Synthetic Life?

A lot of hype and hoopla, you say? Or maybe you believe that life can be created in a petri dish. No matter what your opinion, you would probably have a stand on this debate. To begin with, i dont think theres much to recommend the way this is being sensationalized bhy the headlines. So please do read the fine print (in other words, everything other than the headlines). But thats not really the problem here, i believe. Apart from that the headlines give the impression that man has finally emulated God. The problem is the belief that we have finally arrived. Not that this is not a breakthrough. But, somehow one gets the impression that this is the final frontier. Or maybe i am reacting a bit too much. Whatever way it is, i am not writing about this, but about the way i think about this invention. Or is it discovery?

Why i am asking that is that there is a qualitative difference between an invention and discovery. An invention is something where man harnesses the laws of nature to create something which can be said to be man-made. A discovery, on the other hand, is finding something which nature has already provided for us. Something like finding out how the digestive system of human beings work, not inventing it. So which is it? I dont know. A little difficult, dont you think? Man discovered that combinations of some nice things like adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, and some other things (i dont have the first idea what else is there) can make up the building blocks of life called DNA. So far, we are ok. This is where the question comes. Are chemicals all that there are to man? In other words, could we make a human being by combining the right chemicals or the right elements in the right proportions at the right time? I dont think so. And this is why i believe this is not exactly synthetic life, but more like genetic engineering.

Why do i say that? Let me put it this way … in this achievement, existing bacterial cells had synthetic DNA introduced in them, to create new life. Am i correct? I think so, but if you disagree, please leave a comment. Assuming i am correct, lets look at the basic principle … this achievement requires life to create new life. Life in some form. Look at the process of reproduction (for the sake of simplicity, and no other reason, lets look at human beings) … There is already some life force, in the form of the reproductive cells, which is combined with life force coming from other cells, to create new life. In this process also, there is life force, what is referred to as Prana in Hindu world-view, which is an essential ingredient for creating new life.

How else can we explain that there are basic differences between people? Why is it that some people are like Chinese food (bland, sauteed), while others are like Indian food (spicy, deep fried). Why is it that some people are attracted to fame, some to fortune, and others to spiritual quest? What is it that makes us choose different goals in life? What is it that makes us think? What creates feelings? Are feelings only chemical reactions? What is it that makes us happy? I was reading somewhere (though i dont remember where) that when someone becomes happy by something they like, for example, they remain happy only for some time, and then they return to their normal level of happiness. What this meant was that everyone has their own level of happiness which is their natural level, and this is the “happiness equilibrium” which each one of us gravitates to (though each one has this at different levels). Surely these levels are not chemically induced?

Taking this to the next level of understanding. Awareness … Do i exist? Or emotions … am i happy? Here, we need to remember that happiness is not just about needs being met (as Maslow’s hierarchy points out), and this is what makes us different from machines (at least this is one of the things), or so Sir Roger Penrose has argued forcefully in his book The Emperor’s New Mind. Lets go to another level … consciousness? Lets not even go there, do i hear you say? Consciousness is something which we dont understand, so going there is probably something which we dont even want to do, because then we wont even know where the discussion is going. But fact is, we are consicous. We are aware. And this is what makes us different from machines. Or this is the difference between a corpse and a living human being. A corpse has all the chemicals and elements which are required for life (if we assume that life is based purely on material requirements), and yet the corpse is not alive.

And this is why i believe that this is more about genetic engineering than about creating life synthetically.


Sleep of Peace

He just wanted to sleep the eternal sleep of peace. Sleep, of tranquility, never to be shattered by anything, relevant or obscure. Never to be disturbed by anything, no matter how pressing. A sleep filled with dreams all beautiful. Or, shall there not be any dreams? Or, a sleep never disturbed, and never ever to be disturbed by even the hint of a nightmare.

There was, however, a thought gnawing away at his vitals. And, the thought disturbed him no end. Would this indeed be the peace of sleep that had been promised. That sleep from which he was rudely awakened sometime in his existence. That bawling, that screaming, those hands, those claws, reaching out, as though trying to scratch away every trace of flesh from his body. Or worse. Every last trace of his being. How was he, a mere mortal that he was, expected to escape the clutches of those deadly claws. After all, hadnt far greater men than he had their clothese torn, if not their innards torn out from inside them by  those very claws, forever hunting? As he lived in the jungle, the tiger loose, may decide any moment now, to pounce upon its prey. Wonder whats taking him so long. Was he doomed to waiting silently for his nemesis. Or, was he to run, run from those claws of the hungry tiger. Run for his life, his very existence?

But, he didn’t want to run. For, would the tiger not bring along with him, at least the promise of that sleep. Or, at least the pain that would make him cry out loud. For deliverance. But, shall there be deliverance? Are our desires always satisfied? Even if they are about deliverance. Or, are we condemned to nursing them for all times to come?

