Julia and the Dream Maker

Three graduate students in search of a little extra money create a toy for profit that pushes the limits of artificial intelligence and changes their future. One student lands in jail charged with violating genetic manipulation laws, while another becomes more deeply involved with their creation, Julia. Elements of science and fiction intertwine in this compelling tale. A new era of human history is ushered in through the enterprising activities of cash-strapped graduate students. There’s a fine line between “can” and “should.” In Julia and the Dream Maker, P. J. Fischer asks what would happen if we choose “can” and tamper with evolution?

This book is part of the Rethinking the Future® Series, which continues with Green Eyes in the Amazon.

Buy Now trade ordering information


Trade Paperback
Fiction/Evolution & Transhumanism
Science Fiction
306 pages
Minted Prose, LLC
6" x 9"
Age Level
14 and up
Worldwide Rights Available
Rethinking the Future®
Publication Date:
December 2003
14.6 ounces
Perfect Gift For:
Sci-Fi Buffs, Science and Math Aficionados


“Blending science fiction with heavy doses of theology and biology, Fischer’s novel is a deep, thought-provoking work.”
—Barnes & Noble.com

“. . . Julia delivers the goods. . . . Fischer’s premise is a whopper, that life on Earth can be expressed as a series of mathematical equations that, if let loose in the data-rich web of cyberspace, will mutate in marvelous, unpredictable ways.”
Willamette Week

“ . . . the future of science, all science, is not what it used to be.”
The Kansas City Star

“P. J. Fischer has a true storyteller’s talent . . . Highly recommended and entertaining reading for science fiction fans, Julia and the Dream Maker will leave the reader looking eagerly forward to the next book in Fischer’s deftly crafted series.”
Midwest Book Review

“Fischer’s world is strong on imagery . . . A successful introduction to the series.”
The Denver Post

“One need not be a techno-geek to appreciate . . . the cliffhanger ending that gets Fischer’s planned multi-volume series off to an auspicious start.”
ForeWord Magazine

“An eloquently written novel . . . Leaves you wanting more.”

“A ripping good yarn.”
—Nth Degree, The Fiction and Fandom 'Zine

“Fischer uses science set in the near future, but there are also elements of something more.”
WSFA Journal

“The characters are three-dimensional. . . . The problem of the unforeseen consequences of scientific discovery is made explicit.”
Science Books & Film

“You might just find yourself hooked.”
Statesman Journal



The petting zoo was a success, but the rest of the project wasn’t. Most of the people that Steven dealt with that week after the zoo trip were up to the usual things of life, ordinary things really. Combing one’s hair or just going to work. Or just having coffee with a neighbor, over some ham and eggs with a hefty smattering of complaints about relatives and the weather. Traffic was a favorite topic, combined with a long round of disbelief about venial politicians and why nothing works the way it used to.

Even Steven himself—he was part of the great masses, moving about with normal things to do as well. But none of his days had been very ordinary the last few weeks. He looked like an average guy with his blue shirts and khaki pants. His appearance was fine, albeit a little absentminded. And he realized that it was really true; he was becoming very absentminded.

A person can get that way wandering around in his own head. For weeks, Steven had been making connections that he had not thought about before. Connections that everyone else he had ever read or talked with had not made before. Not just the chemical details of what the world was, but rather what it was going to become. What he was going to make it become.

His mood was good, but it shocked him a little to realize what was happening. His work always showed the same thing: The life force is multidimensional, not just philosophically but mathematically. Whatever life is, it is not just about flowers growing in the rain. Life is also about the way the math feeds on itself and makes his equations come to life. The dissertation still didn’t interest him much, but the equations in it now interested him intensely.

Life is a result. It is the solution to the set of life’s equations. People search for it so hard, wanting to know its essence, and tear at life with tools to see how it works, as though the machines of life—its cells, molecules, and chemicals—are life or could ever reveal what it really consists of, or how it could be managed. What people pursued with relentless curiosity, Steven was finding, blew through them like the solar wind, erupting unstoppably from rocks or rain. Yes, he kept thinking, unstoppably. It is not going to be for us to say what is going to be alive or what that life is going to do in the future. Or when coefficients in the equations are going to demand a new form of life emerge. But we could find the equations-seeing the equations, we could see our lives, and, as well, we could see the limits.

Steven could take the limit of the functions and see life at its limits. His equations were going to create new life.

