Friday, June 21, 2024
  Cosmic Serpent ♦ Excerpts  
About this book
 “Those who love wisdom must investigate many things.” – Heraclitus 

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This adventure in science and imagination, which the Medical Tribune said might herald "a Copernican revolution for the life sciences," leads the reader through unexplored jungles and uncharted aspects of mind to the heart of knowledge.

In a first-person narrative of scientific discovery that opens new perspectives on biology, anthropology, and the limits of rationalism, The Cosmic Serpent reveals how startlingly different the world around us appears when we open our minds to it.

The Cosmic Serpent is doubly themed.

  • One theme is that of the symbol of the creator serpent (or twin serpents) as the source of knowledge and of all life itself.
  • The other theme is that of DNA which in our modern western world-view is the source of all life and all organic information.
  • These two threads are wound about in a spiraling narrative like the double helix of the DNA molecule or the twin serpents found in the timeless myths of cultures the world over.

The Cosmic Serpent is a major breakthrough for not only the field of entheogens but for all science and perhaps religion too. Originally published in French as Serpent Cosmique, this book presents the journey of a western scientist who ventures past the primitive superstitions of modern anthropology and takes part in a millennia-long scientific research program of Amazonian shamanism; wherein he learns of their seers’ profound communication with other species via experiential access to DNA.



Chapter 1 ♦ Forest Television

Chapter 2 ♦ Anthropologists and Shamans

Chapter 3 ♦ The Mother of The Mother of Tobacco is A Snake   

Chapter 4 ♦ Enigma in Rio

Chapter 5 ♦ Defocalizing

Chapter 6 ♦ Seeing Correspondences

Chapter 7 ♦ Myths and Molecules

Chapter 8 ♦ Through The Eyes of An Ant

Chapter 9 ♦ Receptors and Transmitters

Chapter 10 ♦ Biology's Blind Spot

Chapter 11 ♦ "What Took You So Long?"

Bibliography | Index

Word Cloud

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Word Count

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Jeremy Narby: The Cosmic Serpent   From: World Mysteries
Serious look at neurogenetic consciousness

The Cosmic Serpent by Jeremy Narby takes a serious look at how neurogenetic consciousness informs awareness, knowledge, symbolism and culture. His comparison of the ancient cosmic serpent myths to the genetic situation in every living cell reveals the immortal biomolecular wizard behind the curtain of everyday life. His anthropological study, ayahuasca experience and scientific speculations weave a tale of shamans who bring their consciousness down to molecular levels with sophisticated neurotransmitter potions in order to perceive information contained in the coherent visible light emitted by DNA.

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Some excerpts from this important book:

Some biologists describe DNA as an "ancient high biotechnology," containing "over a hundred trillion times as much information by volume as our most sophisticated information storage devices." Could one still speak of technology in these circumstances? Yes, because there is no other word to qualify this duplicable, information-storing molecule. DNA is only ten atoms wide and as such constitutes a sort of ultimate technology: It is organic and so miniturized that it approaches the limits of material existence.

Shamans, meanwhile, claim that the vital principle that animates all living creatures comes from the cosmos and is minded.

As ayahuasquero Pablo Amaringo says: "A plant may not talk, but there is a spirit in it that is conscious, that sees everything, which is the soul of the plant, its essence, what makes it alive." According to Amaringo these spirits are veritable beings, and humans are also filled with them: "Even the hair, the eyes, the ears are full of beings. You see all this when ayahuasca is strong."

Animate essence

In their visions, shamans take their consciousness down to the molecular level and gain access to information related to DNA, which they call "animate essences" or "spirits."

  • This is where they see double helixes, twisted ladders, and chromosome shapes.
  • This is how shamanic cultures have known for millennia that the vital principle is the same for all living beings, and is shaped like two entwined serpents (or a vine, a rope, ladder...).

DNA is the source of their astonishing botanical and medicinal knowledge, which can be attained only in defocalized and "nonrational" states of consciousness, though its results are empirically verifiable.

The myths of these cultures are filled with biological imagery, and the shamans metaphoric explanations correspond quite precisely to the descriptions that biologists are starting to provide.

Extreme length and infinitesimal smallness

DNA and the cell-based life it codes for are an extremely sophisticated technology that far surpasses our present-day understanding and that was initially developed elsewhere than on earth—which it radically transformed on its arrival some four billion years ago.

If one stretches out the DNA contained in the nucleus of a human cell, one obtains a two-yard long thread that is only ten atoms wide (and the two ribbons that make up this filament wrap around each other several hundred million times). This thread is a billion times longer than its own width. Relatively speaking, it is as if your little finger stretched from Paris to Los Angeles.

A thread of DNA is much smaller than the visible light humans perceive. Even the most powerful optical microscopes can not reveal it, because DNA is approximately 120 times narrower than the smallest wavelength of visible light.

The nucleus of a cell is equivalent in volume to 2-millionths of a pinhead. The two-yard thread of DNA packs into this minute volume by coiling up endlessly on itself, thereby reconciling extreme length and infinitesimal smallness, like mythical serpents.

Photon emission

In the early 1980s, thanks to the development of a sophisticated measurement device, a team of scientists demonstrated that the cells of all living beings emit photons at a rate of up to approximately 100 units per second and per square centimeter of surface area. They also showed that DNA was the source of this photon emission.

The wavelength at which DNA emits these photons corresponds exactly to the narrow band of visible light: "Its spectral distribution ranges at least from infrared (at about 900 nanometers) to ultraviolet (up to about 200 nanometers)"...DNA emits photons with such regularity that researchers compare the phenomenon to an "ultra-weak laser." (see History of Biophotonics)

Inside the nucleus, DNA coils and uncoils, writhes and wriggles. Scientists often compare the form and movements of this long molecule to those of a snake. the source of knowledge: DNA, living in water and emitting photons, like an aquatic dragon spitting fire.

Pregnant by an Anaconda by Pablo Amaringo from the Gallery of Usko-Ayar art

The Cosmic Serpent - DNA and the Origins of Knowledge  Q&A with Jeremy Narby by Todd Stewart

Could you sum up your book "The Cosmic Serpent, DNA and the Origins of Knowledge"?

Research indicates that shamans access an intelligence, which they say is nature's, and which gives them information that has stunning correspondences with molecular biology.

Your hypothesis of a hidden intelligence contained within the DNA of all living things is interesting. What is this intelligence?

Intelligence comes from the Latin inter-legere, to choose between.

  • There seems to be a capacity to make choices operating inside each cell in our body, down to the level of individual proteins and enzymes.
  • DNA itself is a kind of "text" that functions through a coding
  • system called "genetic code," which is strikingly similar to codes used by human beings.
  • Some enzymes edit the RNA transcript of the DNA text and add new letters to it; any error made during this editing can be fatal to the entire organism; so these enzymes are consistently making the right choices; if they don't, something often goes wrong leading to cancer and other diseases.
  • Cells send one another signals, in the form of proteins and molecules.
  • These signals mean: divide, or don't divide, move, or don't move, kill yourself, or stay alive.
  • Any one cell is listening to hundreds of signals at the same time, and has to integrate them and decide what to do.
  • How this intelligence operates is the question.
Access this hidden language  (Q&A continued)

chromosome 343

DNA has essentially maintained its structure for 3.5 billion years. What role does DNA play in our evolution?

DNA is a single molecule with a double helix structure;

  • It is two complementary versions of the same "text" wrapped around each other;
  • This allows it to unwind and make copies of itself: twins!
  • This twinning mechanism is at the heart of life since it began. Without it, one cell could not become two, and life would not exist.
  • And, from one generation to the next, the DNA text can also be modified, so it allows both constancy and transformation.
  • This means that beings can be the same and not the same.

One of the mysteries is what drives the changes in the DNA text in evolution.

  • DNA has apparently been around for billions of years in its current form in virtually all forms of life.
  • The old theory — random accumulation of errors combined with natural selection — does not fully explain the data currently generated by genome sequencing.
  • The question is wide open.

The structure of DNA as we know it is made up of letters and thus has a specific text and language. You could say our bodies are made up of language, yet we assume that speech arises from the mind. How do we access this hidden language?

By studying it. There are several roads to knowledge, including science and shamanism.

The symbol of the Cosmic Serpent, the snake, is a central theme in your story, and in your research you discover that the snake forms a major part of the symbology across most of the world’s traditions and religions. Why is there such a consistent system of natural symbols in the world? Is the world inherently symbolic?

This is the observation that led me to investigate the cosmic serpent.

  • I found the symbol in shamanism all over the world. Why? That's a good question.
  • My hypothesis is that it is connected to the double helix of DNA inside virtually all living beings.
  • And DNA itself is a symbolic Saussurian code.
  • So, yes, in at least one important way, the living world is inherently symbolic. We are made of living language.

You write of how the ideology of "rational" science, deterministic thought, is and has been quite limiting in its approach to new and alternative scientific theories; it is assumed that "mystery is the enemy." In your book you describe how you had to suspend your judgement, to "defocalize," and in this way gain a deeper insight. Why do you think we are often limited in our rational, linear thought and why are so few willing and able to cross these boundaries?

I don't believe we are. People spend hours each day thinking non-rationally.

  • Our emotional brain treats all the information we receive before our neo-cortex does.
  • Scientists are forever making discoveries as they daydream, take a bath, go for a run, lay in bed, and so on.
Correspondences  (Q&A continued)

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Vision of the Snakes By Pablo Amaringo | Gallery of Usko-Ayar Art

What are the correspondences between the Peruvian shamans’ findings and microbiology?

Both shamans and molecular biologists agree that there is a hidden unity under the surface of life's diversity;

  • Both associate this unity with the double helix shape (or two entwined serpents, a twisted ladder, a spiral staircase, two vines wrapped around each other);
  • Both consider that one must deal with this level of reality in order to heal.
  • One can fill a book with correspondences between shamanism and molecular biology.

Do you think there is not only an intelligence based in our DNA but a consciousness as well?

I think we should attend to the words we use. "Consciousness" carries different baggage than "intelligence."

  • Many would define human consciousness as different from, say, animal consciousness, because humans are conscious of being conscious.
  • But how do we know that dolphins don't think about being dolphins?
  • I do not know whether there is a "consciousness" inside our cells; for now, the question seems out of reach; we have a hard enough time understanding our own consciousness — though we use it most of the time.
  • I propose the concept of "intelligence" to describe what proteins and cells do, simply because it makes the data more comprehensible.
  • This concept will require at least a decade or two for biologists to consider and test.
  • Then, we might be able to move along and consider the idea of a "cellular consciousness."
A message in a bottle  (Q&A continued)

hermes trismegisto 403
Alchemical vision of chromosomal DNA?

The implications of some of your findings in The Cosmic Serpent could be quite large. How do you feel about the book and what it says? Why did you write the book?

I wrote the book because I felt that certain things needed saying.

  • Writing a book is like sending out a message in a bottle: sometimes one gets replies.
  • Judging from the responses, a surprising number of people have got the message loud and clear.

How can shamanism complement modern science?

Most definitions of "science" revolve around the testing of hypotheses.

  • Claude Levi-Strauss showed in his book The Savage Mind that human beings have been carefully observing nature and endlessly testing hypotheses for at least ten thousand years.
  • This is how animals and plants were domesticated.
  • Civilization rests on millennia of Neolithic science.
  • I think the science of shamans can complement modern science by helping make sense of the data it generates.
  • Shamanism is like a reverse camera relative to modern science.
Do what you can for those around you  (Q&A continued)

Actual photo of chromosomal DNA.

The shamans were very spiritual people. Has any of this affected you? What is spiritual in your life?

I don't use the word "spiritual" to think about my life.

  • I spend my time promoting land titling projects and bilingual education for indigenous people, and thinking about how to move  knowledge forward and how to open up understanding between people;
  • I also spend time with my children, and with children in my community (as a soccer coach);
  • And I look after the plants in my garden, without using pesticides and so on.
  • But I do this because I think it needs doing, and because it's all I can do, but not because it's "spiritual."
  • The message I got from shamans was: do what you can for those around you (including plants and animals), but don't make a big deal of it.
Chapter 4 ♦ Enigma in Rio

At the Earth Summit, everybody was talking about the ecological knowledge of indigenous people, but certainly no one was talking about the hallucinatory origin of some of it, as claimed by the indigenous people themselves.

  • Admittedly, most anthropologists and ethnobotanists did not know about it, but even those who did said nothing, presumably because there is no way to do so and be taken seriously.
  • Colleagues might ask,
  • “You mean Indians claim they get molecularly verifiable information from their hallucinations?
    You don't take them literally, do you?”

 [10] - [11]   

[10] For examples of texts that illustrate the value of the botanical knowledge of Amazonian peoples with multiple references to curare, Pilocarpus jaborandi, and tikiuba, see

  • The special issue of Cultural Survival Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 3) devoted to the question of intellectual property rights of indigenous peoples,
  • And in particular the articles by Elisabetsky (1991), Kloppenberg (1991) and King (1991).
  • On the more general question of these rights, see Posey (1990, 1991).
  • See Rouhi (1997) for references to Couroupita guienensis and Aristolochia.
  • For recent work on the unidentified plants of the indigenous pharmacopoeia, see Balick, Elisabetsky, and Laird (1996), in particular the article by Wilbert (1996), as well as Schultes and von Reis (1995).

[11] See Luna (1986, p. 57).

What could one answer?

It is true that not all of the world's indigenous people use hallucinogenic plants.

  • Even in the Amazon, there are forms of shamanism based on techniques other than the ingestion of hallucinogens;
  • But in Western Amazonia, which includes the Peruvian, Ecuadorian, and Colombian part of the basin, it is hard to find a culture that does not use an entire panoply of psychoactive plants.
  • According to one inventory, there are seventy-two ayahuasca-using cultures in Western Amazonia.[11]
The dilemma posed by the hallucinatory
knowledge of indigenous people.

  ■ On the one hand, its results are
     empirically confirmed and used
     by the pharmaceutical industry;
  ■ On the other hand, its origin cannot
     be discussed scientifically because
     it contradicts the axioms
     of Western knowledge.

Richard Evans Schultes, the foremost ethnobotanist of the twentieth century, writes about the healers of a region in Colombia that he considers to be one of the centers of Western Amazonian shamanism:

  • “The medicine men of the Kamsá and Inga tribes of the Valley of Sibundoy, have an unusually extensive knowledge of medicinal and toxic plants. … One of the most renowned is Salvador Chindoy, who insists that his knowledge of the medicinal value of plants has been taught to him by the plants themselves through the hallucinations he has experienced in his long lifetime as a medicine man.” [12]

Schultes does not say anything further about the hallucinatory origin of the botanical expertise of Amazonian people, because there is nothing one can say without contradicting two fundamental principles of Western knowledge.

  • Hallucinations cannot be the source of real information, because to consider them as such is the definition of psychosis.
  • Western knowledge considers hallucinations to be at best illusions, at worst morbid phenomena. [13]

 [12] - [14]   

[12] Schultes and Raffauf (1992, p. 58).

  • Davis (1996) writes:
  • “… Richard Evans Schultes, the greatest ethnobotanist of all, a man whose expeditions … placed him in the pantheon along with Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, Henry Bates, and his own hero, the indefatigable English botanist and explorer Richard Spruce” (p. 11).
  • Davis's book is a treat, beautifully written and well researched.

