Between a Sleep and a Sleep

I wrote a long, poetic post with this title, but when I was done, it wouldn’t publish….I musta gotten disconnected  somehow.  So I’m not going to go through it all again.  What I wanted to ask, O Ratty ( and I guess it’s been brought to mind by all the vitriol over abortion) is,

did you know there are humans ,or at least, human spawn, whose lifespan is only 8-10 weeks?

I do, because I gestated two of them.   (This is 2 decades and a healthy baby ago, so this post is not about me. ) 

But, these beings who were never destined to make the fourscore and ten we al kinda count on, not even destined to leave my body alive—

what were  they?

I was told their chromosomal makeup just wasn’t compatible with any longer period of vitality.  They weren’t ill or defective. They lived as long as they were created to live.  Then, singing in their song they died.

Their world was my womb, and I hope, like Kaspar Hauser, they found their dark, solitary existence sweet, better maybe than the cold cacaphonous world.

There are many possible chromosomal differences with which human-sourced embryos   can be endowed.  Most people have no idea about this; we hear, primarily, about Downs Syndrome, but there are a myriad of other differentiating combinations which can occur.

But when you consider something as drastic as a natural lifespan of a few weeks, aren’t we really looking at something bordering on a subspecies?

Many such creatures, homunculi, live out their generations every month, unbeknownst even to the mother who may notice nothing more than a menstrual irregularity. I know these beings lived, and I know they died and why, only  because I was watching, I was  trying to conceive.

We all wonder: are we alone in the universe.  wonder, whence these chronologically different humans destined to live no longer than insects?

What do you think, O Ratty?

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28 thoughts on “Between a Sleep and a Sleep”

  1. Hypatia:
    I was told their chromosomal makeup just wasn’t compatible with any longer period of vitality.  They weren’t ill or defective. They lived as long as they were created to live.  Then, singing in their song they died.

    I think you’ve articulated this sensitive subject just perfectly. My sister-in-law suffered through two early miscarriages, ended up with three living rapscallions and all is well with her. I’d like to forward this post to her with your permission.

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  2. “Three score and seven years ago …” 🙂

    Your draft of the other post is still in the system, Hyp. Check the Draft folder.

    It is an interesting thought how not everyone makes it to three score and ten. I don’t know much about miscarriages and their causes. Is there a doctor in the house?

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  3. 10 Cents:
    “Three score and seven years ago …” 🙂

    Your draft of the other post is still in the system, Hyp. Check the Draft folder.

    It is an interesting thought how not everyone makes it to three score and ten. I don’t know much about miscarriages and their causes. Is there a doctor in the house?

    You’re right of course, about the fourscore…though fourscore and ten is closer now to what we expect.  The TLS had as its cover last week an article suggesting we’re approaching “biological immortality”—we could still be violently killed, but failing that we might very well go on  indefinitely, replacing any system that fails…..hubris, if you ask me.

    About miscarriages, I just told you the situation: these particular creatures were not formed, created, destined, whatever you like—- to live beyond 8-10 weeks.  That was it. So, they died.

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  4. Hypatia:
    I was told their chromosomal makeup just wasn’t compatible with any longer period of vitality.  They weren’t ill or defective. They lived as long as they were created to live.  Then, singing in their song they died.

    . . .

    aren’t we really looking at something bordering on a subspecies?

    . . .

    wonder, whence these chronologically different humans destined to live no longer than insects?

    Embryonic and fetal self-assembly is a hugely complicated business.  Genetic patterning of this self-assembly, and the biochemical implementation of it, is, to repeat, a hugely complicated business, with all the steps carried out in four dimensions and in order.  Occasional failure at any of the thousands of control points, having lethal outcome, is, statistically speaking, not a matter of surprise.  But it hurts us, precisely because we care so about that individual, and about human life. Yes, of course they are human!  Fully human – but they did not make it through self-assembly.

    Fatal error can occur at any level, from the microtubule that does not line up quite right during cell division during a critical process, to the chemical signal for cells to migrate to certain spots for organ formation that is either issued wrong or not received properly, to the error in cell differentiation that results in tissue or organ not forming perfectly, to the controls of homeostasis that are fatally flawed in any of hundreds of ways.  Assembly errors are not only possible in the embryo or fetus, but also in the placentation.  Blood supply either insufficient or wrongly arranged in the womb cannot deliver the necessary oxygen and nutrients, nor remove wastes efficiently – a problem that becomes more serious as the offspring grows larger.

