To The Human Spirit

I had the strange urge to start clapping while sitting by myself the other day. I had just finished J. Craig Venter’s A Life Decoded and became overwhelmed with admiration. The book , an autobiography, bears witness to the strength of the human spirit; our addiction to surviving. In A Life Decoded Venter masterfully recounts his childhood adventures as a beach bum and takes the reader through his service in Vietnam as a medic to his humble beginnings as a scientist. You then find yourself overwhelmed with excitement as you see Venter complete the first map of the human genome, beating out his publicly funded foes, and ensuring that his name will go down in the books as one of the most accomplished scientists of all time. Still yet, Venter pushes what were assumed the limits of biology in his attempts to synthesize life in the laboratory and change the world for the better, again.

I idolize Venter - and for obvious reasons. Coming from nothing, he has managed to build an enormous not-for-profit science institute, the J. Craig Venter Institute, dedicated to unraveling the mysteries held in our DNA and further applying that knowledge in ways that directly benefit humanity. Patient-specific gene and drug therapy that could virtually eliminate disease and mutation are on the tips of our fingers, but even that is not our end goal. Venter dreams of a world where a scientist will be able to sit at a computer and ‘program’ the DNA of an organism that has never before existed. I am woefully ignorant of the vast majority of implications this ability would bring upon our world, but I can think of a few. Imagine a world where all of our waste is sent to refineries that use novel organisms to digest the waste and excrete ethanol or another biofuel as a by-product. This, being one of the simplest applications, would have revolutionary effects on energy consumption.

As we prepare to celebrate our planet surviving yet another successful revolution around its star, I’m reminded of our humble origins as a species. It’s impossible to comprehend all the feats we have accomplished since leaving the plains of Africa, but if one could, it would be evident that throughout the drastic evolution of our species one thing has yet to change: We humans have spirit. We are addicted to survival, and as long as this unwavering spirit remains, we will continue to prosper and better ourselves. It is my goal to continue to make us better. It is my dream that we all share the same goal.

Venter inspires a new generation of scientist; my generation. As if the thrill of discovery wasn’t enough, my generation will see humankind transformed in ways unimaginable now. I dream of a world without wheelchairs. A world where an average male can expect to live well into his 100’s and see his great-great grandchildren, all while being an active member of society. A world where our respiratory systems aren’t plagued with smog and other airborne toxins. A world where no man or woman views another as if they were of less worth. A world where in hindsight, these were petty things to dream of looking back on what was accomplished.

With love and respect,


  1. Well said Jake. Science is one the greatest forces for good ever created.

  2. I saw an interesting video by Dawkins that postulated the human spirit as a natural evolution of natural instinct. Monkeys guard their young and will sacrifice themselves if their young are threatened.

    We have developed a subconscious social contract (J.J. Rousseau anyone?) that revolves around the golden rule. This becomes extremely intriguing if the people living this social non-malevolence have never heard of the religious principle or, further, operate under the ethic despite disbelief in a religious order.

    The morality of Atheism is utter Hedonism? Not so much.

    Dave Tackett