Which is why, when we find them, we have to make the qualified assumption that they are anthropogenic.
You know how it always seems to rain on the weekend and then it’s fine on Monday as you head back to work? Turns out that’s actually a thing.
I have dim childhood memories of my mother the psychonaut telling me on wet Saturdays that it never used to rain this much on weekends when she was a kid.
And she’s right.
The particulate matter that gets flung up into the lower atmosphere above cities from the hum of industry and the exhaust from cars forms water molecules around it. Once it is heavy enough, it comes back down as rain.
You know those facts that, as soon as you hear them, you exclaim “this is never going to leave my head. Never. I will literally die with this little factoid rolling around in there. Sure hope it didn’t push out anything important!”
The seven day rainfall pattern in urban areas is one of those for me. I learned it when the newspaper I was working for at the time did a partnership with a national broadcaster for a documentary series on weather.
It is that perfect combination of being directly relevant to your life as well as being one of the few instances when anecdotal observations turn out to be correct.
So commuting to work causes it to rain on your days off. The reason for -or at least origin of- the seven day pattern can be discerned.
What would it mean, then, if one day you found out you are a billion-mile-long library from outer space?
DNA: Your real autobiography
A single strand of your DNA is only ten atoms wide but stretches for over two feet. It is 120 times narrower than the smallest wavelength of visible light. This single strand is contained inside the nucleus of one of your cells. A cell nucleus is roughly two millionth of a pinhead. String the DNA from all your cells together and it will go around the earth five million times.
Here’s a quote from the classic pseudohistorical DNA text, The Cosmic Serpent:
All living beings contain DNA, be they bacteria, carrots, or humans. DNA, as a substance, does not vary from one species to another; only the order of its letters changes. This is why biotechnology is possible. For instance, one can extract the DNA sequence in the human genome containing the instructions to build the insulin protein and splice it into the DNA of a bacterium, which will then produce insulin similar to that normally excreted by the human pancreas. The cellular machines called ribosomes, which assemble the proteins inside the bacterium, understand the same four-letter language as the ribosomes inside human pancreatic cells and use the same 20 amino acids as building blocks. Biotechnology by its very existence proves the fundamental unity of life.
Each living being is constructed on the basis of the instructions written in the informational substance that is DNA. A single bacterium contains approximately ten million units of genetic information, whereas a microscopic fungus contains a billion units. In a mere handful of soil there are approximately ten billion bacteria and one million fungi. This means that there is more order, and information, in a handful of earth than there is on all the surfaces of all other known planets combined. The information contained in DNA makes the difference between life and inert matter.
So there is a ten-atom-wide, universal coding language inside every living thing that suddenly appeared one day a few billion years ago, whose double-helix shape was probably discovered while high on LSD, that absolutely refuses to be replicated in lab settings.
Don’t listen if they say it has been. Balls of fatty acid built on PNA rather than DNA, splicing short genomes into empty bacterial cells… this is just moving the building blocks around a bit and saying you’ve discovered where building blocks come from. I call shenanigans on that! Clearly it isn’t just pseudoscience that speculates beyond the data.
To quote New York University chemistry professor, Robert Shapiro, on the most famous ‘recreating DNA’ experiment from the University of Chicago… it’s like accidentally producing the phrase to be by banging randomly on a keyboard. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the rest of Hamlet is going to follow. “Any sober calculation of the odds reveals that the chances of producing a play or even a sonnet in this way are hopeless, even if every atom of material on earth were a typewriter that had been turning out text without interruption for the last four and a half billion years.”
This is an example of what Rupert Sheldrake, one of Britain’s best wizards-at-large refers to in a recent interview as science’s “recurrent fantasy of omniscience.”
Sheldrake talks a good deal of the fact that, as all good Brian Cox viewers know, 83% of the universe is now thought to be “dark matter” and subject to “dark energy” forces that “nothing in our science can begin to explain”.
