Thursday, March 25, 2010

The world of co-evolution

By Steve Rensberry

Biology, as I understand it, is broadly defined as the study of living organisms and classifies all living things into five major groups: plants and animals, fungi, plant-like, one-cell organisms, and monera (bacteria). Identified are more than 1.2 million animal species, 300,000 plant species and 100,000 other forms of living organisms. Biochemistry, defined as the chemistry of living organisms, looks at the compounds, forces and biosynthesis occurring within such organisms.

When it comes to humans - of which there are now about 6.8 billion of us - water molecules are the most abundant compounds. Other major biomolecule categories include acids, bases and salts or electrolytes; proteins or "macromolecules" composed of amino acids; carbohydrates - known as sugars and starches; lipids - which includes fats and many other insoluble organic biomolecules; and nucleic acid compounds - referring primarily to human DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid.

Each compound's unique characteristic is what make the whole process function. Water provides a non-dry environment necessary for the thousands of chemical reactions that need to occur. Electrolytes are considered essential in their ability to conduct electric current. Carbon-containing proteins, which are enormous molecules often linked to peptide bonds, perform hundreds of different functions. One class of proteins, namely enzymes, catalyze reactions through uniquely shaped surface areas (binding sites or receptors), which bind to ligands or a substrate (a complementary-shaped molecule or ion), consequently changing the substrate into a different compound entirely.

Proteins often serve as communication agents and chemical messengers, or transporters of such things as oxygen to various cells - all of which cause the cells to begin some kind of activity. Carbohydrates, such as sugars, saccharides, polysaccharides and disaccharides, enable the body's need to release and store energy on the biochemical level.

Lipids, such as saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, serve as concentrated energy sources. Other lips like steroids form male and female hormones, as well as cholesterol. Still others include prostaglandins which are involved in hormone functioning, and phosphoglycerides (lecithin), a major constituent of the membranes of cells and important for many other cellular functions.

Nucleic acids, namely deoxyribonucleic and ribonucleic acids, exist as polymers of thousands of smaller nucleotide molecules. One human DNA molecule is composed of a polynucleotide chain of more than 100 million pars of molecules held together by hydrogen bonds. The sequences are different for each human individual, but the same for each cell within any one individual's body.

How the body uses the food it consumes is what we refer to as metabolism and involves the bioenergic process of catabolism (chemical bond decomposition reactions), and anabolism (a chemical reaction which combines molecules into one which is more complex).

So there you have it, a summary I wrote a while back in my search for that elusive fountain of youth. For the record, I’m still on the hunt.

Anyway, there’s an interesting proposition put forward by Ian Marshall and Dana Zohar in their book “Who’s Afraid of Schrodinger’s Cat?” (William Morrow, New York, 1997, pgs 93-94). They ask the question: Is it possible that evolution could occur on the level of DNA?

In particular, the authors suggest that the concept of co-evolution could be at work on the molecular biology level, resulting in the transformation or evolving of DNA structures themselves in cooperation between mutually benefiting organisms.

Co-evolution is described as a process which considers the interdependence and symbiotic relationship between animals and plants, in contrast to the competitive nature of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory.

And to think, all this time while some of us have been waiting for the next big evolutionary leap to come along - and perhaps erase one of the umpteen many debilitating diseases that plague our species - a process of change may very well have been going on all long right under our noses.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Beyond reality

By Steve Rensberry

Imagine an existence without limits.

In you and through you lies everything there is and everything there can be. Your knowledge of reality is comprehensive and all encompassing. Your power is beyond perfection. At will you are able to alter, mix, rearrange and manifest every conceivable physical force and particle in the universe.

You live in a world of infinite existence and unlimited ability. You can freeze time, reverse it or speed it up. You can heighten your senses or dull them. All there is to know you know. There are no mysteries but those you choose to place at your discretion.

Far from a lack of meaning, there is life as rich and deep as you desire because the very essence of worth, the sum total of all that is of value and relevance, is within your ability to manifest.

Can you conceive of such an existence? Can you wrap your mind around the immortal and the infinite? I think you can, in a limited but useful way because of that amazing faculty we have to imagine and conceptualize.

Perhaps today, in your magnanimous world, you may assume the role of a beggar, penniless and hungry because at this moment in existence that is exactly what you want to be. Tomorrow, maybe you’ll be a banker, or a farmer, or a gymnast competing in an Olympic trial.

Better yet, picture yourself at the dawn of all creation, undertaking the most ambitious of experiments -- splitting yourself into no less than a billion smaller selves -- creatures resembling yourself only finite and fragile, each unique, conscious and self aware.