[13] Slade and Bentall (1988) write:

  • “Indeed, taking the ordinary language words 'real' and 'imaginary' to describe public and private events respectively, it is true by definition that the act of hallucination involves mistaking the 'imaginary' for the 'real'” (p. 205).

Hare (1973) writes:

  • “Let us instead define a hallucination as a subjective sensory experience which is of morbid origin and interpreted in a morbid way” (p. 474).

Webster's Third New International Dictionary defines hallucination as follows:

  • “perception of objects with no reality; experience of sensations with no external cause usually arising from disorder of the nervous system; … a completely unfounded or mistaken impression or notion; Delusion.”

[14] According to Renck (1989), who reviewed the scientific literature on the matter, and who bases himself on Tavolga's work, there are six levels of communication:

  • vegetative (the color of the flower, the texture of the fur),
  • tonic (the smell of the flower, the heat of the body),
  • phasic (the chameleon changes skin color, the dog pricks up its ears),
  • descriptive (the dog growls),
  • symbolic (some monkeys can communicate with abstract signs),
  • linguistic (“The only known example is the language articulated by man”, p. 4).
  • Plants do not communicate like human beings.
  • Scientific theories of communication consider that only human beings use abstract symbols like words and pictures and that plants do not relay information in the form of mental images. [14]
  • For science, the human brain is the source of hallucinations, which psychoactive plants merely trigger by way of the hallucinogenic molecules they contain.

It was in Rio that I realized the extent of the dilemma posed by the hallucinatory knowledge of indigenous people.

  • On the one hand, its results are empirically confirmed and used by the pharmaceutical industry;
  • On the other hand, its origin cannot be discussed scientifically because it contradicts the axioms of Western knowledge.

When I understood that the enigma of plant communication was a blind spot for science, I felt the call to conduct an in-depth investigation of the subject.

  • Furthermore, I had been carrying the mystery of plant communication around since my stay with the Ashaninca, and I knew that explorations of contradictions in science often yield fruitful results.
  • Finally, it seemed to me that the establishment of a serious dialogue with indigenous people on ecology and botany required that this question be addressed.
Chapter 6 ♦ Seeing Correspondences
Francis Crick, the Nobel Prize-winning
co-discoverer of the structure of DNA,
was suggesting that the molecule of life
was of extraterrestrial origin

After the meeting, toward the end of the afternoon, I went over to my colleagues house.

  • He had generously allowed me to look through his books in his absence.

I entered his office, a big room with an entire wall occupied by bookshelves, turned on the light, and started browsing.

  • The biology section contained, among others, The double helix by James Watson, the co-discoverer with Francis Crick of the structure of DNA.
  • I flipped through this book, looking at the pictures with interest, and put it aside.

I pulled it out and looked at its cover — and could not believe my eyes.A little further along on the same shelf, I came upon a book by Francis Crick entitled Life itself: Its origin and nature.

  • It showed an image of the earth, seen from space, with a rather indistinct object coming from the cosmos and landing on it.

Francis Crick, the Nobel Prize-winning co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, was suggesting that the molecule of life was of extraterrestrial origin — in the same way that the "animist" peoples claimed that the vital principle was a serpent from the cosmos.

I had never heard of Crick's hypothesis, called "directed panspermia," but I knew that I had just found a new correspondence between science and the complex formed by shamanism and mythology.

I sat down in the armchair and plunged into Life itself: Its origin and nature.

Crick concludes that the organized
complexity found at the cellular level
"cannot have arisen by pure chance."

Crick, writing In the early 1980s, criticizes the usual scientific theory on the origin of life, according to which a cell first appeared in the primitive soup through the random collisions of disorganized molecules. For Crick, this theory presents a major drawback:

  • It is based on ideas conceived in the nineteenth century, long before molecular biology revealed that the basic mechanisms of life are identical for all species and are extremely complex — and when one calculates the probability of chance producing such complexity, one ends up with inconceivably small numbers.

The DNA molecule, which excels at stocking and duplicating information, is incapable of building itself on its own.

  • Proteins do this, but they are incapable of reproducing themselves without the information contained in the DNA.
  • Life, therefore, is a seemingly inescapable synthesis of these two molecular systems.
  • Moving beyond the famous question of the chicken and the egg, Crick calculates the probability of the chance emergence of one single protein (which could then go on to build the first DNA molecule).
  • In all living species, proteins are made up of exactly the same 20 amino acids, which are small molecules.
  • The average protein is a long chain made up of approximately 200 amino acids, chosen from those 20, and strung together in the right order.
  • According to the laws of combinatorials, there is 1 chance in 20 multiplied by itself 200 times for a single specific protein to emerge fortuitously.
  • This figure, which can be written 20200, and which is roughly equivalent to 10260, is enormously greater than the number of atoms in the observable universe (estimated at 1050 ).

These numbers are inconceivable for a human mind.

  • It is not possible to imagine all the atoms of the observable universe and even less a figure that is billions of billions of billions of billions of billions (etc.) times greater.
  • However, since the beginning of life on earth, the number of amino acid chains that could have been synthesized by chance can only represent a minute fraction of all the possibilities.

According to Crick:

  • “The great majority of sequences can never have been synthesized at all, at any time. These calculations take account only of the amino acid sequence. They do not allow for the fact that many sequences would probably not fold up satisfactorily into a stable, compact shape. What fraction of all possible sequences would do this is not known, though it is surmised to be fairly small.”

Crick concludes that the organized complexity found at the cellular level “cannot have arisen by pure chance.”

The earth has existed for approximately 4.5 billion years.

  • In the beginning it was merely a radioactive aggregate with a surface temperature reaching the melting point of metal.
  • Not really a hospitable place for life. Yet there are fossils of single-celled beings that are approximately 3.5 billion years old.
  • The existence of a single cell necessarily implies the presence of DNA, with its 4-letter "alphabet" (A, G, C, T), and of proteins, with their 20-letter "alphabet" (the 20 amino acids), as well as a "translation mechanism" between the two — given that the instructions for the construction of proteins are coded in the language of DNA.


[19]  See Crick (1981, pp. 51, 52-53, 70).

  • He also writes:
  • “Consider a paragraph written in English.
  • This is made from a set of about thirty symbols (the letters and punctuation marks, ignoring capitals).
  • A typical paragraph has about as many letters as a typical protein has amino acids.
  • Thus, a similar calculation to the one above would show that the number of different letter-sequences is correspondingly vast.
  • There is, in fact, a vanishingly small hope of even a billion monkeys, on a billion typewriters, ever typing correctly even one sonnet of Shakespeare's during the present lifetime of the universe” (p. 52).

Crick writes:

  • “It is quite remarkable that such a mechanism exists at all and even more remarkable that every living cell, whether animal, plant or microbial, contains a version of it.” [19]

Crick compares a protein to a paragraph made up of 200 letters lined up in the correct order.

Life as described by Crick was based
on a miniature language that had not
changed a letter in four billion years,
while multiplying itself in an extreme
diversity of species.
  • If the chances are infinitesimal for one paragraph to emerge in a billion years from a terrestrial soup, the probability of the fortuitous appearance, during the same period, of two alphabets and one translation mechanism is even smaller.

When i looked up from Crick's book, it was dark outside.

  • I was feeling both astonished and elated. Like a myopic detective bent over a magnifying glass while following a trail, I had fallen into a bottomless hole.
  • For months I had been trying to untangle the enigma of the hallucinatory knowledge of Western Amazonia's indigenous people, stubbornly searching for the hidden passage in the apparent dead end.
  • I had only detected the DNA trail two weeks previously in Harner's book.
  • Since then I had mainly developed the hypothesis along intuitive lines.
  • My goal was certainly not to build a new theory on the origin of life; but there I was — a poor anthropologist knowing barely how to swim, floating in a cosmic ocean filled with microscopic and bilingual serpents.
  • I could see now that there might be links between science and shamanic, spiritual and mythological traditions, that seemed to have gone unnoticed, doubtless because of the fragmentation of Western knowledge.

With his book, Francis Crick provided a good example of this fragmentation.

  • His mathematics were impeccable, and his reasoning crystalline; Crick was surely among twentieth-century rationality's finest.
  • But he had not noticed that he was not the first to propose the idea of a snake-shaped vital principle of cosmic origin.
  • All the peoples in the world who talk of a cosmic serpent have been saving as much for millennia.
  • He had not seen it because the rational gaze is forever focalized and can examine only one thing at a time.
  • It separates things to understand them, including the truly complementary.
  • It is the gaze of the specialist, who sees the fine grain of a necessarily restricted field of vision.
  • When Crick set about considering cosmogony from the serious perspective of molecular biology, he had long since put out of his analytical mind the myths of archaic peoples.

From my new point of view, Crick's scenario of "directed panspermia," in which a spaceship transports DNA in the form of frozen bacteria across the immensities of the cosmos, seemed less likely than the idea of an omniscient and terrifying cosmic serpent of unimaginable power.

  • After all, life as described by Crick was based on a miniature language that had not changed a letter in four billion years, while multiplying itself in an extreme diversity of species.
  • The petals of a rose, Francis Cricks brain, and the coat of a virus are all built out of proteins made up of exactly the same 20 amino acids.
  • A phenomenon capable of such creativity was surely not going to travel in a spaceship resembling those propelled containers imagined by human beings in the twentieth century.
"A painting on hardboard of the Snake of
the Marinbata people of Arnhem Land."

From Huxley (1974, p. 127).

This meant that the gaze of the Western specialist was too narrow to see the two pieces that fit together to resolve the puzzle.

  • The distance between molecular biology and shamanism/mythology was an optical illusion produced by the rational gaze that separates things ahead of time, and as objectivism fails to objectify its objectifying relationship, it also finds it difficult to consider its presuppositions.

The puzzle to solve was: Who are we and where do we come from?

Chapter 7 ♦ Myths and Molecules

"Cosmovision." From Gebhart-Sayer (1987, p. 26).

I went on to look for the connection between the cosmic serpent — the master of transformation of serpentine form that lives in water and can be both extremely long and small, single and double — and DNA.

Your personal DNA is
long enough to wrap
around the earth
5 million times.

I found that DNA corresponds exactly to this description.

  • If one stretches out the DNA contained in the nucleus of a human cell, one obtains a two-yard-long thread that is  only ten atoms wide.
  • This thread is a billion times longer than its own width.
  • Relatively speaking, it is as if your little finger stretched from Paris to Los Angeles.

A thread of DNA is much smaller than the visible light humans perceive.

  • Even the most powerful optical microscopes cannot reveal it, because DNA is approximately 120 times narrower than the smallest wavelength of visible light.[5]

The nucleus of a cell is equivalent in volume to 2-millionths of a pinhead.

  • The two-yard thread of DNA packs into this minute volume by coiling up endlessly on itself, thereby reconciling extreme length and infinitesimal smallness, like mythical serpents.

"Aspects of Ronín." From Gebhart-Sayer (1987, p. 34).

The average human being is made up of 100 thousand billion cells, according to some estimates.

  • This means that there are approximately 125 billion miles of DNA in a human body — corresponding to 70 round-trips between Saturn and the Sun.
  • You could travel your entire life in a Boeing 747 flying at top speed and you would not even cover one hundredth of this distance.
  • Your personal DNA is long enough to wrap around the earth 5 million times.[6]

 [5] - [7]   

[5] Each human cell contains approximately 6 billion base pairs (= 6 × 109, meaning 6 followed by 9 zeros).

  • Each base pair is 3.3 angstroms long [1 angstrom = 10-10 meters (m)].
  • Multiplying these two figures, one obtains 1.98 m in length, which is generally rounded to 2 m.
  • Moreover, the double helix is 20 angstroms wide (20 × 10-10 m).
  • By dividing the length by the width, one obtains a billion — see Calladine and Drew (1992, pp. 3, 16-17).
  • The average little finger is more or less 1 centimeter wide; Paris and Los Angeles are separated by a distance of approximately 9,100 kilometers. This comparison is supposed to give a notion easy to visualize rather than an exact equation;
  • In fact, the DNA contained in a human cell is 10 percent longer, relatively speaking, than a centimeter-wide finger stretching from Paris to Los Angeles.
  • Moreover, in the wide spectrum of electromagnetic waves, human eyes perceive only a very narrow band, from 7 × 10-7 m (red light) to 4 × 10-7 m (violet light).

De Duve (1984) writes:

  • “Even with a perfect instrument, no detail smaller than about half the wavelength of the light used can be perceived, which puts the absolute limit of resolution of a microscope utilizing visible light to approximately 0", 25 μm” (p. 9); that is, 2,500 angstroms.

[6] Wills (1989) writes that the nucleus of a cell “is about two millionths of the volume of a pinhead” (p. 22).

  • Frank-Kamenetskii (1993) writes:
  • “If we assume that the whole of DNA in a human cell is one molecule, its length L will be about 2 in. This is a million times more than the nucleus diameter” (p. 42).
  • Moreover, according to some estimates, there are 100 thousand billion, or 1014, cells in a human body see, for example, ■ Sagan and the Editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1993, p. 965),   ■ Pollack (1994, p. 19),   ■ Schiefelbein (1986, p. 40).

However, there is no consensus on this figure.

  • Dawkins (1976, p. 22) uses 1015 ("a thousand million million")
  • Margulis and Sagan (1986, p. 67) use 1012
  • But in the French translation of their book they write: “The human body is made up of 1016 (10 million billion) animal cells and 1017 (100 million billion) bacterial cells” (1989, p. 65).
  • The difference between 1012 and 1016 is of the order of 10,000!

To calculate the total length of the DNA in a human body, I chose the figure that seems to be the most widely used, and that is halfway between the extremes.

  • When I write that our body contains 125 billion miles of DNA, or 200 billion kilometers, it is merely a rough estimate;
  • The true number could be 100 times greater, or smaller.

Finally, a Boeing 747 traveling for 75 years at 1,000 km/h would travel 657 million kilometers,

  • Which is 0.32 percent of 200 billion kilometers;
  • The average distance between Saturn and the Sun is 1,427,000,000 kilometers.

[7] Most cells contain between 70 and 80 percent water.

  • According to Margulis and Sagan (1986):
    “The concentrations of salts in both sea-water and blood are, for all practical purposes, identical. The proportions of sodium, potassium, and chloride in our tissues are intriguingly similar to those of the worldwide ocean. … we sweat and cry what is basically seawater” (p. 183-184).
  • Without water, a cell cannot function; as De Duve (1984) writes:
    “Even the hardiest bacteria need some moisture around them. They may survive complete dryness, but only in a dormant state, with all their processes arrested until they are reawakened by water” (p. 21).
  • On the relationship between water and the shape of the DNA double helix, see Calladine and Drew (1992), who write:
    “We see right away how DNA forms a spiral or helix on account of the low solubility in water of the bases” (p. 21).

All the cells in the world contain DNA — be they animal, vegetal, or bacterial — and they are all filled with salt water, in which the concentration of salt is similar to that of the worldwide ocean.

DNA is the informational
molecule of life
  • We cry and sweat what is essentially seawater.
  • DNA bathes in water, which in turn plays a crucial role in establishing the double helix's shape.
  • As DNA's four bases (adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine) are insoluble in water, they tuck themselves into the center of the molecule where they associate in pairs to form the rungs of the ladder; then they twist up into a spiraled stack to avoid contact with the surrounding water molecules.
  • DNA's twisted ladder shape is a direct consequence of the cell's watery environment.[7]
  • DNA goes together with water, just like mythical serpents do.

