Seeing a seed sprouting and a full-fledged plant rising in the air as inscribed on its DNA is no different than observing the rise of a house at a construction site as specified by the blueprints or architectural drawings, complete with plumbing, electrical wiring, painting, and landscaping, as the onsite construction materials around diminish but with no workers, engineers, cranes, and trucks visible. As reasonable beings, we will have to infer in this case that there must be a mysterious invisible master agent equipped with purpose, knowledge, and power of constructing a house. And we would give that supernatural agent a name such as a fairy, a spirit, genie, or ghost. Fortunately (or unfortunately), we do not have to deal with this hypothetical mind-boggling problem since we never observe such a thing. If an engineer leaves a set of blueprints of a house at the construction site, we know that nothing will happen there and we would not believe anyone who claims otherwise.
Well, Alice is an architect and as part of her job she often visits the construction manager at the site and makes sure that the houses are built in full compliance with the blueprints. One day, a very strange thing happened that shocked everyone in the city. During a routine visit to a site where a construction was about to start, Alice forget her briefcase that contained the blueprints of the house to be built at the lot. That night, severe weather with intense lightning and thunder moved across the city and lasted for several hours. The next afternoon, Alice went back to the construction site to pick up her briefcase, but was shocked by what she saw and could not believe her eyes.
Her briefcase was struck by the lightning and was shattered, and the blueprints were all out in the open. Well, nothing inexplicable so far. But to her surprise, she also saw that the house was partially built according to the blueprints. She naturally thought that the construction crew must have worked earlier in the day and did not make much of it. But then she suddenly noticed that the supplies were moving on their own and the construction was going on according to the specifications on the blueprints right before her eyes. She panicked as anyone would and ran away as fast as she could.
Then she called the construction manager who rushed to the scene right away with his crew. They could not believe their eyes either. The house was actually being built according to the specs. Good thing they had piled up all the supplies at the site before the storm. One of the workers said that he saw something similar in a movie, and that he was sure it was a genie or ghost or something. Of course others had a good laugh. Alice suggested that perhaps it is the set of blueprints that were subjected to the thunderstorm and transformed into an able agent. After all, the blueprints have all the information recorded on them and the house was being built according to them. There was another round of laughter, but this time louder because the blueprints were just inert pieces of paper marked with ink in the form of letters, numbers, lines, and other shapes. They are not even aware that they represent information and they have no power to build anything.
As the construction manager was explaining, while trying to force himself not to laugh, that the blueprints wouldn’t even be able to draw a picture of a house, let alone construct a real one, another shocking thing happened: the blueprints started to wobble, raising a lot of dust from the ground, and when the dust was settled, there was an exact replica of the blueprints. Unbelievable, but the blueprints had made a copy of themselves while everybody was watching. When Alice took the copy and left it in the neighboring lot, a new house started to rise all by itself with no worker involvement. Curious, Alice rushed to the office and got another printout of the blueprints and left it on another lot. This time nothing happened, although the new printout was an exact copy of the original blueprints containing the same information.
Puzzled, Alice asked the local university to look into the matter and make sense of what was happening. The scientists on the case examined this shocking phenomenon objectively and with due diligence. They even conducted some experiments. They confirmed that the new printed blueprints just sat passively in the lots with no causal power, although they were identical to the original blueprints that turned active during the storm. But when they made changes on one of the pages of the blueprints and replaced the corresponding page in the original active blueprints by this modified page, the change was reflected in the construction. For example, if the new page involved the specification that the master bedroom will have one large window instead of two smaller ones, the new house built using the blueprints with this modified page had a master bedroom with one large window.
Based on their investigations, the scientists concluded that the blueprints that were exposed to the storm somehow acquired life in a mysterious way because the phenomenon of self-construction is only observed in living beings. They explained that when a seed is buried in moist soil, it just cracks open, grows ‘arms,’ and starts grabbing the necessary materials from the soil around it and gets to work to build the body of the plant as per specifications and instructions on the DNA of the seedling, also dubbed the blueprint of life. So, unlike cars and homes, we never build plants – they build themselves.
They continued to explain that we all just sit back and watch the plants rise above the soil into the sky, complete with leaves and branches, and never give it a second thought. It just happens all the time all over the world. When we need fruit, we just visit the appropriate trees with already made fruits hanging from the branches waiting to be plucked. The scientists also said that they always keep wondering how in the world these plants – that do not even have brains and other organs such as eyes and hands – manage to construct such fascinating structures so easily and efficiently, and admire the beauty and mystery of life. They also expressed their dismay that some of their colleagues do not even believe in the existence of life since nobody has ever seen it, and that what we call life is really chemical reactions seen in living beings. There are also others who call this sophisticated giant virtual machinery that knows what it’s doing and doing it so well as information, since what they are observing as the plant grows according to specs within DNA is information at work. With this superficial view, little do they realize that they portray the inept inscriptions on DNA as powerful geniuses with superhuman abilities.
As she was trying to make sense of all this, she heard the call, ‘Alice, you’re late for work!’ and her eyes popped open as she forced herself out of bed. Yes, she was in a deep dream and what a dream it was! She thought about how it would be if we unlocked the secrets of life and, like the DNA of plants, animals, and humans, the blueprints of buildings, cars, smartphones, and even shoes acquired life with the ability to replicate themselves and the flexibility of incorporating modifications by simply changing the existing specifications. Alice knew that this was just a fantasy, since we can artificially make exact replicas of the DNA of some lifeforms, but unlike the natural DNA they don’t come alive when placed in a soup of nutrients; they just sit there like any other inept chemical.
Alice thought about buying a bag of raw materials like sand, minerals, and other organic matter – similar to a bag of fertilizer that she buys for her plants – then place a memory stick with the blueprints of the latest model of her iPhone and pick up the new device from the bag after a few days – similar to 3D printing but without an expensive physical 3D printer. Then she thought about the prospect of losing her job and stopped daydreaming. She had to go to work. But she was grateful that in her strange dream she understood the grandness and magnificence of life that we take for granted in ways that she never thought possible. She now views life as real and capable as the team of knowledgeable and experienced engineers, workers, and machinery at the construction site.