I am a clone.
Or rather, I am better than one. Or so any identical twin surely must see the matter.
The recent media feeding frenzy about a cloned sheep, Dolly, showed us journalism in its fullest modern form. Many of those writing about this genuine watershed moment in techno-culture followed current journalist practice: their foremost research instrument was the telephone. Of those who called me--an unlikely authority, since I am not a biologist--none realized that DNA does not solely determine the heritage a child gets from its parents.
My brother, Jim, and I shared a womb without a view for nine months. (Though not always restfully, our mother reports.) Genetically identical, we also enjoyed the same currents and chemicals of our mother. After a rather traumatic birth--both had our appendixes removed within days--we were brought up in the same house, with constant attentive parents, and even wore matching clothes until our late teens. (How much trauma this clothing ritual induced in our personalities I leave to others to decide; suffice to say that being seen as sugary-cute has left me with a decided prejudice against sweets in any form.)
True twins share womb chemistry and endure many fateful slings and arrows together. The fabled connection between twins is true, in my case. We are distantly dismissive of mere fraternal twins (different DNA) and regard all others as "singletons," those condemned by birth to endure the isolation of never truly sharing the intuitive grasp that we enjoy without paying a price.
Or nearly so. There is mild statistical evidence that identicals have slightly lower IQ. This might be plausibly so; the comfort of ready communication may well lead to a certain mental laziness.
Jim and I felt the opposite. Reared in rural southern Alabama, we enjoyed an idyllic Huck Finn boyhood. But education there was casual at best. Our mother and father were high school teachers, and challenged the pervasive easy-going ignorance. We attended a one- room schoolhouse, with each row of seats a separate grade. Against this my brother and I united, reading widely and enjoying the clash of cultures which paraded by. After we were 9 our father became a career Army officer, whisking us to Japan for three years, Germany for another three, and further isolating the twins from a continuity that might have sucked us into the conventional.
So we are an odd pair even among twins. Jim got his doctorate from the same institution as I, UC San Diego, in the same area (plasma physics) and now lives a few kilometers from where I once lived, in northern California. Such correlations appear often among twins. We grow up in a culture of sameness, so have a sense of self always shared.
Among singletons, interest in twins is enduring. Do we feel some mystical sense of connection? Of course; but whether it is mystical or not begs description. I am writing this at 35,000 feet over Greenland, on the way back to UC Irvine from Lapland. I know without thinking about it that my brother is probably body surfing on a beach near La Jolla, though I have not spoken to him for ten days. I remember his itinerary and without conscious deliberation feel where he is likely to be. This is processing at the unconscious level, and as an experiment, when I see him in two days I shall check with him and let you know the outcome. [Later: my estimate was right to within the hour.]
But this is scarcely mystical. Instead, I attribute the innumerable similar incidents in our lives to a lot of automatic thinking, based on intuitions cooked up through more than five decades. To singletons this can look uncanny.
Speaking as a twin, clones seem a lesser form. They grow up in a later era than their genetic duplicates, with different upbringings. Would knowing that they were genetic duplicates trouble them? Surely such people would not be inherently more mentally fragile; Siamese twins are far more like each other than ordinary twins, yet suffer no higher incidence of mental illness than is usual, suggesting that even extreme parallels in nature and nurturer are not damaging.
The furor over Dolly puzzled me by the emotional level of debate. Reasonable people like political commentator George Will asked, "What if the great given--a human being is a product of the union of a man and a woman--is no longer a given?" This issue properly comes from a broader issue in biotechnology, the entire field of artificial birth in all forms, for there are no precise boundaries in this new territory.
Certainly I see no reason why society should prevent grieving parents from having a baby cloned from the cells of a dead child, if they wish. Beyond such emotionally wrenching cases, where should we erect walls? Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins asserted that he could see purely intellectual issues intriguing enough to justify cloning himself: "I think it would be mind-boggingly fascinating to watch a younger edition of myself growing up in the twenty-first century instead of the 1940s."
Many no doubt find his position puzzling or even immoral or disgusting. Even so, why should Dawkins be prevented from having a cloned child? What is society's mandate?
The Dolly debate produced several claims that cloning violated the fundamental principle of individual dignity. Twins certainly belie that argument. Fears of interchangeable people armies, usually marching robotically onward, come from a simple-minded genetic determinism. And the grounds for a principle of uniqueness seem vague at best.