Everything mankind had ever done created some kind of new life. People just didn’t see it happening because they weren’t looking for it. Of course, they saw it in what they called the environment. There, anything that makes nature spout a new kind of life put chills in humans. Or, even worse, when people deliberately created new kinds of life and put them into the environment, it was made a crime. But what was happening?

Every time we altered the world around us, we were just farmers stirring up the soil in the field. We were evolution’s agent.

And it was done again. Steven was doing it. He was bringing on a new evolution by letting the equations of life find digital solutions in electronic ether. Nature was going to see a new species of life in the garden of all living things. Steven was beginning to realize it.

It was a big insight for Steven—he was a farmer after all, tilling up Eden. But maybe he had known that all along. It’s just that he was making a whole bunch of Edens erupt on the inside of his computer, with his math and databases as tools. They were real ones, or at least as real as any other Eden. And Steven found this realization really cool.

Of course, being nature’s little earthworm turning over the soil of life was a little unromantic even for Steven, so he began thinking about how discoveries are made. His mind was consumed again by thoughts about the adventurers who had come before, and their ships and their trains or whatever it had taken to get them there. Square Roman sails, tall-masted ships. Or laboratories?

Yes, thinking about it put him in a good mood as he drove to school with the car in manual mode. He felt anxious but happy. He hadn’t paid a lot of attention to exactly what he had done since he had awakened that day. He did know that he was late, but he had determined that when he was done with his various tasks, he was going to take the rest of the day off. Thinking like that was a kind of fertilizer for his mind.

That’s what Steven did when he was stuck on a problem. He may be a farmer, but right now he needed a new plow. He had a great overall plan, but he owed Bennie a solution—a real set of code—and pretty soon at that. The glitch at this point was such that he had no idea how he was going to deliver. The original proposition had seemed simple enough: write a computer program that would act the right way. He had the core code because he had the basic equations, but the model had to be tuned up. He needed to find the numerical value of a lot of coefficients to get the specific result he needed (i.e., a bunny).

Okay, so he needed to give Bennie a math program, which was a bunch of computer code. His equations could guide the program development, but Bennie’s program was going to mainly be developed by just trial and error. After succeeding with the toy bunny, he could use his equations to make a real-life living bunny—for Eli. And maybe more.

But Bennie’s project was first. Steven thought of it as a kind of game. All he had to do was program some machine to learn about how to behave the appropriate way. Little pieces of that problem had been done a thousand times before him and had been published in the academic press. He was going to put it all together by letting the program fit the pieces into one whole picture. The program would get one point if it did the correct thing and minus one point if it failed. Steven would write a program that would further write a billion programs. The program that accumulated the most points would live, and all the other ones would die. It was a little harsh, but it would work.

It wasn’t going to be as simple as he’d hoped, though. Steven had a data problem. If he really wanted to build the cuddly little thing Bennie had proposed, he was going to have to know what was happening inside the animal, such as what happened inside the tiny brown bunny while Eli was cooing over it at the zoo.

He tried his original plan, but it was a flop. He could mimic some of what was going on, but if he truly was going to do it, he was going to need to do more. He needed to know the exact chemistry of what was going on inside the rabbit. Steven had another problem, too: What he had done to date, Bennie could have done. It may have taken Bennie longer, but he could have done it—and that was reason enough to do more. Otherwise, Steven was going to end up making another fuzzy toy with a squeaky computer-generated voice like Bennie’s last one.

So right now he was thinking about adventurers. That was not what he was supposed to be thinking about, which was why he was thinking about it. He parked the car and walked across the quad on his way to hand in a physical draft of his dissertation. It wasn’t very large by dissertation standards, no more than two hundred pages of very dense mathematics. It irritated him to have to tote it in. Why anyone now required physical drafts was far beyond him, but it was the law of the university, however silly it seemed. Tradition was crap at this point as far as he was concerned.

He would have sent the thing in for a formal review a week ago if they would have officially accepted it. He sent it unofficially anyway to Professor Bernard, who was no fool. He had read it, which meant that Steven was likely to get some response today. He would endure it and then look in to see what Eli was up to.

His pager chip started to ring. He had forgotten to turn it off.


“Hi, Dad.”

“Steven, how are you doing?”

“I’m fine. I’m on my way to hand in an official copy of my draft. Guess they want to make the students come to campus to get their degrees.”

“University rules always struck me as odd, too. But, Steven, the power company just sent me a copy of the power bill for the Farm. It’s pretty big. Are you building reactors out there? . . . I’m happy to help if you need the money, Son. I remember things being tight when I was a student, too.”

