Some thoughts about Embryo

by Patricia Piccinini ( 2016 )

I am interested in growth because it expresses diversity within the context of a single being. Snapshots that document the growth of an organism seem to show us a succession of apparently different beings. If you didn‘t know how things worked, you might have difficulty believing that the baby and the woman were one and the same species, let alone the same person. In fact, the term embryo is used to define the early stages of an organism‘s development, when it is actually quite difficult to determine its species. At eight weeks, when it becomes clearly human, the embryo becomes a foetus.

This essential mutability of life is something that I find very interesting, and I see it as very much a hallmark of how we see the world. Human beings change things. It is what we are most proud of. Sometime we do it for the good, but not always. The medium of this change, more often than not these days, is technology. That technology is becoming increasingly amorphous itself; straddling the biological, the physical and the mechanical.

It is strange then that it is the mechanical that still seems to represent technology to us, but perhaps that is because our sense of the mechanical is becoming more nebulous itself. We are entering the age of the self-driving car, and while we all understand what this is supposed to mean, …self-driving‘ sounds to me like the car has a …self‘ to drive. How far is it from self-driving to self-determining I wonder? Or self-assured? I am being silly of course, but I do love the fantasy of a world where such increasingly naturalised technologies are given the sort of natural habitats and processes that they seem to deserve.

The other thing that is interesting about an embryo is that is represents pure potential. It isn‘t anything yet. It‘s hard to even figure out what it will become, but it will become something. Something amazing. It is the absolute representation of fecundity; the possibility of new life and the guarantee of changes to come. That's a very positive idea for me.