Those tigers roaming the jungles, untamed, feeding away at him. He is told they came with him. Why the package deal? Would they depart with him? Shall he carry them forever as a load around his neck? Denying him the sleep that he had been promised, as his just reward, to come when darkness stands by the door, while light refuses to let go. When night finally enters his being, firmyl in control. And, that is the moment that he relishes. This is the moment he looks forward to, he desires.

Why is the moment of reckoning elusive? Why does it play with him so? Come what may, he must wait. Await the night, await that beautiful sleep of eternity that night promises to bring with her. Surely, at that moment, he would have left those claws, and their tigers far far behind, cheated them of what was never theirs to claim rightfully in the first place. Surely, that is She.

She, the darkness of the night. Walking in on tip-toe. You will not be able to hear her coming, and if you are not paying attention, she has this habit of stealing up on you, especially when you thought she had abandoned you. But, it was She who had promised her to you, and how could She go back on her word.

However, he doesn’t quite think so. How can he believe that she has been promised, when he cannot find her? Is his patience, his longing, going to be tested to the hilt? As he sits in his room, looking out at that ball of fire going down upon him, going down upon the day, he hears the faint whisper of the breeze playing into his ears. Do those whispers bring the gosspi of the bazaar to him, or is this a lullaby the breeze sings to him?

He strains to keep his eyes open. But, they are stubborn. They want to close. They want to sleep. As does he. So, why does he strain to keep them open? The thought surprises him. He is getting what is due to him, something he always desired, and yet he hesitates. Hesitates like the bride making her way, on the wings of dreams, to her beloved. She wants to go to him, and yet she hesitates.

Is he the bride to the night? Is he the soul that has been promised to the night, or is he the master. As he looks at the breeze, singing those whispers to him, the question becomes one of gargantuan proportions to his mind, till it is pounding at his brain. It cannot cast this aside. The answer to this decides whether he has to walk, and if so, how far. And, whether he has to hesitate, and if so, how much. But, in the final analysis, does it matter?

He doesn’t think so. How does it matter whether he meets his beloved, or whether she meets hers. She has been promised to him, so she shall come to him. That beautiful princess, astride the wings of the of the dying moments of the day. He welcomes her with open arms. But whats this? Is it her turn to tease him? No. She walks in, a song on her lips, a smile in her eyes. Where has he heard this song before? Wasn’t this the lullaby the breeze was singing for him? Was was it just her voice that was carrying to him, over the jungles, by the breeze, the messenger? Never mind. He shall never know. Not that he cares.

The song sounds so sweet, the melody as if originating in another world. Wonder of wonders, the smile sounds the same as the song. Or, is this song that Universal song? He does know that he has heard this song even before the breeze whispered it into his ears. But, where? He probably doesn’t care. After all, why should he? His beloved embraced him in her arms. Why, then, should he have a care in the world?

The promised sleep is finally here. A sleep so deep he doesn’t even know whether he is dreaming of anything or not. All he knows is that is aching bones have found the rest they were looking for. Of course, its still dark out there, and he is still not ready to wake up. He has, after all, earned it.

But whats this? Can it be dawn so soon? Was there ever supposed to be a dawn to this night? A dawn to wake him up from his slumber? Was he not promised eternal sleep? But, where is that light coming from? Who is this he sees? It is his very beloved. And it looks like she wants him to wake up. When did she turn into light?

The light brings with it the same smile, the same song. This song is certainly not a lullaby. And yet, the song is definitely the same. How can this be? These are the opposites of the sensuous world. The lullaby wakes him up. And then, he sees.

The light is the sleep. They are SHE.


Scientific Harmony

The two words arent usually used together, which is probably why writing like this is important. This comes from something interesting Panditji writes in The Discovery of India …

Perhaps science has been too narrow in its approach to life and has ignored many vital aspects of it, and hence it could not provide a suitable basis for a new unity and harmony.

Why i find this interesting is because this to me is the one area where science hasnt been able to create too much understanding. Science is seen as a cold study into the phenomenon of nature, where nature is defined essentially as the external. What i find more restricting in the scientific method is the focus on the things happening around us. Rather, i would look to science and the scientific method to answer questions which humanity has asked since time immemorial. Questions like where have we come from, and where are we going. Are time and space really an illusion? If they are, what would a world without them feel like. What are human beings all about basically, and the relation human beings have with each other and the external world. Questions which arent really scientific the way science is defined today, but questions which are asking for applying the scientific method to find answers. In other words, science needs to be about answering questions which humanity is plagued with, and not just restrict to finding answers to physical or external phenomenon. Only then can science truly look to advance humanity towards development.

