The God Gene (The Mirror of Faith), 2007 ongoing, Bio-art/video.
The Mirror of Faith is a long-term project that involves gene sequencing, microscopy, genetic modification of E-coli, theoretical research, documentation of scientific/artistic process, and installations in a public space.
The Mirror of Faith relates to the research of the molecular biologist Dean Hamer on genetic predisposition of human spirituality. In his latest book, The God Gene: How Faith Is Hard-Wired Into Our Genes, 1 Hamer says certain brain chemicals affect higher consciousness and spirituality. The actions of these chemicals are linked to the gene, VMAT2, which his team has researched. The book The God Gene has raised controversial and speculative discussions in the tabloids, as well as in clerical circles around the world.
The gene VMAT2 which particular mutation is responsible for high spirituality, exists in many animals. We have run few experiments that show its expression in rat and mice brain tissue. Further we intend to find an individual (human or animal) that has the mutation we need and modify E-coli. We intend to show the actual Living Genetically Modified E-Coli: “the Transcendental Bacteria of Faith” to the public along with documentation of its genetic modification. Since VMAT 2 will probably not express itself in the bacteria, people will be led to believe (or not) that they see the genetically modified E-coli. Their “source” of belief will be only documentation of the activity in the lab.
Scientific statements have been an influence for and a modifier of “common consciousness”. This process of modification results in certain stable beliefs or even in creation of particular social relationships. One example would be the Darwinian “struggle for life”, popularly used to defend the right of the stronger over the weaker. But similar process of spreading and accepting ideas appears to be valid for implication of religious beliefs or moral prejudices in society. Science serves in the process of consensus “decision making” by which people of varying moral and ethical views come to agree on “what is real”. In secular and technological societies, science has come to serve as basis for common conceptions of reality. But I argue that this leads to the abuse of scientific dialogue for political or commercial ends.
According to our personal survey, the media have seriously influenced the public understanding of Hamer’s research, which is an interesting social phenomenon. What makes us believe that certain claims are true? What makes us believe in the published media? Is belief connected with spirituality as defined in Hamer’s book? Does belief in media depend on VMAT2? How much the environment is important for the expression of a certain genes?
All these questions lead us to another set of questions dedicated to the relationship between science and belief. What role does belief have as a trigger for scientific research? For instance, it is interesting to investigate how much a specific scientific hypothesis is initiated by belief?2 Can we consider this scientific belief to be part of our spirituality? Is the imagination of the scientist and his or her certainty in theories that are not proved yet, a function of VMAT2? Is scientific innovation -- liberated from “dogmatism of scientific method” and based on “unproved” hypothesis -- determined by VMAT2 too? A key question for us is: What does it mean “to believe in science”?
The Mirror of Faith is meant to educate the public about genetics in a playful and humorous manner. We believe that education about fundamental principles in science is helpful for better public understanding of a particular scientific research. This higher level of education will create more productive environment for wise decisions when an application of this research has to be regulated by laws.
1 Dean Hamer, “The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes” (2004). (Doubleday, 2004)