Despite this, he suggests, scientists are prone to “the recurrent fantasy of omniscience”. The science delusion, in these terms, consists in the faith that we already understand the nature of reality, in principle, and that all that is left to do is to fill in the details. “In this book, I am just trying to blow the whistle on that attitude which I think is bad for science,” he says.
Francis Crick, the Nobel-winning, aforementioned discoverer of DNA’s double-helix shape earnestly believed it had to have been intentionally blasted, fully-formed from a distant galaxy by an ancient alien species attempting to seed any likely-looking planets.
And yet he considered this an ‘atheist explanation’. Go figure.
(Sidebar for anyone further out on the pseudohistorical fringe: in modelling a large scale impact on Mars -which certainly happened as half its crust has been ripped off- 4% of the material flung from the red planet would land on earth.)
When referring to DNA as a universal coding language, it’s important to understand that only a comparatively small amount -our genes- actually contains any code. The rest is referred to as ‘non-coding’ DNA.
Spread out among the non-coding DNA are thousands of endlessly repeated sequences with no known meaning, there are palindromes… there is even one 300-letter sequence that is repeated half a million times. Repeat sequences make up a full third of our genome. And we have no idea what the overwhelming majority of it does.
As a rule of thumb, the more complex the organism, the less the coding information takes up as a percentage of the whole genome. In humans, our coding information takes up about 3% of the total. That’s a lot of what is now referred to as “non-coding DNA”.
Tellingly, it used to be called “junk DNA”. From Cosmic Serpent:
The rational approach starts from the idea that everything is explainable and that mystery is in some sense the enemy. This means that it prefers pejorative, and even wrong, answers to admitting its own lack of understanding.
The molecular biology that considers 97% of the DNA in our body as “junk” reveals not only its degree of ignorance, but the extent to which it is prepared to belittle the unknown. Some recent hypotheses suggest that “junk DNA” might have certain functions after all. But this does not hide the pejorative reflex: We don’t understand, we shoot first, then ask questions. This is cowboy science and it is not as objective as it claims. Neutrality, or simply honesty, would have consisted in saying “for the moment, we do not know.” It would have been just as easy to call it mystery DNA, for instance.
Strangely, [biologists'] newfound conviction was hardly troubled by the discovery in the 1960s of a genetic code that is the same for all living beings and that bears striking similarities to human coding systems, or languages. To transmit information, the genetic code uses elements (A, G, C, and T) that are meaningless individually, but that form units of significance when combined, in the same way that letters make up words. The genetic code contains 64 three-letter “words”, all of which have meaning, including two punctuation marks.
As linguist Roman Jakobson pointed out, such coding systems were considered up until the discovery of the genetic code as “exclusively human phenomena” – that is, phenomena that require the presence of intelligence to exist.
If it walks like a book
All those billions of miles of “junk DNA”? It turns out that the repeating patterns or “words” obey the exact same distribution that you find in almost all human languages. This distribution is known as Zipf’s Law. Here’s a decade-old description of it from Australia’s resident popular scientist from when the findings were still new:
According to the linguists, all human languages obey Zipf’s Law. It’s a really weird law, but it’s not that hard to understand. Start off by getting a big fat book. Then, count the number of times each word appears in that book. You might find that the number one most popular word is “the” (which appears 2,000 times), followed by the second most popular word “a” (which appears 1,800 times), and so on. Right down at the bottom of the list, you have the least popular word, which might be “elephant”, and which appears just once.
Set up two columns of numbers. One column is the order of popularity of the words, running from “1″ for “the”, and “2″ for “a”, right down “1,000″ for “elephant”. The other column counts how many times each word appeared, starting off with 2,000 appearances of “the”, then 1,800 appearances of “a”, down to one appearance of “elephant”.
If you then plot on the right kind of graph paper, the order of popularity of the words, against the number of times each word appears you get a straight line! Even more amazingly, this straight line appears for every human language – whether it’s English or Egyptian, Eskimo or Chinese! Now the DNA is just one continuous ladder of squillions of rungs, and is not neatly broken up into individual words (like a book).
