Synthetic DNA to Synthetic Life

“Furthermore, the 1976 guidelines concerned natural and complimentary DNA and contained no explicit reference to chemically synthesized DNA. The City of Hope chemists could therefore perform the gene synthesis work under ordinary lab conditions.” (Hughes, pg 92)

I really am fascinated by the seemingly radical difference that seems to exist between using natural DNA and synthetic DNA. Although we’ve discussed Genentech’s use of synthetic DNA and it’s moral advantage over natural DNA in class, we haven’t really ventured into the realm of the adjacent possible for the technology. If biotech scientists are able to synthesize entire sequences of DNA for practical use, why shouldn’t they be able to eventually create synthetic life? I found an article that details a biotech company’s success in adding two entirely new pair of nucleotide bases to the genetic code.  Basically what their work has accomplished would allow for an incredible new amount of biodiversity for life on earth, assuming they can create a fully synthesized organism. Essentially, we could see ourselves playing the roles of gods. Again this sort of subject dwells within the gray “should we or should we not” territory, but I find the idea that we one day may be able to create life with a technology more unique than cloning one worth pursuing.

http://news.discovery.com/tech/biotechnology/life-2-0-synthetic-dna-added-to-genetic-code-150825.htm

Synthetic DNA to Synthetic Life

The Adjacent Possible

“The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow figure, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.” – Johnson (31)

The adjacent possible explicates how simply following an idea, and digging deeper into the subject matter, can lead to wonderful things. I’ve always been a person who never settled for “just because…” I always wanted to know why things were they way they were. What circumstances and scenarios led to this happening? The adjacent possible would tell me to dig deeper, and to find out why. Who knows what I might find, or what ideas may be sparked in the process. The important thing is that just by analyzing and searching for understanding, there are endless possibilities of what I might find or what I might discover. There are so many different ways to reach the same objective, its all about taking that first step and digging deeper. This opens up new doors of discovery and inspiration, which we may never have gotten if we just settled for “just because…” The adjacent possible reveals to us, how the world is capable of extraordinary change, but we’d never know if we just settled for the basic answers. The adjacent possible is what keeps discovery interesting and reminds us how truly capable the world is of change.

The Adjacent Possible

The Ever Changing World

“What the adjacent possible tells us is that at any moment the world is capable of extraordinary change, but only certain changes can happen.” (Johnson 31)

I find this to be a very powerful statement that provides some real inspiration. To me, this is the idea that anything can happen at any moment but no matter what it was, good or bad, it happened for a reason. It is the idea that change is natural and must be embraced rather than fought because if you fight it you will lose. This idea gives hope to those who are going through a rough time because it lets them know that things change and will continue to change so they may be down now but they know that it won’t always be that way. The world is always changing but these changes can only be certain things that can happen. Therefore, these changes must make sense according to the laws of nature and cannot possibly happen under the circumstances. The idea that the world is ever changing is a beautiful perception of reality and how we live our lives.

The Ever Changing World

Ideas Helped by a Collective Process?

One thing that struck me while I was reading this particular chapter was how many scientists and people contributed to uncovering much of the mystery of DNA.  I firmly believe that without any one of these intellectuals, we would not have the knowledge on DNA that we have today.  Although never given the proper credit while he was alive, Gregor Mendel set the stage for future thinkers to pursue a study on DNA.  Without his extensive work with plants, would Johann Friedrich Miescher have been able to discover that chromosomes in each cell nucleus were made up of more than just protein?  Each geneticist building off the work of another through the years ultimately allowed Francis Crick to head the charge in uncovering the main mysteries of DNA.  DNA that could one day help rightfully charge criminals like the one that broke into Helena’s house.  The challenging concept that developed into DNA was a collective creative process, that although took decades to answer, was unearthed by many intelligent minds.  Referring to what we discussed in class, bouncing ideas off of each other can in fact provide a better, and more complete, answer to a question or concept.

Ideas Helped by a Collective Process?

