Monday, August 22, 2005

For the "scientifically pointless effort" file

Tuesday's (08/16/2005) New York Times published a story on creating simple organisms in silico using other simple organisms, like the intestinal bacterium E. coli, as a model. The effort reminds me of a very short story by Jorge Luis Borges, which I reprint here in its entirety:

...In that empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forbears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography. -- Jorge Luis Borges, "On Exactitude in Science", The Maker, 1960

The effort to create an artificial organism in a computer reminds me of the lottery player who buys $120 million in tickets for the $120 million Powerball.

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