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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Expedition: A Science Fiction Story

I authorize an expedition to the supply center,” said Frank. “Karen and Tom will be the expedition participants.”

Can I go too?” said little Steve. “I've never even been outside our building, least not that I can remember. I'm old enough to go.”

Going on an expedition outside our building is nothing to be taken lightly,” said Frank. “If you don't suit up right, and make all the preparations just right, you may find yourself cooked like a hot dog in the microwave. It's an oven outside this building. Are you ready to face that kind of danger, little boy?”

You bet I am!” said Steve.

Okay, we'll I guess you're finally old enough for something like this,” said Frank. “I guess we can use that expedition suit that your sister first used several years ago. Let me brief you on all the steps you need to execute the expedition successfully.”

Frank retrieved what looked like a space suit.

This is your expedition suit,” said Frank. “It will keep you from dying from all that heat outside.”

I'll put it on,” said Steve.

No, that's not the first step,” said Frank. “First, you strip off your clothes and apply cooling gel all over your body. The cooling gel and the expedition suit work together to stop you from being cooked to death.”

After applying the blue cooling gel all over his body, Steve put on the expedition suit. It fit reasonably well.

So you think you're ready to go outside?” asked Frank.

Sure, I'm ready,” said Steve.

No, you're not ready!” said Frank. “You haven't put on your backpack cooling device. Without that, you'll cook to death out there.”

Frank showed how to set up the backpack cooling device. He had Karen, Tom, and Steve test the radios of the expedition suits. The radios would allow them to talk to each other over the noise of the backpack cooling unit.

So it looks like you're all suited up,” said Frank. “So are you ready to go out the building?”

Sure,” said Steve.

No, you are not!” said Frank. “You didn't make a weather check for dust storms. If one of those things hit while you're outside, it could kill you.” 

After the weather check, and after Karen, Tom and Steve were all suited up, they exited the building. They set out toward their destination a mile away. 

Steve was delighted by all the sights around him. It was a bleak landscape, but for a little boy who could never recall being outside of the building where he lived, everything he saw around him was a source of wonder.

You ever get into trouble on a trip like this?' asked Steve.

Sometimes,” said Tom. “If your expedition suit starts malfunctioning, it can be scary. You may get a sudden dust storm. If you see one of those, then you have to turn around and go back.”

After a mile of walking, they reached the supply center, and went inside.

Okay, you can take off the helmet of your suit,” said Tom. It was nice and cool inside the supply center. After gathering their supplies, Tom asked Steve what they should do before going outside again.

I guess we just have to put on our suit helmets again,” said Steve.

No, it's more complicated than that,” explained Tom. “The cooling gel we put all over our skin got used up during our 1-mile walk over. So we have to take off our expedition suits, and reapply some fresh new cooling gel before we go outside again.”

They all took off their suits, reapplied the cooling gel, and put their expedition suits back on. Before exiting the supply center, Tom had a question for Steve.

So can we go outside now?” asked Tom.

Sure,” said Steve.

No, we haven't done our suit checks yet!” said Tom. “Remember, I told you before: every time before exiting a building, you check all of the indicator lights on your expedition suit to make sure it is functioning perfectly.”

After making the suit checks, Tom asked Steve one more question.

So now are we ready to go outside?” asked Tom.

I guess so,” said Steve.

No,” said Tom. “We didn't make a weather check for approaching dust storms.”

But we already did that when we set out,” said Steve.

I know,” said Tom. “But you've got to make the weather check for dust storms both when you set out, and when you start to come back from your destination.”

After the weather check was made, Tom, Karen, and Steve exited the supply center, and began the one-mile trip back to the building where they lived. The trip back was uneventful. After returning to Frank, they took off their expedition suits, and cleaned off the remainder of the sticky cooling gel on their skin.

Congratulations, kiddo,” said Frank to Steve. “Now that you've made your first expedition outside, I guess we won't think of you as such a little kid any more.”

All that hassle, just to get some food at the grocery store,” said Tom with a sigh.

The four of them were living in Phoenix, Arizona in the southwestern United States in the year 2160. Once populated by more than a million people, the heat-scorched city now had a population of only 4,300, and all of them dressed up like astronauts when they dared to travel outside.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Paradoxes That Puncture Professorial Pretensions

Many of our professors are very pretentious people who claim to have an understanding of many deep questions of time, space, life, matter and energy. But there are quite a few paradoxes suggesting that such academic figures may know very much less than they claim to know. Below is a list of some of these paradoxes.