“No, Dad, it’s a one-time bill. I’ll pay it. Just an experiment.”

“I’m not concerned about the money, Son. It’s just that when we originally put in all that capacity, well, I never really expected that you would actually need it.”

“It’s just this experiment. It’s just for one time.”

“Steven, is everything all right?”

“Yes, Dad. I’m just a little fidgety about seeing Bernard.”

“Okay. But call me if you need anything.”

“I will, Dad.”

“All right. I’ve got a meeting. Good luck.”

Steven disconnected. Who else was going to notice that he was using enough power for a small city? He had to figure this thing out. And soon.

He swung by the biotech building and took the elevator to the fifth floor. The place was busy, but both Bernard and Eli were off somewhere with the rest of his staff. Steven took a deep breath. He was relieved but too ill at ease to celebrate. He dropped off the draft and snuck out, then he went over to the student center and got a cup of coffee. The place was crowded (students being the social animals they are), but he managed to find a small table in the corner. He used his pager chip to click into the learning Web and breezed over articles on rabbit physiology. His daydream hadn’t left him, though . . . he was thinking about ships, which made him think about the sun boats. Those great polished wooden ships, which he had seen as a kid in Egypt, were built five millennia ago, ships that took men to their destiny, or at least in the case of pharaohs to their afterlife.

Steven’s mind eventually came back to his problem. The mechanical stuff he could figure out, and the program itself seemed pretty capable of laying out the physiology, with the help of his dissertation. The problem came with the personality. Just photographing behavior as he had done with the home movies at the zoo wasn’t going to cut it. He needed something more radical, which cut into the actual chemistry of people and animals and how they felt toward each other.

He was getting nowhere. Something about this place really brought the zoo back to him. There were lots of rabbits in the world now; they used to be used widely in experiments, so their chemistry was well explored in the past, but with today’s advanced procedures they weren’t. As far as Steven knew, rabbit chemistry and biology hadn’t been of interest to scientists in a long time.

Except for talent for procreation, which comes naturally to a rabbit (and in spades) but can be one heck of a challenge to a lot of people, no one would care about investigating them. Now, some curious and greedy drug company might have been terribly interested in exactly how procreation happened in rabbits and why it was different from people—they might have paid real money to some researchers at a university to find out the chemistry and physics of rabbits at a very detailed level. The researchers would also likely publish a bunch of their results, because academics do not live by bread alone . . . they need publications, too.

Steven decided to investigate the existing research, and pretty soon he was discovering titles from the library about gene chip mapping during rabbit mating, etc. In one study, chemists had wanted to see what part of the DNA was turned on when the bunny was “turned on.” Steven may have gotten a chuckle out of it, but the researchers had been serious about the work. Perhaps it was the missing piece of Steven’s rabbit project. To get the type of rabbit they wanted, they would need to record everything about the rabbit, including what the critter was like at all sorts of times. Right down to how it grew its fur.

The data Steven was pulling up on the library database was perfect. Whoever had paid for the research had let the researchers publish volumes of information. The researchers had needed to know what the lab technicians were doing to the animals, of course. In order to be published, the data needed to be as complete as possible, including the human side, such as the chemistry of the lab technicians. It was a huge volume of data. But Steven now knew where to get what he needed for background for the rabbit program. He started to relax and take in his surroundings more.

Rabbits. Eli and he never had to go to the zoo to see rabbits; this was a zoo, and a good piece of what was happening right in front of him was very rabbitlike. Well, adult rabbitlike, behavior Steven would not be able to include in any toy rabbits they would sell to children. But Steven figured that he had made some good progress on the toy rabbit problem, and he decided that he deserved to spend a recreational moment watching the mating rituals that he saw being practiced all over this place.

That line of thought didn’t help Steven when he saw Eli with her group. They were on the far side of the room, minus their usual lab gear. Three women and a male colleague whom Steven didn’t know. Probably a new member of the team. But there was no Bernard, which meant that pretty soon Steven was going to have to go back to look for him at his office. Still, observing the group was suddenly interesting. They were a team full of conspiracies and rivalries. Nothing serious, but amusing. And they had a host of friends wandering by to say hello, to Eli in particular. She seemed to know everyone.

