Friday Night Story

Ancestral Memory

“I know how it sounds, okay, but think about it- the human body is the perfect storage medium- like a computer hard drive, only slightly more complex. Instead of ones and zeros- on or off- binary, it’s called. We operate on a base 4 system, a quaternary, because there are four nucleotide bases that store genetic information in our DNA. But the reason we’re better than optical or magnetic storage is there’s no degradation- in fact, we’re constantly renewing. Information in human DNA is kept pristine for 80 years barring catastrophe.”

I was intrigued, I’ll admit, but I’d known Jerry long enough to take his flights with particularly strong salt. “Okay. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I believe you, that we really are just walking memory sticks. What information are we even storing?”

“I… I don’t know. Here’s the thing. I mean, if you took the contents of your hard drive at home, a lot of porn, I’d assume, and converted it from base 2 to base 4, then coded that onto DNA and put it into a situation where it could self-replicate- I mean, I have no idea what kind of an animal that might turn into. Probably, I mean, mathematically, it would be totally nonviable; I mean, what are the odds that your computer’s information would also randomly code for an organism? Millions to one, at least. But what I’m getting at is that we don’t even have any conception of what the technology to read our DNA might look like. I guess you could try and input it into a quaternary based computer and just assume they stacked linearly according to their order within chromosomes. However, since the numbering of chromosomes seems random, that gives us the problem of ordering. To get the number of different orders just the 23 chromosomes could possibly give, putting aside for a moment the very distinct possibility that all 25,000 genes could be at play, we have a factorial of 22 different possible solutions- you know, 22 times 21 times 20- which is like a quintillion.”

I really did hate when he’d get all mathy on me; nobody likes to be this far out of their depth. “Is that even a real word, or is that your way of telling me it’s unimaginably huge, like googolplex?”

“Googolplex is real, too, but yeah, it’s like… 1018, or like a million million million, or a billion squared. The U.S. national debt is like 10 trillion, so if there were ten thousand countries all with the same 10 trillion dollar debt, then our global debt would be, roughly, a quintillion.”

“Would you and your calculator like a minute alone?”

“This is exciting, you horse’s ass. This could be God’s own notation, stored in our very DNA. But, there is a problem. Even assuming we overcame the mathematical quandary, which, while large, is really a matter of buying enough computers with enough capacity, we don’t know what the output is going to look like. It would be written in a language unlike anything we’ve ever encountered, and even beyond the language itself, it’s likely to be coded, like how html is different from spoken English- all barriers and hurdles, but with enough man-power, ingenuity, time and, admittedly, cash-flow, it’s all inevitably solvable.”

“But that isn’t the best part. The fact that our DNA is base 4 raises some exciting possibilities- namely that base 4 is really only ever applied to calculations of the Hilbert curve. The Hilbert curve is especially useful for creating three dimensional databases. What this means, in a nutshell, is it’s going to be something. We aren’t just going to decode the thing and get “drink Ovaltine.” Whatever this codes, it’s going to have form and substance, as well as information. It could be a unified field theory. It could be a record of the universe. It could be a mathematical equation explaining life. It could articulate a perpetual motion machine for creating free energy and eliminating want. It could be blueprints for a dimensional gate that would grant access into Heaven, or a recipe for the world’s most orgasmic cheesecake.”

“That all sounds a mite heretical.”

“Acknowledging God might have understood what he was doing when he created physics is heretical talk to most. But math, physics, chemistry, biology- it all works too well, and interacts too perfectly to be nature simply bumbling its way through random mutations and entropy. There’s too much organization to the world, too much structure and elegance.”

“Okay, so in your great conception of reality, what the hell happened to the mammoth?”

“We can’t know. Maybe that was where God, or aliens, or whoever was storing their equivalent of their Manilow recordings, and then they did the cosmic equivalent of breaking up with their girlfriend, and decided they didn’t want their Manilow anymore. Maybe it was just time to upgrade to a different format, like mammoths were 8-track tapes. Or maybe the mammoth DNA became unreliable. That’s why we’re so adamant against gene therapy. If humanity is just the latest and greatest form of memory storage, then what happens when humans start manipulating the information around- when that data starts corrupting itself? It’s the same thing that happens when your computer gets a nasty virus you can’t get rid of. We’ll be replaced. And frankly I don’t want to live to see the extinction of the race.”

I don’t know if he timed it or not; he was brilliant enough to, certainly, but the sky turned purple as the rays of the setting sun struck the atmosphere at the right angle. I wasn’t sure I was ready to accept any conception of a god, let alone being a part of his (or her) CD collection. But as the sun flashed green before it passed beneath the horizon, I knew I didn’t need to decide now; I just hoped humanity didn’t go too soon the way of the Manilow.

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