    On reading what you were told, in the first snip, above, I conclude that somebody waxed poetic to make you feel less miserable.  But if you think about it, the first and the second sentences contradict each other. These are human children whom we love but who didn’t make it. 

    Sometimes the parental capacity for love and for grief can seem to make the option of glossing the facts the easier option.  It is not, though, for most people.  If grieving parents can face the facts and work to deal with the tragedy of life, we will not have to speculate ever after about subspeciation or other alternative hypotheses.

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  5. God sees them and loves them and is merciful.   They have eternal rest in Him.

    These are birth defects; a mutation of the DNA.   Many live for less than a week, and the mother loses them without even being aware of what had caused that funny feeling.   There are many ways that DNA can mutate, and most of those ways are catastrophic to the organism.   This is not a failure of the mother, nor of the father, even if acts of theirs did somehow contribute to the cause of the mutation.   Mutations are simply a part of the corruption that all Creation inherits due to sin in the world.   Things go wrong.   DNA breaks.   The organism fails.   I think a big majority of birth defects result in miscarriages.   I have mourned with families who lost a child to miscarriage; the loss can hit hard, especially to mothers who don’t have other children.

    God is the ‘Author of Life.’   Whether they live threescore years or threescore hours, they are human persons, loved by God.

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  6. I wasn’t distraught after these events, so I didn’t need to be fed any poetic or metaphorical rationalizing consolations.  I didn’t mourn these beings any more than you might when you think of an ancestor whose life ended in the fullness of time. All I wanted to know was, is there something wrong with me (no)  and, is this necessarily extremely likely to happen again (no).

    The point of my post was not to dehumanize my erstwhile co-habitants, nor to separate them from the love of God.

    Some are saying: yes they were human, they were just defective humans.  I’m raising the question, could there have been a difference, perhaps less than speciation but more than race difference…our entire species is temporally constrained, but:  is there a point at which the temporal difference becomes more than quantitative?

    I just read somewhere (no I don’t know where) that Darwin’s theory really doesn’t make sense because of its dependence on fortuitous mutation.  Most mutations are not advantageous, indeed they usually guarantee that the mutant organism will die or be killed before it can breed.   It does not  go on to sire a new genetic line  with that same mutant characteristic. No more do human creatures who only live 8-10 weeks.  Maybe they’re just mutants, after all.  (Well, they certainly were that— but is that all?) But I prefer the more mysterious slightly alien identity theory.  Either way: nice knowing them.

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  7. Hypatia:
    I just read somewhere (no I don’t know where) that Darwin’s theory really doesn’t make sense because of its dependence on fortuitous mutation.  Most mutations are not advantageous, indeed they usually guarantee that the mutant organism will die or be killed before it can breed.   It does not  go on to sire a new genetic line  with that same mutant characteristic. No more do human creatures who only live 8-10 weeks.  Maybe they’re just mutants, after all.  (Well, they certainly were that— but is that all?) But I prefer the more mysterious slightly alien identity theory.  Either way: nice knowing them.

    I agree that Darwin’s Theory fails.   Of course, the natural selection part holds up OK, as is demonstrated by the unnatural selection of animal and plant breeding programs.   And some mutations are advantageous, as with those microbes that develop immunity to certain antimicrobial vectors.   But those mutations that are advantageous turn out to be mutations that result in less information in the DNA and result in the elimination of cellular receptors.   So, in the short term the population becomes more vigorous in resistance to a particular threat, but in the long run the population has lost information in the DNA that might make it more robust against other different threats.   In any event, a loss of information does not represent Evolutionary progress, but instead is regress.

    I am curious as to your preference for “the more mysterious slightly alien identity theory.”   Would you care to elaborate?

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  8. MJBubba:
    But those mutations that are advantageous turn out to be mutations that result in less information in the DNA and result in the elimination of cellular receptors.

    I am unaware of any evidence for this.  It may often be the case for adaptive mutations in microorganisms, but there is no reason, given the mechanism of genetic inheritance, that mutation need result in “less information”.  It is trivially the case that a mutation may result in “more information” if you use the Shannon measure of information.  For example, a mutation which causes a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in one of the tedious Alu elements sprinkled throughout the human genome will increase its information content compared to the un-mutated version but, unless it happens to appear in a coding or regulating region, will have no effect on those who carry it, and will be blindly passed on to their progeny.