Steven saw George and Larry come in. Maybe this was going to be more fun than he’d expected. He crouched a little behind a somewhat oversized freshman. Now, here was conspiracy hatching. They got food and sat a few feet from him, hotly debating something, and they seemed to be in no mood for crowd watching. Steven decided then and there that he would get coffee a lot more often. He was obviously missing out on way too much by keeping to his lab.

Steven couldn’t hear their exact words, but George seemed furious about something and kept pointing at Larry with an accusing finger. Then Steven saw the word form on George’s lips: military. This is a foreign word among graduate students in bio. Like bulldozer among the architecture students. It had the resonating sound of an atheist at an ordination. It did not belong. It was inappropriate and impious, although there wasn’t anything sacred happening here except for purely open discourse. And the students’ general collaboration in the creation and pursuit of some very alien future. The university was the hotbed of tomorrow, and here was this word military. From one of his own.

Steven thought about it. He was struck by the word, but maybe he was overreacting, he thought. Could George and Larry be plotting against the military? That had happened here before; well, not to overthrow, but to outwit. Challenging the military was the master game. When you got tired of defeating the other students in intellectual games, it was time to access the military’s computers and manipulate a little of their own programming to, let’s say, make the paymaster issue a check for a hundred million dollars to some four-star general. It could be a lot of fun, and George, he knew, had pulled a funny or two last year. None at Steven’s expense, fortunately. But this was such a heated exchange that others in the room began looking. Not cool. And suddenly George and Larry noticed and stopped cold.

Still red in the face and visibly disturbed, Larry left.

This was not funny. Something was wrong. Steven wanted a little time to ponder that but even more to look at Eli and at the same time avoid seeing his prof, so he sat, crouched like a cat in some weeds. Eli’s group recovered from the breach of etiquette; they were used to someone misbehaving periodically. Not unusual in that group, especially when hormones competed with consciousness, frequently producing some sort of dissent and confusion.

Steven thought about George and Larry. Both of them, but especially George, were always a little at odds with the group when they should have fit in easily. George’s problem was that he tried too hard, exaggerating his successes when he didn’t need to. It gave him an edge that rubbed the others the wrong way. He was talented enough for the program, but chafed under the tutelage he got in classes. And now he was brooding over something, rolling a glass of water in his hands while he worked his way through some problem. He painstakingly and methodically picked apart a sandwich with the precision of a surgeon, not looking up except to glance over in Eli’s direction once or twice. Finally, he finished half of the sandwich, pushed some crumbs into a pile, stood up, and headed very deliberately for Eli’s group.

Eli didn’t notice George for a minute. When she did, the smile left her face. He stood over her and spoke.

“So the old man’s giving his postdocs some time off these days. He must be getting soft,” George said in a raspy voice. Eli looked up at him and then at the others. There was a pause. Then one of the other women said, “Well, George, we haven’t seen you in a while. Don’t you go to class anymore?”

“I took a week off and went skiing in Vail. Great powder.”

“It’s a little late for skiing, isn’t it?” Eli said, observing that George looked neither tanned nor windblown. If this guy had spent the week on the slopes, he hadn’t gotten anything for it.

Steven was watching, ready to come to the rescue, but it was apparent from across the room (even without the benefit of audio) that Eli and the group were up to a George challenge. In fact, they were up to a George challenge long before George knew how to be a challenge. There were ways to impress the women in the group. This approach was a tried and true failure, though. The conversation went on for a while, but it was time for Steven to get on with his tasks.

Slipping out the side door, he stepped into the sunshine and immediately decided to blow off his meeting on the dissertation and instead go back to his lab and start downloading bunny data.

Copyright © 2003 P. J. Fischer

Video & Audio

About The Book

Author Appearance at Library of Congress

Characters & Inspiration

Meet The Characters

Steven Sumpter

protagonist and graduate student

There must be a couple of hundred Stevens out there. Ordinarily, they’d be reasonable people—except that they have an exceptional talent, and that talent pulls them off the normal axis of human behavior.

Steven believes that he’s in control of his own life. In fact, he’s really quite fragile when he’s outside his native environment—that being the world of digits, experiments, and dreams. When he realizes that he has a powerful destiny, he tries desperately to understand it, but in the end finds himself flirting with madness, questioning his relevance as an individual, and wondering if he’s been overrun by history.