As i was writing this, interesting how i came across a post by Sonnie Santos about Spiritual Intelligence. What i am referring to is a comment which Sonnie mentions too. This comment talks about how science, in the current state of development, isnt answering some of the questions which mankind has been asking for a very long time. How to live is the question posted there, but there are other questions which come up too. Like who created us, why, from where do we come, where do we go. As of now, these questions are left to philosophers, but with philosophy being “un-chic”, these questions are probably not getting the kind of thought they more than deserve. As Einstein said:

I want to know God’s thoughts; the rest are details.

And it is this question which i think is not getting the respect it must. Though i think over the last few years, there is more interest in this search. Probably a reaction to maybe a century of going in the other direction? Or just a search for a harmony which can come from a humane approach, rather than a purely rationalistic one?


The River Analogy

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At times you may come across things which may not make seem to be comprehensible at first glance but take a closer look and maybe the connections may begin to appear. Like the connection between Chaos Theory and poetry. Now the connection is something i am still trying to understand, but the lines i found interesting:

The flecked river

Which kept flowing and never the same way twice, flowing

Through many places, as if it stood still in one.

Interesting lines. There are a few thoughts which come from them. I am not talking about the Chaos Theory connection here, but a bit philosophical. One is the parallel of the river with life, and another is how one can create an image of time analogous to the river and ask some questions about their flow.

The river flows never the same as it ever was. Thats recognizing the infinite patterns of nature. It also looks like life. If life be this river, it flows flecked, never the same way twice. Every experience we have is never quite the same as the last time. Similar, but not exactly the same. Like much of nature we see around us.

Another thing which i have been thinking is the flow of the river. Do you call a river that doesnt flow a river? Or does a river get called a river even if it doesnt flow? We have seen that the memory of a river can be taken for a river at times, but thats beside the point. I would think that a river gets its name from the flow of water in the river. Lets now extend this idea to the arrow of time, as Stephen Hawking has talked about. We all know that time flows. But we also know that time is relative which means that as you approach the speed of light, time slows down or, at the speed of light, time comes to a stop. This would mean that to a tourist sitting on a photon time would be at a stand-still. But the question is about the characteristics of time at a stand-still. We all understand time as it flows but when time comes to a stand-still, questions come up. Big question … Do you call it time if it doesnt flow? Or rather, is it even a dimension if it doesnt flow? Or does it cease to exist? Bring it to a stop and you cant think of its existence. Agree or not, let me know. Something to build upon.


Chaos Theory … Basic Understanding

There are certain aspects of nature which arent as well undertood or appreciated as others. This may be because we dont understand them too well. Whatever the reason, science is not as well appreciated  as one would think it to be. One of the aspects is something i am reading about, Chaos Theory.

The subject is something i dont understand much about either, my knowledge about it coming from the book i am reading by James Gleick. There is i am sure lot more to the subject than what i understand today, so you will have to excuse my only too apparent lack of depth on the subject, something that would require delving into the Mathematics behind the science which i have yet to do. What i have managed to understand is this:

Dynamic systems cannot be described completely by means of mathematics because these arent exactly linear in nature, while there is a certain amount of chaos or uncertainty which is inherent in these. This uncertainty is stable which means that this is not a parameter of system variables, while on the other hand this means that the stability of the system is also uncertain because of the inherent non-deterministic nature of these systems.

Phew! Because i believe that if you cant describe a thing in ten words or less, then you havent understood it, i should summarize. Basically, chaos in stability and stability in chaos. What this means is that what may be stable at macro level still has instability or chaos built into it while while this chaos is stable which means that it isnt impacted by changes to system variables.

Lets take the coast of England conundrum. The question here is exactly how long is the coastline of England. Or India? Or any country? Or how does one calculate the exact length of the border of a country? Looked at from a satellite one may get an answer which wouldnt quite match with the answer someone walking on the ground may arrive at, and this isnt only about approximations. The same concept can be applied to when looking at the surface finish of an object. While the surface may seem smooth to the eye or to the touch, it doesnt seem so under the microscope.

This brings us to the idea of fractals. A topic much written about so i am not going to bore you with a layman’s definition. What is interesting about fractals is that they are the same at the microscopic level as they are at the macroscopic level. In other words one could say that while the macroscopic contains the microscopic, the microscopic contains the macroscopic, too. And this, to me, is a profound concept. Try to associate this idea with what the philosophies of the world tell us about our true relationship with God.


Science or PseudoScience?

This is a question which is debated quite often with at times thoughts which tend to be rather closed-minded, at times in ways which the scientific process the way i understand it wouldnt approve of. More often than not it is chic to reject anything and everything which cannot be proved using the scientific way. While this by itself is appreciable given that an understanding of phenomenon must be based on an experience and hence a reasoning associated with those phenomena, at times i believe this is taken to a level where it quite goes against the grain of the scientific process.