Adjacent Possible in iPhone Apps

I really enjoyed this chapter on the Adjacent Possible. I had never thought of defining a limit of what you can do and think, and after reading this chapter I realize it’s a great tool not just for building ideas but for organizing thoughts and solving problems. One space that has a very clear adjacent possible which I think would apply very well to this concept is video games and cell phone apps. In many short games, especially apps like Jetpack Joyride and Temple Run (two apps I play way too much of), there is a clear ceiling that you are aiming to hit. In these games, your main motivation is to get money to upgrade your character so that the game gets easier. However, there is always a point where there are no more upgrades, no more reasons to continue playing the games. In a way, the goal of all game developers is to expand the adjacent possible of their games. In the games I mentioned above, the way to do that would be to add more upgrades to the game, thus expanding the amount of things you can buy. In the same fashion, adding content to a sandbox game like Grand Theft Auto expands the adjacent possible of what players can do. This is only one way to use the adjacent possible in the development of ideas that Johnson may not have had in mind when he was writing this book

Adjacent Possible in iPhone Apps

Personal Adjacent Possible

“All of us live inside our own private versions of the adjacent possible. In our work lives, in our creative pursuits, in the organizations that employ us, in the communities we inhabit – in all those different environments, we are surround by potential new configurations new ways of breaking out of our standard routines.” Johnson, p40

What I found interesting about this quote was the notion that we all reside in a personal bubble of the adjacent possible. If I live in the middle of the desert surrounded by a sea of sand and rocks, I would have access to a drastically different adjacent possible than someone living in a bustling city. I think it’s important to consider that the adjacent possible exists on separate planes for humans individually and as a species. Humanity’s adjacent possible expands as a result of individuals creating new technologies overtime and integrating them into the global network of possibility.

Personal Adjacent Possible

New paths

“The history of life and human culture, then, can be told as the story of gradual but relentless probing of the adjacent possible, each new innovation opening up new paths to explore” – Johnson, page 33

Our history and culture has been changing as time goes on. We are always making discoveries about life and we are always innovating the way we live. Our culture is made depending on where each “tribe” is and it derives from the history every group of people is. Our culture and history come together. As humans we are always trying to make new discoveries to live better and it always comes from the adjacent possible. Every time we discover something it is only with time that we will open a path to learn something else. For example in medicine. We always start with small discoveries which eventually lead to a discovery that can save lives.

669-74418

New paths

outside the box

“The trick to having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts. The trick is to get more parts on the table”(Johnson,42).

sometimes the most jumbled up ideas or the most unlikely ones can be the most effective. In reading this chapter, I have found out so many things that surprised me. Building an incubator out of machine parts to accomodate hospitals in developing countries where they are not as tech savvy, is really amazing. What also is interesting is the idea of adjacent possible. Which asks the question if something is ahead of its time. Interesting to think that if Youtube tried to come out earlier than when videos online were possible, then it would maybe not be around. Hard to think of what would have happened, if we just try outside the box.

outside the box

Google: A Place for Innovation

“Innovative environments are better at helping their inhabitants explore the adjacent possible, because they expose a wide and diverse sample of spare parts”

The concept of building ideas with one another in the adjacent possible really stuck out to me. It reminded me of an experience I had last summer when I toured Google’s New York office. Google’s office structure is not like an ordinary office. The office has wide open spaces with big tables for a collaborative feel. Employees are allowed to dress casual and have daily group meeting with people in the office and use Google hangout to video chat with employees in different countries. All of the employees at Google are from different backgrounds and come together everyday to learn from each other. Free food is available at all times for each employee. There is also a  fitness center and a video game area in the offices. Google takes an innovative environment to a whole new level. I hope that many companies can form innovative offices like Google.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/atmccann/google-hangs-a-tiny-little-sign-in-new-york-city#.nxw4JAO2MA
http://www.buzzfeed.com/atmccann/google-hangs-a-tiny-little-sign-in-new-york-city#.nxw4JAO2MA

Here is an article that I found very interesting about Google:

Google Article

Google: A Place for Innovation

innovation in error

“but that noise makes the rest of us smarter, more innovative, precisely because we are forced to rethink our bias, to contemplate,….”(Johnson, 148)