When we first meet Steven, he is a handsome young man with enormous promise. He has a certain amount of self-confidence, and can occasionally be urbane—though initially he can appear annoying. Ask him a stupid question and he’ll tell you it’s stupid. Ask him a hard question, and he’ll answer it seriously. He wins Eli with his sweeping dreams and hopes for the future. As the story progresses, however, he slowly becomes the victim of forces beyond his control, eventually taking on the qualities of a tragic hero.


Steven’s girlfriend and fellow student

While Steven came from a life of privilege, Eli came from a life of poverty. She is tall, blonde, and svelte, but never worries about her appearance. She has always had to work hard for everything she has gotten, and so has a reasonably serious persona. Still, her social skills are excellent, and she has a very positive attitude about the world.

Eli’s personal background was tenuous, and as a result she’s developed a core of inner grit. She likes a good laugh as well as anyone, but knows how to be serious when it’s necessary. Ask Eli a dumb question and you’d better leave the room; ask her an intelligent one, and you’d better prepare for a two-hour discussion.

Initially a practical-minded realist, her interaction with the inscrutable Steven is always entertaining—and she adapts quickly to extraordinary circumstances of a decidedly unusual kind.


Eli’s & Steven’s friend; math whiz & toymaker

A well-meaning colleague of Steven’s, Bennie can be nettlesome and difficult to work with. He’s intensely and relentlessly loyal, but he’s also single-minded to a fault and can be extraordinarily inept at the worst possible moment.

On one level, Bennie is the classic techno-nerd—he still lives with his parents, has virtually no fashion sense, can’t tell jokes to save his life, and is almost pathologically innocent in ways that lead him to make grave errors in judgment.

At the same time, Bennie is genuinely brilliant at mathematics and toy design, fiercely devoted to Steven, Eli, and the projects the trio comes up with—and if he grumbles a lot about the consequences, he’s still around when the chips are down. It may be easy to laugh at Bennie, but his friends know better than to dismiss his contributions too lightly.

Dennis Sumpter

Steven’s father, consulting engineer

After his wife’s death, Dennis raised his son alone; like any single parent, he’s been caught ever since between his professional responsibilities and his obligations to Steven. Steven’s choice of a scientific career caused father and son to drift apart for a time, but they’re thrown back together when Steven’s experiments attract the government’s attention, and Dennis finds that he and his son are more alike than he’d thought.

From a scientific standpoint, Dennis is very much a hardware man—he can build just about any electronic or mechanical gadget you can imagine, and probably has. (If you’re riding shotgun in his car, ask before pressing any of the buttons on the dash.) It’s a knack that’s made him a trifle hard-headed; he’s disinclined to trust most kinds of the ephemeral and impatient with the fuzzier aspects of the life sciences. But when events bring Dennis face to face with the results of Steven’s research, he finds himself forced to reconsider his world view.


computer simulated rabbit

Short for “rabbitoid,” Toid is the nickname Steven gives to the self-learning computer program originally designed to inhabit the artificial rabbit designed by Bennie as an upscale toy. But Steven’s programming abilities enabled the program to develop a degree of consciousness, and the union of software and toyware ultimately produced a hybrid entity whose intellect was powered by a knowledge base as deep and wide as the Internet.

Toid’s persona evolves dramatically as the story progresses. Initially quite simple-minded, it becomes more thoughtful and provocative as it acquires more and more depth of consciousness. At the same time, it retains its toy-like impishness, and its appearance is that of an oversized rabbit with floppy ears, very large feet, deep red eyes, and dark-rimmed glasses. Toid is part Harvard professor, complete with chalkboard and pointer, and part stand-up comic—equally ready to deliver a punchline, a brilliant academic lecture, or both at the drop of a hat.

The Barn

Steven’s laboratory

Though the Barn is technically a setting rather than a character, it’s a key element of the stories—and in some ways a metaphor for Julia herself, partly grounded firmly in the natural order and partly given over to science at its most advanced.

Steven grew up in the Barn. As a child, he tried—unsuccessfully—to learn to ride his mother’s horse, Abigail. But if the stables on the Barn’s ground level didn’t reward Steven’s efforts, there was always the attic, where he and his father had built their laboratory. In the lab, Steven was utterly at home. And so the Barn, with its blend of old-fashioned farm life and cutting-edge scientific facilities, became a symbol of his life—hardwired to Earth’s high-tech future yet grounded firmly in its simple agrarian past.