From Watson (1968, p. 165).

The DNA molecule is a single long chain made up of two interwoven ribbons that are connected by the four bases.

  • These bases can only match up in specific pairs — A with T, G with C.
  • Any other pairing of the bases is impossible, because of the arrangement of their individual atoms: A can bond only with T, G only with C.

This means that one of the two ribbons is the back-to-front duplicate of the other and that the genetic text is double:

  • It contains a main text on one of the ribbons, which is read in a precise direction by the transcription enzymes.
  • And a backup text, which is inverted and most often not read.

The second ribbon plays two essential roles.

  • It allows the repair enzymes to reconstruct the main text in case of damage.
  • And, above all, it provides the mechanism for the duplication of the genetic message.
  • It suffices to open the double helix as one might unzip a zipper, in order to obtain two separate and complementary ribbons that can then be rebuilt into double ribbons by the duplication enzymes.
  • As the latter can place only an A opposite a T and vice versa, and a G opposite a C, and vice versa, this leads to the formation of two twin double helixes, which are identical in every respect to the original.
  • Twins are therefore central to life, just as ancient myths indicate, and they are associated with a serpentine form.

Without this copying mechanism, a cell would never be able to duplicate itself, and life would not exist.

DNA is the informational molecule of life, and its very essence consists in being both single and double, like the mythical serpents.

DNA and its duplication mechanisms are the same for all living creatures. The only thing that changes from one species to another is the order of the letters.

  • This constancy goes back to the very origins of life on earth.
  • According to biologist Robert Pollack:
  • “The planet's surface has changed many times over, but DNA and the cellular machinery for its replication have remained constant. Schrödinger's 'aperiodic crystal' understated DNA's stability: no stone, no mountain, no ocean, not even the sky above us, have been stable and constant for this long; nothing inanimate, no matter how complicated, has survived unchanged for a fraction of the time that DNA and its machinery of replication have coexisted.” [8]


[8]  Pollack (1994, pp. 29-30).

At the beginning of its existence, some 4.5 billion years ago, planet earth was an inhospitable place for life.

  • As a molten lava fireball, its surface was radioactive.
  • Its water was so hot it existed only in the form of incondensable vapor.
  • And its atmosphere, devoid of any breathable oxygen, contained poisonous gases such as cyanide and formaldehyde.

Approximately 3.9 billion years ago, the earth's surface cooled sufficiently to form a thin crust on top of the molten magma.

  • Strangely, life, and thus DNA, appeared relatively quickly thereafter.
  • Scientists have found traces of biological activity in sedimentary rocks that are 3.85 billion years old, and fossil hunters have found actual bacterial fossils that are 3.5 billion years old.

During the first 2 billion years of life on earth, the planet was inhabited only by anaerobic bacteria, for which oxygen is a poison.

  • These bacteria lived in water, and some of them learned to use the hydrogen contained in the H2O molecule while expelling the oxygen.
  • This opened up new and more efficient metabolic pathways.
  • The gradual enrichment of the atmosphere with oxygen allowed the appearance of a new kind of cell, capable of using oxygen and equipped with a nucleus for packing together its DNA.
  • These nucleated cells are at least thirty times more voluminous than bacterial cells.
  • According to biologists Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan:
  • “The biological transition between bacteria and nucleated cells … is so sudden it cannot effectively be explained by gradual changes over time.”

From that moment onward, life as we know it took shape. Nucleated cells joined together to form the first multicellular beings, such as algae.

  • The latter also produce oxygen by photosynthesis.
  • Atmospheric oxygen increased to about 21 percent and then stabilized at this level approximately 500 million years ago — thankfully, because if oxygen were a few percent higher, living beings would combust spontaneously.
  • According to Margulis and Sagan, this state of affairs “gives the impression of a conscious decision to maintain balance between danger and opportunity, between risk and benefit.” [9]

 [9] - [10]   

[9] Both quotes are from Margulis and Sagan (1986, pp. 115-116, 111).

  • On the terrestrial atmosphere before the apparition of life, see Margulis and Sagan (1986, pp. 41-43). They also write:
  • “Barghoorn's Swaziland discovery of actual 3,400-million-year-old microbes raises a startling point: the transition from inanimate matter to bacteria took less time than the transition from bacteria to large, familiar organisms. Life has been a companion of the Earth from shortly after the planets inception” (p. 72).
  • The recently discovered traces of biological activity dating back 3.85 billion years consist of a reduced ratio of carbon-13 to carbon-12 in sedimentary rocks in Greenland. — see   ■ Mojzsis et al. (1996)   ■ Hayes (1996);
  • Hayes writes:
  • “The new finding seems to extend that record to the very bottom of our planet's sedimentary pile, crucially altering earlier views of these oldest sediments and leaving almost no time between the end of the 'late heavy bombardment' of bodies within the inner Solar System by giant meteorites and the first appearance of life” (p. 21).
  • Judson (1992) writes regarding nucleated cells ("eukaryotes"):
  • “Eukariyotic cells are far larger than bacteria — proportionately as a horse to a bumblebee. They have hundreds of times more genes, and 500-fold more DNA” (p. 61).

[10] Lewontin (1992) writes:

  • “Fully 99.999 percent of all species that have ever existed are already extinct” (p. 119).

For estimates regarding the current number of species, see:

  • Wilson (1990, p. 4, “most biologists agree that the actual number is at least 3 million and could easily be 30 million or more”).
  • Pollack (1994, p. 170, “five million to fifty million”).
  • Wilson (1992, p. 346) also writes:
    “Even though some 14 million species of organisms have been discovered (in the minimal sense of having specimens collected and formal scientific names attached), the total number alive on earth is somewhere between 10 and 100 million.”

Around 550 million years ago, life exploded into a grand variety of multicellular species, algae and more complex plants and animals, living not only in water, but on land and in the air.

  • Of all the species living at that time, not one has survived to this day.
  • According to certain estimates, almost all of the species that have ever lived on earth have already disappeared, and there are between 3 million and 50 million species living currently.[10]

DNA is a master of transformation, just like mythical serpents.

  • The cell-based life DNA informs made the air we breathe, the landscape we see, and the mind-boggling diversity of living beings of which we are a part.
  • In 4 billion years, it has multiplied itself into an incalculable number of species, while remaining exactly the same.

Inside the nucleus, DNA coils and uncoils, writhes and wriggles.

  • Scientists often compare the form and movements of this long molecule to those of a snake.
  • Molecular biologist Christopher Wills writes: “The two chains of DNA resemble two snakes coiled around each other in some elaborate courtship ritual.” [11]


[11]  Wills (1991, p. 36).
  • Regarding the direct observation of DNA's propensity to wriggle (“like small snakes slithering through mud”), see Lipkin (1994, p. 293).
  • Dubochet (1993) writes:
  • “It is not the enzyme that rotates along the DNA helix during transcription, but the DNA that rotates on itself, while moving like a supercoiled conveyor belt” (p. 2).

To sum up, DNA is

  • a snake-shaped master of transformation
  • that lives in water and
  • is both extremely long and small, single and double.

Just like the cosmic serpent.

Chapter 8 ♦ Through The Eyes of An Ant
DNA and the cell-based life it codes for are
an extremely sophisticated technology that
far surpasses our present-day understanding.

DNA was initially developed elsewhere
than on earth — which it radically transformed
on its arrival some four billion years ago.

One sunny afternoon that spring I was sitting in the garden with my children. Birds were singing in the trees, and my mind began to wander.

  • There I was, a product of twentieth-century rationality, my faith requiring numbers and molecules rather than myths.
  • Yet I was now confronted with mythological numbers relative to a molecule, in which I had to believe.
  • Inside my body sitting there in the garden sun were 125 billion miles of DNA.
  • I was wired to the hilt with DNA threads and until recently had known nothing about it.
  • Was this astronomical number really just a “useless but amusing fact,” [1] as some scientists would have it?
  • Or did it indicate that the dimensions, at least, of our DNA are cosmic?

Some biologists describe DNA as an “ancient high biotechnology,” containing “over a hundred trillion times as much information by volume as our most sophisticated information storage devices.” Could one still speak of a technology in these circumstances?

  • Yes, because there is no other word to qualify this duplicate, information-storing molecule.
  • DNA is only ten atoms wide and as such constitutes a sort of ultimate technology:
  • It is organic and so miniaturized that it approaches the limits of material existence.[2]

 [1] - [3]   

[1] Jones (1993) writes:

  • “A useless but amusing fact is that if all the DNA in all the cells in a single human being were stretched out it would reach to the moon and back eight thousand times” (p. 5).
  • This calculation is based on an estimate of 3 × 1012 cells in a human body, which is 33 times smaller than the usual estimate of 1014  (which I use to obtain 125 billion miles of DNA in a human body).
  • As I explained in a note to Chapter 7, this estimate varies considerably from one specialist to another.

[2] Margulis and Sagan (1986) write:

  • “In their first two billion years on Earth, prokaryotes continuously transformed the Earth's surface and atmosphere. They invented all of life's essential, miniaturized chemical systems — achievements that so far humanity has not approached. This ancient high biotechnology led to the development of fermentation, photosynthesis, oxygen breathing, and the removal of nitrogen gas from the air” (original italics, p. 17).
  • Wills (1991) writes:
  • “So the DNA molecules themselves pack over a hundred trillion times as much information by volume as our most sophisticated information storage devices” (p. 103).
  • Pollack (1994) writes:
  • “The second strand [of the DNA molecule) is the minimum imaginable amount of extra-molecular baggage necessary to make either strand's information self-replicating” (p. 28).

[3] Luna and Amaringo (1991, pp. 33-34).

Shamans, meanwhile, claim that the vital principle that animates all living creatures comes from the cosmos and is minded. As ayahuasquero Pablo Amaringo says:

  • “A plant may not talk, but there is a spirit in it that is conscious, that sees everything, which is the soul of the plant, its essence, what makes it alive.”

According to Amaringo, these spirits are veritable beings, and humans are also filled with them:

  • “Even the hair, the eyes, the ears are full of beings. You see all this when ayahuasca is strong.” [3]

During the past weeks, I had come to consider that the perspective of biologists could be reconciled with that of ayahuasqueros and that both could be true at the same time. According to the stereoscopic image I could see by gazing at both perspectives simultaneously,

  • DNA and the cell-based life it codes for are an extremely sophisticated technology that far surpasses our present-day understanding
  • And that was initially developed elsewhere than on earth — which it radically transformed on its arrival some four billion years ago.
It was as if the instructions were to
remain hidden from their beneficiaries,
as if we were wired in such a way
that we could not see the wires.

I did not know what to make of these thoughts.

  • Staring blankly at the lawn in front of me, I started following a shiny, black ant making its way across the thick blades of grass with the determination of a tank.
  • It was heading toward the colony of aphids in the tree at the bottom of the garden.
  • This was an ant belonging to a species that herds aphids and "milks" them for their sweet secretions.

I began thinking that this ant had a visual system quite different from my own that apparently functioned every bit as well.

  • Despite our differences in size and shape, our genetic information was written in the same language — which we were both incapable of seeing, given that DNA is smaller than visible light, even to the eyes of an ant.

I found it interesting that the language containing the instructions for the creation of different visual systems should be itself invisible. It was as if the instructions were to remain hidden from their beneficiaries, as if we were wired in such a way that we could not see the wires. …


I tried reconsidering the question from a "shamanic" point of view. It was as if these beings inside us wanted to hide. … But that's what the Ashaninca say! They call the invisible beings who created life the "maninkari," literally "those who are hidden"!

Chapter 10 ♦ Biology's Blind Spot
I ended up with a hypothesis
suggesting that a human mind
can communicate in defocalized
consciousness with the global
network of DNA-based life.

I began my investigation with the enigma of "plant communication."

  • I went on to accept the idea that hallucinations could be a source of verifiable information.
  • And I ended up with a hypothesis suggesting that a human mind can communicate in defocalized consciousness with the global network of DNA-based life.
  • All this contradicts principles of Western knowledge.

Nevertheless, my hypothesis is testable.

  • A test would consist of seeing whether institutionally respected biologists could find biomolecular information in the hallucinatory world of ayahuasqueros.
  • However, this hypothesis is currently not receivable by institutional biology, because it impinges on the discipline's presuppositions.

Biology has a blind spot of historical origin.

It wasn't until the 1950s and
the discovery of the role of DNA
that the theory of natural selection
became generally accepted
among scientists.

My hypothesis suggests that what scientists call DNA corresponds to the animate essences that shamans say communicate with them and animate all life forms.

  • Modern biology, however, is founded on the notion that nature is not animated by an intelligence and therefore cannot communicate.

This presupposition comes from the materialist tradition established by the naturalists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

  • In those days, it took courage to question the explanations about life afforded by a literal reading of the Bible.
  • By adopting a scientific method based on direct observation and the classification of species, Linnaeus, Lamarck, Darwin, and Wallace audaciously concluded that the different species had evolved over time — and had not been created in fixed form six thousand years previously in the Garden of Eden.

Wallace and Darwin simultaneously proposed a material mechanism to explain the evolution of species.

  • According to their theory of natural selection, organisms presented slight variations from one generation to the next, which were either retained or eliminated in the struggle for survival.
  • This idea rested on a circular argument: Those who survive are the most able to survive.
  • But it seemed to explain both the variation of species and the astonishing perfection of the natural world, as it retained only the improvements.
  • Above all, it took God out of the picture and enabled biologists to study nature without having to worry about a divine plan within.

For almost a century, the theory of natural selection was contested.

  • Vitalists, like Bergson, rejected its stubborn materialism, pointing out that it lacked a mechanism to explain the origin of the variations.
  • It wasn't until the 1950s and the discovery of the role of DNA that the theory of natural selection became generally accepted among scientists.
  • The DNA molecule seemed to demonstrate the materiality of heredity and to provide the missing mechanism.
  • As DNA is self-duplicating and transmits its information to proteins, biologists concluded that information could not flow back from proteins to DNA; therefore, genetic variation could only come from errors in the duplication process.
  • Francis Crick termed this the “central dogma” of the young discipline called molecular biology.


[1]  Crick (1981, p. 58).

  • Jones (1993) writes:
  • “The ancestral message from the dawn of life has grown to an instruction manual containing three thousand million letters coded into DNA. Everyone has a unique edition of the manual which differs in millions of ways from that of their fellows. All this diversity comes from accumulated errors in copying the inherited message” (p. 79).
  • Delsemme (1994) writes:
  • “The mechanism [of evolution] is extraordinarily simple, as it rests on two principles: copying errors, which cause 'mutations'; survival of the individual best adapted to its environment” (p. 185).
  • Francis Crick coined the term “central dogma” in 1958.
  • Blocker and Salem (1994) write regarding the central dogma:
  • “However, … this principle can be seriously challenged. In fact, from a certain point of view, one can almost consider it to be wrong: information actually flows back from the proteins to the genes, but by a different means, that of regulation” (p. 66).
  • Regarding resistance to the theory of natural selection until the middle of the twentieth century. Mayr (1982) writes:
  • “Up to the 1920s and 1930s, virtually all the major books on evolution — those of Berg, Bertalanffy, Beurlen, Böker, Goldschmidt, Robson, Robson and Richards, Schindewolf, Willis, and those of all the French evolutionists, including Cuénot, Caullery, Vandel, Guyénot, and Rostand — were more or less strongly antiDarwinian. Among nonbiologists Darwinism was even less popular. The philosophers, in particular, were almost unanimously opposed to it, and this opposition lasted until relatively recent years (Cassirer, 1950; Grene, 1959; Popper, 1972). Most historians likewise rejected selectionism (Radl, Nordensldöld, Barzun, Himmelfarb)” (p. 549).
  • Mayr goes on to describe an international symposium held in 1947:
  • “All participants endorsed the gradualness of evolution, the preeminent importance of natural selection, and the populational aspect of the origin of diversity. Not all other biologists were completely converted. This is evident from the great efforts made by Fisher, Haldane, and Muller as late as the 1940s and 50s to present again and again evidence in favor of the universality of natural selection, and from some reasonably agnostic statements on evolution made by a few leading biologists such as Max Hartmann” (p. 569).
  • “Chance is the only true source of novelty,” he wrote.[1]
The materialist approach in molecular
biology … rested on the unprovable
presupposition that  chance is the only
source of novelty in nature, and that
nature is devoid of any goal, intention,
or consciousness.

