An empty elevator on the ground floor of a tall building. Musak quietly piping in through the ceiling. A bell chimes, the doors open, ABBY and BETH enter in mid-conversation. Both are young women in their mid-twenties, dressed in business suits and carrying briefcases.
ABBY: —but does the fact that we can, mean that we should? (She hits number 27, the bell chimes again, the doors slide shut, and the elevator begins to move up. Over the course of the play, the number above the door slowly increases.)
BETH: 25 please . . . What do you mean?
ABBY: (She presses 25 and turns back to BETH.) I mean, well, science for example. Just because we can do something, does that mean that we should do that thing?
BETH: Well, we shouldn't do it if it is morally wrong, but otherwise, why not?
ABBY: But what is it to be morally wrong? (Sets down briefcase.)
BETH: (Also setting down briefcase.) Oh you know, something that is just unethical . . . dangerous, harmful . . . not worth the risk, you know?
ABBY: Yes I see, but who decides what is or isn't worth the risk? I don't think that you can make that kind of moral judgment. I think you have to come up with some other standard to decide whether or not to do everything that you can do.
BETH: Of course you can. What are you talking about?
ABBY: Well, okay; who would you have determine morality, the uninformed police or the biased scientists?
BETH: (Thinks for a moment.) Well, obviously, to get an accurate idea of the morality of science, you would need to stand apart from it, to view it objectively. You can't be immersed in something and get an unbiased view of it. You need to step back . . . disentangle yourself from science, and take an unbiased look at what you find. I guess that anyone could do that.
ABBY: (Crossing arms.) Well, would you say that someone who wasn't educated in science could evaluate the morals of science?
BETH: What do you mean?
ABBY: I mean, could someone who doesn't understand the procedure, or the outcome, really understand science enough to evaluate it?
BETH: (Thinking.) Hmm . . . well, probably not. There would probably be intricacies that would be lost—possibly very important ones. Good point. Okay, I will revise my statement to be that any scientist who can adequately separate him or herself from science itself may make the moral judgment.
ABBY: But I don't think that scientists can separate themselves from science.
BETH: Why not?
ABBY: Well, I don't really think that anyone can ever be separate from science.
BETH: What are you talking about? It's the easiest thing in the world. I mean, just think about my grandmother, she lived out on a farm with no electricity, how can you say that she can't separate herself from science?
ABBY: Well, there are two problems with that. First of all, unless I am greatly mistaken, your grandmother was not a scientist. So really it's a moot point whether she could actually separate herself from science. Secondly, I don't think that she, or anyone for that matter, can be truly separate from science. I mean, what is farming if not science? Granted, your grandmother may not have had much in the way of technological involvement, but she certainly participated in science. Heck, even rocks can participate in science! Geology is the study of rocks. Without rocks there would be no Geology. So if a rock can't help but participate in science, how do you think that your grandmother could avoid it?
The elevator stops on the 7th floor. The bell chimes and the doors slide open. CAROL steps in dressed in slacks and a blouse. She is holding a folded up newspaper. She presses 14. The bell chimes, and the doors slide shut. The elevator begins to ascend again. CAROL unfolds her newspaper and begins to read.
BETH: (Nods to CAROL and turns back to ABBY.) Well, my grandmother certainly isn't a rock, she can avoid whatever she wants—other than death and taxes, of course.
The elevator stops on the 9th floor. Again, the bell chimes and the doors slide open. DIDI steps in wearing jeans and a sweater. She is holding a cup of coffee. She presses 22 and sips her coffee. The bell chimes, and the doors slide shut. The elevator begins to ascend again.
ABBY: But she is a human being, a mammal, and a member of society. Already she is participating in anthropology, sociology, and biology. She can't escape that. Science can't exist without her, and she can't avoid science. (CAROL looks up from her newspaper.) She is a part of the greater whole.
CAROL: (Folds up newspaper.) Sorry to interrupt, but I overheard what you were saying about people being part of a greater whole, and you're absolutely right. I was reading about this the other day. Apparently we are all part of Gaia. The Earth is a living organism that regulates itself through the life on it. In the beginning—
DIDI: —there were only simple replicators!
CAROL: (Turning to DIDI.) Excuse me?
DIDI: (Takes a sip of her coffee.) You were going to say that in the beginning there were simple replicators, right?
CAROL: No, not at all!
DIDI: Oh, sorry, I felt sure you were talking about selfish genes.
CAROL: (Shaking head.) No no no, I was talking about Gaia.
BETH: (Looking confused.) What does this have to do with morals?
ABBY: (Quietly.) Hold on and listen.
BETH: (Slight frown.) But what about my grandmother?
CAROL: I was going to say that your grandmother is just a part of Gaia. We all are just parts of Gaia.
DIDI: Gaia Gaia Gaia, (shaking head and crossing arms) you don't know what you're talking about.
CAROL: (Raising voice slightly.) Just hear me out, will you? In the beginning there was a lot of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, so Gaia created plants to reduce the amounts. This cooled the planet and created oxygen. With these changes, Gaia was able to create oxygen-breathing forms of life. These life forms, including us, take the oxygen out of the air, and replace it with carbon dioxide, which in turn feeds the plants. We contribute to Gaia, and Gaia keeps us alive.
DIDI: Oh please!
CAROL: Seriously! Like Daisyworld!
DIDI: Daisy Duck?
CAROL: (Exasperated.) Not at all. It's this theory presented by . . . oh, what was his name? (Snapping fingers.)