So putting us all in a place surrounded by errors can make us more innovative. If you would have told me that error can be good, and that it can help me with ideas, I would have said that you were crazy. I never knew that error could help so much, such as with De Forest eventually ending up with the vacuums tube after assuming that it was a surge of voltage, or the fact that error lead to the realization that plants create oxygen instead of CO2 and creates our atmosphere. So many things have been invented from error, so it now baffles me how we can be scorned for making a mistake, or that fact that we throw these things away. But what also is interesting is putting people in a room and having them intentionally say inaccurate things, because sometimes that could lead to error, but also innovation.

innovation in error

Dreams and the Adjacent Possible

 ” The work of dreams turns out to be a particular chaotic, yet productive, way of exploring the adjacent possible”(Johnson, 102).

I would never have thought that dreams could be a possible let alone effective way of experimenting the adjacent possible. Johnson talks about how dreams were able to help people figure out hidden problems, or missing connections. Such as configurations for atoms. I previously assumed that since dreams can be forgotten in a flash, that it could not be possible. maybe i just have not dreamt hard enough

Dreams and the Adjacent Possible

Errors

“The error is needed to set off the truth, much as a dark background is required for exhibiting the brightness of a picture.”-William James

I found this quote by William James very convincing, if one has the drive to never quit.  Growing up, I was raised to never give up at things I truly wanted and it is almost impossible to imagine a world without the many inventions discovered through trial and error.  As Johnson talks about, errors open new doors to the adjacent possible and I too feel they are necessary to find truths.

Errors

The slow hunch

The whole section about hunches is very interesting. How it applies to the idea of a web, and adjacent possible. For a hunch to become reality, it needs a web of many ideas thinking or coming up with the same idea. It is very interesting to look into the past and records of people comin up with similar ideas and what could have happend if they came together, such as the phoenix  project and the flight school maybe stopping 9/11. in a similar time for it to come out to light and be legitimized. and as johnson puts it, ” Hunches that don’t connect are too to stay hunches.”(76)

The slow hunch

Google Projects

“Early on in its history, Google famously instituted a “20 percent time” program for all Google engineers: for every four hours they spend working on official company projects they are required to spend one hour on their own pet project, guided entirely by their own interests and passions “(Johnson 93).

I just thought it was really neat that Google is encouraging the adjacent possible by allowing their engineers to work on random projects in an effort to spur creativity. I also liked that Johnson provided an example of the person who created Google News in his downtime which showed that it was positive benefits for society to let people be creative.

Quote

Everyday Relation

I thought it was interesting how the theory of the ‘edge of chaos’ can be applied to almost everything, what I thought of off the bat is packing for college, too much can prove to be a nuisance, too little can prove to be a dilemma. It is rather a redundant occurrence that people tend to go overboard with certain things. For example when people spend to much time exercising they expose themselves to injury or even physical exhaustion. On the contrary, when people get too little exercise they begin to live an unhealthy and dangerous lifestyle. This concept of ‘edge of chaos’ is not only a formidable theory it is also a way of life.

Everyday Relation

The Adjacent Possible

“The history of life and human culture, then, can be told as the story of a gradual but relentless probing of the adjacent possible, each new innovation opening up new paths to explore.” (33)

Earlier in the chapter Johnson mentions that evolution could be looked at as the constant struggle to explore the adjacent possible, the idea that certain adaptations can only happen after mutation has occurred, a mutation that makes that adaptation possible, before this mutation has happened, the adaptation may never actually happen. Using this thought process, the adjacent possible can be used for human technology and innovation; although a technology may be thought to be impossible, it could simply be that the technology required to transition to this even more preposterous technology, needs to be discovered first.

