Sunday, June 05, 2005

What Is Life?

So, a haploid sperm and a halploid egg combine to create a fertilized ovum. The process takes a random sample of mom's DNA and dad's DNA combines them and you get a "dot." At least that's what some guy in Congress said during some stem-cell debate.

I used to be pro-abortion. It was the '70s right after Roe v Wade was found in the emanations of the penumbra of the constitution by an unelected elite of nine men. That changed when I asked myself what this being was that being aborted. It wasn't mineral or vegetable. What sort of animal? A fetus isn't a dog or a cat--wrong number of chromosomes. A tumor has cells with the requisite 42 chromosomes. But they have the same genotype as every other part of the body. A fetus has a genotype distinct from both egg and sperm. This line of reasoning made me think think the fetus is a distinct human being.

So, what is this remarkable thing that happens when egg and sperm get together?

Back in fifth or sixth grade, my math teacher handed out graph paper and described a game that involved coloring in cells on the page. It was called "life" and it was invented by a mathematician named John Conway. You can find out more here. When Conway devised the game, he thought it was impossible for any pattern could grow without bound.

This idea was proved wrong much later when mathematician Bill Gosper invented a glider gun. This impressed me because it showed a "linear" population growth without bound where I'd expected to see an "exponential" growth curve.

The really unexpected thing happened a few years later when I you could array glider guns together to fashion a NAND gate. A NAND gate is one of the building blocks of a computer.

And computers can be programmed to do unexpected things.

So, John Conway came up with a fairly simple game, and from that humble beginning, a marvelous potential has been realized.

I draw an analogy between Conway's "life" and this thing that happens when 42 chromosomes combine at the point of conception. I see this as analogous to the start-point of some cellular automaton. Each human life is filled with unexpected potential.

The problem with death is that it interrupts the realization of that potential. This is why I don't buy the line that "death is part of life." It isn't. It's an offence. It's like starting a computer program and then yanking the plug before it can finish.

Since I'm a Christian, I figure God has set up all the various cellular automata and made things even more interesting than Conway's Life and I think he's interested in showing off all the unexpected potentials to be realized in people. And I also think there is some unseen things going on a spiritual plane.

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