A Family Reunion in Klamath Falls, Oregon

Jamie and I flew up to Medford and took a rental and drove to Klamath Falls.

Mikey drove up from Los Angeles. He wanted to show Jared the crater at Mount Shasta.

We all got together for dinner at seven.

There are usually only one or two conversations you remember from a dinner.

Mikey had just been telling a gay joke. It went something like this…

A gay guy was dressed up as Princess Leia, the Star Wars character, in a toy store. A little girl asked him: “Are you really a princess?” “No, darling” says the gay, “you’re the princess. I’m just an old queen.”

Everyone was chuckling when Jamie crashed into the conversation, speaking, as he does, very  fast.

“The whole human race needs to be re-engineered”, he says, “but right now we can’t even build the digestive system of a cow.”

There’s a pause. As usual it’s Hadley who is quickest to respond, even though she is just on a monitor looking at the table. She’s in Europe, joining the meal on Skype.

But I am thinking: how often Jamie and I think or say the same words. Did I say that about cows? Or did I just think it?

Hadley was always the one who moved to protect Jamie in these situations by controlling the response, getting in before anyone else. “But, Jamie, how do we redesign ourselves if we can’t even build a digestive system?”

“We could start by making regular brain scans mandatory. Do you think Charles Whitman would have gone up the Texas Tower and shot 52 people if they had scanned his brain and seen he had a brain tumour the size of a pecan pressing on his amygdala.”

“But Whitman was not mad” says Lonnie. “That means he was responsible for his actions, it was a conscious decision to do what he did.”

“No way”, says Jamie. “Read his diary. He keeps telling himself: Control Your Rage, Don’t Be Belligerent. That was the cortex talking. But there is no way a cortex can battle an inflamed amygdala.”

“OK. How often do we have to be scanned?” asked someone.

“Maybe once a year. When they find someone with a problem like Whitman, that person would have to be hospitalised.”

“What about us gays? Would you want to fix us?” says Jared. You can tell that Jamie really unsettles Jared. This is not a good move.

“You’re pretty much neurotypical. The hypothalamic nucleus in your medial preoptic is going to be smaller than other men and you probably have an enlarged corpus callosum. Makes you a bit girlie.”

That shut everyone up for a moment. Jared is open-mouthed. Then Mikey steps in and says: “Thank you doctor” and everyone relaxes.

“So”, Lonnie says – he slips into a headmaster-leading-a-discussion-group mode —  “are you saying we are basically good but some people have mental problems that drive them to do bad things?”

“Yeah, like it might be a reward deficiency syndrome arising from the D2R2 allele which prevents dopamine from binding to cells in the reward pathways so there’s no rush of pleasure when you eat or have sex which is why some people always want more and become crazy foodies or sex addicts.”

“What’s this about R2D2?” sniggers Jared aside. But Lonnie bears on.

“So,” Lonnie continues, “why are we so badly designed?”

“We’re just an accident born in the rotting surface of a small planet. Some chemical compound happened to replicate, which started a race for survival.  Now some animals run fast, others can smell something a mile away. We all have defects. We got a big brain, but we still need intensive cortical training to live in large groups”.

Then Hadley says: “Its my bedtime. I am going to wish you all good night.”

We had forgotten about her.

Later I asked him where he got all this information. “You gave me that book”, he said.

I remembered that I had bought a book called Mapping the Mind by Rita Carter, a British science journalist, when it came out in 2000.  Jamie found it and took it away with him. That must have started him off.