Discussion Board

Topic: Science ever closer to Darwin stories

From: Roald Laurenson
Location:
Date: 11/11/2008

Greg, you may well have seen this already.

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/11/11/healthscience/11gene.php

In it, the part mid-way through about the Dutch children gives a direct example of environmental effect on the results of the genome. There are a lot of other interesting aspects mentioned as well.

I was just reading an article from Nature which deeply and very carefully explores current thinking about genes and drugs for schizophrenia, for a sister and husband who have a son I'm very proud of for his standing up to this condition, and his success in it.

There's a link in this material to what the Provost of Harvard University, who is also a researcher in the field, said in the Nature article, where the construction of drugs from understanding of non-coding RNA is mentioned.

I like that we're getting somewhere, with a challenge now visible as clearly based in a vast complexity. This is where I keep referring you to Walter Fontana, who was given his own department at Harvard Medical School for his work in showing how genetic neutrality can work.

In this, the fascination is in how nature apparently combines enormous stabilization of the results of an actually highly unstable, 'noisy' genetics, while in the process managing to 'neutrally', i.e. without unduly disturbing the present species, search the genetic space for variants that can come to be the essential 'one mutation' away from causing a change that could be valuable in a changed environment.

Well, and here I was making good use of some of your personalities in another of your longer stories. To help me remember, model, and see where I need to for that long project.

Literature has many places for us, doesn't it. And imagination itself, many rewards with its trials and responsibilities. Your description of writing process in the preface for the Collected Short Stories book hits perfectly.

Best, Greg,
Roald



Re: Science ever closer to Darwin stories

From: Greg Bear
Date: 11/13/2008

Genes are just the beginning, like the keys on a piano. We are the score!

Re: Science ever closer to Darwin stories

From: Roald Laurenson
Location:
Date: 11/14/2008

Well, and with our volition, and a few other things that we work with as if they are friendly secret-givers for us, we also compose the score!

A smile, Greg. I paw through your works and find over and over how you have been generous, very generous, and a great explorer. I am beginning to understand though why you spoke to/with the Google audience as you did. Nothing straightforward, in the best of our world, is there, exactly ;).

In speaking of such, Alain Lipietz. I don't know if you know of him, and particularly his ideas about third sector economics/politics. His partner died, recently, and he wrote in his weblog about it, so some of us answered, in our forgotten French. A fine person, I think, and very sincere. I don't know but what he may interest you - lipietz.net.

All best,
Roald



Re: Science ever closer to Darwin stories

From: Richard Blaber.
Location: Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England.
Date: 11/23/2008

I love this idea. One of my hobbies is composing. (I use my computer for that - I also sing, baritone.) There are keys on the piano and then there are keys, as in C major, A minor and so on. What would be the genetic equivalent, given that to have a score - assuming the music is tonal, and not atonal - you need either keys or modes (as in Dorian, Hypodorian, etc.)?

Re: Science ever closer to Darwin stories

From: Greg Bear
Date: 11/24/2008

The piano metaphor is good to get one idea across--but remember that DNA does not code for music, but for musicians! Imagine the flexibility and complexity of any system that does that!

Re: Science ever closer to Darwin stories

From: patrick
Location:
Date: 11/25/2008

Good riposte, Greg. Now I don't have to in a perhaps stiffer fashion. And we've had this discussion before, in some fashion(s), anyway.

Re: Science ever closer to Darwin stories

From: Greg Bear
Date: 12/03/2008

Formal analysis of DNA patterns, I recall, does bring up linguistic-style patterns. I don't know if they've actually found a way to analyze musical patterns, given the diversity of music in the 20th century... Stockhausen, or Mozart?!

Re: Science ever closer to Darwin stories

From: Roald Laurenson
Location:
Date: 12/03/2008

Well, having designed a natural language understanding system once, your comment intrigued, Greg, and I immediately found this paper, which on a skim hits on both language and music motifs in DNA.

http://www.nslij-genetics.org/wli/pub/sa_pre.pdf

The 1/f 'spectrum' as music doesn't seem so surprising; it's an energy spectrum there, and might be thought of as a measure of presence of levels of detail.

Further in the article, which is clear and short, they're picking up some of the difficulties with both comparisons. Indeed, the linguistic one is according to context-free grammars, which are the limited kind computers can directly deal with, and which alone can't cope with more than a very limited part of what we express in even everyday language.

Having just re-read with great pleasure in slow attention both your Darwin stories, I have to think of the multiple uses of 'genes' which even your short explanation at the end of one of them notes, which has more of the character of in-context internal influences of human languages, the ways we too can change a meaning by dropping in a 'twisting' word or phrase.

