In Memoriam: Francis Crick


Wednesday was just another day, but the world lost a visionary, a pioneer. One of the most important and seminal scientists of our age, Francis Crick, died on Wednesday.

Crick and his colleague, James Watson, are credited with the discovery of deoxyribonucleic acid, a substance that we, today, casually refer to as “dee-enn-ay” (DNA) .

How much richer is our understanding of the world, our understanding of science with this acronym in our collective lexicon? Any biologist can tell you that - Crick and “DNA” defined the boundaries, the terms, the task of biology in the 21st century.

But let me ask, “How much richer are so many non-scientific disciplines with only the mere idea of this substance?”

Vendors of anti-spam technology today include, in their literature I read, references to a “digital DNA”. From the layperson manager to the geekiest sysadmin technorati - we know instantly that this “Digital DNA” speaks of the essence of a thing, and that it is something that is propagated, extracted, communicated.

[Addendum (10 August 2003): A vendor is here to promote their anti-spam solution, guess what the background image is: a double helix, the word “genetic” in the background]

In our times “DNA” means “essence, the source of identity, the method of creation”.

{ This reminds me of the Silver Jews’ line: “All houses dream in blueprints” }

In the Literary Criticism camp we hear of the study of memetics, the notion of ideas as viruses …. and what, my friends is a virus, but a quasi-sentient, roving, carrier of genetic information (like an author, or perhaps a book itself, or an e-book - this interesting debate, brought to you by Crick)?

DNA, as a modernist art principle speaks to our age as well. It is a simple lattice made of strong and simple materials - sugars and phosphorates - that interweave in an ascending ladder to net something far greater than the sum of the parts.

Is this not the essential design ethic of our age? From simple and strong alloys shall we remake space, order, and line in our image - and in doing so we shall reflect ourselves again, and again, and again.

If you have one nearby, visit an Apple store – experience DNA as store.

(Although on a busy Sunday before the start of Stanford’s start of semester, the chaos reminds me of the unzip and replication process versus the stoic order of the lattice - as if a replication fork bomb of capitalism has blasted the academic nucleotide students into sheer chaos)

Back to the Biology sphere, DNA’s native conceptual home. In DNA, in the idea of a ladder in a cell, we have opened the possibilities into true medicine, changing cells at the core, rewriting the product from the template with gene-therapy.

Slowly Crick, Watson, and those brilliant people that destroyed my view with their Mission Bay biolabs in SF are turning God from Microsoft into GNU - they’re making His work open source (surely the copyright was lapsed, anyway) and giving it away.

This DNA meme (I do love infinite recursion) has enriched so many areas of intellectual development, I simply cannot imagine where so many diverse and exciting areas of intellectual development would be without Crick.

Thank you Mr. Crick…..

Keep in mind, my friends, that the kind of intellectual inquiry that builds on Crick’s work, embryonic stem cell research, has actively been opposed to and constrained by George W. Bush [link here].

Stem-cell research is essential for keeping America at the forefront of the economic race of high tech, and it ensures that great Americans, like Ronald Reagan, grandmothers with Parkinson’s, and children with diabetes can have longer and happier lives. Remember in November voting for Bush is voting against science.

– Revisions: [ 3.VIII.04 - Fixed typo, clarified that Bush is against embryonic s-c research ] [ 3.VIII.04 - Decided to fill out some of the points a bit more after Dedman’s linking-to ] [18.VIII.04 - Added addendum, cleaned up]