    It gets more interesting when the mutations have an effect on the phenotype (organism expressed by the genome).  In this case the new information from the SNP(s) can have an adaptive effect upon the population that carries it.  One of the most obvious examples of this is the lactase persistence adaptation which allows human adults to continue to digest lactose in milk into adulthood, while ancestral humans usually lose this ability after weaning from their mother’s milk.  This adaptation comes from six different SNPs found in different populations (you don’t need all six—generally one will do it, but as genetics is messy, there’s more than one way to do it).  Flipping one of these SNPs adds information which wasn’t there before in the genome and it happens all the time among every population.  But among populations that domesticate cattle, those with this adaptation can digest cow’s milk and have more children who live to reproduce than those who don’t and before long the mutation spreads among the population.  It is rare in sub-Saharan Africa, Native American populations, China, and areas of East Asia where dairy cattle were never raised, but around 90% of northwest Europeans carry it.

    This is about as clear-cut an example as you’ll find of natural selection favouring a random SNP mutation which happens all the time among human populations everywhere but only makes a difference among those who have started to ranch cattle.  This is an evolutionary adaptation in humans which appears to have occurred in the last 7500 years.  Given the span of time life has existed on Earth (half a million times longer), it doesn’t seem a stretch to attribute all of the apparent “new information” in the genomes of organisms to similar random variation and natural selection by the environment.

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  9. @mjbubba, I have  elaborated.  I speculate that these might  have been a, uh, “variety” is maybe the word, of extremely temporally limited humans.

    what do you think?  Either about why a Creator God embedded so much waste into Creation , or, if you  prefer, why He deliberately made these humans  with an 8-10 week lifespan?  He is the sole arbiter of the length of our days: Gen 6:3.

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  10. John Walker:

    MJBubba:
    But those mutations that are advantageous turn out to be mutations that result in less information in the DNA and result in the elimination of cellular receptors.

    I am unaware of any evidence for this.  It may often be the case for adaptive mutations in microorganisms, but there is no reason, given the mechanism of genetic inheritance, that mutation need result in “less information”.  It is trivially the case that a mutation may result in “more information” if you use the Shannon measure of information.  For example, a mutation which causes a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in one of the tedious Alu elements sprinkled throughout the human genome will increase its information content compared to the un-mutated version but, unless it happens to appear in a coding or regulating region, will have no effect on those who carry it, and will be blindly passed on to their progeny.

    It gets more interesting when the mutations have an effect on the phenotype (organism expressed by the genome).  In this case the new information from the SNP(s) can have an adaptive effect upon the population that carries it.  One of the most obvious examples of this is the lactase persistence adaptation which allows human adults to continue to digest lactose in milk into adulthood, while ancestral humans usually lose this ability after weaning from their mother’s milk.  This adaptation comes from six different SNPs found in different populations (you don’t need all six—generally one will do it, but as genetics is messy, there’s more than one way to do it).  Flipping one of these SNPs adds information which wasn’t there before in the genome and it happens all the time among every population.  But among populations that domesticate cattle, those with this adaptation can digest cow’s milk and have more children who live to reproduce than those who don’t and before long the mutation spreads among the population.  It is rare in sub-Saharan Africa, Native American populations, China, and areas of East Asia where dairy cattle were never raised, but around 90% of northwest Europeans carry it.

    This is about as clear-cut an example of natural selection favouring a random SNP mutation which happens all the time among human populations everywhere but only makes a difference among those who have started to ranch cattle.  This is an evolutionary adaptation in humans which appears to have occurred in the last 7500 years.  Given the span of time life has existed on Earth (half a million times longer), it doesn’t seem a stretch to attribute all of the apparent “new information” in the genomes of organism to similar random variation and natural selection by the environment.

    Okay, so you, JW, do think Darwin’s theory holds up.

    In that case, I’m sure you think these beings in me were simply mutants, and not one of the advantageous mutations.  I get that. (Though I guess I was kinda hoping for some support from you on my temporal- variant theory..)

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  11. Hypatia:
    Okay, so you, JW, do think Darwin’s theory holds up.

    I think that random mutation and natural selection explains much of the apparent adaptation we see among species of life on Earth.  I do not assert that it explains everything, nor do I believe that it has anything at all to say about the origin of life from non-living (defined purely by the ability to reproduce) matter (abiogenesis) since, by definition, evolution by the mechanism described by Darwin can only occur after a self-reproducing organism appears.

