We live in a world of theories, some logical, some factual, some ingenious, some plain stupid but one common progenitor cell that unites them all is that they were all once new ideas that set a benchmark or an alternate reflection to a scientific question. In this era, there are discoveries that solve and absolve the greatest quests of human experimentation and unlike the quest for the Ark the Covenant – that contains manna and the ten commandments –; the scientific grail is not a crusade that will end in a Christian town in Ethiopia, it is bound only to end up in mental utopia. The theory of something is not a holy pilgrimage, it is an unholy indulgence of an idea that shatters again the very norms that bind us and the walls that contain us and fuels the spirit that sustain us in the journey to theoretical bliss.
As a biologist, there are many layers, interfaces and compound networks that makes both the nitty-gritty and the bird’s eye view equally important. Science is like a clown that can do a handstand on convention, and history will show you that it has been clowns like Darwin that have been foolish enough to counter convention – the idyllic and stubborn view of God’s creation – that has evolved paradigms shift in scientific thought. We need to be bold as Darwin – to get on board the mental Beagle – and think beyond the cosmic and inter-galactic spaces and orbits of science, to contribute a new idea or theory. New models will continue to replace old mannequins and new frontiers will displace crowded civilizations – and that will always be an inevitability in science.
As a biologist we have many evolving architectures and interfaces to deal with; like the genetic and the epigenetic – Layers of information that determines most biological processes and fuses genetic imprinting with nature’s tinkering or epi-imprinting. The very idea of epigenetics was a myth a while back and just like many crusades, epigenetics has become a reality in modern science. Genomes are truly pianos and the scales of expressions played on her keys – genes – are the origins of the music of biology. The genes can be symbolized by the white keys and the black intonations are the methylation sites that accentuate on the minor scales, the ingenuity of the epi- or top-up-genome. The marriage between theory and empiricism was the propelling force; the reason that this mystique piece of top-up biology is now a reality. The power of music is unequal – just listen to Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major – and just like that, the music of biology is equally breathtaking, how scales are played by many players – age, hormones, sugars and stress – which all together furnish the scales of genetic expression.
Love too is a journeying science. A love gene is yet to be identified but the love hormone (oxytocin) is now widely venerated as the basis of eudemonia, an important element of flourishing in the bliss of loving your soul mate and accomplice for life. It would be nice to dissect love even the beyond-genetic basis of falling in love. Would transcriptomics and epigenomics be able to shed some light on love I wonder?…………In any case, the theory of everything does not eliminate one gene, epigenetic modifications or transcript number in the etiology of falling and flourishing in love.
A further intriguing question comes in the form of the biology of sex and arousal which is based on second messengers and a gaseous hormone (Nitric Oxide) and can be termed as a hydraulic mechanism. However in most other primates, there is a penis bone (baculum) that is part of the arousal mechanism. So it seems that human have evolved a more complex mechanism of arousal that is based on love and affection and have downgraded the more mechanical methods of arousal and copulation. We are the only species other than dolphins that mate for pleasure and we are rare in finding ourselves in front a creature that loves and cherishes counter-creature in the oldest and deepest act of love of them all. Therefore, there is a theory here too, that the evolution of love and sex, was perhaps interlinked and molded us to cherish and exploit love as the basis of blissful pleasure.
Then there is the question of how better nutrition fuels intelligence. Can a balanced diet fuel higher intelligence? Well, the Flynn effect has demonstrated that the IQs of the current generations are superior to their ancestors and food has been linked to the origins of this phenomenon. Of course the linkage between higher intelligence – better resources – more children and artificial selection and technological advances will ensure that IQ will continue to leapfrog each generation. Yet, the link between food and IQ is an interesting one, since there might be neuronal plasticities that might be oiled by the ingredients of our diets.
Theories are not theatres of the absurd nor should they always be ingenious windfalls. I always tell my students not to be afraid of being foolish and to ask questions when you don’t have a clue. We should never be laughed at for dreaming or questioning, because at the end it is the fools or the crazy ones that make an impact in this world. I’m a deeply flawed creature, a perfect example of someone who’s behind the times and watches Pride and Prejudice for fun. Yet at the same time, I will question science as I see it, with no interference from set agendas and mainstays of convention.
Dreams are made for those who believe in them, once Eleanor Roosevelt said. I would extend that line by saying that dreams are made for the foolish ones who question the sheer convenience of convention.
Dr Dilantha Gunawardana graduated from the University of Melbourne, as a molecular biologist, and moonlights as a poet. He currently serves as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Botany, University of Sri Jayewardenepura. Dilantha lives in a chimeric universe of science and poetry. Dilantha’s poems have been accepted for publication /published in HeartWood Literary Magazine, Canary Literary Magazine, Boston Accent, Forage, Kitaab, Eastlit, American Journal of Poetry, Zingara Poetry Review, The Wagon and Ravens Perch, among others. Dilantha too has two anthologies of poetry, 'Kite Dreams' (2016) and 'Driftwood' (2017), both brought to the readership by Sarasavi Publishers, and is working on his third poetry collection (The Many Constellations of Home). Dilantha’s pet areas of teaching and research, include, Nitrogen Fixation, RNA biology, Phytoremediation, Agricultural Biology, and Bioethics & Biosafety. Dilantha blogs at – https://meandererworld.wordpress.com/ -, where he has nearly 2000 poems.
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