The Faint Young Sun Paradox. It is believed that life appeared more than three billion years ago, in an event that would have required liquid water on the surface. However, models of the sun's evolution indicate that the heat output of the sun should have been much lower billions of years ago. Based on such models, it seems that it should only have been about about two billion years ago that the Earth started getting enough heat for liquid water to exist on its surface.

The Fermi Paradox. Our galaxy contains many billions of planets. In billions of solar systems there should be a situation where a planet roughly the size of the Earth exists at a suitable distance from the closest sun, resulting in a surface that is neither too hot nor too cold for life to appear. But despite all these opportunities for life to appear, decades of searches for radio signals from extraterrestrials have produced no successes. The Fermi Paradox can be succinctly stated by asking: where is everybody?

The “Mind from Matter” Paradox. It is typically believed that the human mind results from arrangements of matter in a brain. But mind and matter are two totally different types of things. We can imagine without a paradox mental things producing mental outputs, and physical things producing physical outputs. But it seems paradoxical that a material thing could ever produce a mental output.

The “Winding Problem” Paradox. A large fraction of the universe's galaxies are beautiful spiral galaxies. Spiral galaxies rotate, taking about 200 million years to make a full rotation. But stars in the outer parts of a spiral galaxy should take much longer to rotate than stars closer to the center of a galaxy (just as planets in the outer solar system have much longer years than planets in the inner solar system). This differential rotation should spoil the spiral shape of a galaxy after after 500 million years. But such galaxies have apparently managed to keep these spiral shapes for many billions of years.

The “Protein Origin” Paradox. In a cell proteins are produced by little structures called ribosomes. But ribosomes are themselves made up largely of proteins. So if proteins are built by ribosomes which themselves require proteins, how could proteins ever have originated?

A ribosome, with its proteins shown in green

The Matter/Antimatter Asymmetry Paradox. The prevailing Big Bang theory of the universe's origin maintains that in its first minutes the universe consisted of highly energetic particles of energy (photons) packed together at a very high density. Whenever two very energetic photons collide, they produce equal amounts of matter and antimatter. The Big Bang therefore should have produced equal amounts of matter and antimatter. But in our universe we see abundant amounts of matter, but no naturally existing antimatter.  

The Short Lifetime of Synapse Proteins Paradox. The leading theory of memory storage maintains that memories are stored in synapses in the brain. However, it is known that the proteins that make up synapses have short lifetimes, having an average lifetime of no more than a few weeks. How could synapses be storing memories that can last for 50 years when all the matter inside synapses is being rapidly replaced, with such rapid turnover?

The Paradox of High Mental Function in Highly Damaged Brains. Our professors assert that our minds are produced purely by our brains. But it sometimes happens that humans have normal or almost normal mental functioning even though they have lost very much or most of their brains due to disease. See here for some examples.

The “You Need a Language to Establish a Language” Paradox. If the first language were ever to get established among humans, there would have to have been some process by which a complicated set of rules got promulgated and established among a group of people. But (as discussed here) it seems that no such rules could ever have been established and promulgated unless a language already existed.

The “Inferiority of Primitive Speech” Paradox. Before any language was spoken, humans would have lacked the vocal adaptions needed to speak in an intelligible manner. Before such adaptions existed, hand gestures would have been a greatly superior way of communicating. But why then could spoken speech ever have originated, and been used instead of a hand-gesture language? See here for more on this paradox.

Levinthal's Paradox. The proteins inside our bodies have complex three dimensional shapes. But in a DNA molecule that specifies the makeup of a protein, there is only a specification of the sequence of amino acids that make up the protein. Does a chain of amino acids somehow discover its three dimensional shape through some type of trial and error, settling on some shape with the lowest energy requirements? Not according to Levinthal's paradox, which points out that finding such an answer through trial and error would take many years – actually a length of time longer than the age of the universe. Instead a newly synthesized protein finds its characteristic 3D shape within a few minutes. The wikipedia article on this paradox inaccurately tells us that "the solution to this paradox has been established by computational approaches to protein structure prediction." This is not at all correct -- even using databases and high-speed computers, scientists can't accurately predict the 3D shapes of complex proteins (and cells don't have such databases and computers). 