The discovery of DNA's role and the formulation in molecular terms of the theory of natural selection gave a new impetus to materialist philosophy.

  • It became possible to contend on a scientific basis that life was a purely material phenomenon.
  • Francis Crick wrote: “The ultimate aim of the modern movement in biology is to explain all biology in terms of physics and chemistry” (original italics).
  • François Jacob, another Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist, wrote:
  • “The processes which occur in living beings at the microscopic level of molecules are in no way different from those analyzed by physics and chemistry in inert systems.” [2]

The materialist approach in molecular biology went from strength to strength — but it rested on the unprovable presupposition that chance is the only source of novelty in nature, and that nature is devoid of any goal, intention, or consciousness.

  • Jacques Monod, also a Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist, expressed this idea clearly in his famous essay Chance and necessity:
  • “The cornerstone of the scientific method is the postulate that nature is objective. In other words, the systematic denial that 'true' knowledge can be reached by interpreting phenomena in terms of final causes — that is to say, of 'purpose'. … This pure postulate is impossible to demonstrate, for it is obviously impossible to imagine an experiment proving the nonexistence anywhere in nature of a purpose, or a pursued end. But the postulate of objectivity is consubstantial with science, and has guided the whole of its prodigious development for three centuries. It is impossible to escape it, even provisionally or in a limited area, without departing from the domain of science itself” [3]  (original italics).
… such coding systems were considered
up until the discovery of the genetic code
as “exclusively human phenomena”
— that is, phenomena that require
the presence of an intelligence to exist.

Biologists thought they had found the truth, and they did not hesitate to call it "dogma."

  • Strangely, their newfound conviction was hardly troubled by the discovery in the 1960s of a genetic code that is the same for all living beings and that bears striking similarities to human coding systems, or languages.
  • To transmit information, the genetic code uses elements (A, G, C, and T) that are meaningless individually, but that form units of significance when combined, in the same way that letters make up words.
  • The genetic code contains 64 three-letter "words," all of which have meaning, including two punctuation marks.

 [2] - [4]   

[2]  Crick (1966, p. 10) and Jacob (1974, p. 320).

[3]  Monod (1971, pp. 30-31).

[4]  Jakobson (1973, p. 61). He also writes:

  • “Consequently, we can say that, of all the information-transmitting systems, the genetic code and the verbal code are the only ones that are founded on the use of discrete elements, which are, in themselves, devoid of meaning, but which are used to constitute the minimal units of significance, namely the entities endowed with a meaning that is their own in the code in question” (p. 52).
  • See Shanon (1978) on the differences between the genetic code and human languages.

As linguist Roman Jakobson pointed out, such coding systems were considered up until the discovery of the genetic code as “exclusively human phenomena” [4] — that is, phenomena that require the presence of an intelligence to exist.

One of the facts that troubled me most
was the astronomical length of the DNA
containedin a human body: 125 billion miles.

When I started reading the literature of molecular biology, I was stunned by certain descriptions.

  • Admittedly, I was on the lookout for anything unusual, as my investigation had led me to consider that DNA and its cellular machinery truly were an extremely sophisticated technology of cosmic origin.
  • But as I pored over thousands of pages of biological texts, I discovered a world of science fiction that seemed to confirm my hypothesis.
  • Proteins and enzymes were described as “miniature robots”
  • Ribosomes were “molecular computers”
  • Cells were “factories”
  • DNA itself was a “text,” a “program,” a “language,” or “data”
  • One only had to do a literal reading of contemporary biology to reach shattering conclusions;
  • Yet most authors display a total lack of astonishment and seem to consider that life is merely “a normal physiochemical phenomenon.” [5]

One of the facts that troubled me most was the astronomical length of the DNA contained in a human body: 125 billion miles.

  • There, I thought, is the Ashaninca's sky-rope: It is inside us and is certainly long enough to connect earth and heaven.
  • What did biologists make of this cosmic number? Most of them did not even mention it, and those who did talked of a “useless but amusing fact.”

 [5] - [6]   

[5]  Calladine and Drew (1992) write:

  • “The mass of DNA is surrounded in most cells by a strong membrane with tiny, selective holes, that allow some things to go in and out, but keep others either inside or outside. Important chemical molecules go in and out of these holes, like memos from the main office of a factory to its workshops; and indeed the individual cell is in many ways like an entire factory, on a very tiny scale. The space in the cell which is not occupied by DNA and the various sorts of machinery is filled with water” (p. 3).
  • De Rosnay (1966) writes:
  • “The cell is, indeed, a veritable molecular factory, but this 'miracle' factory is capable not only of looking after its own maintenance — as we have just seen — but also of building its own machines as well as the drivers of those machines” (p. 62).
  • Pollack (1994) compares a cell to a city, rather than to a factory:
  • “A cell is a busy place, a city of large and small molecules all constructed according to information encoded in DNA. The metaphor of a city may seem even more farfetched than that of a skyscraper for an invisibly small cell until you consider that a cell has room for more than a hundred million million atoms; that is plenty of space for millions of different molecules, since even the largest molecules in a cell are made of only a few hundred million atoms” (p. 18).
  • In his book The machinery of life, Goodsell (1993) writes:
  • “Like the machines of our modern world, these molecules are built to perform specific functions efficiently, accurately, and consistently. Modern cells build hundreds of thousands of different molecular machines, each performing one of hundreds of thousands of individual tasks in the process of living. These molecular machines are built according to four basic molecular plans. Whereas our macrosocopic machines are built of metal, wood, plastic and ceramic, the microscopic machines in cells are built of protein, nucleic acid, lipid, and polysaccharide. Each plan has a unique chemical personality ideally suited to a different role in the cell” (p. 13).
  • De Rosnay (1966, p. 165) compares enzymes to “biological micro-computers” and to “molecular robots,” whereas Goodsell (1993, p. 29) calls them “automata.”
  • Wills (1991) writes:
  • “The genome is like a book that contains, among many other things, detailed instructions on how to build a machine that can make copies of it — and also instructions on how to build the tools needed to make the machine” (p. 41).
  • For discussions of DNA as a “language” or a “text,” see, for example,
    • Frank-Kamenetskii (1993, pp. 63-74),
    • Jones (1993),
    • Pollack (1994).
  • Atlan and Koppel (1990) reject the classical metaphor of DNA as a “program” and suggest instead that it is better understood as “data to a program embedded in the global geometrical and biochemical structure of the cell” (p. 338).
  • Finally, Delsemme (1994, p. 205) writes that
  • “we can consider with complete peace of mind that life is a normal physicochemical phenomenon.”

[6]  Piaget (1975) writes:

  • “Thus the most developed science remains a continual becoming, and in every field nonbalance plays a functional role of prime importance since it necessitates re-equilibration” (p. 178).

I was also troubled by the certitude exhibited by most biologists in the face of the profoundly mysterious reality they were describing.

  • After all, the spectacular accomplishments of molecular biology during the second half of the twentieth century had led to more questions than answers.
  • This is an old problem: Knowledge calls for more knowledge, or, as Jean Piaget wrote,
  • “The most developed science remains a continual becoming.” [6]

Yet few biological texts discuss the unknown.

The enzymes which both repair the double
helix in case of damage and correct any
errors in the DNA replication process make
only one mistake every ten billion letters.

Take proteins, for instance.

  • These long chains of amino acids, strung together in the order specified by DNA, accomplish almost all the essential tasks in cells.
  • They catch molecules and build them into cellular structures or take them apart to extract their energy.
  • They carry atoms to precise places inside or outside the cell.
  • They act as pumps or motors.
  • They form receptors that trap highly specific molecules or antennae that conduct electrical charges.
  • Like versatile marionettes, or jacks-of-all-trades, they twist, fold, and stretch into the shape their task requires.
  • What is known, precisely, about these “self-assembling machines”?
  • According to Alwyn Scott, a mathematician with an interest in molecular biology: “Biologists' understanding of how proteins function is a lot like your and my understanding of how a car works. We know you put in gas, and the gas is burned to make things turn, but the details are all pretty vague.” [7]

 [7] - [8]   

[7]  Scott quoted in Freedman (1994), whose article inspired this paragraph.

  • Goodsell (1993) writes that
  • “proteins are self-assembling machines," which, among other functions, "form motors, turning huge molecular oars that propel bacterial cells" or "specific pumps [that] are built to pump amino acids in, to pump urea out, or to trade sodium for potassium” (pp. 18, 42).

[8]  Calladine and Drew (1992, p. 37).

  • See Wills (1989, p. 166) on the speed of carbonic anhydrase.
  • See Radman and Wagner (1988, p. 25) on the minute rate of error of repair enzymes.
  • Science nominated DNA repair enzymes “molecules of the year 1994.”
  • Recently, it was found that these enzymes are highly adaptable and that "repair" enzymes also participate in DNA replication, the control of the cell cycle, and the expression of genes.
  • Similarly, enzymes that splice the double helix can do so in both chromosome recombination and repair operations.
  • Enzymes that unwind DNA can act during transcription of the genetic text as well as repair (see Culotta and Koshland 1994).
  • Wills (1991) writes on the speed of DNA duplication by enzymes called replisomes:
  • “Replisomes work in pairs. As we watch, about 100 pairs of replisomes seize specific places on each of the chromosomes, and each pair begins to work in opposite directions. Since all the chromosomes are being duplicated at once, there are about ten thousand replisomes operating throughout the nucleus. They work at incredible speed, spewing out new DNA strands at the rate of 150 nucleotides per second. … At full bore, the DNA can be replicated at one and a half million nucleotides per second. Even at this rate, it would still take about half an hour to duplicate all six billion nucleotides” (pp. 113-114).

Enzymes are large proteins that accelerate cellular activities.

  • They act with disarming speed and selectivity. One enzyme in human blood, carbonic anhydrase, can assemble single-handedly over a half million molecules of carbonic acid per second.
  • The enzymes which both repair the double helix in case of damage and correct any errors in the DNA replication process make only one mistake every ten billion letters.
  • Enzymes read the DNA text, transcribe it into RNA, edit out the non-coding passages, splice together the final message, construct the machines that read the instructions and build … other enzymes.
  • What is known, precisely, about these “molecular automata”? According to biologists Chris Calladine and Horace Drew:
  • “These enzymes are extremely efficient in doing their job, yet no one knows exactly how they work.” [8]
How could nature not be conscious if our
own consciousness is produced by nature?

Shamans say the correct way to talk about spirits is in metaphors.

  • Biologists confirm this notion by using a precise array of anthropocentric and technological metaphors to describe DNA, proteins, and enzymes.
  • DNA is a text, or a program, or data,
  • Containing information,
  • Which is read and transcribed into messenger-RNAs.
  • The latter feed into ribosomes, which are molecular computers that translate the instructions according to the genetic code.
  • They build the rest of the cells machinery, namely the proteins and enzymes, which are miniaturized robots that construct and maintain the cell.

Over the course of my readings, I constantly wondered how nature could be devoid of intention if it truly corresponded to the descriptions biologists made of it.

One only had to consider the “dance of the chromosomes” to see DNA move in a deliberate way.

  • During cell division, chromosomes double themselves and assemble by pairs.
  • The two sets of chromosomes then line up along the middle of the cell and migrate toward their respective pole, each member of each pair always going in the direction opposite to its companions.
  • How could this “amazing, stately pavane” [9] occur without some form of intention?

 [9] - [11]   

[9]  Margulis and Sagan (1986, p. 145).

  • Since the time of writing the French original of this book, two articles by Heald et al. (1996) and Zhang and Nicklas (1996) seem to indicate that the dance of chromosomes is orchestrated by spindle microtubules, which function even in the absence of chromosomes. This does not remove the question of intention, however.
  • As Hyams (1996, p. 397) comments:
  • “A great many questions about mitosis remain to be answered. To what extent do chromosomes contribute to spindle formation and to their own movement at anaphase? Do they have a role in positioning the cleavage furrow? What holds sister chromatids together, how are they 'unglued,' and what is the signal for this detachment? How do the checkpoints that sense a single detached chromosome or an imperfect one work?”

[10]  Wade (1995a) writes:

  • “Only DNA endures. This thoroughly depressing view values only survival, which the DNA is not in a position to appreciate anyway, being just a chemical” (p. 20).

[11]  Trémolières (1994, p. 138) considers that

  • “our human comprehension and intelligence reach their own limits. It seems that our brain is one of the most complex objects that we can find in the universe.”
  • McGinn (1994, p. 67) writes:
  • “We want to know, among other things, how our consciousness levers itself out of the body. We want, that is, to solve the mind-body problem, the deep metaphysical question about how mind and matter meet. But what if there is something about us that makes it impossible for us to solve this ancient conundrum? What if our cognitive structure lacks the resources to provide the requisite theory?”

In biology, this question is simply not asked.

  • DNA is “just a chemical,” [10] deoxyribonucleic acid, to be precise.
  • Biologists describe it as both a molecule and a language, making it the informational substance of life,
  • But they do not consider it to be conscious, or alive, because chemicals are inert by definition.

How, I wondered, could biology presuppose that DNA is not conscious, if it does not even understand the human brain, which is the seat of our own consciousness and which is built according to the instructions in our DNA?

  • How could nature not be conscious if our own consciousness is produced by nature? [11]
The rational approach tends to
minimize what it does not understand.

As I patrolled the texts of biology, I discovered that the natural world was teeming with examples of behaviors that seem to require forethought.

