how DNA is like a music box

DNA is not like blueprints.  Blueprints need an architect to draw them up, and a construction crew to turn the plans into buildings.  Biology is too self-contained for contractors.

A painting isn’t of a saint until a mind looks at it and sees a halo.  Before that it’s paint spread on cloth.

In the 1950s, abstract expressionist painters were consumed by the fact that a painting is an object and an action. Frank Stella puts a black stripe on a canvas, and it’s not a picture of a lamppost, or a snake, or a shadow; it’s a picture of radiator paint on cloth, because it is radiator paint on cloth.  Richard Serra throws molten lead against the baseboards: a sculpture of throwing.

The art is the object, rather than the representation.

DNA is like abstract expressionism.  The object is the data.  A molecular machine slides down DNA, like fingers sliding across a knotted rope, and bumps the chain push and pull on microscopic levers to make living things.  Physical.  Mindless.  Analog.

DNA is stupid the way a music box is stupid.  A music box doesn’t know the song it plays, it’s just made that way.

Screen Shot 2018-05-18 at 1.15.12 PM copy

When the crank turns (1) the pegs hit the key (2), and that’s one note.  Then, as the crank turns again, the next peg (3) hits another key, and that’s another note.  Enough turns make a song.  That’s what the song is, to the music box — an object and an action — the drum and the crank.

The same way, DNA’s physical shape creates life.  Each peg of the DNA places a molecule in a thread, (instead of notes, amino acids), and the molecular chain lengthens into a chemical song that doesn’t need a musician, a composers, or an architect.


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