Flowers Through Swim Googles - photo by Augie Accardi (age 10)
Synchronicity is an appealing idea. Very likely it is simply an egoist’s fantasy. In reality, everything is already there, just hanging and waiting patiently, until one day we simply look up. Naturally, we mistakenly feel in tune or specially designated. It’s all about ME! I knew it!
Case in point- while I was furiously studying the ins and outs of DNA transcribing and RNA transcription for summer session college, I happened to catch a radio interview with author Sam Kean whose book about DNA, The Violinist’s Thumb has recently been published. Much to my delight, I understood what he was talking about as he enthused about RNA, DNA, Apoptosis and the like. What are the odds? The very week I am invested in comprehending DNA I happen to hear this interview…oh it’s all too much. Me, universe, we are one.
But the truth is, hundreds of books on DNA have been written and just because I finally noticed one is really not that interesting in the scheme of things, that admission out of the way, I can say - the book is interesting.
The Violinist’s Thumb is - but this is only a guess because, as I mentioned, I did very recently memorize the mechanisms of protein production and DNA transcription- I think I would have understood the book just as well without this primer, but I can’t know for sure now can I? Too late, I’m already…educated.
Never the less, I think this is the sort of book that is meant for us none to middling scientific comprehension types. It is very readable and fills your heart with a kind of joy to ponder the wonder, complexity, and mystery of the universe- of our personal universe, which is ever the microcosm of the universe. It’s so beautiful. See? It is all about me! I knew it!
"It turns out that universal music does exist, only it’s much closer than we ever imagined, in our DNA" - Sam Kean, The Violinist’s Thumb
Kean very astutely understands his average reader and early on connects the concept of literacy (musical as well as linguistic) with DNA. Or at least he knows my preference- sitting in class I would often get very excited by the literary-esque nomenclature of the whole process taking place within our bodies. My mind would rapturously start picturing a sort of tRNA His Girl Friday news room with the tick tick tick of the polypeptide news ticker tape - read by Cary Grant of course, “Yes, What? Blue eyes you say? Reddish brown hair, that’ll be just fine. Hurry up with that MHC*. Hold on, this just in, you are not infected with the Toxo virus as the smell of cat urine still repulses you. Right, got it. Here Darling, pass this on to Golgi, that’s a Dear.”
DNA is a news reel, a language. It can be read and understood in exactly the same way as a book or sheet music. To that end not only has DNA actually been turned into music by some clever person, but someone has also turned music into DNA code with nothing lost in…literacy. Perhaps we make sense of the world through stories because that is what we are: books to be read or sung…kind of a lovely thought.
Kean easily explains all sorts of mysteries you may have not known you were dying to know. Why do we have DNA and RNA? Why will eating a polar bear’s liver kill you? Why do we fall in love with some people and not others (put the blame on MHC), Why doesn’t the female body attack and kill the virus (otherwise known as a baby) growing inside her? And how does said baby share its own cells with the mother?I’m kind of fascinated by that last one- my children’s cells in me, how wonderful!
My son Luke was onto something when he said recently, “Maybe we are the viruses of the universe” Well- we do have more virus DNA than ape DNA in our code. That explains a lot. If actual viruses make up controlling portions of my DNA, the very story of who I am, then who am I?
There is no me. Damn it. I knew it.
But wait. What about epigenetic change, you ask? Altered DNA after the first draft so to speak? Yes, there is that, (according to Kean it explains why the personalities and physiology of identical twins become more distinct as the years accumulate, why our own personality changes…) but it seems to me that the changes are mostly stress induced, which is depressing - that’s our effect on our own DNA. Oh geez. I wish it weren’t all about me.
*MHC is a busy gene, but one of its functions is to make you smell like you, (the pheromones theory- that an auxiliary nose , the VNO, that in animals fully functions, but while we still may have one after age 16 weeks gestation, whether or not it functions is debated) the part I find fascinating is that we are wildly attracted to people who have the opposite MHC (or, smell) as our own, which Kean says is one reason why incest is so unappealing. Maybe dating websites should just focus on DNA to accurately predict attraction….