Origins, Evolution and Biophysics: an Ephemeral Golden Braid
Douglas Hofstradter’s celebrated 1979 book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (“GEB”), presented “a metaphorical fugue on minds and machines in the spirit of Lewis Carroll.” In this talk we likewise seek to explore implicit themes and hidden connections that unite origins and evolution (in a broad sense) with biophysical principles underlying modern biochemistry and molecular genetics. Three vignettes will be presented in which an evolutionary perspective provides coherence to a clutter of molecular details. Just as GEB sought to decipher how systems acquire meaning despite being made of meaningless elements, so too can biochemical puzzles reflect overarching evolutionary mechanisms, whether physical, geologic or genetic. The forest has meaning beyond the individual trees. We will conclude with a self-referential Darwinian heresy: a DNA element whose twin instability as molecular entity and as a coding element combine as a source of biological innovation.