Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > The Poverty of the Instructed Organism > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

The noncomputational life of organisms (1)

COMPUTER CHIPS REQUIRE THE MOST EXTREME precision of manufacturing...High-tech “clean rooms” prevent disastrous contamination by a single speck of dust, while specialized equipment creates discrete, unthinkably minute, and precisely machined pathways in silicon. These pathways are designed for maximum permanence, and any breakdown or leakage from one to another in an operating computer can spell disaster...Moreover, everything is designed to operate in lock-step, marching in strictest obedience to a clock that “ticks” up to billions of times per second. If one or another communication channel were to get its timing wrong by some tiny fraction of a second, chaos would ensue...

Nothing even approaching the surgically precise, rigidly excavated, and unvarying silicon grooves of a computer chip exists anywhere in a living creature. It is laughable even to imagine, say, a signaling pathway in an organism as if it were uncontaminated by goings-on in its surroundings. Such “contamination” — directly or indirectly by almost anything in the larger surround — is, in fact, very much of the essence. In one guise it is referred to today as “crosstalk” — the never exactly predictable influence that one sort of process exerts upon another.

And it is more than laughable to picture a pathway that can be traversed, exactly and without “outside” disturbance, billions of times in succession — let alone traversed as mere electrical pulses lacking the complexly sculpted, ever diverse and changing molecular structure that lends specific function to the signaling molecules, transcription factors enzymes, and all the other elements of the cell, right down to the all-important water molecules. It is safe to say that no cell ever again regains precisely the structure it had one moment before.

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