Chapter 10

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.

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 die 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.

"Chance is the only true source of novelty," he wrote.1

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".

Francois 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 improvable 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

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.

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.

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 Ashanincas 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."

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.

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

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

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? 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

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 stricdy automatic - immediate, but not consciously planned."13

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.

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.

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 die 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

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?

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

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

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 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

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

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."

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 program - a possible framework for testable scientific theories. It is metaphysical because it is not testable." 27

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.

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.

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