A vehicle for venting on philosophy, religion, and the general state of things. Proprietor: C. W. Powell

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

It's the Message, Stupid!

NR / Digital Article: "Biologists commonly blur the information into the slippery synecdoche of DNA, a material molecule, and imply that life is biochemistry rather than information processing. But even here, the deoxyribonucleic acid that bears the word is not itself the word. Like a sheet of paper or a computer memory chip, DNA bears messages but its chemistry is irrelevant to its content. The alphabet's nucleotide 'bases' form 'words' without help from their bonds with the helical sugar-phosphate backbone that frames them. The genetic words are no more dictated by the chemistry of their frame than the words in Scrabble are determined by the chemistry of their wooden racks or by the force of gravity that holds them.

This reality expresses a key insight of Francis Crick, the Nobel laureate co-author of the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA. Crick expounded and enshrined what he called the 'Central Dogma' of molecular biology. The Central Dogma shows that influence can flow from the arrangement of the nucleotides on the DNA molecule to the arrangement of amino acids in proteins, but not from proteins to DNA. Like a sheet of paper or a series of magnetic points on a computer's hard disk or the electrical domains in a random-access memory -- or indeed all the undulations of the electromagnetic spectrum that bear information through air or wires in telecommunications -- DNA is a neutral carrier of information, independent of its chemistry and physics. By asserting that the DNA message precedes and regulates the form of the proteins, and that proteins cannot specify a DNA program, Crick's Central Dogma unintentionally recapitulates St. John's assertion of the primacy of the word over the flesh. "

This is a dynamite article in the current issue of National Review [July 17, 2006]by George Gilder, editor-in-chief of Gilder Technology Report and co-founder of the Discovery Institute. His most recent book, The Silicon Eye, was a finalist for the Royal Society's Aventis Prize for science.

You should pick one up just to read this article. His major thesis: the material that carries the message is not the message itself. DNA is not the messaage: it is the vehicle for carrying the message. The copper wire is not telephone call; we can now make the call without the copper wire; but the radio waves and the sattelite are not the message, either. A man's body is mot the message of the man. The body may be an instrument of righteousness, or unrighteousness, as Paul said so well in Romans 6, either to life unto life, or death unto death.

The material in a computer is not the message in the computer. The message in the computer is the one that is programmed into the computer's ROM or RAM. The message can be saved by a laser on a cd, on magnetic disk or tape or simply reside in the RAM or ROM. The message can be sent over a wire, over the air, or over a fiberoptic line. It can be converted to audio and played to be heard by the ear, or converted to blips of light and dark and be read on a computer screen as you are doing now.

The material is neutral and can be used either for good or evil; to transmit the Good News of the Bible or outrageous pronography or racism. The medium is not the message, but the means of conveying the message. In this way the word can become flesh, but even then, the flesh is not the message. Many men have been crucified; the crucifixion of Christ has very special meaning because of the message, not because of the fact of the crucifixion.

This is to say that there is meaning in the world, but the meaning is not in the substance, but in the idea that the substance carries. Those who look for meaning in the substance itself are as crazy as a person who would try to get the meaning from his computer by chewing on the keyboard. A computer that is not turned on and operated by a thinking person is useless for information, but might serve as a door stop. So is a man who disconnected from His Creator. He is useless for information, but God might fine other uses for him.
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