  • Some crows manufacture tools with standardized hooks and toothed probes to help in their search for insects hidden in holes.
  • Some chimpanzees, when infected with intestinal parasites, eat bitter, foul-tasting plants, which they otherwise avoid and which contain biologically active compounds that kill intestinal parasites.
  • Some species of ants, with brains the size of a grain of sugar, raise herds of aphids which they milk for their sweet secretions and which they keep in barns.
  • Other ants have been cultivating mushrooms as their exclusive food for fifty million years.[12]
  • It is difficult to understand how these insects could do this without a form of consciousness.
  • Yet scientific observers deny them this faculty, like Jacques Monod, who considers the behavior of bees to be “automatic”:
  • “We know the hive is 'artificial' in so far as it represents the product of the activity of the bees. But we have good reasons for thinking that this activity is strictly automatic — immediate, but not consciously planned.” [13]

 [12] - [13]   

[12]  Hunt (1996) writes:

  • “Crow tool manufacture had three features new to tool use in free-living nonhumans: a high degree of standardization, distinctly discrete tool types with definite imposition of form in tool shaping, and the use of hooks. These features only first appeared in the stone and bone tool-using cultures of early humans after the Lower Paleolithic, which indicates that crows have achieved a considerable technical capability in their tool manufacture and use” (p. 249).
  • See Huffman (1995) on chimpanzees using medicinal plants.
  • Perry (1983) writes about ants that herd aphids:
  • “In one species, the ants take fine earth up to the leaves and stems of plants and, using their own saliva, cement together tiny shelters, shaped like mud huts, for their aphid partners. These shelters help to protect the aphids from severe weather and to some extent from predators. … Some ants will round up local populations of aphids at the end of the day, in much the same way that a sheepdog herds sheep. The ants then take their aphids down into the nest for protection from predators. In the morning the aphids are escorted to the required plant for another days feeding and milking” (pp. 28-29).
  • See also Hölldobler and Wilson (1990, pp. 522-529).
  • Concerning mushroom-cultivating ants, see Chapela at al. (1994) and Hinkle et al. (1994).
  • Wilson (1984, p. 17) compares an ant's brain to a grain of sugar.

[13]  Monod (1971, p. 18).

  • Wesson (1991) writes:
  • “By what devices the genes direct the formation of patterns of neurons that constitute innate behavioral patterns is entirely enigmatic. Yet not only do animals respond appropriately to manifold needs; they often do so in ways that would seem to require something like forethought” (p. 68).
  • He adds:
  • “An instinct of any complexity, linking a sequence of perceptions and actions, must involve a very large number of connections within the brain or principal ganglia of the animal. If it is comparable to a computer program, it must have the equivalent of thousands of lines. In such a program, not merely would chance of improvement by accidental change be tiny at best. It is problematic how the program can be maintained without degradation over a long period despite the occurrence from time to time of errors by replication” (p. 81).
  • On the absence of a goal, or teleology, in nature, Stocco (1994) writes that
  • “biological evolution does not proceed in a precise direction and aims at no particular goal” (p. 185),
  • And Mayr (1983) writes:
  • “The one thing about which modern authors are unanimous is that adaptation is not teleological, but refers to something produced in the past by natural selection” (p. 324).
  • According to Wesson (1991):
  • “For a biologist to call another a teleologist is an insult” (p. 10).

Indeed, the “postulate of objectivity” prevents its practitioners from recognizing any intentionality in nature or, rather, it nullifies their claim to science if they do so.

During this investigation, I became familiar with certain limits of the rational gaze:

  • It tends to fragment reality and to exclude complementarity and the association of contraries from its field of vision.
  • I also discovered one of its more pernicious effects: The rational approach tends to minimize what it does not understand.

Anthropology is an ideal training ground for learning this.

  • The first anthropologists went out beyond the limits of the rational world and saw primitives and inferior societies.
  • When they met shamans, they thought they were mentally ill.

The rational approach starts from the idea that everything is explainable and that mystery is in some sense the enemy.

  • This means that it prefers pejorative, and even wrong, answers to admitting its own lack of understanding.
It would have been just as easy
to call it mystery DNA, for instance.

The molecular biology that considers that 97 percent of the DNA in our body is "junk" reveals not only its degree of ignorance, but the extent to which it is prepared to belittle the unknown.

  • Some recent hypotheses suggest that “junk DNA” might have certain functions after all.[14]
  • But this does not hide the pejorative reflex: We don't understand, so we shoot first, then ask questions. This is cowboy science, and it is not as objective as it claims.
  • Neutrality, or simple honesty, would have consisted in saying "for the moment, we do not know."
  • It would have been just as easy to call it mystery DNA, for instance.

The problem is not having presuppositions, but failing to make them explicit.

  • If biology said about the intentionality that nature seems to manifest at all levels, "we see it sometimes, but cannot discuss it without ceasing to do science according to our own criteria," things would at least be clear.
  • But biology tends to project its presuppositions onto the reality it observes, claiming that nature itself is devoid of intention.

This is perhaps one of the most important things I learned during this investigation:

  • We see what we believe, and not just the contrary; and to change what we see, it is sometimes necessary to change what we believe.

At first I thought I was the only one to realize that biology had limits similar to those of scientific anthropology and that it, too, was a “self-flattering imposture,” which treats the living as if it were inert.

  • Then I discovered that there were all sorts of people within the scientific community who were already discussing biology's fundamental contradictions.

 [14] - [15]   

[14]  According to several recent studies, non-coding DNA might actually play a structural role and display the characteristics of a language, the meaning of which remains to be determined.

  • See   ■ Flam (1994),   ■ Pennisi (1994),   ■ Nowak (1994),   ■ Moore (1996).

[15]  The twenty amino acids used by nature to build proteins vary in shape and function.

  • Some play structural roles, such as making a hairpin turn that folds the protein back on itself.
  • Others make sheet-like surfaces as docking sites for other molecules.
  • Others form links between protein chains.
  • Three amino acids contain benzene, a greasy compound that is the molecular equivalent of Velcro and that can hold certain substances and then release them without modifying its own structure.
  • One finds these benzene-containing amino acids at exactly the right place in the "lock" of nicotinic receptors, where they bond molecules of acetylcholine or nicotine (see Smith 1994).
  • Couturier et al. (1990) provide the exact sequence of the 479 amino acids that constitute one of the five protein chains of the nicotinic receptor.
  • My estimate of 2,500 amino acids for the entire receptor is an extrapolation based on their work.
  • See Lewis et al. (1987) regarding the presence of nicotinic receptors among nematodes.

During the 1980s, it became possible to determine the exact sequence of amino acids in given proteins.

  • This revealed a new level of complexity in living beings.
  • A single nicotinic receptor, forming a highly specific lock coupled to an equally selective channel, is made of five juxtaposed protein chains that contain a total of 2,500 amino acids lined up in the right order.
  • Despite the improbability of the chance emergence of such a structure, even nematodes, which are among the most simple multicellular invertebrates, have nicotinic receptors.[15]
In a burst of creativity like nothing
before nor since, nature appears
to have sketched out the blueprints for
virtually the whole of the animal kingdom. …

Confronted by this kind of complexity, some researchers no longer content themselves with the usual explanation.

  • Robert Wesson writes in his book Beyond natural selection: “No simple theory can cope with the enormous complexity revealed by modern genetics.” [16]

Other researchers have pointed out the improbability of the mechanism that is supposed to be the source of variation — namely, the accumulation of errors in the genetic text.

  • It seems obvious that “a message would quickly lose all meaning if its contents changed continuously in an anarchic fashion.” [17]
  • How, then, could such a process lead to the prodigies of the natural world, of which we are a part?

 [16] - [18]   

[16]  Wesson (1991, p. 15).

[17]  Trémolières (1994, p. 51).

  • He adds:
  • “We know that more than 90% of the changes affecting a letter in a word of the genetic message lead to disastrous results; proteins are no longer synthesized correctly, the message loses its entire meaning and this leads purely and simply to the cell's death. Given that mutations are so frequently highly unfavourable, and even deadly, how can beneficial evolution be attained?” (p. 43).
  • Likewise, Frank-Kamenetskii (1993) writes:
  • “It is clear, therefore, that you need a drastic refitting of the whole of your machine to make the car into a plane. The same is true for a protein. In trying to turn one enzyme into another, point mutations alone would not do the trick. What you need is a substantial change in the amino acid sequence. In this situation, rather than being helpful, selection is a major hindrance. One could think, for instance, that by consistently changing amino acids one by one, it will eventually prove possible to change the entire sequence substantially and thus the enzyme's spatial structure. These minor changes, however, are bound to result eventually in a situation in which the enzyme has ceased to perform its previous function but it has not yet begun its 'new duties.' It is at this point that it will be destroyed — together with the organism carrying it” (p. 76).

[18]  Nash (1995, 68, 70).

Another fundamental problem contradicts the theory of chance-driven natural selection.

  • According to the theory, species should evolve slowly and gradually, since evolution is caused by the accumulation and selection of random errors in the genetic text.
  • However, the fossil record reveals a completely different scenario. J. Madeleine Nash writes in her review of recent research in paleontology:
  • “Until about 600 million years ago, there were no organisms more complex than bacteria, multicelled algae and single-celled plankton. … Then, 543 million years ago, in the early Cambrian, within the span of no more than 10 million years, creatures with teeth and tentacles and claws and jaws materialized with the suddenness of apparitions. In a burst of creativity like nothing before or since, nature appears to have sketched out the blueprints for virtually the whole of the animal kingdom. …
  • “Since 1987, discoveries of major fossil beds in Greenland, in China, in Siberia, and now in Namibia have shown that the period of biological innovation occurred at virtually the same instant in geological time all around the world. … Now, … virtually everyone agrees that the Cambrian started almost exactly 543 million years ago and, even more startling, that all but one of the phyla in the fossil record appeared within the first 5 to 10 million years.” [18]
It is remarkable that Darwinism is
accepted as a satisfactory explanation
for such a vast subject — evolution —
with so little rigorous examination
of how well its basic theses work …

Throughout the fossil record, species seem to appear suddenly,
fully formed and equipped with all sorts of specialized organs,
then remain stable for millions of years.

  • For instance, there is no intermediate form between the terrestrial ancestor of the whale and the first fossils of this marine mammal.
  • Like their current descendants, the latter have nostrils situated atop their heads, a modified respiratory system, new organs like a dorsal fin, and nipples surrounded by a cap to keep out seawater and equipped with a pump for underwater suckling.[19]
  • The whale represents the rule, rather than the exception.
  • According to biologist Ernst Mayr, an authority on the matter of evolution, there is “no clear evidence for any change of a species into a different genus or for the gradual origin of an evolutionary novelty.” [20]

A similar problem exists at the cellular level. Microbiologist James Shapiro writes:

  • “In fact, there are no detailed Darwinian accounts for the evolution of any fundamental biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations. It is remarkable that Darwinism is accepted as a satisfactory explanation for such a vast subject — evolution — with so little rigorous examination of how well its basic theses work in illuminating specific instances of biological adaptation or diversity.” [21]

 [19] - [22]   

[19]  See Wesson (1991, p. 52).

  • He adds:
  • “By Mayr's calculation, in a rapidly evolving line an organ may enlarge about 1 to 10 percent per million years, but organs of the whale-in-becoming must have grown ten times more rapidly over 10 million years. Perhaps 300 generations are required for a gene substitution. Moreover, mutations need to occur many times, even with considerable advantage, in order to have a good chance of becoming fixed. Considering the length of whale generations, the rarity with which the needed mutations are likely to appear, and the multitude of mutations needed to convert a land mammal into a whale, it is easy to conclude that gradualist natural selection of random variations cannot account for this animal” (p. 52).
  • Wesson's book is a catalogue of biological improbabilities — from bats' hypersophisticated echolocation system to the electric organs of fish — and of the gaping holes in the fossil record.

[20]  Mayr (1988, pp. 529-530).

  • Goodwin (1994) writes:
  • “New types of organism appear upon the evolutionary scene, persist for various periods of it, and then become extinct. So Darwin's assumption that the tree of life is a consequence of the gradual accumulation of small hereditary differences appears to be without significant support. Some other process is responsible for the emergent properties of life, those distinctive features that separate one group of organisms from another, such as fishes and amphibians, worms and insects, horsetails and grasses. Clearly something is missing from biology” (p. x).

[21]  Shapiro (1996, p. 64).

[22]  Mycoplasma genitalium is the smallest genome currently known, at 580,000 base pairs.

  • Mushegian and Koonin (1996) compared it to the genome of bacterium Hemophilus influenzae, which contains 1,800,000 base pairs, and concluded that the minimal amount of genetic information necessary for life is 315,000 base pairs. This is still an enormous amount of information.

In the middle of the 1990s, biologists sequenced the first complete genomes of free-living organisms.

  • So far, the smallest known bacterial genome contains 580,000 DNA letters.[22]
  • This is an enormous amount of information, comparable to the contents of a small telephone directory.
  • When one considers that bacteria are the smallest units of life as we know it, it becomes even more difficult to understand how the first bacterium could have taken form spontaneously in a lifeless, chemical soup.
  • How can a small telephone directory of information emerge from random processes?
… the existence of master genes points to
the insufficiency of the neodarwinian
model and to the necessity of introducing
into the theory of evolution mechanisms,
either known or to be discovered, that
contradict this model's basic principles.

The genomes of more complex organisms are even more daunting in size.

  • Bakers yeast is a unicellular organism that contains 12 million DNA letters;
  • The genome of nematodes, which are rather simple multicellular organisms, contains 100 million DNA letters.
  • Mouse genomes, like human genomes, contain approximately 3 billion DNA letters.

By mapping, sequencing, and comparing different genomes, biologists have recently found further levels of complexity.

  • Some sequences are highly conserved between species.
  • For example, 400 human genes match very similar genes in yeast.
  • This means these genes have stayed in a nearly identical place and form over hundreds of millions of years of evolution, from a very primitive form of life to a human being.[23]

 [23] - [25]   

[23]  See Butler (1996) on the 12 million base pair genome of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

  • See Hills (1996) on the similarities between yeast and human genes.
  • In some cases, the contrary is also true, and genomes vary greatly between closely related species:
  • Wade (1997b) writes about a conference on small genomes:
  • “As work on one genome after another was described at the meeting, the scientists' mood was like that of people looking at newly-discovered treasure maps, with the treasure not yet in hand but with wonderfully tantalizing clues all about. For example, the order of genes in a genome seems to vary widely, even between closely related species of microbes, as if evolution were constantly shuffling the deck” (p. A14).

[24]  Langaney (1997, p. 122).

  • Holder and McMahon (1996) write:
  • “Remarkably, many of the genes that are important for the control of fly development are also crucial players in vertebrate, and by association human, development. … Some of the similarities are amazing: for example, mutations in both human Pax6 gene and in eyeless, the Drosophila homologue, cause abnormal eye development. This maintenance of function occurs in spite of the overtly different manner in which Drosophila and human eyes develop” (p. 515).
  • Yoon (1995) writes:
  • “From silken-petaled roses to popping snapdragons to a willow tree's fuzzy catkins, the plant world offers a dazzling array of flowers. Yet the difference between all this blooming beauty and a plain green shoot appears to be nothing more than the flicking on of one master genetic switch, according to two new studies. Using genetically engineered plants, researchers were able to show that either of two genes, on its own, could turn on the cascade of thousands of genes that produce a flower. Researchers were able to use the genes … to produce blossoms where there should instead have been leafy shoots in plants as diverse as Arabidopsis, a roadside weed, tobacco and aspen trees” (p. B5).
  • Wade (1997c) writes:
  • “Many of the most important fruit fly genes, like those that tell the developing embryo to produce organs at certain places, have been found to have counterparts in humans. The fly and human versions of these genes are not identical but have recognizably similar DNA sequences, reflecting their descent from a common ancestral gene some 550 million years ago”;
  • He also writes that there is
  • “surprising and extensive overlap of the genes among all the model organisms” (p. B7).
  • Biology's main model organisms are fruit fly, mouse, worm C. elegans, zebra fish, and human.

[25]  See Hilts (1996, p. C19) on genes “that appear to clump together in families that work on similar problems.”

  • See Wade (1997a) on the similarities in gene clusters on mouse and human X chromosomes.

Some genetic sequences, known as "master genes," control hundreds of other genes like an on/off switch.

