Last night was an almost magical night. It started with a fiery end as the sun disappeared below the western horizon and Venus lit up the western sky like a celestial beacon. A sliver of the moon lied a hands width below Venus’s light and created an image that defined hope. My ten year old daughter pointed to the iconic image and said “Dad, that is so pretty. You think other people are looking at the same thing as us?” I told her, “I hope so because if not, we’re a pretty sorry species.” That one moment in time inspired me to write this blog. A blog of hope for a self-destructive species.
In another blog I wrote, I spoke of civilization’s passed and the civilization’s of the present. When I think of the trials and tribulations that we as a people have had to overcome to become who we are today, i’m humbled. Just the thought of what my grandparents, great grandparents and great-great grandparents had to overcome for me to be here now to write this blog leaves me with a sense of humility that is almost impossible to define. My personal history is a direct reflection of humanities history as a whole. Everyone alive today is here only because of the drive and determination of our ancestors. And our ancestors lived only because of the sheer will of their ancestors. It’s a cycle of life that is driven by a mixture of culture, chemistry and biology. Without all three of these key ingredients we wouldn’t be here.
As me and my daughter gazed upon the night sky I asked my daughter, “As we look up at the stars and ask if other civilizations are out there, do you think that someone else on another planet is looking at our star and asking the same question?” She replied, “I don’t know?” To me, that was the perfect response. I’ve never wanted my daughters beliefs to be a mirrored reflection of my own. I have always wanted them to draw their own conclusions about matters of life and religion. Skepticism and curiosity have always been qualities I have tried to instill in my daughters and for the first time I saw the fruits of my labor. It may not sound like much to you, but to me it was a great moment.
She finally got tired of looking at the stars with dad and decided to head inside to watch her favorite t.v show, “Diner’s, drive-in’s and dives”. I can’t blame her, it’s a cool show. I stayed outside though and left my mind to wonder wherever it wanted to. Sometimes the best and most inspiring ideas come from a mind left free to wander.
I started to think about a book I had just finished called, “The language of life” by Francis S. Collins; if you havn’t read it and your curious about the accelerating world of genetics – I strongly recommend it. I started to think about the world of the incredibly small and how it relates to the world of the infinitly large. Now before you think it, i’m not talking about the unified theory of everything such as connecting the Quantum world with the world of Relativity, but I am talking about the energy of all living things. I used to think that my idea’s we’re mine alone until I saw Avatar. If you have seen Avatar, do you remember the part when Jake said,” Netere talks about an energy that flows through all living things, and she says that all energy is borrowed and one day you have to give it back”. That particular part of the movie reverberated throughout my soul. It was a belief that I had shared with family and friends and for the first time it was right in front of me on the big screen. The idea of genetics being the reason for the existence of every living creature truly is AMAZING! Well, at least it is to me.
I’ve been fascinated with biology ever since I can remember, but then again everything about life in general has always fascinated me. I went to college for a while, but I always had the problem of not knowing which path to follow. My passion was so diverse I never could narrow down a degree. Now at the age of thirty-two I finally know the path I should’ve followed, and that would have been Bio-physics. I strongly believe that this field of study will dramatically alter the course of human evolution. Like so many other times, last nights star gazing drove me down the highway of the physics of biology.
I owe my existence to an amazing collaboration of 400 trillion cells working together for the good of the colony. It’s like watching an ant hill as all the ants work together to ensure the survival of the colony. Unlike ants though, we humans have a charcteristic that sets us upart from all the other species in the animal kingdom. We have the power and the evolutionary anomaly called intelligence. Now I know that many animals show signs of an equal intelligence such as dolphins, but we have single handedly manipulated our environment to suit our needs. This power to overcome nearly every obstacle has been driven by the selflessness of each and every cell in our body.
400 trillion is so hard to comprehend, if not impossible. How can so many cells know what to do and how to do it. Every person on planet Earth has these same cells and within each of these cells lies the miracle of life itself, DNA. No matter if your black, white, hispanic, asian or any other ethnecity, our DNA only differs by .04%. Yet we fight, kill and oppress eachother because of racial heritage. 6.2 billion nucleotides make up the well recognized double helix. The same gene misspelling that causes cancer in a white person will cause cancer in a black person. Were all brothers and sisters whether you like it or not. The only things that seperate us are country borders, religous beliefs and political differences. As we continue to kill eachother over bullshit motives we tend to forget that at one time we were all the same egg cell in the mothers womb. We were all fertilized by the sperm of our fathers and once both sets of genomes were brought together evolution took over and the greatest spectacle of life began its journey. One cell became two, two became four, four became eight, and when the embryo attained this eight cell moment, DNA was left to operate the program. Eight stem cells became every cell in your body, whether they be brain cells, heart cells, lung cells, skin cells or any of the other cells, these amazing stem cells created all the necessary cells that were needed to make our human bodies.
Each cell in your body has the same exact DNA, each cell though utilizes a seperate gene to make the proteins it needs so it can contribute to collective whole of the organism. Take for example; when you put a couple of heart cells in a petri dish and add growth media what happens is amazing. The heart cells will divide just as they were programmed to do and eventually what was once a microscopic group of cells is now a visible thin layer that covers the bottom of the petri dish that begins to beat just like a heart. This kind of experiment can be done with anyones heart cells, it doesn’t matter where youre from or what you look like. What I find more amazing than that is the enigma of our minds.
When I say our mind, im referring to the brains ability to create personality. According to our body size, we have a proportionaly larger brain than anything else alive today. To me, the brain is the most beautiful organ in the body, not only because of the abilities it gives us to be creatures of free will, but the way its formed. I’m not going to give any time frames or dates when the brain evolved into being, but i’m going to just give an explanation of the events that led us to who we are.
