Monday, 15 September 2008

A Eureka Moment

On Sunday I went to Liverpool to the British Association's Big Bang event at the world museum, to get more people's ideas on this project (in between tasting cheese, modeling viruses and playing with knots).

On the bus on the way to the station I suddenly recognised the parallel between the process of inheritance and the stories I've been collecting.

I'd put together a book to put the stories in. On the front I'd made a representation of the diagrams which show the possibilities for the inheritance of a single genetic characteristics. It looks something like this - except the circles are mirror beads and the lines are ribbons.

I'm one of life's fiddlers, so I was playing with the ribbons as I sat on the bus. I noticed that there were fixed points and linking threads. The fixed points represented the gene, the connecting thread the possible ways that gene might be inherited. In a similar way I'd made a copy of my family tree and stuck sequins on to represent the people. Again there was a fixed point - a person - or in a conventional family tree - a name. Then there were lines connecting them. I remembered my discussion with Jeanette and how she'd talked about the role of the imagination in constructing the family tree. It seems as if those threads are something fixed - but in a way they aren't. People who follow the lines pick the lines they want to follow, they take a walk through the possibilities. Even seen the other way up, until someone is born those lines only represent possibilities.

In people's stories there are fixed points and there are connections. There are facts and supposition. Someone I spoke to knew that their great grandfather was in Walton Gaol on the date of the census in 1911. They have no idea why - or even if he was there the day before, or the day after. All that is speculation.

People notice traits that pass down in families - but they guess the reason behind it. I've had quite a few conversations about tallness and the contribution of both genes and environment. And though we might guess fairly accurately that someone inherited their red hair from their dad, it's harder to say for sure whether they've inherited his temper and how and why.

So, somehow I think I will need to separate out from the masses of text I have the fixed points and the linking threads - and Lynn will have the challenge of find a way of representing that visually.

Here's the list I made on the bus - rather raggedly. Is it just Manchester buses that make you feel as if you're on a dinghy in the middle of the Atlantic?