The C-Value Paradox. There is no relation between the complexity of an organism and the size of its genome. Organisms much simpler than humans may have genomes larger than the human genome. For example, some amphibians and flowering plants have genomes 100 times larger than humans. Such a fact is completely at odds with the idea that the genome or DNA of an organism is some kind of blueprint for the organism.

The Natural Selection Paradox. Attempting to account for biological innovations, biologists offer as an explanation natural selection. But natural selection, which requires the existence of life, cannot account for one gigantic example of biological innovation: the origin of life itself. In fact, it seems that natural selection cannot in general explain any complex biological innovation, for the reason that such an innovation will not produce any survival benefit or reproduction benefit until it has already appeared.

The Paradox of Fast Retrieval of Old Memories. Accounting for short-term memory is relatively easy, since we can imagine that there is a kind of very small “scratch pad” storing things you learned in the last few minutes. A brain might be able to search that tiny little “scratch pad” very quickly. But how is it we are able to instantly remember information learned years ago, as contestants do so effectively on the TV show Jeopardy? If you have millions of items that you have learned, there would seem to be no way for you to instantly find an exact location in the brain where a memory was stored, nor would there be time within a few seconds to scan all of the items in your long-term memory to find a particular memory.

The Homochirality Paradox. Amino acids and sugars can exist in two forms: what are called left-handed forms and right-handed forms. The left-handed forms are kind of mirror images of the right-handed forms. In earthly life amino acids are all left-handed, and sugars needed for life are all right-handed. But when these chemicals are created through laboratory processes, they appear with left-handed versions and right-handed versions in equal numbers. The odds against life getting started with all amino acids left-handed and all sugars right-handed seem astronomical.

Paradoxes of the Origin of Sex. Sexual reproduction seems to offer no clear advantage over asexual reproduction. Also it is hard to imagine any progression that could have led to functional sexual organs that differ among males and females, as any change in the anatomy of one gender would be useless unless complemented with reciprocal changes in the other gender (with there being only an incredibly low chance of complementary random changes in both male and female occurring within a few generations).  For example, a mutation producing a little bit of a penis in an organism would not achieve fixation in the gene pool if it occurred when no organism in that species had any vagina; and vice versa.

The Cosmological Constant paradox. In outer space a vacuum is devoid of energy, as far as any astronaut is able to measure. But when quantum physicists add up the quantum contributions that should be made from what are called virtual particles, their calculations tell them that ordinary space should be very dense indeed – even denser than steel. This discrepancy between theory and observation is still unexplained.

The Double-Slit Paradox. The physical world outside of our bodies is supposed to be something existing independently of whether or not it is observed.. But one of the most famous experiments of modern physics suggests this may not be true. Experiments with passing light or electrons through a double slit consistently show an effect in which the outcome is completely different, depending on whether or not there is an observer.

Energy Conservation Paradoxes. It is supposedly a law of nature that mass-energy cannot be created or destroyed. This law is called the law of the conservation of mass-energy. But it seems that in the Big Bang, such a law must have been violated, with a huge amount of mass-energy suddenly coming into existence. Moreover, as the universe expands, more and more space comes into existence. We have been told many times that the expansion is not an expansion of matter within space, but an expansion of space itself. But every volume of space has its own tiny amount of energy, caused by a non-zero cosmological constant. This means that an expanding universe must constantly be leading to a creation of new space, and new mass-energy, with the total amount of mass-energy increasing every second. But how can this be, if there is a law saying mass-energy cannot be created or destroyed?

A web site discusses this issue:

What’s more, there is an energy associated with any given volume of the universe. If that volume increases, the inescapable conclusion is that this energy must increase as well. And yet physicists generally think that energy creation is forbidden. Baryshev quotes the British cosmologist, Ted Harrison, on this topic: “The conclusion, whether we like it or not, is obvious: energy in the universe is not conserved,” says Harrison. This is a problem that cosmologists are well aware of. And yet ask them about it and they shuffle their feet and stare at the ground.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

What Is the Most Preposterous Device in Science Fiction?

The world of science fiction is a world of strange and wonderful devices. Some of these machines are somewhat plausible, and others are very far-fetched. Let's look at some of these devices, moving from the fairly plausible towards the more unbelievable, ending up with the most unbelievable machine in the annals of science fiction.

A fairly plausible device is the hand-held energy-shooting device. In the Star Trek set of TV shows and movies, this takes the form of the phaser, a little ray gun. In the Star Wars movies the favorite hand-held energy device is the light saber. Given the progress man is making in developing high-energy lasers, both phasers and light sabers seem like something we may well see within a few centuries. Another type of very plausible device is the palm-sized communicator used in the original Star Trek series. We basically already have such a thing in the form of a cell phone.