Five hundred billion years this experience shall last before the trigger you’ve placed at the cornerstone of time changes course.

You may, of course, know by your very nature what will happen. Of course you will. But you also may isolate this little experimental world of wonder from everything and anything -- in your own little self-imposed, schizophrenic shell. Maybe sticking the whole blasted thing on some tiny little rock in the depths of an enormous expanse of nothingness will do. Certainly it will, for the creation is yours and you are both truth and existence personified.

You are reality. And reality is you. You are invincible, indescribable and never, ever wrong - because you are the ruler with which all things are measured. You are perfect and nothing else applies. You are brilliant. You are everything.

.....and you are imaginary.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Absolute confusion

By Steve Rensberry

"There are no absolutes."

"Everything is relative."

Both of these statements, uttered with any kind of sincerity, are but lightning rods for criticism. The response generally is along the lines that it is illogical and self-contradictory, requiring the person to assume to be true the very thing they are saying is untrue. No one can logically deny that absolutes exist, they say.

The charge however is disingenuous and for all practical purposes irrelevant. Why? Because the meaning and existential truth of a statement is one thing and its temporal or structural consistency is another. The preponderance of evidence also shows the nature of proof to be nebulous at best.

To say absolutely that absolutes -- or any specific entity or thing for that matter -- do not exist, certainly seems to lend itself to being self-referentially inconsistent. By implication, it is suggested, the person who says that absolutes do not exist is saying there is at least one that does, that being the one that says there are no others.

The problem is that the person who says that absolutes do in fact exist unknowingly makes the very same kind of statement, also by implication. That being that there is no evidence anywhere which can be used to prove that absolutes do not exist. Certainly a person would need to see or be everywhere to know such a thing with certainty, would they not? Logically, mathematically and in terms of being self-referentially inconsistent it fits the very same pattern.

Any statement for that matter which claims that something either exists or does not exist is, at the same time, making a negative existential statement by implying there is no thing or piece of evidence anywhere which proves the contrary.

Let me make three points:

First, all statements of being must of necessity presume to be outside the reality to which the subject matter exists. When we think about thinking for instance, or reflect upon ourselves reflecting, we break the loop only by presumptively stepping outside the realm of our own thoughts in order to assert some kind of objective statement about those thoughts. The nature of consciousness makes it imperative that we do so.

Second, every statement about being hinges on presumptions about existence, the trustworthiness of a person's senses, the nature of matter and time, and so forth -- presumptions that are always beyond proof in the absolute sense -- either from a logical or a materialistic standpoint. I can take an apple and place it in your palm, but you must still presume your senses to be telling you the truth and presume that what looks and tastes like an apple truly is an apple and not some kind of metaphysical, molecular impostor.

Every moment of every day we're busy trusting in what our limited, imperfect human senses are telling us. Trusting that no universe besides this one exists. Trusting that what exists now has this or that characteristic. Trusting that the concepts of logic and time and existence really matter in the grand scheme of things.

Third, the nature of the concept of absolutes puts it on thin ground from the beginning. If, for instance, the something we're talking about is of a brute physical and material nature like, say, a 200-pound chunk of granite rock, or a human being, then it's not too difficult to provide the kind of evidence for its existence that most people would agree on. Tiny, microscopic creatures on the level of an amoeba would take the assistance of a powerful microscope to detect -- but are still in the realm of revealing evidence. However, it's a whole different matter when that subject is something akin to an invisible, telepathic creature from another side of the universe, capable of being communicated with on that same telepathic level.

A person quite obviously could claim that no such 200-pound chunk of granite exists anywhere, but all it would take would be for one person to round up just one such rock to prove otherwise. Meanwhile, if that same person claimed that there was indeed such a thing as an invisible, telepathic creature from the far reaches of the universe who communicated with us earthlings, would they be able to prove it? I don't think so. Disproving them wrong may be equally difficult, though the burden of proof is arguably on the person making the claim.

Critics of relativism like to point to the self-referential inconsistency of the statement "absolutes do not exist" as though it somehow offers proof that they do in fact exist. But the assertion is a fundamental misrepresentation of what relativists believe. All the person is saying when they postulate that absolutes do not exist is that within the limited boundaries of human understanding and knowledge, the evidence in favor of relativism appears stronger than the evidence in favor of absolutes. They are saying that from the position of a hypothetical being outside the constructs of this theoretical thing we call the universe, it is presumptuous to claim absolute certainty. Not absolutely presumptuous, but rationally so given the weight of evidence available to finite human beings.

Carl Sagan on God, Faith and Religion