Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mortal Man

The caterpillar is a prisoner to the streets that conceived it
Its only job is to eat or consume everything around it, in order to protect itself from this mad city
While consuming its environment the caterpillar begins to notice ways to survive
One thing it noticed is how much the world shuns him, but praises the butterfly
The butterfly represents the talent, the thoughtfulness, and the beauty within the caterpillar 
But having a harsh outlook on life the caterpillar sees the butterfly as weak and figures out a way to pimp it to his own benefits
Already surrounded by this mad city the caterpillar goes to work on the cocoon which institutionalizes him
He can no longer see past his own thoughts
He’s trapped When trapped inside these walls certain ideas start to take roots, such as going home, and bringing back new concepts to this mad city

The result?

Wings begin to emerge, breaking the cycle of feeling stagnant
Art by: Jyoti Thomas

Finally free, the butterfly sheds light on situations that the caterpillar never considered, ending the eternal struggle Although the butterfly and caterpillar are completely different, they are one and the same.

Lyrics from Mortal Man (Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly) 

Social Capitalism in an Open Economy - the synthetic biology narrative.

Altruism – The very first question to ask about social capitalism is whether altruism (being self-disinterested) is a moot point in a market economy? Or can there be self-disinterest for a purpose greater than the economic good that will render possible the offer of compromise to escape the prisoner’s dilemma or the tragedy of commons?

The first question assumes market economy and altruism are mutually exclusive. I leave you to that debate. The latter I think is possible in therapeutics – the “broad idea of everything done to protect or improve someone else's health”; because therapeutics is by definition self-disinterested. Also because of its anthropomorphic nature, an awareness of impact on the global ecosystem also presents opportunity for the economy of therapeutics to move the entire economic model into a more balanced state – by definition sustainable.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Synthetic Biology - The Irony That Needs a Narrative

“To inhabit a nomos is to know how to live in it.” - Robert Cover, The Supreme Court, 1982 Term – Forward: Nomos and Narrative. 

We are beginning to understand our interrelated world from an anthropomorphic center. The “normative” – a universal concept of acceptance, is ever increasingly the law. We are more and more reliant on the operations of law (rule by the law) when in fact it is no different than slavery – a form of self-imposed mental slavery. But when the law protects the dissent and preserves the language of progress, we have the rule of law and we are in control and inhabit a nomos – a normative universe. Isn’t this the hope for how law plays a part in our lives?

In a normative world, the “law and narrative are inseparably related.”

Every prescription is insistent in its demand to be located in discourse – to be supplied with history and destiny, beginning and end, explanation and purpose.” Robert Cover. 

Collaborative creativity works the same way doesn’t it? Law on the large scale where we are passive participants, the context is uncertain. Law on the large scale where we are active participants and the narrative is the understood context, certainty comes from a sense of fluid development from crowd intelligence. In the synthetic biology context, where markup language (SBML for example) and open-sourced annotation are community driven, passive participation translates to risks of automation driving innovation that can do more harm and good. But on the other hand, where the community driven initiatives understand the automation as the syntax of a synthetic biology in a narrative of anthropic biology, we are in control of the history and destiny, beginning and end, explanation and purpose of biologic adaptation in the context of evolution.

So, if we are to have an open universal discourse about our biology and shape its future as we do with math and science and our atomic bombs through synthetic discourse, then let’s have a constructive one and build on the past mistakes we’ve made with math – the language of our physical universe. A normative system or language master frame must both ground predictable behavior and provide meaning for behavior that departs from the ordinary. If we are to tinker with the unknown, then we owe the world a diligent and constituted approach. The Chinese word for this is “su-zhi” (素质) – or in English I think “diathresis”.