Then there is the walking robot. In the Star Trek universe we see an example in the android named Data. In the Star Wars universe we see an example in the form of the walking android robot C-3PO. Neither are terribly implausible. It is very questionable whether we ever will have robots or computers that ever rival humans in intelligence. But we probably will one day have pretty good chat-bot software that could be hooked up with a robot body, resulting in something that allows a robot to talk in a way resembling human conversation. Since neither Data nor C-3PO really show any superhuman intelligence, such robots are not much of a strain on our credulity.

In the Star Wars universe, we have the large orbiting satellite called the Death Star, capable of destroying an entire planet. Such a device is not at all preposterous. A nation today could build a similar device, creating a huge satellite filled with nuclear weapons rather than some energy death ray. It is not much of a stretch to imagine a planet-destroying device that used a huge laser or pulsed-energy weapon.

In both Star Wars and Star Trek, we have hologram devices capable of projecting three-dimensional images that resemble human figures. In the Star Wars universe, this technology doesn't seem very sophisticated. But in the Star Trek universe, hologram technology is pushed to the max. Crew members of a space ship can enjoy something called a holodeck, which provides holographic simulations that include a surrounding landscape and three-dimensional figures that look just like real people. So if you're on a starship, you can walk into the holodeck, request a particular simulation, and then poof, it may suddenly be just as if you are on the beach on Tahiti, complete with scantily clad women surrounding you.

The basic idea isn't particularly unbelievable. If you were in a holograph room that included both holographic projectors on the floor, holographic projectors on the ceiling, and holographic projectors on the walls, we can imagine that this might create an illusion that made it appear just like you were in some entirely different place. The same technology could produce holograms resembling human figures. But in the Star Trek series, the holodeck users also seem to engage in tactile interactions with the holographic projections. A character may sit down on a holographic table, lie down on a holographic bed, or kiss and hug a holographic figure. I have no idea how such tactile interactions could occur using holographic technology. So we might put down Star Trek's holodeck device as something that is merely semi-plausible. 

A Star Trek gadget that seems increasingly plausible is the replicator device, capable of almost instantly producing any equipment or food.  The more 3D printing technology advances, the more plausible such a device seems. 

One staple of science fiction is the faster-than-light spaceship. In the Star Trek universe, we have something called a warp drive, that supposedly allows a spaceship to travel faster than the speed of light, by warping the space in front of the spaceship. In the Star Wars universe, spaceships travel faster-than-light by doing something called “jumping through hyperspace.” Although not totally preposterous, such devices are not very plausible. We know of no physics that would allow a spaceship to travel faster than light by warping space in front of it, nor do we know of any such thing as “hyperspace” that might allow spaceships to travel from star to star instantaneously. About the best you can say is that there conceivably could exist undiscovered physics that might allow such things to occur.

Both Star Wars and Star Trek seem to rely on a type of device that is never discussed: an artificial gravity generator. For example, in the Star Trek universe, characters walk around on a spaceship on which there is normal gravity just like we have on Earth. We know of a very simple method that will reliably generate artificial gravity in a spaceship. The spaceship can have a spinning component that generates artificial gravity by centrifugal force, like the Jupiter-bound spaceship in 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

 You can get artificial gravity with a design like this

But the spaceships in Star Wars and Star Trek seem to have no design that would generate artificial gravity by centrifugal force. Maybe the assumption is that the ships are using some type of artificial gravity generator. But we know of no way in which a device could ever generate artificial gravity without using centrifugal force. This seems an area in which our science fiction falls short in the credibility department.

But what is the most ridiculous device in any major science fiction series? Here the booby prize must be given not to anything in the Star Wars universe, but instead to something in the Star Trek universe. The most preposterous device in any major science fiction show is the transporter device used on the starship Enterprise.

In Star Trek the transporter supposedly works by doing three things:
  1. A scan is made that reveals the exact position of all molecules in the person being transported.
  2. Over the course of a few seconds, that person's body is then dematerialized.
  3. Over the course of a few seconds, the person's body is then rematerialized or reconstructed at some distant location.
This is basically a “destroy and reconstruct” algorithm. The scan part of the process seems unrealistic. How could some machine possibly determine the exact state of all of the particles inside your brain? We can get a blurry look inside someone's brain by doing an X-ray, although there is radiation exposure whenever that is done. The radiation exposure of some type of “precisely scan all particles inside the body” would probably be prohibitive. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle tells us that you cannot determine both the position and velocity of any particle, casting the greatest doubt on the possibility of doing a scan giving you the exact particle information corresponding to a body.

