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Monthly Archives: October 2013

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Life at the Speed of Light

Sitting here in a cushy chair staring at a screen for half-a-day, reading whatever I want to read, I get a little philosophical, and that’s not difficult to do when I read geneticist, Craig Ventor’s book that attempts to answer the big question “What is Life? I start from disorganized ignorance, and get off the track from there to politics.

I start out wanting to understand words and concepts from Craig Ventor’s recent book ” Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life, a good read by the way about how he lead his team to create synthetic life.

I highlight phrases and terms that I want to know more about like resistivity or resistance in current flowing through an object as it applies to life, and a periodic, repeating pattern or DNA, and then I come across a phrase asking “what is life, that discusses the Erwin Schrödinger “lecture to the thermodynamics of life.”

In defining life, it seems Schrödinger was unhappy associating human beings with low entropy, so he created a new rule for humans, and perpared lectures about it. The 2013 book,  Life at the Speed of Life  by J. Craig Venter, is an attempt to answer the question that Schrödinger asked in his 1944 book that influenced so many future scientists, “What is Life.”

This pastiche takes me to another search that turns up The Natural Order of Things, which has  a nice twist, wherein, Matt Ridley says that “Darwinian selection explains the appearance of seemingly ‘designed’ complexity throughout the world — not just in biology but in the economy, technology and the arts.” And, where at some point he famously says, “living beings are eddies in the stream of entropy.”

And of course I couldn’t stop there, so I applied it to politics. And the question I asked myself, are democracy and freedom, then, an expected and persistent eddy in the stream of entropy or a fluke?

Political eddies in the stream of entropy

Is then Democracy an eddy in the stream of entropy, like a living being? Democracy and freedom almost seem a fluke at times. Democracy, however, continues to persist despite the obstacle flows, rocks and boulders, if you will. It does not seem to get swallowed up in low entropy; instead it has evolved quite nicely over the centuries, regardless of our impatience or the blood spilled.

And how about resistivity in Democracy? Do some groups, cultures, people’s possess more resistivity than others? Is it due to education, or education and hard fought battles for independence? And I’m not suggesting American exceptionalism for America is without equivocation a melting pot of the world, and rationally cannot claim exclusivity since we originate from the rest of the world population.

My mother’s DNA is European and American Indian. My father’s DNA is European and African. Our last ancestor from another continent left Amsterdam in the 1500s and Ireland around 1700. We are American born, yet our cells are citizens of the world.

If I go back thousands of years I am from Haplogroups U and R, some of the oldest peoples who started with a journey from the Caucasus Mountains and a Siberian steppes, carrying a smidgen of Neanderthal in their DNA. Geographically I’m an American, but as an eddy in the stream of entropy I’ve recombined many times over, picking up a half-dozen origins of ethnicity, and so have the whole of Americans.

Seeing ourselves as eddies in the political stream

Is the DNA of freedom and democracy encoded in all our blood? *Halliburton drilling states that a difference exists between rocks filled with hydrocarbons, which are poor conductors of electricity compared with those filled with salty formation water. Are we a different kind of rock? Do we have what it takes to resist entropy of democracy.

I think we do. And for most of America’s history, internally, with the exception of the American Civil War, mostly we’ve achieved it with intelligent resistance such as that of Martin Luther King Civil Rights movement and the Women’s suffrage movement in the last century. It is my belief that an expanding world democracy as well as American Democracy, is enduring just as sure as DNA because it is encoded within us, in the dignity of each and every one of us.

 Footnote

*[Resistivity is the ability of a substance to impede the flow of an electrical current. This is a very important rock property in formation evaluation as it helps to differentiate between formations filled with salty waters (good conductors of electricity) and those filled with hydrocarbons (poor conductors of electricity). Hence, a difference in resistivity exists between rocks filled with hydrocarbons and those filled with formation water. Resistivity and porosity measurements are used to obtain values of water saturation to help evaluate producibility of the formation.]

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