Let me explain what i am talking about. A lot of the science is based on existing paradigms of branches of science and a lot of research in areas which may turn out to be pioneering tends to get branded as unscientific because it doesnt fall within this sphere. Which at times translates into scientists believing that they must reject something which is work in progress. In other words, it is acceptable practice to reject anything which doesnt have proof even though it may, in due time, be proved using a scientific method, whether known or yet unknown. And this is what i found refreshing about this paper about distinguishing science from pseudoscience. To quote:

As the reader will see, there are some pursuits that are pseudoscientific by any reasonable definition and others that, although they may be wrong-headed or overblown in some of their claims, are clearly not pseudoscientific in their entirety. In other words, there is a large gray area. In some instances in this disputed region, the practices, data, and theories in question may be unorthodox and overly speculative, but not demonstrably absurd. Claims of this sort should merely be considered “unproven at present”.

This is something which i think should be the way to look at work which is in progress, so that till we can prove, one way or the other, we keep an open mind about the outcome of this work. This i believe is something which needs to be developed more in the way science is done today. This is not to say that we believe everything but at the same time we should not reject something just because there is no proof at present. I believe (i suppose you would agree) that apples didnt need Newton’s permission of gravity to fall to the ground. Which is why it is important to remember that scientists dont invent, they discover. And from there on is the process of logically arriving at conclusions from these discoveries and applying them to some practical use, either for use by people, or to enhance our understanding of the world.

What i find even more interesting:

Although most biologists see no need to postulate a personal agent who willed the laws of nature into existence, there is no logical contradiction in this view, because science deals only with proximal mechanisms. It cannot deal with questions of ultimate causation which are the realm of metaphysics and religion.

This is something i havent heard many people say before. That ultimate causation must be outside the realm of science. Science studies what the laws of nature are, maybe even why they are the way they are, but at least in the current structure, doesnt go beyond this to try and look into the realm of where nature originated from. Though i do believe that there is some form of causation outside of the natural laws which brought these natural laws into existence in the first place. There are a number of examples where we find our body of knowledge as it exists today break down in some way or the other, the singularity for example. As the shloka from the Rig Veda says:

Srishti se pehle Kuch nahin thaa
sat bhi nahin, asat bhi nahin
Antariksh bhi nahin, aakaash bhee nahin thaa.
Chhipaa thaa kyaa, kahaan, kisne dhaka thaa?
Us pal to agam, atal jal bhi kahaan thaa.

Srishti kaa kaun hai kartaa?
Kartaa hai va akartaa
Oonche aakash mein rahtaa.
Sadaaa addhyaksh banaa rahtaa.
Wohee sach much mein jaantaa..Yaa nahin bhi jaanataa
Hain kisi ko nahin pataa,
Nahin pataa,
Nahin hai pataa, nahin hai pataa.

Translated:

Before creation there was nothing, no truth, no untruth, no universe, nor was the sky there. What was hidden, where, hidden by whome? At that moment, there wasnt even unfathomed water.

Who is the doer of creation, the creative principle? Living in the skies, forver presiding over the drama of creation. He alone knows the real truth, or maybe doesnt know, no one knows.

Shall there be something which we shall forver remain unaware of? Something which we must rely on our inner experience for.


Heavens

What is the right way to inpterpret something which is by definition meant to be open to interpretations which could vary based on the perceptions of the person who is interpreting? This means by definition that there is no right way. Lets take that as the working hypothesis. And then try to understand what this is. Actually, this is a small piece which appeared in the paper today, something though which i thought i had to write about. Why? Two reasons. One, it is about alternative sexuality and another it is based on an interpretation which i dont agree with. Read it here (Heaven Police) and you may understand why i am writing this.

Few things i would like to say. To begin with Javier Barragan has an opinion. Politically correct it is not but then opinion it is nevertheless.  Do i agree with it? No i dont. After all every one of us is a child of God so sexual orientation i think is not an issue in the larger frame of reference. It is only if we look at things with a narrow frame of reference that this comes into the focus. In the larger frame of reference there are so many things which we can see and which we need to focus upon that these may tend to be unimportant. But another way to look at it is that the opinion is politically incorrect. That being the point, this is not really what caught my attention.

What i want to write about is the interpretation of the author of the piece of the symbol of Ardhanarishwar. It is largely agreed upon by religious and spiritual scholars that Ardhanarishwar is a symbol of the representation of God’s creation as the amalgation of the two equal aspects of this creation, represented as the Creator (the Divine Dreamer) represented by the masculine form and the Shakti of the Creator to create (represented by the feminine form). What i found strange is the representation of the Ardhanarishwar as homosexuals and transsexuals. This interpretation didnt mean much to me because it looks so much at the picture without trying to go into the meaning and in the process totally changes the meaning of what the picture could mean. Like i said an opinion is just that, and each of us is entitled to one (or more) though maybe logic is the parameter on which we need to measure it.