    As to your question in the original post, I think it’s a matter of definition.  One usually defines a species in biology based upon its ability to propagate within its species but not with members of other species.  (As with everything else in biology, this is messy—there are a number of so-called species which can interbreed with others, but that’s part of the eternal battle between the “lumpers” and the “splitters”.)  Organisms created from the fusion of a human egg and sperm who live only a short time after fertilisation, whether measured in seconds or weeks, don’t meet the usual criteria for a distinct species because they do not reproduce.  I think it’s more accurate to describe them as humans who did not gestate to the point of adulthood or, for that matter, anywhere near birth, just as human infants who die shortly after birth or children who die before reproducing do not pass their genes on to further generations.  That does not make them a different species nor non-human, any more than a person who, for whatever reason, has no progeny could be said to not be human.

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  12. Hypatia:
    why a Creator God embedded so much waste into Creation

    God intends good, and continues to provide good things for His creatures, including the gift of children.

    God allows the corruption that infests our fallen world to bring about decay and destruction.   He says He will transform everything into a restored state of grace at some time when His time is complete, and He told us very little about what that His ‘completeness’ means.

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  13. JW, I get that we can’t talk about “species” without contemplating breeding.  This is a mere fantasia, but— what about time as a dimension?  If we each lived thousands of years, we wouldn’t need to breed nearly as much.   And somehow constantly being generated, as are these embryos which only live a few weeks, which myriad women expel every month….do they need to reproduce themselves?  I mean, in order to fulfil the great biological imperative: the show must go on?

    MJB, theologically your position makes sense, I guess: any malfunctions attendant upon human reproduction are the result of God’s curse upon Eve.  I could go on but I won’t.

    To the memory of my, and Everywoman’s, shortlived issue: you finished your course, to whatever purpose!

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  14. Hypatia:
    To the memory of my, and Everywoman’s, shortlived issue: you finished your course, to whatever purpose!

    There will be jobs in eternity.   They will join the multitude in worship at the Throne Room of Heaven, but that is not all they will do.   They will take joy from their assignments, which are prepared for them by the loving God who made them.

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  15. Hypatia:
    MJB, theologically your position makes sense, I guess: any malfunctions attendant upon human reproduction are the result of God’s curse upon Eve.  I could go on but I won’t.

    Once again, I’m wandering into a conversation in which I don’t belong. Sorta. I’m only adding to the comments because I’m close to my brother and his wife and witness to her grief over two miscarriages.

    This is what kept her going other than her 3 healthy young’uns that she gave birth to one, two and four yrs later :

    There is no such thing as perfection and sometimes Nature makes the decision that a life is not capable of surviving outside the womb. That is a tragedy but living outside the womb in an incapacitated state is far worse.

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  16. Hypatia:
    Wait: a loving God made them? Or they are the result of the “decay and corruption that invests our fallen world”?

    Our loving God made them.   He is the Author of Life.

    Death is not His plan.   But He allows the decay and corruption of the world to proceed, and so there are mutations, and many mutations are catastrophic for embryo development.

    He told us that sin, decay and corruption will continue until the final trumpet sounds and Jesus returns in glory.  Until then we live in a fallen world.   Babies die before they are developed enough to be born.   Sadness and death are all around.

    Be of good cheer; sin cannot keep the love of God from you.   But be on guard not to reject the love and reconciliation He offers.

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  17. EThompson:

    Hypatia:
    MJB, theologically your position makes sense, I guess: any malfunctions attendant upon human reproduction are the result of God’s curse upon Eve.  I could go on but I won’t.

    Once again, I’m wandering into a conversation in which I don’t belong. Sorta. I’m only adding to the comments because I’m close to my brother and his wife and witness to her grief over two miscarriages.

    This is what kept her going other than her 3 healthy young’uns that she gave birth to one, two and four yrs later :

    There is no such thing as perfection and sometimes Nature makes the decision that a life is not capable of surviving outside the womb. That is a tragedy but living outside the womb in an incapacitated state is far worse.

    ET, I hope your sister in law liked my post, if you sent it to her.

    But, perhaps because I hadn’t yet borne  a child, I did not feel grief.  Nor do I now, although I see that my post is being perceived as a mere coping  mechanism.  I saw a picture of the second one, which, I feel certain, died only the very morning I was scheduled for a routine appointment.  (The physiological sensation of that  was like being on a plane which heads down the runway for takeoff, then cuts the engines to, well, yes, “abort” the flight.)  The homunculus was quite perfect.   Remember the “star child” image at the end of the movie 2001 ?    It was magnificent of its kind.  Does one mourn such a specimen, even when viewing it transfixed in death?

