Paradoxical Life - Meaning, Matter, and the Power of Human Choice

How much do I want to read more? 8/10

Fascinating. Although it focus on biology, it illustrates parallels in every domain. We enter in a wonderful world we're not accustomed to. Where one hand joing the other. Where the impossible become possible because the two side of the same coin are one.

Men will never fly, because flying is reserved for angels.

-- Milton Wright, father of the Wright brothers, 1903

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

-- Nelson Mandela, 1994 inaugural speech


paradoxical tensions permeate the biological and nonbiological world; these tensions give humans great power and a central role in creating this world.

introduction - Paradox and the Power of Choice

We will either find a way, or make one.

-- Hannibal, Carthaginian general, before crossing the Alps

millions of cells. These cells release thousands of molecules as signals that crisscross the embryo and contain instructions to other cells: move over here, move over there, bulge, flatten, swell, shrink, divide, or die.
This cellular conversation is as carefully orches- trated as a symphony. The result is a human body, including the very eyes that read these lines.

other languages speak through body movements, odors, mole- cules, or electrons. In other words, the material carrier of meaning di√ers among communication processes. But nonetheless, almost any process in the natural world communicates meaning from one thing or being to another. Not just that, all matter is potentially endowed with meaning— to something or to somebody.

all matter as carrying meaning, and all meaning, even the most fleeting thought, as having a material aspect. Like the two sides of a coin, meaning and matter are completely separate—opposites even—and completely inseparable.

To defend their home, glue-grenade ants detonate themselves by vio- lently bursting a gland, thus entrapping any intruder in an immobilizing glue. In a cancer, cells divide selfishly, sucking resources from the body that hosts them; their greed as they destroy the body eventually destroys them, too.
A nation at the brink of nuclear war may concede to its oppo- nent.
=> the tension between self and other.

they learned to sacrifice their own lives. Just take our bodies. Billions of body cells, in our brain, blood, muscles, and bones, will die a certain death. Only a minuscule fraction of sperm and egg cells are potentially immortal. How did life come to be that way? How did cells, unthinking lumps of protoplasm, learn to sacrifice life itself ?

self and other are utterly separate yet inseparable.

tension between creation and destruction (one always accompanies the other, whether in the mak- ing of an organism or the building of a nation)
tension between part and whole (are your genes, you, or the world around you responsible for your actions?)
tension between risk and safety (organisms play deadly games with their genes, games, however, that have allowed them to survive).

These para- doxes occur in the very foundation of mathematics, on which natural science rests.
Why care about all this? Because to accept paradox as fundamental gives humans enormous power.
To understand, we must choose to accept its final consequence, will turn out to be false and thus limit our understanding.
it is essential to cultivate that awareness. Commitment to choice opens many doors and carries tremendous power.

More than anything, biology’s paradoxes illustrate the great unity of life. Many of the most di≈cult problems and conflicts humans face are shared by the lowliest bacterium. Take the tension be- tween self and other, which governs every conflict there ever was, from geopolitical decisions that shape national boundaries and the fates of mil- lions to true arms races among single-celled organisms: self and other play no role in the world of mathematics. They were born with the living.

chapter 1 - The Inner Dialogue of Creation

The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.

-- Muriel Rukeyser

Everything is a metaphor.

-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe