I’m just reading the Slime: "According to Dr. Peter Butler, a consulting plastic surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital in London, the technology is now in place for surgeons to perform a full-face transplant." Such technology would be useful, according to Dr. Butler, for "someone whose natural face has been severely disfigured either by disease or an accident." Or Michael Jackson.

Actually, the further I read, the less scary it seems. Butler acknowledges "identity is a central issue—'will I look like the donor?'...But what we're proposing is taking the skin envelope with or without some muscle. So," he explains to the journalist interviewing him, "if I were to transplant my face onto you, it would look much more like you than me, because the skin envelope is elastic. It would redrape around your bone and cartilage structure. The things you would have of mine are skin tone, texture, eyebrow color, beard, things of that nature. That's why what I'm doing now is establishing a database for what is essentially a matching process."

The journalist explains: "The typical candidates under consideration by Butler and his team for their initial attempt are people with such severe facial burns that they have lost not merely appearance but also normal facial function. 'Their face is disintegrated,' he said. 'They have no nose. No ears. The eyes won't close properly, leaving them open to infection. They aren't able to open their mouths. So these patients, aside from the aesthetic considerations, would have a considerable improvement in quality of life.'"

Butler is currently limiting his efforts to the most superficial layers, since the deeper you go the greater the risk of "dyskinesia, an internal misfiring of nerve signals that could leave patients twitching uncontrollably or smiling when they mean to frown."

The author of the piece, a certain Charles Siebert, waxes a little too poetic for my taste. He says "our focus... remains fixed upon the matter of being us rather than the matter of our being." But we’re beginning to see things differently, and, he seems to think, more accurately. "We are on the cusp of being able to see even our faces -- the most easily abstracted aspect of our existence -- as one more part of our biology. That would somehow represent the most profound advance in the process of understanding who we are and what we are really seeing when we look in a mirror." But I honestly don’t see what good it does anyone to think of themselves in merely biological terms. Again, the author: "We tend to fancy ourselves apart from the rest of nature. It is an isolating trick of our consciousness and that story we live by, one that naturally makes us want to transcend our mortal confines and seek answers about our origins and true essences in a noncorporeal, unearthly realm. The ultimate paradox is that those answers are all contained within our DNA, life's common biological clay: the dynamically perfect and scintillic symmetries of which we and all other creatures are just brief and increasingly interchangeable assemblages." OK, and? I mean, really. It’s like Robert Wright beating it into your head for four hundred pages that, no offense, but Nature doesn’t give a fat rat’s ass about you, she just wants your sperm. Well, I’ve got plenty. But what do you do for the rest of the day? I mean, once you’ve shot your wad for God?

I was reading a couple other recent pieces from the science section some days ago, one about cosmology and another about string theory, where you’ve got nature comprised of "tiny strings vibrating in 10 dimensions of space-time." And the universe, cosmologists have calculated, "is 13.89 billion years old, plus or minus half a billion years. Only 4.8 percent of it is made of ordinary matter. Matter of all types, known and unknown, luminous and dark, accounts for just 27.5 percent. The rest of creation, 72.5 percent, is the mysterious dark energy." I’m sorry, but it sounds pretty noncorporeal and unearthly to me. It’s true enough that what we see is only an infinitesimal part of the picture. And you have people like this bloke, and even artist like Lucian Freud saying, basically, the head’s just another limb. I don’t know. I still think the eyes are the windows of the soul. And I do think faces matter. I can’t really gaze into your DNA structure. I can’t see your cells smiling. I’m a simple guy. I’m easily confused. I suppose we could all have a barcode and a scanner on a belt to identify one another, but why fix what ain’t broke? I’ll keep my own face, thanks.


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