Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Coping Via Science

(Note: This is being posted several hours after it was written.)

"Unless we remember we cannot understand." -  E. M. Forster

I'd like to insert a "correctly" after remember, but yes.

This post is going to contain several interesting ideas; however, I can't take credit for any of them. Most of this is coming from my dad on the ride to school this morning. But before, I get to those...
...I just found out that my great-uncle died at some point last night, from cancer. I didn't really know him at all, but...you know.

We didn't know about it this morning, but the points my dad made are only more poignant now.

As part of his current obsession with immortality, singularity, and the extension of the human life-span, he's been listening to a lot of different podcasts and lectures and reading news articles and such. One of these was about DNA, so bear with me while I explain a little bit of the science.

So when cells divide, the DNA in the center of the nucleus splits into two strands, each of which becomes the DNA in the center of one of the daughter cells. You probably knew that already.
Now, the thing that you might not have known (mainly because I didn't) is that there's this thing on the end of the DNA (whose name I don't remember). That thing gets a little bit shorter every time the cell divides, and once it's all gone, the cell can't divide, so it just dies.
The theory is that once we can figure out how to stop that thing from getting shorter, we'll be able to live forever in healthy bodies.
There are two problems with that:
1. We don't know how to make it happen
2. That would mean uncontrolled cell growth, which is...cancer, basically.

So you see why he's dwelling on the problem.
He, his brother, and one of his sisters were/are planning on driving up there tomorrow. It just sucks that they're too late.
I think the worst part of it is the waiting. Waiting the 5 hours to get to my uncle's tomorrow night. Waiting the 8 more to get up to NY where everyone else is. And that's not even counting him sitting at the car dealership waiting for the repair to be finished like he is now. I'm just hanging out on Google chat keeping him company and his mind occupied.

Personally, I'm more worried about my grandparents. Not only do they have to mourn, but they also have to deal with all of the people flooding into town, and making sure my great-grandma and great-great-aunt are okay and in the loop about everything...

So yeah, that's what's going on over here.
It's interesting to see what different people use as coping mechanisms, though. Dad, for instance, is as we speak devoting himself to intellectually thinking through and coming up with general solutions for every global problem he finds both interesting and concerning. Yes, this is what my father does while sitting on benches at car dealerships. You see where I get it.

(Also, I'm going to be quoting him next post, because he's said some really interesting and insightful stuff.)

My coping mechanism for this? Well, I'm mostly-pleased to announce that I'll be participating in Script Frenzy this year. Actually participating, unlike last year when I just used it as a spring board for typing up the ridiculously bad Oz parody I wrote with some friends in middle school.


  1. I guess my comment mostly has to do with the quote, although I wish your family well dealing with your loss.

    I would switch the order, and say that you cannot remember (correctly) unless you understand. Partially from my experience as a math teacher seeing that students who understand what is going on have a lot less to "memorize," and, consequentially, a lot less to forget. But also, in reference to AAoK, because we remember things through stories, because that is what makes sense to us, and if we don't understand something, how can we tell its true story?

  2. I was thinking more of if we don't remember someone's actual words or actions or tone or whatever correctly, then we can't accurately deduct the emotions or motives that provoked the response, or if inaccurate measurements (wrong memories) are taken during an experiment, we can't understand the phenomenon.
    But very much yes to the understanding/memorizing/forgetting. That's how I got by in Economics last quarter-- we were just learning the terms for things I already understood, so I didn't have to study.

    Also, I think sometimes we tell stories in an attempt to understand, and realize the truth through the telling.

  3. Speaking on realizing the truth by telling a story, I have to admit that AAoK is the John Green book I understand the least. Perhaps because I am a mathematicians not a novelist, truth and fiction seem like mostly separate things. I am much more comfortable with the Paper Towns perspective that any story you tell will have more truth about the teller than about the tale.

  4. My being a novelist who they tell me is rather good at math, Katherines had a huge impact on me, albeit less than that of Paper Towns.
    I think it's beautiful, that personal truth is so subjective. Scary and worrisome, yes, but I think it speaks a lot for the diversity of humanity and how we're all people on the inside just trying to get by and do our best.
    Then there's the side of writing stories rather than reading them. I think that, for better or for worse, there's a lot of me that subconsciously leaks into my work. I don't think this is bad in general, but when something's weighing on my mind...the story in question can get seriously off-track.
    I think there's so, so much truth that can be found in fiction, whether about the author or about the world (which is the main reason I love Green books so much-- truth about the world.)


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