DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.
— Richard Dawkins
DNA, the genetic code and biological machinery all life on earth shares, has been in the news lately. It was once thought that much of our DNA was useless junk, but recent research reveals that this portion of our DNA is very important to the operation of epigenesis. This portion of DNA could be called dark bio-matter, or better dark bio-information or even dark bio-code, since it contains switches and instructions that guide each individual organism’s developmental growth through time.
Previously, the parts of DNA thought to be important were those regions that define the proteins that assemble to form our tissues. Mutations in the DNA that specify proteins can lead to disease because the mutated proteins cannot perform the functions that they need to. Of course, mutated proteins can also be improved and increase health. Comparing protein sequences across species shows that we have many commonalities as well as important differences with our animal cousins. What was once considered a “great chain of being” is now thought to be a great tree of life, all shown by DNA.
DNA is also a fourfold, and a double dual as well, since for the four bases Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Guanine (G), and Cytosine (C): A pairs with T, and G with C. I am not saying that DNA is analogous to the other fourfolds presented here, but it makes a nice diagram.
Why does DNA have four bases and not two, like binary computer code?
Even more of DNA determines our health and variation, the things that make us who we are. Does that constrain us even more, or will this knowledge make us more free?
A fourfold has recently been in the news. The physical realization of the memristor completes the four basic electronic components, along with the resistor, capacitor, and inductor. Theorized to exist since 1971, the memristor may revolutionize computational devices.
Kevin Kelly’s new book “What Technology Wants” is an exploration of what technology is and what it does. Technology has many of the same attributes as biological evolution, and as such, its effects cannot be fully predicted. At best, we can try to evaluate a particular technology’s advantages and dangers before it is let loose into the world; at worst, we will have no control over it at all.
Kelly describes evolution as shaped by structural, historical, and functional factors; and goes on the describe technology as dependent on structural, historical, and intentional factors. However, he also maintains that technology is an evolutionary process, and evolution in turn is a technological process. Kelly seems to say both processes have all four of the factors shown in the double dual above.
Kelly says that human language is the first big human technology (or was it fire? or stone tools?). But I also agree with him that the mechanisms of biological evolution can be considered technology. What is technique except a method that can shared and perpetuated by others? Molecular genetics grants us the ability to pass (most of) our attributes on to our progeny, including the ability to pass (most of) their attributes on to theirs. Once techniques can be shown or told to others, biology becomes the basis for the showing or telling, but not the mechanism of it.
Kelly calls the entire system of evolution/technology the technium. Because we have been continually shaped by our human technologies, they are not foreign to us. On the whole, we are better with them, than without them. One could argue that without them we wouldn’t even be human!
Kevin Kelly / What Technology Wants