  • These master genes also seem to be highly conserved across species.
  • For example, flies and human beings have a very similar gene that controls the development of the eye, though their eyes are very different.
  • Geneticist André Langaney writes that the existence of master genes “points to the insufficiency of the neodarwinian model and to the necessity of introducing into the theory of evolution mechanisms, either known or to be discovered, that contradict this model's basic principles.” [24]

Recent gene mapping has revealed that, in some areas of the DNA text, genes are thirty times more dense than in other areas, and some of the genes appear to clump together in families that work on similar problems.

  • In some cases, gene clumps are highly conserved across species, as in the X chromosome of mice and humans, for example.
  • In both species, the X chromosome is a giant molecule of DNA, some 160 million nucleotides long; it is one of the pair of chromosomes that determine whether an offspring is male or female.
  • The mapping of the X chromosome has shown that genes are bunched together mostly in five gene-rich regions, with lengthy, apparently desert regions of DNA in between, and that mice and humans have much the same set of genes on their X chromosomes even though the two species have followed separate evolutionary paths for 80 million years.[25]
How can one analyze a text if one
presupposes that no intelligence wrote it?

Recent work on genetic sequences is starting to reveal much greater complexity than could have been conceived even ten years previous to the data's emergence.

  • How are scientists going to make sense of the overwhelming complexity of DNA texts? Robert Pollack proposes “that DNA is not merely an informational molecule, but is also a form of text, and that therefore it is best understood by analytical ways of thinking commonly applied to other forms of text, for example, books.” [26]

This seems to be a sensible suggestion, but it begs the question: How can one analyze a text if one presupposes that no intelligence wrote it?

Despite these essential contradictions, which I sum up here in a few lines but which could fill entire books, the theory of natural selection remains firmly in place in the minds of most biologists.

  • This is because it is always possible to claim that the appropriate mutations occurred by chance and were selected.
  • But this un-demonstrable proposition is denounced by an increasing number of scientists.
  • Pier Luigi Luisi talks of the “tautology of molecular Darwinism … [which] is unable to elicit concepts other than those from which it has been originally constructed.”

 [26] - [27]   

[26]  Pollack (1997, p. 674).

[27]  Luisi (1993, p. 19) and Popper (1974, pp. 168, 171).

  • Popper (1974) writes:
  • “I now wish to give some reasons why I regard Darwinism as metaphysical, and as a research programme. It is metaphysical because it is not testable. One might think that it is. It seems to assert that, if ever on some planet we find life which satisfies conditions (a) and (b) [heredity and variation), then (c) [natural selection] will come into play and bring about in time a rich variety of distinct forms. Darwinism, however, does not assert as much as this. For assume we find life on Mars consisting of exactly three species of bacteria with a genetic outfit similar to that of three terrestrial species. Is Darwinism refuted? By no means. We shall say that these three species were the only forms among the many mutants which were sufficiently well adjusted to survive. And we shall say the same if there is only one species (or none). Thus Darwinism does not really predict the evolution of variety. It therefore cannot really explain it. At best, it can predict the evolution of variety under 'favourable conditions.' But it is hardly possible to describe in general terms what favourable conditions are — except that, in their presence, a variety of forms will emerge” (p. 171, original italics).
  • Dawkins (1986) provides a good illustration of the tautologous tendencies of Darwinism when he writes:
  • “Even if there were no actual evidence in favour of the Darwinian theory (there is, of course) we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories” (p. 287).
  • He also tells a charming story of a beaver that undergoes a point mutation in its genetic text; this leads to a change in the beaver's brain's "wiring diagram," which makes the beaver hold its head higher in the water while swimming with a log in its mouth; this makes it less likely that the mud washes off the log, which makes the log stickier, which makes the beavers dam a sounder structure, which increases the size of the lake, which makes the beaver's lodge more secure against predators, which increases the number of offspring reared by the beavers. This means that beavers with the mutated gene will become more numerous in time and will eventually become the norm. He concludes:
  • “The fact that this particular story is hypothetical, and that the details may be wrong, is irrelevant. The beaver dam evolved by natural selection, and therefore what happened cannot be very different, except in practical details, from the story I have told” (p. 136).
  • Wilson (1992) even provides an explicitly Darwinian explanation for the worldwide phenomenon of snake veneration, thereby showing that the theory of natural selection can be used to justify more or less anything:
  • “People are both repelled and fascinated by snakes, even when they have never seen one in nature. In most cultures the serpent is the dominant wild animal of mythical and religious symbolism. Manhattanites dream of them with the same frequency as Zulus. This response appears to be Darwinian in origin. Poisonous snakes have been an important cause of mortality almost everywhere, from Finland to Tasmania, Canada to Patagonia; an untutored alertness in their presence saves lives. We note a kindred response in many primates, including Old World monkeys and chimpanzees” (p. 335).
  • See also Moorhead and Kaplan, eds. (1967), Chandebois (1993), and Schützenberger (1996) on the limits of Darwinism.

The circularity of the Darwinian theory means that it is not falsifiable and therefore not truly scientific.

  • The “falsifiability criterion” is the cornerstone of twentieth-century scientific method.
  • It was developed by philosopher Karl Popper, who argued that one could never prove a scientific theory to be correct, because only an infinite number of confirming results would constitute definitive proof.
  • Popper proposed instead to test theories in ways that seek to contradict, or falsify, them; the absence of contradictory evidence thereby becomes proof of the theory's validity. Popper writes:
  • “I have come to the conclusion that Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research programme — a possible framework for testable scientific theories. … It is metaphysical because it is not testable” [27] (original italics)

Biology is currently divided between a majority who consider the theory of natural selection to be true and established as fact and a minority who question it.

However, the critics of natural selection have yet to come up with a new theory to replace the old one and institutions sustain current orthodoxies by their inertia.

  • A new biological paradigm is still a long way off.
My hypothesis is based on the idea
that DNA in particular and
nature in general are minded.

Presuppositions, postulates, and circular arguments pertain more to faith than to science.

  • My approach in this book starts from the idea that it is of utmost importance to respect the faith of others, no matter how strange, whether it is shamans who believe plants communicate or biologists who believe nature is inanimate.

I do not intend to attack anybody's faith, but to demarcate the blind spot of the rational and fragmented gaze of contemporary biology and to explain why my hypothesis is condemned in advance to remain in that spot.

To sum up:

  • My hypothesis is based on the idea that DNA in particular and nature in general are minded.
  • This contravenes the founding principle of the molecular biology that is the current orthodoxy.
Chapter 11 ♦ "What Took You So Long?"
The shamanism of which the indigenous
people of the Amazon are the guardians
represents knowledge accumulated over
thousands of years in the most
biologically diverse place on earth.

Meanwhile, the Ashaninca people I knew in the Pichis claimed that the best shamans were Shipibo-Conibo (who live in the same area as Amaringo).

  • Ruperto Gomez, the ayahuasquero who initiated me, did his apprenticeship with the Shipibo-Conibo, and this conferred undeniable prestige on him.
  • So it would seem that studies "abroad" are considered better and that the high place of Amazonian shamanism is always somewhere other than where one happens to be.[6]

Shamanism resembles an academic discipline (such as anthropology or molecular biology); with its practitioners, fundamental researchers, specialists, and schools of thought — it is a way of apprehending the world that evolves constantly.

  • One thing is certain: Both indigenous and mestizo shamans consider people like the Shipibo-Conibo, the Tukano, the Kamsá, and the Huitoto as the equivalents to universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and the Sorbonne;[7] they are the highest reference in matters of knowledge.
  • In this sense, ayahuasca-based shamanism is an essentially indigenous phenomenon.
  • It belongs to the indigenous people of Western Amazonia, who hold the keys to a way of knowing that they have practiced without interruption for at least five thousand years.
  • In comparison, the universities of the Western world are less than nine hundred years old.

 [6] - [7]   

[6]  See Taussig (1987, p. 179).

[7]  Chaumeil (1992) writes:

  • “We know about the fascination that the forest and its inhabitants exert in matters of shamanism on Andean and urban society. Urban and Andean shamans generally attribute great powers to their indigenous colleagues, whom they visit frequently, setting up vast shamanic exchange networks in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. In Brazil, many mestizo shamans adopt indigenous methods and live temporarily in Indian villages to learn the shamanic arts. Indeed, most claim to have had at least one indigenous instructor, or recognize the indigenous origin of their knowledge” (p. 93).
  • Chaumeil goes on to explain that this exchange works both ways and that there is
  • “an increasing flux of young indigenous people into towns where they go to learn the shamanic arts with mestizo instructors, who develop the opposite tendency” (p. 99).

The shamanism of which the indigenous people of the Amazon are the guardians represents knowledge accumulated over thousands of years in the most biologically diverse place on earth.

  • Certainly, shamans say they acquire their knowledge directly from the spirits, but they grow up in cultures where shamanic visions are stored in myths.
  • In this way mythology informs shamanism: The invisible, life-creating maninkari spirits are the ones whose feats Ashaninca mythology relates, and it is also the maninkari who talk to Ashaninca shamans in their visions and tell them how to heal.

An indigenous culture with sufficient territory, and bilingual and intercultural education, is in a better position to maintain and cultivate its mythology and shamanism.

  • Conversely, the confiscation of their lands and imposition of foreign education, which turns their young people into amnesiacs, threatens the survival not only of these people, but of an entire way of knowing.
  • It is as if one were burning down the oldest universities in the world and their libraries, one after another — thereby sacrificing the knowledge of the worlds future generations.
I decided to tell my story in an
attempt to create an account that
would be comprehensible across
disciplines and outside the academy.

In this book I chose an autobiographical and narrative approach for several reasons.

  • First, I do not believe in an objective point of view with an exclusive monopoly on reality.
  • So it seemed important to expose the inevitable presuppositions that any observer has, so that readers may come to their opinion in full knowledge of the setting.[8]

In this sense I belong to the recent movement within anthropology that views the discipline as a form of interpretation rather than as a science.

 [8] - [9]   

[8]  Rosaldo (1980) writes:

  • “Doing oral history involves telling stories about stories people tell about themselves. Method in this discipline should therefore attend to 'our' stories, 'their' stories, and the connections between them” (p. 89).
  • Rosaldo (1989) writes:
  • “Such terms as objectivity, neutrality, and impartiality refer to subject positions once endowed with great institutional authority, but they are arguably neither more nor less valid than those of more engaged, yet equally perceptive, knowledgeable social actors” (p. 21, original italics).
  • He adds:
  • “Because researchers are necessarily both somewhat impartial and somewhat partisan, somewhat innocent and somewhat complicit, their readers should be as informed as possible about what the observer was in a position to know and not know” (p. 69).

[9]  "Learned analysis" often escapes the understanding not only of those who are its object, but of many Western individuals.

  • Anthropologists have written so many unreadable texts that the literary critic Pratt (1986) writes:
  • “For the lay person, such as myself, the main evidence of a problem is the simple fact that ethnographic writing tends to be surprisingly boring. How, one asks constantly, could such interesting people doing such interesting things produce such dull books? What did they have to do to themselves?” (p. 33).
  • However, even among my colleagues who work in this fashion, listening to people carefully, recording and transcribing their words, and interpreting them as well as they can, there remains a problem I have tried to avoid — namely, the compartmentalization of knowledge into disciplines, which means that the discourse of a given specialist is only understandable to his or her immediate colleagues.[9]
  • In my opinion, subjects such as DNA and the knowledge of indigenous people are too important to be entrusted solely to the focalized gaze of academic specialists in biology or anthropology; they concern indigenous people themselves, but also midwives, farmers, musicians, and all the rest.
  • I decided to tell my story in an attempt to create an account that would be comprehensible across disciplines and outside the academy.

This decision was inspired by shamanic traditions, which invariably state that images, metaphors, and stories are the best means to transmit knowledge.

  • In this sense, myths are "scientific narratives," or stories about knowledge (the word "science" comes from the Latin scire, "to know").

I was fortunate to choose this approach, because it was in telling my story that I discovered the real story I wanted to tell.

I draw my inspiration from shamanism,
which restsnot on doctrine,
but on experience.

There was a price to pay for implicating myself in my work like this.

  • I spent many sleepless nights and put a strain on my personal life.
  • I was truly bowled over by working on this book.
  • At the time, I felt sure it was going to change the world.
  • It took months of talking with numerous friends to understand that my hypothesis was not even receivable by official science, despite the scientific elements it contains.
  • Since then, I've calmed down and no longer talk away for hours.

We live in a time when it is difficult to speak seriously about ones spirituality.

  • Often one only has to state one's convictions to be considered a preacher.
  • I, too, support the idea that everybody should be free to believe what they want and that it is nobody's business to tell others what they should believe.
  • So I will not describe in detail the impact of my work on my own spirituality, and I will not tell readers what to think about the connections I have established.

Here, too, I draw my inspiration from shamanism, which rests not on doctrine, but on experience.

  • The shaman is simply a guide, who conducts the initiate to the spirits.
  • The initiate picks up the information revealed by the spirits and does what he or she wants with it.
  • Likewise, in this book, I provide a number of connections, with complete references for those who wish to follow a particular trail.
  • In the end, it is up to the readers to draw the spiritual conclusions they see fit.

Is there a goal to life? Do we exist for a reason?

  • I believe so, and I think that the combination of shamanism and biology gives interesting answers to these questions.
  • But I do not feel ready to discuss them from a personal point of view.

The microscopic world of DNA, and its proteins and enzymes, is teeming inside us and is enough to make us marvel.

  • Yet rational discourse, which holds a monopoly on the subject, denies itself a sense of wonder.
  • Current biologists condemn themselves, through their beliefs, to describe DNA and the cell-based life for which it codes as if they were blind people discussing movies or objective anthropologists explaining the hallucinatory sphere of which they have no experience: They oblige themselves to consider an animate reality as if it were inanimate.

By ignoring this obligation, and by considering shamanism and biology at the same time, stereoscopically, I saw DNA snakes. They were alive.

Scientific discovery often originates
from a combination of focalized
and defocalized consciousness.

The origin of knowledge is a subject that anthropologists neglect — which is one of the reasons that prompted me to write this book.

  • However, anthropologists are not alone; scientists in general seem to have a similar difficulty.
  • On closer examination, the reason for this becomes obvious: Many of science's central ideas seem to come from beyond the limits of rationalism.
  • René Descartes dreams of an angel who explains the basic principles of materialist rationalism to him;
  • Albert Einstein daydreams in a tram, approaching another, and conceives the theory of relativity;
  • James Watson scribbles on a newspaper in a train, then rides his bicycle to reach the conviction (having "borrowed" Rosalind Franklin's radiophotographic work) that DNA has the form of a double helix.[10]  And so on.

 [10] - [12]   

[10]  For a detailed discussion of the role of intuition, dreaming, imagination, and illumination in the history of scientific discoveries, see Beveridge (1950).

  • Watson (1968) writes:
  • “Afterwards, in the cold, almost unhealed train compartment, I sketched on the blank edge of my newspaper what I remembered of the B pattern. Then as the train jerked towards Cambridge, I tried to decide between two- and three-chain models. As far as I could tell, the reason the King's group did not like two chains was not foolproof. It depended upon the water content of the DNA samples, a value they admitted might be in great error. Thus by the time I had cycled back to college and climbed over the back gate, I had decided to build two-chain models. Francis would have to agree. Even though he was a physicist, he knew that important biological objects come in pairs” (p. 166).
  • The “B structure” mentioned by Watson refers to an X-ray photograph of DNA taken by Rosalind Franklin, whose work was thus central to Watson and Crick's discovery, but who received no mention when the Nobel Prize was awarded. That she was a woman, and that things should have occurred this way, was surely no coincidence.

