THE SHATTERED SELF: The End of Natural Evolution

Pierre Baldi, Author
Pierre Baldi, Author . MIT $24.95 (259p) ISBN 978-0-262-02502-7
Reviewed on: 05/07/2001
Release date: 04/01/2001
Hardcover - 260 pages - 978-0-585-38849-6
Open Ebook - 245 pages - 978-1-282-09981-4
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At the dawn of the 21st century, Baldi (a professor of computer science and biological chemistry at UC-Irvine) says, the human genome has been mapped; genetic technology can prevent inherited disease; and biogenetic techniques such as cloning and in vitro fertilization make it possible for people to choose traits for their babies. How, he asks, does such burgeoning scientific achievement alter the nature of the human self? How does cloning, for example, change our conception of ourselves? Is a clone a human being? Is a full-term in vitro—aka test-tube—baby a human baby? What are human attributes? Baldi observes that "our notions of self, life and death, intelligence, and sexuality" are primitive and evolved to provide us with "a feeling that each of us is a unique individual delimited by precise boundaries." He contends that a world dominated by computer and biotechnologies shatters this model, making us uneasy with scientific advances. For example, in vitro techniques may render sexual intercourse unnecessary for conceiving children. Thus sex, perhaps the clearest evolutionary example of human will to survive, could become extinct. Baldi provides an accessible overview of molecular biology and a masterful survey of scientific techniques, like DNA-manipulation, that challenge our sense of ourselves. While he finds many of these scenarios disturbing, he emphasizes that, in the quest for self-knowledge, we must face these scientific challenges openly. Baldi's powerful, elegant book deftly navigates the interactions between science and psychology. (May)

Forecasts:While Robert Wright and E.O. Wilson focused on evolutionary theory as it demonstrates the emergence of self, Baldi goes further to show how the self evolves after natural evolution has ended. Readers of Wright, Wilson, Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins will enjoy Baldi, so this title could do relatively well with attentive handselling.

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