ABBY: James Lovelock.
CAROL: (Smiling and pointing at ABBY.) Lovelock! That's it! Anyway, Lovelock imagined a world covered in daisies, some brown, some white. So when Daisyworld's sun was cold the brown daisies flourished, because they absorbed the heat and made it warm enough for them to live, whereas the white daisies would have reflected the light making it cooler and more difficult to survive. So as the brown daisies flourished, and the white daisies died, there would be more and more brown daisies. But eventually there would be so many brown daisies that any more would make the planet too warm so there would still be some white daisies. Then as the star got hotter the brown daisies would make it too warm and would start to die off and the white daisies would flourish. See?
BETH: So the different colors of the daisies would help regulate the planet's temperature and keep it in a range conducive to life?
CAROL: Exactly! And the same thing happens here, only here it is much more complex because there are more things on Earth than just daisies.
DIDI: Oh, brother. Okay, I grant that it's a nice story but you've got it all wrong. We are not part of some amazing whole.
BETH: (Smiling at ABBY.) Well, then, we should be able to separate ourselves from science!
DIDI: We are only machines; we exist to propagate our genes.
ABBY: (Aside to BETH.) Sorry, Beth, genetics counts as science.
BETH: (Rolling eyes.) Sheesh!
DIDI: In the beginning there were just simple replicators, like our DNA, and the ones that survived were the ones that were best able to reproduce and adjust to the environment. Some of these replicators created robots to house them and help them reproduce. We are those robots.
BETH: So you're saying that the only reason that we exist is to reproduce?
ABBY: Which would mean that your grandmother only existed to participate in the science of genetics!
DIDI: That's right.
CAROL: (Placing her hands on her hips and dropping her newspaper.) Well how do you explain Daisyworld then? Huh huh huh?
The Elevator stops on the 14th floor. The bell chimes and the doors slide open. Carol puts her hand in the door and looks at DIDI expectantly.
DIDI: Well, first of all, Daisyworld doesn't exist, but if it did then clearly the explanation is that the daisies' genes are adapting to the environment. The genes that are best able to survive in the different environments are the ones that survive to reproduce.
CAROL: I can't believe I'm hearing this. I'm out of here. (She sweeps through the doors.)
ABBY: (Through the closing doors.) Good bye, Carol (The bell chimes and the doors slide shut. The elevator resumes its ascent.) So tell me, Didi, what do you think about genetic engineering?
DIDI: Well, it depends on what kind exactly you mean. If you mean actually changing genes, then I'm totally against it. If you mean selecting the best genetic combination from a given gene pool, well, then, that's a great idea!
BETH: I don't understand the difference.
DIDI: What I mean is, say a couple wants to have a baby. If that couple conceives a child and then people go in and start messing around with the DNA to eliminate certain characteristics and introduce others, well that's just wrong. You're messing with something that has survived much longer than human civilization. Genes created you, how dare you change them? It's just presumptuous.
BETH: (Nodding.) I see what you mean.
DIDI: If on the other hand the couple looks at all of the possible combinations of their mutual DNA and just picks the best possible combination, well that's great! You are actually helping your genes do their work. You aren't doing anything that your genes couldn't do on their own; you are just making it easier for them. If parents pick the best possible combinations of DNA, then it is more likely that their children will survive and pass the genes on to future generations.
BETH: But there's a problem!
DIDI: (Raising eyebrows.) A problem! Impossible, that's the way things are!
BETH: But what about people like Stephen Hawking? I mean, if people did that, then amazing people like Hawking would never have been born.
DIDI: So what?
BETH: (Surprised.) So what! Hawking is a genius! He has made amazing contributions to science!
DIDI: Science doesn't matter; art doesn't matter; nothing matters but reproduction!
BETH: I'm sorry, I can't agree with that. There is definitely more to life than just reproduction.
DIDI: Really? Like what?
BETH: Well, like religion, art, literature, love . . . all that makes life worth living. We can't play God and decide who gets a chance to live. It's just morally wrong. Science can't be allowed to progress that far!
DIDI: (Tilting head to one side.) Why not? We're not changing anything; we're just picking from among the choices that nature provides.
BETH: But it's not our place to choose! It's just morally wrong.
ABBY: But who decides what is morally wrong? Who should be in charge of regulating science?
BETH: (Exasperated.) Well, clearly Didi shouldn't.
The elevator stops on the 22nd floor. The bell chimes and the doors open.
DIDI: (Insulted.) And clearly Beth and Carol shouldn't. (Exits elevator. The bell chimes and the doors shut. The elevator continues its ascent.)
BETH: You need someone who isn't biased.
ABBY: But everyone is involved in science, everyone is biased! If you use morality to regulate science, then you have no choice but to use a biased opinion.
BETH: Well then, you would need lots of opinions so that the different biases would cancel each other out. You would need opinions from scientists and non-scientists. Everyone would have to be involved in the decision, because people have such different biases. For this reason everyone should try to have at least some scientific education, so that when it comes time to make these important decisions everyone, scientists and non-scientists alike, will be prepared.
The elevator stops on the 25th floor, the bell chimes and the doors open.
BETH: See you after work?
ABBY: You bet, have a great day!
BETH: Thanks, you too. Bye Abby.
BETH exits. The bell chimes, the doors close
and the elevator resumes its ascent. ABBY picks up the newspaper
and begins to read. The Musak continues.