[11]  Beveridge (1950, p. 72).

  • He adds:
  • “The most important prerequisite is prolonged contemplation of the problem and the data until the mind is saturated with it. There must be a great interest in it and desire for its solution. The mind must work consciously on the problem for days in order to get the subconscious mind working on it. … An important condition is freedom from other problems or interests competing for attention, especially worry over private affairs. … Another favourable condition is freedom from interruption or even fear of interruption or any diverting influence such as interesting conversation within earshot or sudden and excessively loud noises. … Most people find intuitions are more likely to come during a period of apparent idleness and temporary abandonment of the problem following periods of intensive work. Light occupations requiring no mental effort, such as walking in the country, bathing, shaving, travelling to and from work, are said by some to be when intuitions most often appear. … Others find lying in bed most favourable and some people deliberately go over the problem before going to sleep and others before rising in the morning. Some find that music has a helpful influence but it is notable that only very few consider that they get any assistance from tobacco, coffee or alcohol” (p. 76).
  • Mullis (1994) discusses in his Nobel lecture how he conceived the polymerase chain reaction while driving along a moonlit mountain road with his driving companion asleep next to him. The polymerase chain reaction allows one to amplify DNA from a few cells to vat fulls of cells in a few hours; it spawned the genetic engineering revolution.

[12]  Artaud (1979, p. 193).

  • The French original is “Je me livre à la fièvre des rêves, mais c'est pour en retirer de nouvelles lois.”

Scientific discovery often originates from a combination of focalized and defocalized consciousness.

  • Typically, a researcher spends months in the lab working on a problem, considering the data to the point of saturation, then attains illumination while jogging, daydreaming, lying in bed making mental pictures, driving a car, cooking, shaving, bathing — in brief, while thinking about something else and defocalizing.
  • W. I. B. Beveridge writes in The art of scientific investigation:
  • “The most characteristic circumstances of an intuition are a period of intense work on the problem accompanied by a desire for its solution, abandonment of the work perhaps with attention to something else, then the appearance of the idea with dramatic suddenness and often a sense of certainty. Often there is a feeling of exhilaration and perhaps surprise that the idea had not been thought of previously.” [11]

During this investigation I complemented months of straightforward scholastic work (reading, note taking, and categorizing) with defocalized approaches (such as walking in nature, nocturnal soliloquies, dissonant music, daydreaming), which greatly helped me find my way.

  • My inspiration for this is once again shamanic.
  • But shamans are not the only ones to seek knowledge by cultivating defocalization.
  • Artists have done this throughout the ages.
  • As Antonin Artaud wrote: “I abandon myself to the fever of dreams, in search for new laws.” [12]
How can one explain these similarities
with a concept other than chance?

Did I see imaginary connections in my fever?

  • Am I wrong in linking DNA to these cosmic serpents from around the world, these sky-ropes and axis mundi?
  • Some of my colleagues will think so. Here's one of the reasons:

In the nineteenth century the first anthropologists set about comparing cultures and elaborating theories on the basis of the similarities they found.

  • When they discovered, for instance, that bagpipes were played not only in Scotland, but in Arabia and the Ukraine, they established false connections between these cultures.
  • Then they realized that people could do similar things for different reasons.
  • Since then, anthropology has backed away from grand generalizations, denounced “abuses of the comparative method,” and locked itself into specificity bordering on myopia.
  • This is why anthropologists who study Western Amazonia's hallucinatory shamanism limit themselves to specific analyses of a given culture — failing to see the essential common points between cultures.
  • So their fine-grained analyses allow them to see that the diet of an apprentice ayahuasquero is based on the consumption of bananas and/or fish.
  • But they do not notice that this diet is practiced throughout Western Amazonia, and so they do not consider that it may have a biochemical basis — which in fact it does.

By shunning comparisons between cultures, one ends up masking true connections and fragmenting reality a little more, without even realizing it.

Is the cosmic serpent of the Shipibo-Conibo, the Aztecs, the Australian Aborigines, and the Ancient Egyptians the same?

  • No, will reply the anthropologists who insist on cultural specificity; to believe otherwise, according to them, comes down to making the same mistake as Mircea Eliade four decades ago, when he detached all those symbols from their contexts, obliterated the sociocultural aspect of phenomena, mutilated the facts, and so on.
  • The critique is well known now, and it is time to turn it on its head.
  • In the name of what does one mask fundamental similarities in human symbolism — if not out of a stubborn loyalty to rationalist fragmentation?
  • How can one explain these similarities with a concept other than chance — which is more an absence of concept than anything?
  • Why insist on taking reality apart, but never try putting it back together again?
According to my hypothesis,
shamans take their consciousness
down to the molecular level and gain
access to biomolecular information.

According to my hypothesis, shamans take their consciousness down to the molecular level and gain access to biomolecular information.

  • But what actually goes on in the brain/mind of an ayahuasquero when this occurs?
  • What is the nature of a shamans communication with the animate essences of nature?
  • The clear answer is that more research is needed in consciousness, shamanism, molecular biology, and their interrelatedness.

Rationalism separates things to understand them.

  • But its fragmented disciplines have limited perspectives and blind spots.
  • And as any driver knows, it is important to pay attention to blind spots, because they can contain vital information.
  • To reach a fuller understanding of reality, science will have to shift its gaze.
  • Could shamanism help science to defocalize?
  • My experience indicates that engaging shamanic knowledge requires looking into a great number of disciplines and thinking about how they fit together.
We do not have the slightest idea
about how life got started.

Finally, a last question: Where does life come from?

Over the last decade, scientific research has come up against the impossibility that a single bacterium, representing the smallest unit of independent life as we know it, could have emerged by chance from any kind of "prebiotic soup." [13]

  • Given that a cosmic origin, such as the one proposed by Francis Crick in his “directed panspermia” speculation, is not scientifically verifiable, scientists have focused almost exclusively on terrestrial scenarios.[14]
  • According to these, precursor molecules took shape (by chance) and prepared the way for a world based on DNA and proteins.
  • However, these different scenarios — based on RNA, peptides, clay, undersea volcanic sulfur, or small oily bubbles — all propose explanations relying on systems that have, by definition, been replaced by life as we know it, without leaving any traces.[15]
  • These, too, are speculations that cannot be verified scientifically.[16]

The scientific study of the origins of life leads to an impasse, where agnosticism seems to be the only reasonable and rigorous position.

  • As Robert Shapiro writes in his book Origins: A skeptic's guide to the creation of life on Earth:
  • “We do not have the slightest idea about how life got started. The very particular set of chemicals that were necessary remains unknown to us. The process itself could have included an improbable event, as it could have happened according to a practically ineluctable sequence. It could have required several hundred million years, or only a few millennia. It could have happened in a tepid pool, or in a hydrothermal source at the bottom of the ocean, in a bubble in the atmosphere, or somewhere else than on Earth, out in the cosmos.” [17]

Any certitude on this question is a matter of faith.

  • So what do shamanic and mythological traditions say in this regard? According to Lawrence Sullivan, who has studied the indigenous religions of South America in detail:
  • “In the myths recorded to date, the majority of South American cultures show little extended interest in absolute beginnings.” [18]

 [13] - [19]   

[13]  The contents of this famous soup are problematic.

  • In 1952, Stanley Miller and Harold Urey did an experiment that was to become famous;
  • They bombarded a test tube containing water, hydrogen, ammonia, and methane with electricity, supposedly imitating the atmosphere of the primitive earth with its permanent lightning storms;
  • After a week, they had produced 2 of the 20 amino acids that nature uses in the construction of proteins.
  • This experiment was long cited as proof that life could emerge from an inorganic soup.
  • However, in the 1980s, geologists realized that an atmosphere of methane and ammoniac would rapidly have been destroyed by sunlight and that our planet's primitive atmosphere most probably contained nitrogen, carbon dioxide, water vapor, and traces of hydrogen.
  • When one bombards the latter with electricity, one does not obtain biomolecules.
  • So the prebiotic soup is increasingly considered to be a “myth” (see Shapiro 1986).

[14]  Reisse (1988) writes about panspermia

  • “that this theory presents a major defect. No acceptable criterion allows one to measure its quality: by essence it cannot be refuted. Moreover, panspermia in its modem version displaces the location where life originated but leaves the fundamental problem of its origin intact” (p. 101).
  • De Duve (1984) writes:
  • “If you equate the probability of the birth of a bacterial cell to that of the chance assembly of its component atoms, even eternity will not suffice to produce one for you. So you might as well accept, as do most scientists, that the process was completed in no more than 1 billion years and that it took place entirely on the surface of our planet, to produce, as early as 3.3 billion years ago, the bacterium-like organisms revealed by fossil traces” (p. 356).
  • Watson et al. (1987) write in their chapter on the origins of life:
  • “In this chapter, we will assume, as do the vast majority of practicing biologists, that life originated on Earth” (p. 1098).

[15]  In the early 1980s, researchers discovered that certain RNA molecules, called "ribozymes," could cut themselves up and stick themselves back together again, acting as their own catalysts. This led to the following speculation:

  • If RNA is also an enzyme, it could perhaps replicate itself without the help of proteins.
  • An RNA that is both gene and catalyst would solve the old chicken-and-egg problem that has haunted the debate on the origin of DNA and proteins.
  • Scientists went on to formulate the theory of the “RNA world,” according to which the first organisms were RNA molecules that learned to synthesize proteins, facilitating their replication, and that surrounded themselves with lipids to form a cellular membrane;
  • These RNA-based organisms then evolved into organisms with a genetic memory made of DNA, which is more stable chemically.
  • However, this theory is not only irrefutable, it leaves many questions unsolved.
  • Thus, to make RNA, one must have nucleotides, and for the moment, no one has ever seen nucleotides take shape by chance and line up to form RNA.
  • As Shapiro (1994b) writes, the
  • “experiments conducted up until now have shown no tendency for a plausible prebiotic soup to build bricks of RNA. One would have liked to discover ribozymes capable of doing so, but this has not been the case. And even if one were to discover any, this would still not resolve the fundamental question: where did the first RNA molecule come from?” (pp. 421-422).
  • He adds:
  • “After ten years of relentless research, the most common and remarkable property of ribozymes has been found to be the capacity to demolish other molecules of nucleic acid. It is difficult to imagine a less adapted activity than that in a prebiotic soup where the first colony of RNA would have had to struggle to make their home” (p. 421).
  • Kauffman (1996) writes:
  • “The dominant view of life assumes that self-replication must be based on something akin to Watson-Crick base pairing. The 'RNA world' model of the origins of life conforms to this view. But years of careful effort to find an enzyme-free polynucleotide system able to undergo replication cycles by sequentially and correctly adding the proper nucleotide to the newly synthesized strand have not yet succeeded” (p. 497).
  • Laszlo (1997) writes:
  • “The origin of life is more a question of metaphysics than a scientific problem. The experimental facts gleaned by different well-established authors allow only for scenarios, in an unlimited number, all of which are fictive” (p. 26).
  • Regarding clay-based speculations, see Cairns-Smith (1983);
  • Regarding oily bubbles, see Morowitz (1985);
  • Regarding self-replicating peptides, see Lee et al. (1996).

[16]  Trémolières (1994) writes:

  • “Despite these terrible paradoxes, the scientific world agrees that there must have existed something before the current organization of life, and more precisely that there were 'living' or 'pre-living' forms that did not yet contain the genetic code, or in any case, not the code that we know. And science has strangely developed its branches in a direction where nothing exists any longer; this is the contrary of futurology — which is apparently a science — or of science fiction, which is an art” (p. 70).
  • Shapiro (1986) writes:
  • “Scientific explanations flounder, however, and possibilities multiply when we ask how this first cell arose on earth. Competing theories abound — which seems always the case when we know very little about a subject. Some theories, of course, come labeled as The Answer. As such they are more properly classified as mythology or religion than as science” (p. 13).

[17]  Shapiro (1994a, p. II).

  • Watson et al. (1987) write:
  • “Unfortunately, it is impossible to obtain direct proof for any particular theory of the origin of life. The sobering truth is that even if every expert in the field of molecular evolution were to agree on how life originated, the theory would still be a best guess rather than a fact” (p. 1161).
  • Wade (1995c) writes:
  • “With a handful of trivial exceptions, all forms of life have the same, apparently arbitrary code through which DNA specifies protein molecules. If life arises so spontaneously, why don't we see a variety of different codes and chemistries in earth's creatures? The universal nature of the genetic code implies a one-time event, some narrow gateway through which only a single entity or family of related life forms was able to pass. One possibility is that life evolved independently several times on earth and creatures with our genetic code destroyed those based on all other codes. But there's no evidence for such a code war. Or maybe the emergence of life is indeed so improbable that it only happened once. Strange then, that life seems to have arisen at the earliest moment possible almost immediately after the primitive earth had cooled enough ” (pp. 22-23).

[18]  Sullivan (1988, p. 33).

[19]  Chuang-Tzu (1968, p. 43)

Where does life come from?

  • Perhaps the answer is not graspable by mere human beings.
  • Chuang-Tzu implied as much a long time ago, when he wrote:
  • “There is a beginning.
      There is a not yet beginning to be a beginning.
      There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be a beginning.
      There is being.
      There is nonbeing.
      There is a not yet beginning to be nonbeing.
      There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be nonbeing.
      Suddenly there is nonbeing.
      But I do not know, when it comes to nonbeing, which is really being and which is nonbeing.
      Now I have just said something.
      But I do not know whether what I have said has really said something or whether it hasn't said something.” [19]

All things considered, wisdom requires not only the investigation of many things, but contemplation of the mystery.

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Amaringo, Pablo 


Ancon, Laureano 


Artaud, Antonin 


Axis of the world 


58-59,  78-79,  87,  121

49-50,  55,  65,  67,  73-75,  85,  89

67,  85

8,  108


23-24,  53,  82

54,  72-74,  78,  87,  97

1,  4,  6-8,  11,  18-19,  21,  24,  28-32,  37,  44-47,  49-52,  55,  57-59,  73,  79,  84,  86-87,  90,  94,  97-98,  115,  121-122

Bergson, Henri 

Beveridge, W. I. B. 


