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WHO'S IN YOUR GENES »

Matter is binary.
Neils Bohr had a wonderful word for it: Complementarity; referring to the wave-particle duality that underlies everything. He's also the guy that said "If you think you can talk about quantum theory without feeling dizzy, you haven't understood the first thing about it."

Actually, not understanding quantum theory is precisely why most people feel dizzy. For many people the binary nature of existence is far too tantalizing to accept. In this secularized society we may no longer be monotheists but we are monists. We prefer a "singularity" even though we have yet to discover any such unification. For now we have to accept that our existence is stubbornly and irreducibly binary. We have males and females. Night and Day. Life and Death. Waves and Particles.

God and No God...?

God having a binary compliment might sound silly, but it is, perhaps, comparable to "Mind" and "No Mind" in Zen meditation. This means that God, too, is irreducibly binary.

In our world of dogmatic matter it is an "either-or" scenario when it comes to God. He either is or isn't. But in the nebulous realm of information God is both:

He is and he isn't.

God lives in the clouds of computing as 1 and 0. All information is carried by some kind of medium, and the carriers of "GOD.exe" in Western society are Monotheists (1) and Atheists (0). Sorry, but the "Monotheist-Atheist / 1-0" metaphor is just too tempting to pass up.

By the way, we are speaking metaphorically here. But here's the confession: we are only half committed to this whimsical metaphor. The other half is presented literally since it seems to be a point of fact that we humans are, like everything else, comprised of information. In the case of humans it is our genes that hold the information for creating a human body and all the workings that go with it. You will often hear geneticists refer to genes as being "on" and "off". They too are using a binary metaphor to illustrate what genes actually do, which is carry "genetic information" to the right cell at the right time for the production of proteins. Everyone is essentially a product of this "on-off" programming. As physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson put it: "Hardware processes information; software embodies information. These two components have their exact analogues in the living cell; protein is hardware and nucleic acid is software."

The Body as genetic information may be an irreducible truth, but it is far from a simple fact. Especially when we get to the Brain, where the stuff of gene expression gets pretty hazy. You probably remember Descartes' quip, "I think, therefore I am." Well it turns out that he was more right than even he knew: Brain cells have about half of all genes switched on - this is more than any other cell in your body. In other words, while Body programs are complex; Brain programs are really complex. This complexity allow us humans to think and dream up some pretty remarkable thoughts and ideas that seem to be, as far as we can tell, exclusive to humans. For instance, the capacity to believe or even question the existence of a God is a habit and ritual not shared by any other earthly species. The profundity of this trait is akin to those scientists who are astounded not just by the laws and forces that govern the universe - but that the human mind is predisposed to understanding these laws. To quote Einstein himself, "The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible."

Our ability to question our environment and make sense of it as we upgrade our information about it has spurred all kinds of speculation and discussions about a natural link between the Human Mind and the Universe. What is it about the information that programs the universe that is compatible with the information processing capacities of our brains? And why do we consider some information to be admissible and not others?

A spin-off of these questions is whether or not numbers - a fundamental tool the Brain uses in understanding and manipulating the environment - are discovered or created. Are numbers actual things that exist in the Universe, waiting to be discovered and excavated by a capable Mind? Or are they inventions of the human mind that remarkably render our environments compliant and comprehensible?

Here's another question...

If our brains are programmed for the idea of numbers, are our brains also then programmed for the idea of gods? Before you answer that, remember first that in ancient time the two were one in the same. Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans who constituted a community of number philosophers were described as consecrating angles and numbers to Greek deities. It is very likely that Pythagoras learned this relationship between numbers and gods from the Egyptians who, in one of their few surviving mathematical papyri, describe the application of even basic mathematics as the "key to knowing all secrets and all mysteries." We learn from such Greek historians as Herodotus and Plutarch that the Egyptian deities were also representative of numbers and geometric shapes. Somewhere in history the concept of numbers and gods went their separate ways, but the two have remained ensconced in the human brain as if the brain were genetically predisposed to both. And yet, of numbers and gods only the latter seem to be unique to the human brain as many animals have been observed to recognize quantities up to the number three.

Is there a GOD.exe program running through our brains? And if so, we are then faced with a "chicken or the egg" conundrum since we are genetically created by and the neurological creators of this complex program.

To be sure, there are no genes that code the idea of "God" into our Brains. As Greg Gibson writes in his book It Takes a Genome. "The reason there may be a genetic contribution to spirituality is not because some genes function to ensure that we have a belief in God, but rather because there are genes that affect how the neurons are wired together and the strength of signaling across synapses." In other words, after the genes have set the stage another "program" enters the equation, making use of our incredible and intrinsic capacity to mythologize and elucidate the workings of our world. This other program is our Environment.

From the early analog days to the hi-tech days of computing, man has always kept his head in the clouds. His fascination with his environment encouraged intense observation of it. The result was the God program.

Relegating God as a product of the Environment is not to imply a downgrade nor should the Environment be looked upon as a secondary or peripheral program. For one, the Environment was here a lot longer than we were. Secondly, through environmental processes that we still do not fully understand, our switch from inanimate matter into amino acids means that we are literally products of our Environment. From early exotic particles to comparatively enormous proteins the Environment is the Primary programmer. Our capacity to conceive of gods and numbers is a product of these primordial programs. After all, our brain, which is the Chief Information Officer - is a key part of our evolutionary process and product. We humans simply wouldn't be the same without it. When these conceptions culminated into culture we humans became programmers of our own existence. Some of us are programmed with a Western empirical way of looking at the rest of the world (or in some cases, imperial), others are looking at the world with the GOD.exe program running at full speed (which can also have imperial repercussions).

This binary relationship, where GOD.exe is either turned on or off, places every human being as a bit of information constituting a secondary code of his and her environment. Joel De Rosnay calls this interconnected whole of Man and Enviornment the Cybiont. He writes in his book The Symbiotic Man that "This hybrid life, (is) at once biological, mechanical and electronic... And we are its cells. In a still unconscious way, we are contributing to the invention of its metabolism, its circulation, and its nervous system." In Western society we usually prefer straight lines or tributary hierarchies to describe timelines and organizations, but the best model for the relationship of our genes to our environment and back to our genes seems to be one that is cyclical.

While nucleic acids are genes of information, humans can be looked at as genes for ideas. I will refer back to Gibson again because in It Takes a Genome we are given a wonderful analogy of how genes fail. He compares them to individuals in an organization where, if one person underperforms, the organization as a whole suffers. He writes about this analogy, "Genes are ultimately individuals that have to work together, but they're not perfect, and sometimes the pieces just don't mesh." I will take the liberty of reversing his analogy, and say that individuals are like genes that too have to work together, are imperfect and don't always mesh.

In the battle between science and religion, it is tempting to pick sides, deeming one to be more in error than the other. Historically, science and religion are both waist deep in erroneous conclusions about the origins of life and the universe. The difference between the two is the margins of error that they allow themselves. Whether we like it or not the human brain is genetically designed to be a full spectrum of modes of thinking and not just a half-spectrum. Artists, poets, scientists and deists, with all their fantastic and sometimes fatal ideas, share space on this spectrum. We should learn from our genes, accepting that while none of us are perfect, our progress - which is far more important than just mere survival - will come from our willingness to work together.