Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Tick-Tock of the Doomsday Clock

Alexis Glynn Latner here. Due to events in my life right now, I’m going to be blogging about our topic – no fear of the future – and how it hits home for me.

In the early 1980’s, in the lobby of the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, I happened upon a physical replica of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock. That was (and still is) the emblem of that journal’s editorial board’s opinion about the world’s nuclear danger. When I saw the replica, the hands of the clock stood at several minutes before midnight. It was scary. The sliver of the analog clock face looked way too thin for comfort.

That was a fear of the future moment in my life.

Another such moment was several days ago, when I sat with my mother in a medical clinic while she had an MRI. The MRI machine ticked, tocked, clicked and thrummed as it imaged her brain. The results aren’t in yet, but it’s likely that the final diagnosis will be senile dementia. Someone famously said that being human means knowing that you are a being who will die. I might add that if you’re unclear on the concept, just have a parent who's dying by unpredictable degrees – memory, coordination, judgment and sanity guttering like a candle flame. If that won't make you fear the future, nothing will.

Of course there might be a treatable medical condition – diabetes, transient strokes – causing my mother’s mental and physical symptoms. Modern medicine may do a low save on her wellbeing and give her a few more good years. I hope so. Her friends hope so. Medicine and biomedical science are very good. Especially when they go up against a well-defined illness with a specific cause and effective cure. Senile dementias, unfortunately, are none of the above. Not easy to define, no specific cause, no cure. I am not a happy camper about this happening to my mother. In other words, I am afraid of the future.

Yet the MRI machine was really cool. With its clicking, ticking, and bursts of loud thrumming – loud enough that the technician gave my mother earplugs, and handed me a pair too, even though I was in chair in the far corner of the room! – it was doing something marvelous: imaging a living human brain. The MRI machine is an extremely cool tool in modern medicine's tool bag for seeing and sometimes healing the biological stuff of which we're made.

Why not fear the future? Sometimes, I don’t know why not, and right now is one of those times. Yet... there is wonder in the world, including the revelations of science and the wonderful as well as terrible fruits of engineering. There’s age, death, and a Doomsday Clock. But there is also wonder. That's far from a complete answer as to why not fear the future. But it’s a start.

No comments: