Sunday, 19 June 2016

I hate cancer

This makes me sad. At this rate, they're likely to find an earth-like planet, similar in size, composition and gravity as the Earth - and with water - in just a few years. And in several years they'll have ideas for building bigger and better spacecraft, along with safer and more reliable ways to get those vessels into space, and better ways to communicate among them. They'll design better rovers and robots, and maybe a decade or two after that, they'll send one of these on a freighter craft to one of these new planets. And little by little these tiny little metal proxies will work their way out beyond our solar neighbourhood into the vastness.

But you know what else is going to happen during that time? We're going to get older. Our kids will get older. They'll stop being kids. They'll stop walking around with their heads lifted to the sky and instead will have their heads down, shoulders slumped, bearing all the burdens of this world that we left for them.

Our clocks wind down too fast. And for most of us, the clocks wind down to the inevitable: cancer.

The truth is that DNA is not the code of life. It's the code of death. It's a counter. And each successive cell division decrements the counter until it hits zero and the cell divides not into its twin but into its devourer. The counter hits zero and biology throws a segmentation fault. DNA, like Time, eats its children.

I'm happy that there is a very real scientific and practical possibility that we will find other planets which can sustain the human species even if it doesn't support species of its own. I am happy with the joy of a child dreaming of other planets who grows into a cynical adult before discovering those dreams are real. The rediscovery of happiness. But I am sad that my clock will run down before I ever see my dreamed-of planets.

Is that selfish? I guess it is. Discovery and exploration both are selfish endeavours. We want to go where we haven't, and we want to understand the things we don't for no other reason than greed for knowledge..

We don't know how to cure cancer. This makes me sad too. Is this such a difficult problem? It isn't quantum electrodynamics. It isn't black holes or entanglement. Those problems were solved before the invention of electronic calculators. In comparison, cancer is simply an engineering problem. Can't we make it so DNA doesn't decay? Isn't there some kind of proteomic bandpass filter we can build that will pass through the genetic signal and cut out the noise? I feel like at the heart of cancer is an undiscovered secret about how cells, genes and DNA really work. And if we learn that secret then all the big problems of medicine will fall in turn like a dusty rack of dominoes. Cancer, ageing, heart disease, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's. Let's dispense with the fun runs, the 5k's, the ribbons and the other nonsense. Let's just throw a trillion dollars at the problem and be done with it.

Because it's our bodies that are keeping us down here, on Earth. These sacks of meat and water that suit us in youth and only for a short time before they turn against us. DNA is the mortal coil that enchains us.

The Earth let us go 60 years ago. It revealed its secrets, gave up the resources we need to slip its bonds and set out on our own. This tiny little moist and mossy rock that's served us so well since we first learned to rub sticks together has warmed us and sheltered us and at night shown us the universe from the safety of its atmospheric arms. It taught us everything it knows and gave everything it can. What more can you ask of a mother.

Maybe all that's happened in the environment over the last 60 years is Earth's not-so-subtle way of telling us it's time to move out. We grew up. We saw what's waiting for us out there. But it's as if we graduated college and moved back home. The Earth is remodelling our bedrooms into a playground for the deer and the dolphins and it wants us to go, to go back to finishing what we started.

And I want to go. We all want to go. There are so many unfathomable sunsets to see, so many strange waters to drink. Lavender snows and iridescent skies. Oceans of pearl and trees like mountains. Flowers in innumerable colours: beautiful and terrible. Colours so bright and vibrant as to be unseeable. Bright browns, dark pinks, blinding purples. Entire forests out of gamut. Worlds as divergent and breathtaking as the dreams of lovers.

All these heavens and oblivions.

I hate cancer

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