So the scientists looked at a very long bit of DNA, and made artificial words by breaking up the DNA into “words” each 3 rungs long. And then they tried it again for “words” 4 rungs long, 5 rungs long, and so on up to 8 rungs long. They then analysed all these words, and to their surprise, they got the same sort of Zipf Law/straight-line-graph for the human DNA (which is mostly introns), as they did for the human languages!
Let that sink in for a moment. The parts of your DNA that don’t actually “build” you constitute a billion mile long book. Remember that seven day rainfall pattern? What does it indicate?
That junk DNA would follow a near-universal law for communication makes perfect sense if it is indeed designed to transmit information across galaxies and billions of years. From the wikipedia page:
“Zipf himself proposed that neither speakers nor hearers using a given language want to work any harder than necessary to reach understanding, and the process that results in approximately equal distribution of effort leads to the observed Zipf distribution.”
Of course there is an orthodox/Archon explanation for why your non-coding DNA is arranged as a language. It’s basically this:
- Zipf’s Law doesn’t cover all languages. It covered Chinese until the Qin Dynasty and now it doesn’t.
- The very fact that Zipf’s Law can model junk DNA is an indication that it struggles with “power law noise” because obviously junk DNA isn’t a language.
The “power law noise” issue is a reasonable observation. But this strikes me as a somewhat circular argument: because junk DNA isn’t a language then it’s proof that Zipf’s Law can’t be used to identify languages because you can use it to model junk DNA.
You know what?
If it’s not a language then it’s miles and miles of ‘defunct’ genes that we no longer need. Something you may expect to have happened over billions of years, right? Billions of years is enough time to provide myriad opportunity for mutation.
Except that’s not really how DNA works.
Some sequences are highly conserved between species. For example, 400 human genes match very similar genes in yeast.
This means these genes have stayed in a nearly identical place and form over hundreds of millions of years of evolution, from a very primitive form of life to a human being.
Some genetic sequences, known as “master genes”, control hundreds of other genes like an on/off switch. These master genes also seem to be highly conserved across species. For example, flies and human beings have a very similar gene that controls the development of the eye, though their eyes are very different. Geneticist André Langaney writes that “the existence of master genes points to the insufficiency of the neodarwinian model and to the necessity of introducing into the theory of evolution mechanisms, either known or to be discovered, that contradict this model’s basic principles.”
Obviously DNA mutation happens, that’s not in doubt. But it seems like planet earth has been mutation with the full deck of cards right from the very beginning of life on earth. As His Holiness, Lord Hancock, points out referring to the origins of Crick’s “panspermia” ideas:
What bothered the statistician in Crick was the absolute improbability of even a single fully assembled protein made up of a long chain of amino acids emerging as a result of chance – no matter how nutritious the prebiotic soup or how many billions of years the ingredients were allowed to stew. Based on an average protein about 200 amino acids in length (others are much bigger), he calculated the odds of this happening as just one chance in a 1 followed by 260 zeros. To provide some sort of benchmark, all the atoms in the entire visible universe (not just our own galaxy) amount to a 1 followed by 80 zeros – quite a paltry number by comparison with the odds against the chance assembly of a single protein. How much less likely would it be, therefore, that life itself – which even at the bacterial level calls for complex cellular mechanisms and makes use of many proteins – could have got started through the chance collision of molecules?
So the most effective coding system ever discovered appeared billions of years ago and just ‘unpacked’ like George Jetson turning his briefcase into a flying car at the end of a workday.
Actually, let’s stick with that flying car image for a moment.
My name is LUCA (I live on the second floor)
Before sex, before death there was LUCA… the Last Universal Common Ancestor, the “Eve” for all of creation. Pause for laughter, English readers, but what if I told you it was found in Bradford and the French named it Mimi?