In appearance, the Barn is deceptively plain—its walls are a weathered red, and paneled stalls take up most of the ground level, whose floor is ordinary dirt. It’s a bit taller and longer than the modest farmhouse next to it, but even that isn’t especially unusual, and nothing at all on its exterior suggests how dramatically the second-floor area has been remodeled, into a state-of-the-art scientific facility, steel-enclosed for security. At Steven’s mother’s insistence, the only access to the lab is by a narrow ladder half-hidden at one corner of the main floor.

The Author

P.J. Fischer

P.J. Fischer

Full of adventure, curiosity, humor, and a little bit of mischief, P. J. Fischer was a Tom Sawyer kind of boy growing up in Salem, Oregon. His siblings still tease him about his science experiments, one that nearly blew up their house and another that turned their front lawn brown.

Gifted—or was it cursed?—with a vivid imagination, Fischer was always searching for answers, a trait that naturally drew him to science and eventually to a BS in chemical engineering. He also went on to earn an MBA, a doctorate in finance, and a law degree.

Today, the author resides with his wife in New York City, where he analyzes numbers and trends. But Fischer still makes time for his passions: archeology, history, philosophy, photography, poetry, and, of course, writing. His longstanding fascination with science and its potential permeates his novels, which center on such themes as bioethics and evolution, and their impact on our lives.

A Message To The Reader

“I spent a long time as a student,” says author P. J. Fischer, whose academic credentials include a doctorate from the University of Oregon as well as a law degree from Loyola University in Los Angeles. Those studies, he observes, have shaped the novels in his series, in which researcher Steven Sumpter finds that his scientific inquiries into evolution and computer intelligence have extraordinary consequences for himself, his friends, and the world in which they live. “The characters in Julia and the Dream Maker, especially Steven, did what my friends and I probably would have done as chemical engineering students. We solved the problems with the tools we had at hand, never dreaming that we were applying sledge hammers to fleas.”

The author’s fascination with science began long ago, he says, “with the question of how do we get from the cause to the effect.” He hasn’t stopped asking such questions since his grade school days in Salem, Oregon, noting that people rely on processes without necessarily understanding them. “We expect our cars to work every day, but few people can tell you how the stuff in the gas tank gets the wheels to move.” Now a New Yorker, he also divides his time between business, writing, and travel.

Fischer’s novel deliberately challenges readers to become more aware of their own and humankind’s places in the world around them. “I hope that when they’re done with the book,” he says, “they will understand that the story about Julia is really a story of where their lives are headed. There is a path to our lives that is not just individual—it is a path our species is just learning to walk, and that evolution is leading us down, even now.” While the characters in Julia and the Dream Maker only gradually begin to understand how dramatically their discoveries will redefine their lives—and the nature of humanity—Fischer hopes his readers will come away from the book with a greater appreciation for the novel and extraordinary technologies now beginning to appear in the real world.

Author Q&A

What is the single most important thing that you as the author want people to get from this story?

I want them to feel a sense of wonder and mystery about the potentiality of the world they live in. The world is full of conflicts that emerge from discovery and analysis, but the long history of humankind shows that it is the good which outweighs the bad.

What type of story is Julia and the Dream Maker?

Julia and the Dream Maker is a type of story that comes from great ideas and great discoveries. The outcome has complexities at many levels and changes a sense of who we are and what we can be.

Is this a fantasy novel?

While the book has some fantastic allusions, it is generally in the category of fiction with elements of science and technology. It is best to think of the book as a modern novel exploring current trends in human understanding.

Why a rabbit?

The rabbit was chosen to signify the innocent intentions which Steven had. Unfortunately for Steven his creations were not willing to be constrained by his expectations.

Is this a book for children or adults?

The primary reader is teenager through adult. SB&F (Science Books & Film), which is written for librarians and science teachers in schools, colleges and public libraries, appraised the book as acceptable for young adults (grades 9-12), college level, teaching professionals, and general audiences. “...the characters are three dimensional ...the problem of the unforeseen consequences of scientific discovery is made explicit,” said Martin LaBar, Southern Wesleyan University, Central, SC.

Article By The Author

The Flower and the Bee

by P. J. Fischer

Relaxing in a Roman piazza on the hottest day of summer, surrounded by pristine antiquity, lends a certain clarity to the bewildering swirl of technological innovations brewing back home in the United States. Here, we’re approaching a level of biotechnology where cause and effect can no longer be clearly identified—rather like the flower and the bee. The flower needs the bee in order to pollinate and reproduce, while the bee needs the flower’s nectar to survive. Yet while neither can exist without the other, one can’t easily discern which came first. But sitting in Rome drinking my beer, staring at a statue of Giordano Bruno in the center of the square, I could see another age of scientific revolution frozen in time.

