The Science of Future Possibilities
DIRECTED BY ADAM BOLT / 2020
Human Nature is a brilliant documentary because it is balanced. But not balanced in the forced, dishonest way that some documentaries are. Where one side complains they aren’t heard enough when more than likely that side has terrible ideas. It’s not balanced in a way that feels insincere to the director’s thesis, where there is an inclusion of people that have no right competing with experts, like a movie about stem-cell research that a group of Sunday school teachers want to give their scientific view on.
It is balanced, rather, in the cold, philosophical way that scientific dilemmas present decisions that need to be made. Where a new advancement brings possibilities that are both as large in potential as they are problematic. And what Human Nature helps explore, both in these advancements and how they may be used or misused, is truly what it advertises: the nature of humanity.
Now some of the science went way over my head, and that’s okay. If I’m watching a movie on science, I’m going to need them to be far more advanced than I am. But the graphics help bring it down to a level that I understand (mostly). And luckily, it is an entertaining and breezy ninety minutes. Going back and watching again does not sound like a chore.
Human Nature goes through the history of gene-related therapies, which date back to 1974, and explains how scientists have been powerless to separate individual segments of DNA, until the creation of a modern scientific tool called CRISPR. The science gets much deeper, but in laymen terms, this new invention CRISPR allows us to boost the basis of everything we are, DNA, to godlike levels.
So, essentially, we can all be perfect. Which begs the question, is perfection irrelevant if we can all achieve it? But it also begs, quite possibly a more important question, what is perfection? We all think we know a version of perfection. I know I do. When I think of perfection, I think of an intellectual, good-looking dude, long, wavy hair (I have no hair), and whose features are as sharp as his mind. But, what did I miss? Is he good at sports? No, because I don’t care. Can he build a house? No, because I don’t care. Is he rich? No, because I don’t care. And you bring in the next guy, ask him his perfect version, and he will tell you he wants a guy who excels at sports, can build a house and is rich.
There is an interviewer in Human Nature who gives a similar anecdote. After giving a speech on the power of CRISPR, a beautiful tall woman tells him it’s sad because everyone will want to be beautiful and tall. A nerd tells him it’s sad because everyone will want to be smart. And on and on. People assume their version of perfect is everyone else’s and yet human subjectivity is still at play, even while looking for an ideal perfection.
I loved how every step of the way, questions are presented. If we can snip away the part of the DNA that makes us feel pain, would we do it? Well, no, since pain is a protective warning for the body of danger. Except, what if a cancer patient has three months to live? Why do they have to be in agonizing pain? What about sickle cell disease, which one of the featured subjects has. Would we repair that and forever fix it? Of course, except, sickle cell actually protects people in Africa and the Mediterranean of malaria. Are we just weakening them?
Perhaps I have a fascination with science that sucked me in, but I was hooked the whole movie. And while watching, I just thought of Jeff Goldblum, in Jurassic Park, saying, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Until, eventually, the movie plays that exact clip. Which made me realize, that isn’t just a quote from a 1993 movie, that is the adage of the future.