Brace Yourself: Biology About to get Weird

Perhaps there is a guiding principle similar to Occam’s Razor or Murphy’s Law that points out how science, as it progresses, will inevitably get stranger after explaining things to a sufficient degree.  Such was the case with quantum physics, human psychology, and as we are about to find, biology.  Biology has thus far been operating in a very linear way comparable to the Newtonian physics of the 19th century.  But as one Nobel Prize winner Paul Nurse suggests, we are in for a bumpy ride in biology.

Perhaps it’s important that things not be too simple.  When humanity begins to fully understand and comprehend the universe around us, we have a tendency to get bored fairly easily.  It is not the triumph of discovery that seems to motivate our society so much as an intangible and far deeper strive to discover.  To put it in more metaphysical terms, we seem to seek the journey more than the destination.  And so as biology moves into a new era, scientists may be able to move about excited more by the mystery than simply the details of a well understood and established mechanic.  And in so doing we may eventually understand the most pressing issues in biology that still largely remain a mystery, such as how we came to be.

Is there knowledge in the universe that is so complex and entangled that we as humans may never understand it?  Are there theories and principles that forego our human cognitive capabilities that lay written in the very fabric of the universe around us?  The study of physics was comparable to finding the human race beating at a door expected to open on a simple room only to find itself standing, once that door had been transgressed, in a room so full of doors and stairs and ladders that the labyrinth seemed daunting indeed.  But rather than simply give up and ignore these doors, those with a rudimentary understanding of their prospective fields set about beating down these new doors armed only with a lust for discovery and the discoveries they walked upon.  Perhaps a better analogy would be a man attempting to explore the ocean set about to do so by building a bridge from one continent to another later understanding that beneath the surface of the waves lay a whole new world.  The industrious man would have to learn not only how to swim beneath the waters, but also how to build in this place not designed for human exploration.

The essential principles outlined by Nurse suggest that rather than a linear transition of chemical proteins in DNA as once expected, there is evidence to suggest a complex and networking transfer of information far beyond the understanding of anyone alive today.  And armed with the knowledge he and other biologists have today, we will soon be exploring the space not only beneath the water, but in the skies above as well.  And perhaps in this long journey we will find bits of ourselves along the way.