The statue commemorates the site where Father Bruno was burned at the stake by the Inquisition on February 17, 1600. As a Benedictine monk, he left something to be desired, being in certain respects rather more Buddhist than Catholic; he believed that the universe was eternal and that God was in all things. His undoing came in accepting the findings of Copernicus, that the Earth revolved around the sun. It was an inevitable conclusion, given the period’s technological advances in optics. But it also cut to the core of the medieval view that the Earth was at the center of the universe. Bruno’s successor, Galileo Galilei, was not so foolish—faced with the Inquisition, he chose to renounce scientific truth about the relationship of the sun and the earth and save his own life.

Before we too quickly condemn the insular medieval mindset, we should recognize that we occasionally react in much the same way to today’s more challenging technological advances. Average people, churches, and governments—not just Luddites—fight and fear discoveries of the same magnitude as those that brought Father Bruno to the stake. Today’s new technologies challenge people’s core religious and cultural beliefs about their place in the universe. The most obvious are cloning and medical research involving human embryos and stem cells, but the list hardly stops there. Three lines of technical development—transistors, recombinant DNA, and nanotechnology—pose the greatest potential for controversy, because each has the ability to alter or influence activities human beings consider their sole prerogative: thinking, reproduction, and life itself.

Invented in 1947 at Bell Labs, the transistor is essentially an electronic switch that has been used to develop everything from better radios to Thinking Machines—including the Internet, whose existence relies intrinsically on billions of transistors. At its heart, the recombinant DNA process developed in 1973 is simply a convenient way to snip and tuck large organic molecules. Perhaps as significant in human history as the discovery of fire, DNA manipulation has sparked enormous growth in commercial biotechnology, as well as fueling research into cloning and the Human Genome Project. Finally, there’s nanotechnology—the idea of building tiny machines, smaller than the eye can see, essentially consisting of a handful of motorized atoms, which was suggested in 1959 by eminent physicist Richard Feynman, in a speech called “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” Nanotechnology is just entering commercialization today and most people recognize it’s a humdinger of an idea that holds great promise.

As these technologies ripen and mature, they challenge our sense of control and our identity as a unique and important species—just as developments in astronomy and physics forced Renaissance folk to challenge their concepts of God’s creation and His prerogative to create. We have, however, sped the process up considerably since then. Today, new technologies resemble waves in an ocean of ideas—roiling and unpredictable, they churn inexorably at society, frightening people who find themselves cast adrift like small boats flung about in storms of change at the whims of an uncaring scientific establishment. But heretical or not, these advances are as inevitable as the tides, and it is only good sense to ride out the storms.

So I ordered another beer, thinking again about the flower and the bee. Which came first? A traditional scientist might say that they evolved together, occupying a symbiotic relationship in a unique ecological niche. Yet causation is a slippery idea. Consider the bee as the flower’s technology, or tool. Flowers manipulate the bees’ behavior by developing uniquely attractive nectars—with the result that the survival of both life-forms is assured, and the flowers’ beauty and genetic diversity is enhanced. But from the flowers’ perspective, bees are a tool with an attitude problem. They don’t always come when needed, and they’re frequently distracted by outside circumstances—notably stinging enemies, which tends to get them killed.

And what about us? Will we develop technologies that relate to us as the bee does to the flower—tools on which we depend completely, yet which need us to ensure their own survival? Of course we should expect this to occur. Transistors have already evolved to produce the Internet; conscious artificial intelligence is merely a further step forward. Recombinant DNA already allows us to refine our own genetic codes; generating new carbon-based species lies not far beyond. And nanotechnology, as it evolves, may give us in vivo silico—living beings based on silicon. Exactly when or how these developments will happen remains unknown, but we can expect them to occur just as surely as we watch ourselves evolve.

I wonder what Father Bruno might say about this if he were alive today. Probably he would tell us that we shouldn’t worry about being so special, because we’re not! He knew humans were not at the center of the universe, that technology arises from the same sources that gave birth to humanity, and therefore that both are equally natural. If we hope to become as enduring as the flowers, we’ll have to learn to share Nature’s garden with a whole bunch of bees—that is, to live with technology rather than controlling it.

I suspect Father Bruno would understand that metaphor—and that he might also advise us not to worry too much about the details, pausing instead simply to marvel at the process.