The Adjacent Possible

Networks and Connections

I thought Chapter 2 was very interesting because it discussed the ability to thrive and create new ideas by networks and connections in relation to the adjacent possible. I liked how the chapter related these ideas back to liquids as networks, for example, freezing liquid to create solids. In relating to General Chemistry courses, we also learned that solids and liquids exist, not just because, but rather as a result of hot or cold that allow things to melt or freeze. In this case those external forces of hot and cold were the “networks” or connections. In relating to the entire chapter, I thought it was interesting to relate these ideas back to the adjacent possible. Essentially, the adjacent possible is understood through connections, networks, and interactions between things. The last line of the chapter stating,

Exploring the adjacent possible can be as simple as opening a door. But sometimes you need to move a wall” -Johnson, p65

was a very powerful statement. Essentially, there is no strict answer or reason that something exists, but one has to dig deeper to understand the connections and networks as to why things exist or came about. Moving a wall is much harder than opening a door. You have to break it down into pieces to see the connections.

Networks and Connections

Make this fit into this with nothing but that…

Chapter one of good ideas uses an example which really made what the Adjacent Possible an easy concept for me to grasp by talking about the above scene in Apollo 13. As such I thought I’d share the scene because it just perfectly for me summed up what the Adjacent Possible is as an obscure concept. I also just love this movie because it shows how adaptable humans are and how we have really done some amazing things as a species. This movie is also a classic which spawned some really great lines and is scientifically accurate which is really cool. All credit goes to the movie Apollo 13 linked above.

Video

Science is Poetry

In Chapter 1, “Reef, City, and Web”, Johnson writes, “Science long ago realized that we can understand something better by studying its behavior in different contexts.” Following this statement Johnson explained that it is sometimes easier to grasp a concept when we stop focusing and researching so much on the concept, and instead relate it to something we know. For instance, non-scientists understand cities and how urban life functions much more than the complex ecosystem of the coral reef. By showing the similarities between the two, as Johnson does further down in his text, a non-scientist is able to comprehend how the coral reef functions through her knowledge of cities and urban life.

What Johnson means is that we understand the scientific world through metaphors. Comparing and contrasting our current understandings of the world with our new experiences or information is how we learn.

Just as Maya Angelou explains her depression as a caged bird, something more tangible for her readers, Robert Hooke named the small organisms that make-up all living things after the tiny rooms of monks called “cells” so that fellow scientists will understand his discovery.

Johnson continues, “…It turns out that we can answer the question more comprehensively if we draw analogies to patterns of innovation…” This essentially confirms that in their discoveries (and attempts to break that “adjacent possible”) scientists try to hold on to what they know at the same time. While they travel from room to room through the doors that Johnson describes, they leave a bread crumb trail for others (scientists or not) to follow them. They recognize that not everyone will see the discovery in the same way, nor does everyone think like a scientist. Therefore by explaining scientific theories, processes, or discoveries in tangible and non-science terms, scientists can reach a broader audience and be more widely accepted.

The use of metaphors and imagery by scientists to explain science makes them poets.

Science is Poetry

The Adjacent Possible

“The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore those boundaries” – Johnson, p31

I think this quote is important because we were reading about how the adjacent possible is “a shadow figure hovering over the edges of the present state of things,” but this quote shows us that in order to take advantage of the adjacent possible, and explore new rooms in the mansion, we must take that first step ourselves. In order for the adjacent possible’s limits to grow, we must push those limits and see where we can take them.

The Adjacent Possible

Adjacent Possibles

After reading Chapter 1 of Where Good Ideas Come From, I found it very interesting when they discussed the ideas of new advancements or innovations as adjacent possible’s. Essentially, everything we do in a society builds on one another, an adjacent possible, the next invention. I think this idea is interesting because, while science often is described as the exploration of new things or new developments, I never thought machinery or technology as the gathering of many ideas to increase complexity. Everything is based off of the previous and builds in it complexity. While this is believed to be true, I thought the example of Babbage’s Analytical Engine was noteworthy. In this example, it was proposed that the

“machine was so complicated it never got passed the blueprint stage” -Johnson, p37.

I think this idea is extremely important, because while technology leads to  the future, one consequence deals with complexity. Are we ever going to get to a point in which the world is too complex to keep moving forward? Will things come to a halt? I think these ideas are very important to think about especially living in a world today in which technology is so advanced and new things are created every day.

Adjacent Possibles