BookNotes: Jurassic Park
By Michael Crichton, Ballantine Books, 1990, 0-345-37473-8
Rich dinosaur freak gets paleo-DNA and genetically engineers modern dinosaurs off an island in Costa Rica. He hires the best of the best to do the work, but a mathematician from U of T predicts that the experiment will end in disaster (chaos). The entire complex is computer controlled. The hacker gets away with leaving a trap door in the system and tries to steal some of the DNA during a storm by shutting off all security that controls the animals. The animals get loose and chaos ensues. The end is the destruction of the island by the Costa Rican National guard.
[p128] Conversation is about a table describing the animals.
“Grant said, `What is the right-hand column?’
`Release version of the animals. The most recent are version 4.1 or 4.3. We’re considering going to version 4.4.’
`Version numbers? You mean like software? New releases?’
Well, yes,' Arnold said.It is like software, in a way. As we discover the glitches in the DNA, Dr. Wu’s labs have to make a new version number.’
[p170] “Grant said, `You must feel vindicated. About your theory.’
`As a matter of fact, I’m feeling a bit of dread. I suspect we are at a very dangerous point.’
`Do mathematicians believe in intuition?’
Absolutely. Very important, intuition. Actually, I was thinking of fractals,' Malcolm said.You know about fractals?’
Grant shook his head.Not really, no.’
`Fractals are a kind of geometry, associated with a man named Mandelbrot. Unlike ordinary Euclidean geometry that everybody learns in school–squares and cubes and spheres–fractal geometry appears to describe real objects in the natural world. Mountains and clouds are fractal shapes. So fractals are probably related to reality. Somehow.
`Well, Mandelbrot found a remarkable thing with his geometric tools. He found that things looked almost identical at different scales.’
`At different scales?’ Grant said.
For example,' Malcolm said,a big mountain, seen from far away, has a certain rugged mountain shape. If you get closer, and examine a small peak of the big mountain, it will have the same mountain shape. In fact, you can go all the way down the scale to a tiny speck of rock, seen under a microscope–it will have the same basic fractal shape as the big mountain.’
`I don’t really see why this is worrying you,’ Grant said. He yawned…
It's a way of looking at things,' Malcolm said.Mandelbrot found a sameness from the smallest to the largest. And this sameness of scale also occurs for events.’
Consider cotton prices,' Malcolm said.There are good records of cotton prices going back more than a hundred years. When you study fluctuations in cotton prices, you find that the graph of price fluctuations in the couse of a day looks basically like the graph for a week, which looks basically like the graph for a year, or for ten years. And that’s how things are. A day is like a whole life. You start out doing one thing, but end up doing something else, plan to run an errand, but never get there…. And at the end of your life, your whole existence has the same haphazard quality, too. Your whole life has the same shape as a single day.’
`I guess it’s one way to look at things,’ Grant said.
No,' Malcolm said.It’s the only way to look at things. At least, the only way that is true to reality. You see, the fractal idea of someness carries within it an aspect of recursion, a kind of doubling back on itself, which means that events are unpredictable. That they can change suddenly, and without warning.’
But we have soothed ourselves into imagining sudden change as something that happens outside the normal order of things. An accident, like a car crash. Or beyond our control, like a fatal illness. We do not conceive of sudden, radical, irrational change as built into the very frabric of existence. Yet it is. And chaos theory teaches us,' Malcolm said,that straight linearity, which we have come to take for granted in everything from physics to fiction, simply does not exist. Linearity is an artificial way of viewing the world. Real life isn’t a series of interconnected events occurring one after another like beads strung on a necklace. Life is actually a series of encounters in which one event may change those that follow in a wholly unpredictable, even devastating way.’ … `That’s the deap truth about the structure of our universe. But, for some reason, we insist on behaving as if it were not true.’”
[p175] “The problems with the security system were high on Jurassic Park’s bug list. Nedry wondered if anybody ever imagined that it wasn’t a bug–that Nedry had programmed it that way. He had built in a classic trap door. Few programmers of large computer systems could resist the temptation to leave themselves a secret entrance. Partly it was common sense: if inept users locked up the system–and then called you for help–you always had a way to get in and repair the mess. And partly it was a kind of signature: Kilroy was here.”
[p200] Hammond speaking, “`Unfortunately, drugs face all kinds of barriers. FDA testing alone takes five to eight years–if you’re lucky. Even worse, there are forces at work in the marketplace. Suppose you amke a miracle drug for cancer or heart disease–as Genentech did. Suppose you now want to charge a thousand dollars or two thousand dollars a dose. You might imagine that is your plivilege. After all, you invented the drug, you paid to develop and test it; you should be able to charge whateven you wish. But do you really think that the government will let you do that? No, Henry, they will not. Sick people aren’t going to pay a thousand dollars a dose for needed medication–they won’t be grateful, they’ll be outraged. Blue Cross isn’t going to pay it. They’ll scream highway robbery. So something will happen. Your patent application will be denied. Your permits will be delayed. Something will force you to see reason–and to sell your drug at a lower cost. From a business standpoint, that makes helping mankind a very risky business. Personally, I would never help mankind.’
Now,' Hammond said,think how different it is when you’re making entertainment. Nobody needs entertainment. That’s not a matter for government intervention. If I charge five thousand dollars a day for my park, who is going to stop me? After al, nobody needs to come here. And, far from being highway robbery, a costly price tag actually increases the appeal of the park. A visit becomes a status symbol, and all Americans love that. So do the Japanese, and of course they have far more money.’”
No. I'll tell you the problem with engineers and scientists. Scientists have an elaborate line of bullshit about how they are seeking to know the truth about nature. Which is true, but that's not what drives them. Nobody is driving by abstractions likeseeking truth.’
`Scientists are actually preoccupied with accomplishment. So they are focused on whether they can do something. They never stop to ask if they should do something. They conveniently define such considerations as pointless. If they don’t do it, someone else will.
Discovery, they believe, is inevitable. So they just try to do it first. That’s the game in science. Even pure scientific discovery is an aggressiv, penetrative act. It takes big equipment, and it literally changes the world afterward. Particle accelerators scar the land, and leave radioactive byproducts. Astronauts leave trash on the moon. There is always some proof that scientists were there, making their discoveries. Discovery is always a rape of the natural world. Always.
`The scientists want it that way. They have to stick their instruments in. They have to leave their mark. They can’t just watch. They can’t just appreciate. They can’t just fit into the natural order. They have to make something unnatural happen. That is the scientist’s job, and now we have whole societies that try to be scientific.’
`But then we’d lose all the advances—’
What advances?' Malcolm said irritably.The number of hourse women devote to housework has not changed since 1930, despite all the advances. All the vacuum cleaners, whasher-dryers, trash compactors, garbage disposals, wash-and-wear fabrics… Why does it still take as long to clean the house as it did in 1930?’
Because there haven't been any advances,' Malcolm said.Not really. Thirty thousand years ago, when men were doing cave paintings at Lascaux, they worked twenty hours a week to provide themselves with food and shelter and clothing. The rest of the tim, they could play, or sleep, or do whatever they wanted. And they lived in a natural world, with clean air, clean water, beautiful trees and sunsets. Think about it. Twenty hours a week. Thirty thousand years ago.’”