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The wonder of it all

I was listening to the most recent episode of The Portal podcast today. The Portal is a project by Eric Weinstein who works for Peter Thiel and is the brother of Bret Weinstein of Evergreen College fame (at least until I heard this podcast…).

I am not sure I get what Eric is trying to do with the Portal, but I like that he is doing it. The first 20 minutes or so of this podcast is almost unlistenable. It gets exponentially better from there. Bret and Eric tell the story together of how Bret?s amazing ideas about evolutionary biology and the implications to the modern pharmaceutical industrial complex.

Here?s what I think I learned: there is a sequence of genes at the end of chromosomes that don?t code for amino acids called telomeres. In cells that reproduce by mitosis (soma, not germ) these telomeres get shorter acting as a sort of countdown that eventually stops and cells don?t reproduce anymore. This is an adaptive ?choice? by cells since the longer they are around, the longer they can get damaged by radiation or other environmental factors. So by being ?born? with a reproduction limit cells limit the chances that they will reproduce abnormally, i.e. as cancer. As Eric puts at one point, our cells die as a way to avoid death. This life thing really is a one way ticket, all the way down to the cellular level. There?s a lot more in the podcast, including the official name for all of this – antagonistic pleiotropy…which is what causes senescence…isn?t science great! – including the big payoff: the result of this fact of evolution when combined with some market forces that drove a breeding protocol at the single source of all lab mice in the US which results in them having extraordinarily long telomeres is that The lab rats we used for all of our drug testing are basically indestructible and cancer proof.

A few other things I learned:

  • The natural mechanisms here are amazing to me. The way the world has worked things out is simply something amazing to behold…even if I don?t completely comprehend it. Eric talks about how looking at some mathematical structures is analogous to a religion experience for him. This is close for me. If I had to do it all over again (which I do..at least twice more) I would study evolutionary theory. It simply fascinates me…although I don?t even know really what ?it? is.
  • The minds that develop and explore these ideas are similarly amazing to me. I think I understand the mathematical mind as well as the developer mind. But the evolutionary theorist mind is a mystery to me.
  • The DISC that Eric has been railing on since his project started might just be real.
  • My enneagram type is right on in the description of loving to find new / novel information and share it with other people…I can?t get enough of this and immediately was thinking about all the people I could talk to about it that would find it as fascinating as I did
  • I might just also be on the spectrum…or at least a fan of those who are.

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