Su-zhi, or diathresis, depends on three things from which it stands to the test of time: that it is always “open” (open sourced, open accessed, open platform); that it is always evolving (process based and controlled); and finally that it is always altruistic. The open, evolving and altruistic synthetic biology language master-frame is part and parcel of a complex normative world. The master frame includes not only axioms and elements, but also syntax and mythos – narratives in which the synthetic biology is located and can act upon it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Adventures of an Old Bossy Troll

"If a man is not ready to risk his life, where is his dignity?" André Malraux, La Condition Humaine (1933).

Three travelers walked into an inn and handed the keeper ten silvers each. “We are traveling fools and we need a place to stay; we are decent folks and we want no trouble.” The inn keeper took the thirty silvers and told the bellhop to show the travelers their rooms. "No trouble follows I hope" the bellhop mumbled.

Half through the night, the inn keeper saw a red cardinal land on his windowsill. In these bad lands of frequent toil, this rare bird was a sign of better times ahead, or so he thought. He hadn’t seen one since his father was still alive and that was decades ago.

“The gods must have smiled,” he said to the bellhop who was falling almost to sleep, “it seems our guests either had brought this luck upon us or they had followed their luck here to my inn. Regardless, we will honor this sign of grace. Take five silvers from my safe and return them to the travelers as a token of our goodwill.” The bellhop counted the five heavy silvers into his palm. The cold silvers were heavy and tugged strangely on his legs as he walked those old creaking stairs. Just atop of the second floor, the bellhop stopped to ponder as gravity took its full toll.

“I have five silvers and there are three guests, how am I to divide this equally?”

Seeing that the guests may never know just how much was in his pocket now, five heavy silvers, he would just give one to each guest and keep two silvers for himself. Tomorrow is his birthday and he deserves a pint of aged sour ale. Win and win for all.

He knocked on each of the three guests’ door, told the same tale of tale of the red bird and good fortune for all. He handed each guest a silver from his pocket. Each guest gave the same gawk and gladly accepted the silver back into their palms. The bellhop hopped away with two heavy silvers in his pocket and dreamed of pints of old aged sour ale.

The red cardinal flew from the inn’s windowsill to the city near and found the old bossy trolls. The red cardinal told the tale of the inn keeper, the bellhop, and the heavy silver for the aged ale. The troll smiled to himself and mumbled back to the red little bird, “yet another riddle plagues the world.”


The city had been gloomed in darkness for a while now. Trolls had been trolls for the last few centuries and no one can remember much beyond the age of trolls. Sometimes, a glimpse of light would escape the toxic clouds above, and the old ones would muster some nonsense tale of old earth and green trees, people standing tall under the sun, and birds of all colors flew the clear sky and fish flew the sea; air afresh and water pure. Trolls would laugh because no one believes the living could be any other color besides brown, black, gray and the occasional red from blood and death. Only machines and neon signs took on the shades of yellow, blue, green, pink, and it was only the toxicity of color that the trolls could see. Nature, as the trolls believes now, is incapable of being or anything else.

The city had been gloomed in darkness for a while now. Now one seems to know what had happened but darkness took over. Everything now is a shade of gray and the sun hadn't been seen in years. Living things are rare these days other than the different mutated trolls; at least rare from what the eyes could see. But then again, most trolls don't have very much of an eyesight to begin with as they have adapted to the gloom and city life. They live on the edge of polluted mesh of land and spillage. They are guided by blinking neons and pitched noises to tell when they should eat, sleep, and pass into the abyss. Most of them have never seen a red cardinal in the city before. The only birds that flew the roof tops above the neon signs are crows. Red-beady eyed crows with blood redder than the trolls own bleed. A red bird is rare as the impossibles: sunlight and fresh water, both of which are forgotten by a forgotten people. The little red bird is a sore sight for the grayish world of the bossy trolls but the little red bird flew to the edge of one old troll’s windowsill. From the inn to the city, from the keeper to the troll, two windows and two different memories of what led to this world. The keeper kept his window open for the hope of seeing the little bird but this one bossy old troll had forgotten to close his window – a rare occurrence indeed.

To be continued 
(Copyright - Jin Kong, all rights reserved)