In the long ago past we looked much different and our brains reflected our physical image due to our environment. In the beginning of every humans evolution all we had to control our bodies was small bulb shaped group of cells called the brainstem or as some call it, the reptilian brain. Some call it the reptilian brain because most reptiles have the same brain today. This small group of cells sits on the very top of our spinal cord. This brain served our early ancestors well and we still benefit and owe our lives to this small brain. This primitive brain controls all of our involuntary functions such as breathing, heart beat, blood pressure and metabolism. You ever heard of the fight or flight response? This is the brain that controls adrenaline. All of us work, play, learn and sleep without having to worry about remembering to breath or pump our heart because nature has taken care of that for us. With the amazing ability of the brain stem we live our lives how we want, but who we are doesn’t end there.
Theres another brain that surrounds the brain stem like a helmet and its called the Limbic region. This area of the brain has a series of neural connections that give us the ability to nurture.Theres four little almond shaped organs that lie in this part of the brain that give us the ability to be humanitarian. Two of these little structures are called the hippocampus or hippocampi(2). Both of these are located in both temporal lobes of the brain and give us the ability to create memories and feel emotion. When you hear of someone with amnesia, this is the part of the brain that has been damaged. The other two structures that lie within the limbic region are called the Amygdala. These two structures are near the brain stem, but one is in the right hemisphere and the other is in the left. These structures also give us the ability to create an emotional response to situations. Emotions after all are one of the biggest attributes that make humans unique. Thats why the limbic region is often called the emotional brain.
The last area of the brain is the part that everyone is familiar with, the Neocortex. You know, the grey matter thats folded and split down the middle. This area of the brain gives us logic, reasoning, forming concepts and fine tunes the emotional responses that are created deeper within the brain. This part of the brain truly makes us human. In redicuously simple form i’ve given a description of the physical aspects of the brain, but its not the physical aspects that really amaze me, its the non-physical that humbles me.
The physical brain is an enigma and testament to the infinite genius of life. All three components work together to create what is called the mind. The mind can’t be defined in physical terms, in fact it really can’t be defined at all. Each and every person has a unique and conscious mind that defines who they are. Over a 100 billion neurons lie within the brain. A 100 billion, thats as many stars that there is in the Milky Way galaxy. Each neuron is like a transistor on a microchip, but instead of using electrons and binary code to operate the program, it uses a complex language of electro-chemical signals to relay information. The intricacy of neuronal connections is so complex and so beautiful that people have tried to understand how it all works, but we know more about the surface of Mars than we know about the inner workings of the brain. Ever since were born neurons begin to make connections with eachother. They form life long friendships with each other that define personality and character. Were all born with all the neurons that we will ever have and different times in our development form patterns that will carry on throughout our lives.
I’ve always liked to use an analogy that I came up with a long time ago. I would imagine myself being shrunk down to the size of a neuron, then being put right in the middle of one the two hemispheres in my brain, then I would put another analogy to work to make my point. What if one day an alien spacecraft came to earth and for the first time you actually made contact with them. They told you that they had the technology to fly twenty thousand light years out of our galaxy and give you a panoramic view of the entire galaxy and they could do it within minutes. You of course said yes and off you went. After what seemed to be just a few minutes you slowly begin to see the galaxy come into view. You look out of a window and behold, you’re home galaxy – 100,000 light years across, is for the first time being seen by a human being. You instantly become humbled and realize that all of our petty differences account for nothing. We are all so small and insignificant and yet we’re all amazing and precious. Then the little grey aliens tell you its time to go home, so you buckle up and begin the return home. As you become surrounded by millions and millions of stars they suddenly stop, give you a space suit and kick your ass out of the space ship. As theyre all laughing at the stupid and ignorant human they dissappear into the infinite darkness. You look around and try to get a bearing of where you are, but you quickly realize that there is no north, south, east and west and all the stars look almost identical. Some are bigger and some are smaller, but even with a space suit that has its own propulsion device you get completely disoriented. The sheer size and magnitude of the galaxy leave you with the sense that you’re lost forever. Words cant describe the isolation and confusion that overwhelms your senses. In basic terms, you’re totally and completely screwed! Now apply this situation to your own mind. Like before, imagine yourself being the size of a neuron and being placed right in the middle of one of your brains hemispheres. Perception is now the ruler of your universe. You were once 5ft 8in tall and your brain was a 3 pound organ that allowed you to think. Now that youre the size of a neuron, your now completely lost in a 3 pound universe you used to call a mind. Like stars all the neurons look the same and like the vast dark areas that seperated stars in the galaxy, now vast black areas seperate the neurons in the vastness of the mental universe. Perception is relative to the observer, so at microscopic scales your brain is a universe of epic distances.
Perception is what makes everyone different. How I view an object is different from anothers view. Our bodies are the transport mechanism for our mind. The three different areas of the brain all work together to form the mind. Our culture and beliefs shape and mold our minds while DNA created the physical and complex brain that in turn allowed us access to consciousness. Consciousness flows through all living beings allowing DNA to continue its evolutionary march.
Without Earth we would not be here. Earth is the womb and cradle for nurturing evolution. Everything is connected – you, me, the trees, grass, animals, fish, insects and every other living organism. Humans are the only creature that kills for fun and yet everyone is afraid to die. So many of us find it so easy and entertaining to take life and yet we fear death. We go to church and pray to different deities to compensate for our insecurities and actions. Humans are all connected by our genetics and not only are we connected to each other, but were also connected to every other living thing on our green and blue planet. Our environment shapes our perspective on the meaning of life. One day I hope that we all see just how amazing life is and make the sound decision to take care of eachother and most importantly to take care of our planet. Does it make any sense why we would destroy our one and only home, I dont see any. Maybe one day we’ll put aside all of our petty differences and embrace consciousness as the root of our existence.