    Yes, Nature,  as you put it, is a ruthless mass murderer.  It, (or “she,” as Nature is usually personified)   giveth and she taketh away.  Snapping turtles lay their eggs in many clutches and lumber back to the water; 90% of the eggs will be ripped open and consumed by predators, and never mature.   (But snappers live about 50 years, to my point in comment 14, )

    Im trying to get beyond both the overweeningly pathetic and the briskly philosophical reactions to my experiences, which are common in the course of human  reproduction.

    And I’m failing at it; that’s obvious.

    But, well: my endeavor is now launched into cyberspace;  perhaps someone, somewhere, will pick up the transmission, and marvel—as I  do!—at the stark tenet to which I’m trying to pay obeisance.

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  18. MJBubba:

    Hypatia:
    To the memory of my, and Everywoman’s, shortlived issue: you finished your course, to whatever purpose!

    There will be jobs in eternity.   They will join the multitude in worship at the Throne Room of Heaven, but that is not all they will do.   They will take joy from their assignments, which are prepared for them by the loving God who made them.

    Really, jobs?  Surely “there is no work…in the grave, whither thou goest”…

    This made me think of Millay’s poem The Suicide,  (and this does  make me cry, having loved a young suicide):   She begs a boon of God in Heaven: a job.  Says the Father:

    ”…’And all thy days this word shall hold the same:/No pleasure shalt thou lack that thou canst name./ But as for tasks-‘ He smiled and shook His head;/‘Thou hadst  thy task, and laidst it by,’ He said. “

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  19. Hypatia:
    ET, I hope your sister in law liked my post, if you sent it to her.

    I was waiting for your okay to do so. Shall forward it today. I know she’ll appreciate it.

    Hypatia:
    And I’m failing at it; that’s obvious.

    I don’t think I’d use that term failing. You appear to be trying to understand it as we all would do.

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  20. EThompson:

    Hypatia:
    ET, I hope your sister in law liked my post, if you sent it to her.

    I was waiting for your okay to do so. Shall forward it today. I know she’ll appreciate it.

    so  sorry! When I Liked your comment I meant to indicate assent! If you get any feedback from her, I’d be interested.

    Hypatia:
    And I’m failing at it; that’s obvious.

    I don’t think I’d use that term failing. You appear to be trying to understand it as we all would do.

    thanks but I don’t seem to be getting anybody else  to understand my  fairly unorthodox viewpoint!  But never mind: joy’s soul lies in the doing! as Shakespeare wrote.  What a privilege and pleasure to share my thoughts with our Mischief here!

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  21. Hypatia:
    Really, jobs?  Surely “there is no work…in the grave, whither thou goest”…

    Not necessarily jobs like we experience them in this fallen world.   But consider two seemingly contradictory statements from Revelation.   Chapter 14:

    13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

    “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

    Chapter 22:

    No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.

    I think the rest that is referenced in Chapter 14 is rest from the striving that accompanied the good works and righteous striving in this world by those who die in the Lord.

    While on the other hand Chapter 22 is making reference to tasks to be performed in eternity, where there will be joy.

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  22. Hypatia:
    so  sorry! When I Liked your comment I meant to indicate assent! If you get any feedback from her, I’d be interested.

    Happened to be speaking with Mr. Hollywood (my bro) and asked to speak with J, his wife. She did receive the forwarded post and I liked her response:

    “I was devastated at first and people continued to tell me that time heals all wounds. It doesn’t. What heals the wounds is two crazy male toddlers fighting and destroying the furniture and a pre-teen daughter who whines and complains about her brothers and her first pimple. The dog is sick and the cat keeps bringing home dead birds and dropping them on the back porch. Who the heck has time to dwell on the past?”

    I think she speaketh the truth.

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  23. I get all your sister-in-law said, ET,  (I prefer the expression “Time wounds all heels”.).. as I said I haven’t thought of these events for two decades: I have a beautiful daughter (who just got  STRAIGHT EFFING A’S  her first year in law school!!!!)     And once she was here, I didn’t give her short-lived siblings any thought.

    Really, the most traumatic part about the experiences, for me, was the D&Cs to clean out my womb.

    As I said, I think I’m only bringing the entire thing to mind now because it seems like every day we see the image of a foetus in the womb. The entire country is obsessed with the issue, one way or the other.

    it seems to me their existence is so precarious anyway: this vitriolic debate over whether the mom can kill ‘em seems kinda gratuitous…..

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