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Home-bound 1.5-Ex-Pression

Grasshoppers and locusts hold exactly the same genes, indistinguishable each from the other. For the last hundred and fifty years, since Mendel, scientists have been increasingly convinced that the lowly gene must be the key that explains the mystery of mutation, the wonder of evolution. Math could perfectly model these observations. The process seemed obviously straightforward. Of course, we should have known, it would someday prove if not exactly wrong, at best overly simplistic.

In any human, microbial cells outnumber human ones by ten to one. I am genetically 80% cow. If genes hold the code, who interprets that code? Apparently, something called gene expression does.

Gene expression reads and interprets the code which is apparently ambiguous enough to allow for wide enough variation within a single organism to transform a docile grasshopper into a voracious locust. Given a change to a context, life can adapt remarkably quickly; not in a few generations, but a few hours or days; perhaps instantly. Further, mate selection and repeated routine imprints a more permanent change going forward, allowing for more rapid transformation than simple genetics could explain.

Who is this mysterious interpreter within us? It apparently requires no conscious management, adapting without will, volition, or conscious purpose. The pernicious part of the genetic code might be how we interpret it. Genetics explains some variation, leaving glaring holes. A generation ago, few examples as powerful as the grasshopper transformation were known. Now, they seem to be hopping up everywhere. We’re interpreting differently, mirroring gene expression in our science.

This might be very bad news for the fundamentalists who believe in literal interpretation, as if they could somehow divine original intent. Even the simplest sentence seems ambiguous in the extreme, meaning only obvious given a certain context. I often forget to do a quick survey of the territory, implicitly assuming a context that was never there. Even surveying might produce a misinterpretation of the context, leaving me acting ‘as if’ again. ‘As is’ isn’t so obvious as I imagine it to be.

I watch who I seem to be in exile and who I seem to become when home-bound, and I could excuse myself for feeling confused. That face I see shaving every morning changes, sometimes profoundly. My context shifts and I shift, too.

Yesterday, The Muse and I lunched with a friend and perhaps future client. He spoke of a formal methodology adopted a decade ago and inconsistently interpreted since. How could it be otherwise? Of course, the a priori aspiration usually seeks consistency, as if that genome, or some genome, might reliably replicate the original intent of the author and sponsor of the method. But the context shifts and, quite inexorably, so does the process.

Who taught the engineers the subtle, mostly preconscious art of methodological expression; to interpret that genetic code? This meta capability might have never been mentioned before. The obvious pretty reliably blinds us from seeing the subtle.

I can feel my own previously preconscious interpreter awakening. I’m seeing new explanations for familiar experiences. Change the context, and everything might change. Even a small difference seems capable of making real differences.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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