Mutation and Genius
Written by: You-Sheng Li
(2003, rewritten May 2010)
Now it becomes crystal clear that the driving force behind human evolution is gene mutation. What is gene mutation? You can find a precise definition in any genetics textbook. But such a definition is only professional jargon which doesn’t make any sense to ordinary people who have a much broader view. Gene mutation is really the decay of our genetic material, DNA. It decays like a deserted city which eventually becomes ruined, not distinguishable from its natural surroundings. Gene mutation is part of the universal process, a process from order to chaos.
Human body uses haemoglobin, one of the thousands of proteins, to transport oxygen. Most mutations of the haemoglobin gene are neutral if they do not affect the binding and releasing capacities of oxygen. When they do, as you can imagine, the mutations usually reduce the binding and releasing capacities except a few which benefit human beings. Many of them may be lethal, such as those which kill the fetus within the first few weeks of pregnancy. Some peculiar examples are those mutations that make it much harder for malaria parasites to grow inside the red cells, therefore the patients become resistant to malaria infection.
Human evolution gave way
to cultural evolution when our first ancestors appeared one hundred thousand years ago in
Some scholars believe that the driving force for this cultural evolution of human society is still mutation: cultural mutation, which is far removed from conventional thinking. Statistics also tell us that a genius’s close relatives have a high rate of schizophrenia. As a direct result, such non-conventional even abnormal behaviours can be hallmarks of genius for certain people. One group of literature and artistic virtuosoes in the last century was called decadents. The term implies that they were geniuses in art and literature but decaying elements in society. I recently watched a video, Total Eclipse. It was about the life and relationship of two notable French decadent poets, Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine. It was an experience of humiliation and indignity to watch such a movie. The occasional reciting of their beautiful poems was not enough to serve as a palliative dose against the pain it caused. Their lives moved along a zigzag course straddling the line between creative talent and the most destructive force. The destructive force not only ruined themselves but also ruined anyone who happened to be related to them, though the video tries to obscure this part. In an incident, Verlaine left his infant daughter to his wife and fled with Rimbaud. They caused pain and trouble everywhere.
What about scientists? A Chinese scientist may serve as an example to illustrate the mutated unconventional elements of scientific minds, which can also be destructive when powered by politics.
In the late 1940s and
early 1950s, a young intelligent Chinese man, named Chan, studied nuclear
physics in the
In the 1950s,
Twenty years later in
1978, two years after Mao died, a provincial Chinese newspaper carried an
unusual news story saying that an 11 year old boy could read books with his
ears. Chinese newspapers did not normally carry such news and regarded it as superstitious. That
provincial newspaper received severe criticism from its superior office, and
published a correction and apology a few days later, saying the boy was a liar
and played tricks to get cigarettes. But Mr. Chan, now a much more powerful and
influential figure both in politics and in science, interfered in this matter,
saying it was possible to read books with one’s ears. The boy’s story went to the national
newspaper, People’s Daily the next day. An additional 50 boys from the same
region were encouraged by the news and claimed the same ability. Due to Chan’s
strong, perverse, unyielding support, within in a few years, numerous
supernatural persons emerged from all over China, who, mostly poorly
educated, claimed that they could not
only read books with their ears but also
could cook meals in their bare hands, fly into the sky without any wings, go
through solid walls, and so on. There were many research institutes and
numerous publications that promoted such miracle making. Nobody dared to say
anything. The former general secretary of the Party Mr. Hu,
whose death triggered the Tiananmen Square Events in 1989, was reported to have
once said, “
Some American scientists
heard the story and went to
One young man claimed that he could do four kinds of miracles including going through solid walls. He also claimed that he was the only person in the world who could talk to God and persuade him to postpone his plan to explode our planet. But this young man took a political approach, which made him different from Mr. Chan who was most loyal to the party. One day, twenty thousand of his followers marched in front of the Chinese Communist Party’s Headquarters. The Party leaders were outraged and arrested many of them. The Party started an all-out national campaign against those superstitions.
What has been the reaction of the one billion Chinese people? They now use those “miracles” as a laughing-stock to cheer themselves up in their busy life. You can hear people talking on the streets: “Can you cook me a meal using your bare hands? I am hungry.” “Were you trying to fly when you fell off your bicycle?” and so on. Is there something missing in those sarcastic jokes? One thing is certain. Jesus had to hear the sarcastic questions when he was crucified, “Can your father save you?” Two thousand years later, some Chinese prisoners have to face similar questions: “Can you go through the prison walls to escape?”