Monday, March 16, 2009

How is Computer Programming the Same as the Genome—And What Does It Mean?

From my first blog on the topic of genetics, based on an amazing video on TED by Juan Enriquez, I speculated that the presence of programming as an underlying feature of Life means that an intelligence is ultimately the source of all being.

In the video, Enriquez uses the analogy of an apple, which executes code (DNA) when it receives enough energy from the sun, and drops from the tree. He adds that by modifying the code we can change the nature of the apple, or any organic life form.

The genetic code itself is being sequenced (decoded) according to the patterns of four letters, AGTC—which represent the names of the nucleotide bases, adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine, in a molecule of DNA. (Wikipedia).

As Gina Smith explains in her book, The Genomic Age, “Scientists figured out, in 1967, how DNA specifies the building of protein... Recall that in every life-form, the letters A, C, T, and G (i.e., the bases) perform the same function. They build proteins by instructing another chemical, called RNA, to put the proteins together one building block after another… The building blocks are called amino acids, and there are precisely twenty of them.”

So there is a code that gets executed that can be represented symbolically that underlies all of our life functions—physiologically and presumably also psychologically.

More recently there have been advances in the field of epigenetics, which is the study of the chemical reactions that turn the genes on and off, and do so apparently on the basis of complex interactions with the environment.

Now bear in mind that Enriquez merely doesn’t use the apple as an analogy—he states literally that the code in the apple is the same as in files or programs you can move on a flash drive.

But even if you are viewing this blog in a web browser, you may not be aware of what code or programming really represent.

For example, if you click on the setting in your browser that lets you “View Source”, under Page in Internet Explorer, you see a symbolic representation of this blog page that informs the browser on how to display it.

It’s pretty obvious that a conscious mind had to create the program that does this, at least to me.

A billion monkeys, even if they had a Windows PC each, would not produce the code or the program that could enable this to happen in a trillion years.

Let’s look at one more example—a macro in Microsoft Word. This macro runs the commands upon the click of a mouse that creates a red rectangle in a document.

Notice in this macro that if you change the language by changing the numbers representing the RGB (color) values, you change the nature of the rectangle—it changes color.

This is precisely like the Enriquez example—if you change the genetic structure (code) of its DNA, its nature is changed.

In programming this is called the object’s properties. In life it might be called the qualities of the life-form. What it is capable of doing is called its method in programming; again in life it may be called its being or nature.

So what does this mean?

Well for one thing, it means that we created computer software "in our own image"—consciously writing its code according to various intentions we had predetermined as meaningful and significant (displaying a web page, writing and editing a document, running a macro).
The internal logic of both the genetic code and our computer code is precise; if I change the code of the macro I change the rectangle, or if I screw up, I put a bug in the program and the result is an aborted macro and an error message.

In life, this might be deemed a mutation, or in the case of cells that don’t know what they should be doing, or do the wrong thing, cancer.

But we know how the computer and software “evolved”—it was no accident. No lightning bolt hit a bog or pile of primordial sludge and shot it awake like Frankenstein. Many brilliant scientists created increasingly sophisticated ways of switching on and off (zeroes and ones) various devices to make calculations and run programs, and increasingly sophisticated programs (instructions) were consciously created to run on these hardware devices, after being translated (compiled) from symbolic (English) language into machine language.
So based on the evidence, how and why do any of us presume that life is any different?
Increasingly all branches of science are coming up against the barrier that what is knowable must account for the presence of us—that the observer or consciousness is intimately involved in not only our perceptions of reality, but literally in what reality is. From quantum physics, to bio-physics, to particle physics, there is nothing (literally) that does not ultimately come up against the reality of consciousness.
But what is consciousness? We know it as we experience it—it courses through our brains or more likely through our entire mind/bodies—and informs our perceptions and as biology has recently found, our thoughts and our health.
But suppose that the meaning of our science (and computers are our signpost or living metaphor) is that our deeper consciousness may literally connect us to whatever may be our programmer.
If we call the programmer God, it doesn’t explain anything—in the parlance of computer programming God is simply a variable for an unknown value—a mystery or a container for a value that is manifest through our existence.

But if we put aside our theories about God, or the programmer, what we can still say is that there are two ways for our program to run—programmed externally according to principles we barely understand, or possibly programmed by our “Self”.
But what is our Self?
If we meditate or self observe, we might reach the conclusion that it is not the bundle of thoughts that comprise our ego.
Rather, our true Self, at least in my humble opinion, is that part of us which is increasingly conscious of our connection to whatever (or whoever) is our programmer. While that connection is difficult if not impossible to define in words we can and do try (remember what there was “In the beginning”--the Word), but to the extent that we recognize that we are not in charge (our own programmer) and align ourselves with Life, Being, God, Higher Intelligence, Energy or whatever we might call it, we can manifest Its intentional higher consciousness through us.
This then would point to a split in what we do. If we act in alignment with what our higher intelligence suggests is true, we do good. If we remain oblivious to and disconnected from higher intelligence, and act unconsciously, that may be a pretty decent definition of evil.

And when we try to judge one or the other logically, with our left brain, we are caught up in paradoxical loops. The only way to truly know is through a higher center, probably in the right brain, that connects us with a higher logic—to our essential program and its Creator.

(In that sense, prayer or meditation might literally be "logging in...")

I remember when I first came to L.A. and needed a job, I worked at night at a law firm where an IBM word processing machine literally “trained me” in its internal logic, by going through a series of disks. Not surprisingly there was a bug in the program, and I needed to supersede it in order to get from disk 5 to disk 6. I got angry at the fallibility of the programmer, and yet I was in awe of the “mind in the machine.”
A similar insight can happen when you get pissed off at Windows. You can’t figure out why it’s doing what it’s doing—or what you’re doing “wrong.” Then through tech support, a friend, or by a miracle, you see the answer—and what’s clear is that by its internal logic—its “meaning”—the program is doing exactly the right thing. Now that you “get it”—you recognize the logic. But the intelligence behind it, until you got it, was literally “alien.”
We as a species are clearly at a crossroads. We can stay disconnected to the apparent higher source of our consciousness (unconscious) and become increasingly automated and mechanistic. As a recently heard, when Treasury Secretary Paulsen asked for the first TARP appropriation, and he was asked how he knew it was necessary, he replied, “the computers said so” [that without the funds the economy would collapse.]
Or through our science, technology and realization of the link between our creation (computers) and ultimate creation there is a higher intelligence (true consciousness) which we can connect with through our entire being (mind-body), and that by aligning ourselves with its truths (instead of our own imagined inferior (logical/ego) truths, we can not only survive, but truly evolve.

Now that's a program I'd like to download.


nancy said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Tom Bunzel said...

Thanks so much Nancy, makes me want to keep writing.

Tom Bunzel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.