I should say, open a meaning, from a way I always liked to write poetry, and as a very well educated Korean fiancīŋŠe once talked to me about, in her own. How many intricate and multiple meanings we can open, it's sure. And that's as I keep feeling now that we really begin to conceptualize, in Nature's forming so many paths in its own systems.

Not predict or bound, but hold in concept, and find some hopes there, it seems to me...since we like things where there's a example.

Best to each here, and still (or maybe less) quizzical about your enjoyments here, Greg ;)
Clive



Re: Science ever closer to Darwin stories

From: patrick
Location:
Date: 12/07/2008

Dude. Set Theory. Milton Babbitt and John Forte. It's even used as a compositional device/determinant. And there are other analytic devices/methods. Check out a Journal of Music Theory or Perspectives of New Music (http://www.perspectivesofnewmusic.org/). And you can always hang out with my retired music instructor: http://solomonsmusic.net/

Re: Science ever closer to Darwin stories

From: Greg Bear
Date: 12/11/2008

Music of the genes? Birds certainly use music to communicate--I presume its underlying structure can be considered linguistic, perhaps in the sense of a meaning-free context, rather than a context-free language... but I'm way out of my depth here. Maybe we're looking at a language so ornate and rich we don't have the vocabulary or theory to even begin to encompass it. After all, the result is a three-dimensional, extraordinarily complicated, problem-solving behavior-shifter.

Re: Science ever closer to Darwin stories

From: Roald Laurenson
Location:
Date: 12/12/2008

Hi Greg,

Very nice - music of the genes, and I like your bird-context vs. specific utterance thought, which is very pretty. And intuitively accurate. In some way like body language?

I suspect you are exactly right also on the ornate view. Certainly the inter-relations are very, very complicated. And in this are some of the paradoxes of our approach to gaining the knowledge and getting use out of it. I just listened this week to an hour-long seminar of a kind with Nina Federoff, who has even been appointed to Condi Rice's panels, and came away quite bemused that someone this knowledgeable would play so fast and loose -- or really it is playing cards tight to chest -- with our future. Thus the 'other topic', central really in your books, of humans working at the edges of things they barely understand, except in a _context-free_ manner.

Well, it is not easy. And I was quite unfair with that paper citation it turns out. A better Google search turns out that there has been quite a good deal of work in computation linguistics of DNA, which is what you remembered. In the late 80's-early 90's it seems was a hot spot. I think it has probably mostly foundered as more and more complex interactions have been realized, but people try on that still, and we may learn something.

I don't know. I had a constitutional resistance to this kind of kneebone-thighbone reductionism at the time I did that natural language story understander, and so I took a different kind of approach, of de-layering meanings, a concept area at a time. This would only work in a limited overall context, but that's what I had. The work's been used for 18 years by AT&T, I found out, so it was solid.

In story, in discovery of what our future activities can be, I think influences are so important. They are the subtlety in our language as well, the associations we much communicate with, even or especially if you notice it in many casual situations. Kind of like your birds, just more environment, more context.

I've long had a thought in this relating to the complaints the books you and other very serious and generous people write get sometimes, about 'not being good at characterization'. Ursula Le Guin is another who gets this, and i just saw and replied to one this morning.

But I myself think you are wonderful at it, that the subtlety, the Asian brush approach is just what is needed. If -- we are going to understand each other better on this planet. And we must, mustn't we, not for Cold War reasons anymore as much as opening the fields of what we can do, and fin value in together, that makes such fundamental things as economies. Messages again in the faces on the roadways of all those SUVs ;). And more subtle messages we could learn to more widely enjoy, and contribute in.

Well, it is Friday, isn't it. And much to do, but we can only do the best when we pause enough to gain those contexts of the birds singing. So I think. Scents of the flower, also.

I so enjoy your work, Greg. Thank you, as I appreciate it further each time. And feel all the layers very worthwhile.

Regards,
Clive

Re: Science ever closer to Darwin stories

From: patrick
Location:
Date: 12/13/2008

I would hesitate to call it 'music'. Sonic exclamations that appear to be similar to components of music.

Re: Science ever closer to Darwin stories

From: Greg Bear
Date: 12/16/2008

Thanks, Clive.

Re: Science ever closer to Darwin stories

From: Greg Bear
Date: 12/16/2008

True--birdsong often being a kind of signpost or warning. But there's definitely musical language involved, since the songs evolve over time, and are influenced by "cultural" conditioning... even genetic shifts.

Re: Science ever closer to Darwin stories

From: patrick
Location:
Date: 12/18/2008

Mm-mm. 'Musical' at least implies some kind of question-answer scheme, if not harmonic (as in chordal, let alone large-scale) structure.

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