Friday, July 30, 2021 4:11 AM
NOVA Rules (2021Jul30)
On PBS, there was a recent NOVA: Season 43, Episode 9, “The Hidden Fluorescent World”, of which, I happened to catch a small segment. Usually, NOVA is reviewing something I’d already heard about, somewhere. But not this Episode—no-sir-ee!
I can’t repeat the whole spiel (I’m an idiot). But there was a lot of talk about how sea-creatures tend to have bio-luminescent and bio-fluorescent pigmentation. GFP, or Green Fluorescent Protein, recently earned a Nobel Prize for its discoverers. But green is only the most common color of fluorescing proteins in ocean wildlife.
I saw a blasé, normal-looking gray shark—and when they shone the special light on this shark, it suddenly looked like a cross between a tiger’s markings and a punk-rocker’s tattoos. And, I have to say—the shark looked much more organic in his ‘undersea lighting’—an obvious predator.
Dialogue became denser as they explained why they needed a Red Fluorescent Protein if they’re ever to have a window into the living human brain’s activity. They can attach a protein to a brain cell—but human brains are too dense to see the light through. GFP was good enough for them to see a fruit-fly’s brain in action—their images of this are described as the first images of ‘a brain in action’.
Now, if I still had a sharp mind and a fit body, I would have become very excited about all this. This is big stuff. Even without being involved (like Armstrong’s famous first step off the LEM) I still felt a thrill—just to know that such a deep cut had been made—into the heart of life’s mystery.
And I came to this keyboard tonight with the express purpose of describing my disappointed wonder: we have been telling ourselves how we have it all ‘figured out’, since Edison; since Einstein; since Turing & Watson & Crick & who knows who else… But. Here’s this new thing: we haven’t been seeing fish the way they’ve been seeing themselves. Underwater Optics have a marine ‘twist’ to them—and that twist is: bio-luminescent, and especially, bio-fluorescent, proteins.
But the pretty colors, under the sea, are just a bonus. They search for proteins that fluoresce Red—because the closer to infra-red a light is, the further it can penetrate. The point is, or rather, the hope is, to find a good, red protein—to culture it, to introduce it to the very-dense Human brain cells, and thus to be able to ‘see’ the electrical charges of brain-activity more precisely than ever before dreamed of.
Tell you the truth, brain-scanning—or the possibility of it—is something I hope we never have to trust others with. Conversely, digital brain uploads will require such precision—spotting dysfunctional brains would also probably be helpful sometimes.
Anywho… as you can see, NOVA will sometimes sneak up on you—and kick you in your teeth. The sci-fi of Clarke and Asimov had no conception of the future they helped create. Turing, who invented numbers-for-words, i.e. binary computing—which won WWII and was then kept top-secret until the 1980s—was convicted of homosexuality and killed himself eating an apple, laced with cyanide. Even our most brilliant thinkers often stumble, trying to imagine the fullness of ten or twenty years’ time.
I still can’t get over the fact that stationary stores and book stores are obsolete. They were my favorite shops.
But, here we are, post-future, post-history, digital processing power, etc.—but we just found out what fish look like, to themselves. A consideration for anyone who thinks we have it all ‘figured out’…..