Mimi is a monster. She is bigger than some bacteria which led to her initial misclassification. If a normal virus is the height of a man she is a twelve story building and almost impossible to kill. Sound waves, high temperatures… all the things that kill normal viruses she just shakes off. She is also a vision of flawless design. Here is how Dr Michael Brooks, New Scientist consultant and sporadic Cambridge lecturer describes her:
Mimi -like all viruses- looks like some kind of crystal. It doesn’t look baggy, like a cell or bacterium. It looks like something that has arranged its structure according to neat architectural principles. Its head is an icosohedron, multi-faceted, like a well-cut gemstone. It looks well-ordered, disciplined.
And it is. Unlike other viruses, it has a genome that is a model of restraint. Where most viruses have a headful of “junk” DNA that seems to serve no purpose, most of Mimivirus’s genes perform well-defined tasks. And what tasks. There are genes, for example, that encode for the instruction and apparatus for making proteins. This violates biological dogma straightaway; viruses are supposed to let their hosts make the proteins. Some of the protein-making apparatus in Mimivirus is exactly the same as you’d find in all the things we call “alive.” There are also genes for repairing and untangling DNA, for metabolizing sugars, and for protein folding -an essential step in the construction of life. The Marseille researchers found Mimivirus is the proud owner of a grand total of 1,262 genes. (The typical virus has 100 or so but only uses around 10.) Scientists had never seen somewhere near half of them before, which has the Marseille researchers excited. However it is the ones they had seen before that are causing the most fuss.
If you’re getting a vision in your head of one of those terraforming ships out of sci fi movies then you probably aren’t too far off. This is exactly how you’d build one. Because, it turns out, some of Mimi’s genes predate eukaryotes, the very things it now infects. Mimi sits at or near the very bottom of the tree of life.
So why isn’t she at the bottom of the tree already?
Because viruses -only known to mankind for a century- have always been considered chemical rather than biological.
In Dr Brooks’s words once again “they are viewed as almost mechanical: vicious, brutal, violent, powerful machines, hell-bent on reproducing themselves but unable to do it on their own.”
Viruses cannot exist without a host to create proteins and energy for them.
Mimi, however, has the code to do both.
The only answer as to why she hasn’t been accepted onto the tree of life is “because she is a parasite.” Ipso facto, it can’t be LUCA because there needs to be a host before there is an invader.
Let’s return to Dr Brooks:
Logic is a wicked thing, though; it often relies on subtle assumptions. What if, for instance, viruses weren’t always parasites? What if they evolved before life split into eukaryotes, bacteria and archaea, but subsequently lost some of their independence? In that case they would have every right to be called alive -and they might hold clues, as many clues as the other three groups, about our Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA). Since LUCA is practically the holy grail of biology, it doesn’t do to ignore the possibility, and the claim is not without foundation. Around half of Mimivirus’s genes are unknown to science; no one has a clue what they encode. Considering how many genomes we have now sequenced, how many genes we have sequenced, that is rather surprising. Unless, that is, Mimivirus really is from another age. So perhaps in a bygone era Mimivirus wasn’t a virus at all, but an independent, free-living organism that later fell on hard times and resorted to piracy. The 450 hitherto-unseen genes are one hint toward this; they may be relics of the distant past. But it is the seven genes it shares with every other living thing that provide the most intriguing clue.
Mimi is impossibly old, incredibly complex and may just be responsible for the well-organised cells that you are built from. The very notion that a virus is the origin of the nucleus -an evolutionary marvel that is the biological equivalent of the appearance of the Great Pyramid- is gaining ground. DNA viruses, like nuclei, are packaged in protein coatings. In simple organisms nuclei move between cells in behaviour that mimics that of viruses. Both pack their DNA in linear chromosomes, while bacterial chromosomes are circular. Viral DNA even have telomeres.
Based on the sheer vastness of DNA, based on the impossible conditions that surround its alleged terrestrial development, based on the discovery of giant, ancient, super-viruses that share genetic traits with all creation and can survive in space it is my contention that LUCA either is or quickly descended from an alien virus that was sent with all the code it needed to unpack and terraform this planet.
It’s my contention that Mimi is probably a spaceship. But is she THE spaceship? I don’t know.
