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Dark Matter, Junk DNA & Original Sin

September 7, 2012
I recently heard a passing stat on NPR that could not be ignored. A recent science show noted that “Dark Matter” was 96% of the universe. A quick interwebnets check noted that a book, “The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality” was written in 2011 by Richard Panek – old news. This stark confirmation of a creep up in the acknowledged quantity of the twinned “Dark”’s – Matter and Energy underscored that they are perhaps the most sublimely human fudge since Original Sin. Its evident to me that a lot of humans want specific knowledge without adequate evidence to support it  – often to the point of obsessional preoccupation. Rather than shrug our shoulders when confronted with deep ambiguity and live our lives, humans tend to toss in the “quiet desperation” part into that living. We do not know, really, why we can so easily hate ourselves, do stupid things or just have no central purpose in life. In trying to understand that vacuum some ancient musers were inspired (by God or guilt) to envision a cosmic break from Perfection involving a rib, an apple and a snake The dark side that prompted the proffering of Original Sin as a way to deal with fundamental holes in the meaning of our lives has, to me, similarities to the proffering of Dark Matter in the face of a huge absence of measureables in the physical universe. Both respond with primal desperation to make sense of our overwhelming ignorance. Original Sin is a frame of reference that should allow me to find peace when I fall short of my best hopes and expectations. But its message is insufficient to provide solace or forbearance.  The story’s precision in symbols and metaphors is in inverse proportion to the incalculable ambiguity of why we aren’t all heroin addicts who kill each other for food. But our need for specificity, for measureables – like the 10 Commandments or Dark Matter – seems to be as essential for our emotional survival as finding love. In the world of science trillions upon trillions of measureables are collected in an accelerating crescendo of data engorgement with each passing day. But in truth, the data has opened up a clear window of our overwhelming ignorance that requires infinitely more data – or, perhaps, acceptance of our ignorance. In 1933, Fritz Zwicky found that the forces he measured in the observable universe were bizarrely greater than what the measured matter in the universe could induce. A long succession of extreme mental measures have ensued, but with each crushing load of data derived from newer and better technologies have made the non-observable universe grow and grow. So many forces are observed with so little evident matter or energy or anything to support their presence, humans feel compelled to propose that 96% of the universe is there in some form we need to define, just not in a form we can measure. So the most brilliant among us desperately invent a narrative using billions of data points as undergirding, but without a single data point describing the subject of the narrative itself. My take is that the billions of data points that are humans on this earth are the parallel data points in the creation of a narrative that reveals the answers to the “why’s” of our lives. In both the supremely personal and sublimely universal realms, humans seem hard-wired to fill in the gaps with a certitude that denies the reality of our ignorance. When someone kills dozens of people on a Scandinavian island or in a Colorado movie theater, we want to define the exact reasons – brain wiring, cultural incompetence, parental malfeasance, guns being too available – we want to know, know, “Why?” Politicians, clerics and psychologists step up to provide remedies – as if the heart of darkness we all have has a fix that can be crafted by the same hands that can wreak havoc or wreck our self worth at the drop of a psychotic break. 80 years of extreme efforts to fill Zwicky’s hole have only revised the measure of our ignorance up to 96% from somewhere around 80% in the 1980’s when the Hubble telescope and all the enhancements of computerized analysis laid waste to previous theories. The more we know, the more we discover we know even less than we thought. This week , another scientific fudge, “Junk DNA”, suddenly went from junk to “crucial”. It seems that when first plotted the human genome only had 2% “active” elements, with 98% of its material without obvious purpose. Perhaps it was just refuse carried along by evolution, or just unusable stuff from other organisms that needed it that was simply passed along as the great tree of life split off branches from a common trunk. If we could not measure its usefulness we assumed it had no use. Well, after researching it for a decade or so, this “junk” now seems to be a huge array of switches that allow unspecific cells to “get real” – become skin, or bone or nose hairs. Unlike the universe or the human heart, the DNA machine is made of measureable components. We can, over time, “know” it. But we felt compelled to call what did not know “Junk”, because it’s not just nature that abhors a vacuum, it’s our sense of control. We try to fill that void by calling the unknown “Junk” or Dark” or in the case of the Higgs-Boson Particle “God”. Truth lives in a lot of places – but we often just cannot seem to find out exactly where. We “know” we are not meaningless, we “know” we want to do the right thing, we “know” that these desires must be able to be understood – and to be understood there must be measureables. Your resume, your net worth, the college your kid goes to, your sex life, your politics, your religion, your theory of what-percentage-of-what-energy-has-what-implicit-realities-in-the-universe all attempt to measure what is probably not measurable. Other than our ultimate Big Measureable (death), perhaps the only Measure one we cannot buy, learn, or share is what we measure alone, within ourselves, listening. Like the aged Private Ryan, we just want to know if we have led a good life. Perhaps if we can name the things that seem to be withheld from us “junk”, “dark” or “god” we can wrap some part of our minds around their meaning. But our incoherently inscrutable side, somehow present in the 96% that seems unknowable within us, can never be fully understood and will never cease to exist. Our own “Dark Energy” is more mysterious than the absurdly huge fudge factor that rationalizes our collective inability to measure much in the universe. But we won’t stop measuring…
6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2013 4:45 pm

    Hello, for all time i used to check web site posts here early in the daylight, for the
    reason that i enjoy to learn more and more.

  2. May 17, 2013 8:29 am


  3. May 19, 2013 5:19 pm

    Please let me know if you’re looking for a author for your site. You have some really good articles and I believe I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d absolutely love to write some material for
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  4. October 3, 2016 8:57 am

    Original Sin is the Ego, which is in the body, and which tries to separate us and make us think the body and the material world are the sum total of reality.


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