Bourdieu, Pierre 





14,  41

11-12,  38,  43-45,  48-50,  52,  80,  90-91,  93-94,  107

Calladine, Chris 

Campbell, Joseph 

Castaneda, Carlos 

Chaumeil, Jean-Pierre 


Chucano Santos, José 


Crick, Francis 


77,  106

55-56,  59

1,  5


66,  83,  128


11,  42-43,  45,  49,  57,  90-91,  94,  99,  101-102,  104,  107-108,  125,  127

61-63,  103-104,  128

36-37,  57,  84,  93

Darwin, Charles 

Descartes, René 

Devereux, George 



Drew, Horace 

12,  103,  111-113



11,  44,  94-95,  98-99,  101

48-49,  51-63,  68-72,  74,  76-79,  82-85,  89-91,  94-99,  101-107,  109,  111-115,
119,  123-126,  128

77,  106

Education, bilingual 

Einstein, Albert 

Eliade, Mircea 

Frank-Kamenetskii, Maxim 

Franklin, Rosalind 

118-119,  122


17,  54,  59,  72,  74,  87,  126

72,  101



Gebhart-Sayer, Angelika 

Geertz, Clifford 

Gomez, Ruperto 

Gurvich, Alexander 

Harner, Michael 


Ho, Mae-Wan 

Holmes, Sherlock 

Huxley, Francis 


57,  65


4,  84,  122


47-51,  59,  63





Jacob, François 

Jakobson, Roman 

“Junk” DNA 

Kekulé, August 

Koch-Grünberg, Theodor 



77,  101,  109



Lamarck, Jean-Baptiste 

Langaney, André 

Lévi-Strauss, Claude 

Linnaeus, Carl von 


Luisi, Pier Luigi 

Luna, Luis Eduardo 



13-15,  17,  53


44,  94-96


18,  58

Malinowski, Bronislaw 


Margulis, Lynn 

Mayr, Ernst 

Métraux, Alfred 

Monod, Jacques 

Mundkur, Balaji 

Nash, J. Madeleine 



23-24,  28,  31,  81-82,  90,  122



54,  71

104,  108



90-93,  98-99,  101

Perez Shuma, Carlos 

Piaget, Jean 

Pollack, Robert 

Popp, Fritz-Albert 

Popper, Karl 


Radio waves 


Reichel-Dolmatoff, Gerardo 

19,  40,  54,  74,  82,  86,  90,  94,  97,  117,  119


70,  113

99,  113


55,  100-101

28-29,  89, 97

43,  91-93,  95-96,  98,  100-101,  106,  109

49-50,  57,  100

Sagan, Dorion 

Schultes, Richard E. 

Scott, Alwyn 



Shapiro, James 

Shapiro, Robert 

Shingari, Abelardo 



Strassman, Rick 

Sullivan, Lawrence 


11,  38,  73


43,  45,  52,  95

49-51,  53-57,  59,  61,  63-69,  71-74,  78,  81,  85,  87-90,  119,  126




1,  7-8,  19,  21,  27,  29-32,  34,  44-45,  49-51,  55-56,  58,  63-67,  71,  73,  85-89,  93,  124

41-42,  46



Tangoa, Luis 



Townsley, Graham 


Twisted language 

Tylor, Edward 

Visual system 

65,  67

4,  60,  84,  95

7,  20,  24,  8-29,  31-32,  90-93,  97-98,  100

52,  74-75

51,  53,  59,  69,  82

75,  77


43,  80-81

Wallace, Alfred 

Watson, James 

Weiss, Gerald 

Wesson, Robert 

Wilbert, Johannes 

Wills, Christopher 




61,  125

23-24,  72,  82






Bibliographic Index

Abelin (1993) 

Alberts et al. (1990) 

Artaud (1979) 




Atkinson (1992) 

Atlan and Koppel (1990) 



Baer (1992) 

Balick et al. (1996) 

Barker et al. (1981) 

Bass (1994) 

Baudoin (1918) 

Bayard (1987) 

Beach et al. (1994) 

Beauclerk et al. (1988) 

Bellier (1986) 

Beveridge (1950) 

Bisset (1989) 

Blocker and Salem (1994) 

52-[1],  52-[4],  57-[15],
92-[7],  100-[32]





67-[4],  73-[15]




87-[15],  125-[10],


72-[13],  77-[22],  77-[25],
101-[34],  103-[1]

Blubaugh and Linegar (1948) 

Boulnois (1939) 

Bourdieu (1977) 

Bourguignon (1970) 

Broad (1994) 

Browman and Schwarz (1979) 

Brown (1988) 

Buchillet (1982) 

Burnand (1991) 

Burroughs and Ginsberg (1963) 

Butler (1996) 



14-[11],  14-[12]



15-[19],  16-[21]






Cairns-Smith (1983) 

Calladine and Drew (1992) 

Campbell (1959) 

Chandebois (1993) 

Changeux (1983) 

Chapela et al. (1994) 

Chaumeil (1982) 



Chevalier (1982) 


68-[5],  68-[7],  72-[13],
77-[22],  77-[23],
105-[5],  106-[8]

55-[9],  56-[12],  56-[13]


91-[4],  93-[10]


11-[3],  15-[15],  17-[24]
46-[10],  51-[17],  52-[1]
52-[2],  52-[4],  57-[15]
57-[15],  75-[20]

11-[3],  52-[4],  57-[15]

Chevalier and Gheerbrant (1982) 

Christensen and Narby (1992) 

Chuang-Tzu (1968) 

Chwirot (1992) 

Cimino et al. (1992) 

Clark (1959) 

Clery (1995) 

Cohen et al. (1967) 

Colchester (1982) 

Couturier et al. (1990) 

Crick (1958) 

Culotta and Koshland (1994) 

56-[11],  56-[13],  66-[2]
67-[4],  72-[12],  73-[15]





65,  78



74-[18],  75-[20]


62-[19],  103-[1]


Darwin (1871) 

Davis, S. (1993) 

Davis, W. (1986) 

Dawkins (1976) 

de Duve (1984) 

Delaby (1976) 

Deliganis et al. (1991) 

Delsemme (1994) 

De Mille (1980) 



38-[12],  67-[4]


68-[5],  68-[7],  128-[14]



103-[1],  105-[5]


Deneris et al. (1991) 

de Rosnay (1966) 

Descola (1996) 

Devereux (1956) 

Diószegi (1974) 

Dishotsky et al. (1971) 

Dobkin de Rios (1972) 

Dobkin de Rios and Katz (1975) 

Drummond (1981) 

Dubochet (1993) 



12-[9],  52-[2],  57-[14],  87-[13]








Eisner (1990) 

Eliade (1949) 

Elick (1969) 

Elisabetsky (1991) 

Evans (1993) 

Evinger et al. (1994) 


67-[4],  72-[12]
15-[15],  15-[16],  17-[23],
54-[7],  54-[8],  72-[12],
74-[19],  87-[15],  89-[18]
54-[8],  100-[31]

92-[7],  100-[32]

35-[4],  36-[10]



Farin et al. (1990) 

Farnsworth (1988) 

Federal Chancellery of Switzerland (1991) 

Federal Office of Public Health (1994) 

Flam (1994) 

Foucault (1961) 

Frank-Kamenetskii (1993) 


Frederickson and Onstott (1996) 

Freedman (1994) 

Friedlander (1992) 

Furst (1994) 





77-[22],  109-[14]


68-[6],  72-[13],  77-[22],
77-[25],  101-[13],  105-[5],





Galle et al. (1991) 

Gardiner (1950) 

Garza (1990) 

Gasché (1989-1990) 

Gebhart-Sayer (1986) 

Geertz (1966) 





11-[3],  52-[1],  52-[4]
52-[4],  67-[4],  85-[11]


Glennon et al. (1984) 

Goodsell (1993) 

Goodwin (1994) 

Graves (1955) 

Grinspoon and Bakalar (1979) 

Gu (1992) 

Guénon (1962) 

Gurvich (1992) 


105-[5],  106-[7]



43-[3],  44-[6]




Halifax (1979) 

Hall et al. (1996) 

Hamayon (1978) 

Hare (1973) 

Harner (1968) 

Hayes (1996) 

Heald et al. (1996) 

Hill (1992) 

Hilts (1996) 

Hinkle et al. (1994) 



15-[15],  17-[24]
15[19],  17-[24]


84-[7],  87-[12]
48-[13],  100-[31]



57-[15],  116-[2]



Ho and Popp (1993) 

Hoffer and Osmond (1967) 

Hofmann (1983) 

Holder and McMahon (1996) 

Hölldobler and Wilson (1990) 

Hoppál (1987) 

Horgan (1994) 

Huffman (1995) 

Hultkranz (1978) 

Hunt (1996) 

Huxley (1974) 

Hyams (1996) 

80-[4],  99-[27],  99-[28],

43-[3],  52-[2]

43-[3],  44-[5]










Illius (1992) 

Iversen and Iversen (1981) 

Jacob (1974) 

Jacq (1993) 

Jakobson (1973) 

Johnson (1994) 

Jones (1993) 

Judson (1992) 

Jung et al. (1958) 

Kahn (1979) 

Kaplan et al. (1974) 

Kato and Jarvik (1969) 







72-[13],  77-[23],  79-[1],
103-[1],  105-[5]




44-[8],  94-[12]


Kato et al. (1970) 

Kauffman (1996) 

Kensinger (1973) 

Keup (1970) 

King (1991) 

Klaasen and Wong (1993) 

Kloppenberg (1991) 

Koch-Grünberg (1917) 

Koistinaho (1993) 

Kracke (1992) 

Krajick (1997) 

Kräupl Taylor (1981) 

Kuper (1988) 



52-[1],  87-[13]











La Barre (1976) 

Lamb (1971) 

Langaney (1997) 

Laszlo (1997) 

Leary (1966) 

Lee and Shlain (1985) 

Lee et al. (1996) 

Lévi-Strauss (1949a) 

Lewis, D. (1973) 


52-[2],  57-[15],  87-[13]
36-[8],  96-[20]






12-[8],  14-[12],  15-[18]


Lewis, I. (1971) 

Lewis, J., et al. (1987) 

Lewontin (1992) 

Li (1992) 

Lipkin (1994) 

Lot-Falck (1963) 

Luisi (1993) 

Luna (1984) 

Luna and Amaringo (1991) 

15-[16],  15-[19]


70-[10],  77-[24]

97-[2],  101-[35],  101-[36]


15-[15],  16-[20]


11-[3],  52-[2],  52-[4],
11-[1],  11-[2],  11-[3],
18-[27],  37-[11],  52-[1],

58-[16],  79-[3],  87-[14],

Mabit (1988) 

Mabit et al. (1992) 

McGinn (1994) 

McKenna, T. (1988) 

McKenna, Luna, and Towers (1986) 

McKenna and McKenna (1975) 

McKenna and Peroutka (1990) 

McKenna, Towers, and Abbott (1984) 

McKenna et al. (1989) 

Maier (1965) 

Malinowski (1922) 

Mann (1992) 

Margulis and Sagan (1986) 

Martell (1982) 


44-[8],  115-[1]









12-[7],  12-[9]


68-[6],  68-[7],  70-[9],
79-[2],  85-[10],  107-[9]


Mayr (1982) 

Mei (1992) 

Métraux (1946) 

Mitchell et al. (1993) 

Mitriani (1982) 

Mojzsis et al. (1996) 

Monod (1971) 

Moore (1996) 

Moorhead and Kaplan (1967) 

Morowitz (1985) 

Mullis (1994) 

Mundkur (1983) 

Murphy et al. (1993) 

Mushegian and Koonin (1996) 



52-[2],  54-[7],  73-[17]




104-[3],  108-[13]





66-[2],  67-[4],  88-[17]



Naranjo (1986) 

Narby (1986) 

Nash (1995) 

Niggli (1992) 

Noll (1983) 

Nowak (1994) 

Orgel and Crick (1980) 

Pang et al. (1993) 

Pennisi (1994) 

Penrose (1994) 

Perrin (1992a) 




97-[21],  101-[36]


77-[22],  77-[23],  109-[14]






Perry (1983) 

Piaget (1975) 

Pierce and Peroutka (1989) 

Pitt et al. (1994) 

Pollack (1994) 

Popp (1986) 

Popp, Gu, and Li (1994) 

Popper (1974) 

Posey (1990) 

Pratt (1986) 



52-[2],  95-[14]


68-[6],  70-[8],  70-[10],
72-[13],  77-[26],  79-[2],

97-[21],  97-[22],  97-[23]

97-[21],  97-[23],  99-[27],
100-[30],  101-[37]




Radman and Wagner (1988) 

Rattemeyer et al. (1981) 

Reichel-Dolmatoff (1971) 

Reisse (1988) 

Renard-Casevitz (1993) 


84-[8],  97-[21],  101-[35]

11-[3],  36-[9],  
11-[3],  46-[10],  52-[2],
57-[14],  87-[13]
11-[3],  52-[4],  87-[13]
49-[14],  50-[15]



Renck (1989) 

Rivier and Lindgren (1972) 

Roe (1982) 

Rosaldo (1980) 

Rosenberg et al. (1963) 

Rouget (1980) 

Rouhi (1997) 




14-[11],  123-[8]




Sagan and editors (1993) 

Saïd (1978) 

Sai-Halasz et al. (1958) 

Sankarapandi (1994) 

Schiefelbein (1986) 

Schultes (1972) 

Schultes and Hofmann (1979) 

Schultes and Raffauf (1990) 

Schultes and von Reis (1995) 

Schützenberger (1996) 

Shanon (1978) 

Shapiro, J. (1996) 

Shapiro, R. (1986) 

Shulgin (1992) 

Siegel and Jarvik (1975) 

Silverman (1967) 

Siskind (1973) 



44-[8],  94-[12]




6-[4],  11-[1],  11-[2],
43-[4],  87-[12],  93-[9]

11-[2],  36-[8]





128-[13],  128-[16]




57-[15],  75-[20]

Slade (1976) 

Slade and Bentall (1988) 

Smith, D. (1994) 

Smith, R. (1982) 

Smythies (1970) 

Smythies and Antun (1969) 

Smythies et al. (1979) 

Snyder (1986) 

Stafford (1977) 

Stocco (1994) 

Strassman (1991) 

Strassman and Qualls (1994) 

Strassman et al. (1994) 

Sullivan (1988) 

Swenson and Narby (1985) 

Szára (1956) 

38-[13],  44-[6]

43-[3],  45-[9]

91-[3],  109-[15]







72-[13],  83-[6],  108-[13]



44-[5],  44-[8],  94-[12],
94-[13],  98-[25]

 90-[1],  128-[18]


44-[8],  94-[12]
44-[8],  94-[12]
44-[8],  94-[12]

Taussig (1987) 

Thiébot and Hamon (1996) 

Thuillier (1986) 

Townsley (1993) 

Trémolières (1994) 

Trinh (1989) 

Tsing (1993) 

Tylor (1866) 

16-[22],  46-[10],  87-[13],



25-[4],  57-[15],  75-[20],

107-[11],  110-[17],  128-[16]




Van de Kar (1991) 

Van Gennep (1903) 

Van Wijk and Van Aken (1992) 

Varese (1973) 

95-[14],  95-[15]




Wade (1995a) 

Wagner (1969) 

Wan et al. (1991) 

Watson (1968) 

Watson et al. (1987) 

Weiss (1969) 


Wesson (1991) 

Whitten (1976) 





77-[23],  77-[24], 77-[25],
128-[14],  128-[17]

23-[2],  24-[3],  24-[4],
24-[5],  72-[14],  82-[5],
90-[1],  92-[7]
52-[1],  57-[15]

80-[4],  91-[3],  108-[13].
110-[16],  111-[19]

52-[1],  52-[2]

Wilbert (1972) 

Wills (1989) 

Wilson (1984) 

Wright (1992) 

Yielding and Sterglanz (1968) 

Yoon (1995) 

Zhang and Nicklas (1996) 

11-[2],  90-[1],  90-[2]
91-[3],  92-[5]

68-[6],  106-[8]
71-[11],  77-[23],  77-[25],
79-[2], 105-[5],  106-[8]

85-[9],  88-[17],  108-[12]
35-[5],  70-[10]
70-[10],  85-[9],  87-[16],


96-[17],  96-[18]



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They're after me!

Children's Liberation

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