In the last few years, Craig Venter, the human genome pioneer, has been going back to life’s roots, sailing the Earth’s oceans, sampling water every couple of hundred miles, and then sequencing the DNA in the bucket. Circumnavigating the globe in a one hundred foot boat… is a wild way to do biology, and it has produced suitably stunning results. In the Sargasso Sea off Bermuda, Venter’s team found more than eighteen hundred new species and more than 1.2 million new genes; so far, the trip has given us a tenfold hike in the number of known genes. And every bucketful of water -if you can call a two hundred liter container a bucket- contained millions of viruses never before seen by humans.
And according to Dr Brooks, the boat in which he did this was called the Sorcerer II.
But of course it was.
A very magical universe
Magical views of the universe largely hinge one way or another on the contention that, rather than consciousness emerging from matter, matter emerges from consciousness.
Shamanism, Hermeticism, Neoplatonism, Gnosticism, Buddhism, and so on… you have a ‘real’ world that is somehow the progenitor of the physical world.
These meat suits and their surrounds are variously described as a prison, as imperfect copies of perfect ideas, as dangerous illusions, as a physical expression of an idea in the mind of god, as a way for the creator to come to know itself through physical manifestation. One way or another there is -if not artificiality- then intentionality.
If you were to cast your eyes about looking for how this construct may be manifest, what the blueprints for this prison/playground of matter might look like… then surely DNA is on your shortlist? It’s on mine. But then, if it hasn’t escaped your notice, I’m rather fond of looking for vastly ancient remnants of things that just might make our universe bigger.
Of course, our understanding of DNA is naturally going to change year by year as developing countries like India and China pick up the ball we have dropped and invest billions into unlocking the secrets of creation. However it shakes out, here is where we stand:
- According to people much smarter than me, DNA is extraterrestrial.
- A virus is the most-likely candidate for a directly panspermed/extraterrestrial LUCA as viruses can survive in space and then ‘unpack’ and eventually terraform.
- We have found at least one monster virus that is old in a way that makes Cthulhu look like a freshman.
- DNA is the most efficient coding language ever encountered and parts of it actually behave like a language.
- Combinations of the four elements (get it?) build genes that pass down unchanged across billions of years, flying in the face of neodarwinian theory.
Each individual piece offers an alternate, terrestrial explanation of varying degrees of solidity. But it is in the combination of all of them that you build a picture that blows holes in the hull of the random, terracentric explanation of DNA. Like the geological age of the Sphinx, science will persistently return a wrong vision of the origins of life and the role of DNA if it doesn’t develop a way to see past its own blind spots and engage with the implications of its own data.
Obviously I don’t have the right picture. That’s not what a rant is for. That’s not what pseudohistory is for. Pseudohistory is for saying you don’t have the right picture so stop being such a bitch. This is Sheldrake’s “recurrent fantasy of omniscience.”
Once again, being open, waking up from the fantasy of omniscience, that’s all I’m asking. Because, at the very least, surely there is some kind of offworld ancient tech here?
We probably weren’t the first to reach this conclusion.
Universal snake myths
Not all snake myths, obviously… this isn’t 777.
But The Rainbow Serpent, Hermes’s caduceus, Damballa, Tiamat, the dragons of creation, the Serpent of Eden, even the description of Hadit in the Book of The Law… something is up here. Beings that existed before or at the point of creation, in some cases (Tiamat, The Rainbow Serpent, Damballa sometimes) actually cause life to be built.
It’s the role and purpose of these Beings that, for me, really tips DNA into Whisky Rant territory. Crossing from this world to the next while still incarnate should surely involve getting a view of the scaffolding that’s holding the place up. At least that’s been my personal experience.
So this is what I (currently) see here:
Like a lot of the universal flood myths that point to a shared experience of the end of the Pleistocene, these stories are examples of the famous “blind men and the elephant”, each fumbling to mythically convey this one, beautiful idea: that the building blocks of physical creation display an intentionality and that sporadically we get a glance at the blueprint.
The natural implication of this contention, of course, is that there might just be chemical methods for opening one eye just a little bit and peeking at the elephant.
And there are. See you next time.