In Star Trek someone can be transported or “beamed” from the transporter room of one spaceship to the transporter room of another spaceship. That's not the most laughable absurdity, because at least in that case you have a transporter machine on each end of the transport, one machine doing the scanning and de-materialization, and the other transporter machine doing the reassembly of the body. But in Star Trek people are also transported from a transporter room to the surface of a planet (where there is no transporter device), and from the surface of a planet (where there is no transporter device) back to the transporter room. But how could the process needed for the “from the surface of the planet” transport possibly occur from the surface of a planet, where there is no machine there to do the scanning of the person's molecular state? And how could the process needed for the “to the planet surface” transport possibly occur on the surface of a planet, where there is no machine there to do the reassembly of the body from the scanned molecular state? It's like imagining that you are taking a train to the middle of some country that has no trains or train tracks.

Any transporter device like that in Star Trek would also be a body duplication device. For once someone's molecular state had been scanned and kept in a machine, there would be no need to discard that information. The same information could be used to recreate a new copy of someone who had died – or any number of copies of someone. The result would be ridiculous scenes like this:

Mr. Scott: Bad news, Captain Kirk. A monster on the planet attacked and devoured Mr. Spock.
Captain Kirk: Why do you think that's bad news? Use your head, Scotty! When we transported him down to the planet, we scanned his exact molecular state. Just use that stored state to reassemble him in the transporter room. He'll be as good as new, and have no memory of what happened.
Mr. Scott: How silly of me not to think of that!

When creating the Star Trek series, Gene Roddenberry could have avoided the nonsensical idea of transporting people by disassembling all their atoms and reassembling them. He could have come up with the idea of a “wormhole transporter” that would have achieved teleportation by having people move through a time-space wormhole. The idea would be that some machine would generate a spacetime wormhole between the transporter and some distant location, and that your body is propelled through the wormhole to end up in some distant spot, without your body ever getting disassembled and resassembled. Although relying on undiscovered physics, such a teleportation system would have avoided the most absurd aspects of Star Trek's transporter mechanism, such as the idea that a body could be reassembled on some distant planet without there even being an assembly device on that planet.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Why You Won't Ever See a Flesh-and-Blood Dinosaur

The Jurassic Park series of movies has been wildly successful. When such a movie series is seen by so many people, its underlying premise can work its way into our minds as a settled fact. In this case that's a shame, because there are very strong reasons for suspecting that the underlying premise of the Jurassic Park movies is not correct. There are very strong reasons for believing that we will never be able to recreate protoplasmic dinosaurs by discovering some bit of dinosaur DNA, and then leveraging that to create dinosaurs.

The basis premise of Jurassic Park was presented in a cute little animation near the beginning of the first movie. The animation depicted an insect that bit a dinosaur, and then got stuck in gooey amber, while a drop of dinosaur blood was still in its body. The amber then solidified to rock-like hardness, preserving the drop of dinosaur blood. The idea was that scientists then extracted the dinosaur's DNA, which they then used to create a flesh-and-blood dinosaur.

Such a scenario has an underlying assumption that was never explicitly stated in any of the movies: the assumption that the body plan of an organism is specified in the organism's DNA. Under this assumption, if we can find the DNA of a dinosaur, then we have all the information we need to recreate the dinosaur.

The idea that the body plan of an organism is stored in the DNA of its cells is a widespread assumption. But there is no proof that this assumption is correct, and there are very good reasons for believing that it is not correct.

The first reason is that the “language” used by DNA is a minimalist feature-poor language lacking any grammar or capability for expressing anything like a blueprint, a recipe, a program or an algorithm for making an organism. The language used by DNA is pretty much the poorest, most “bare bones” type of language you can imagine. It's a language unsuitable for purposes other than stating lists of chemicals.

For DNA to be able to specify a body plan, the language used by DNA would have to support either one of these two things: (1) a three-dimensional specification similar to a blueprint, specifying how particular parts fit together and are related to each other from a positional standpoint, or (2) a set of sequential instructions specifying how to build a three-dimensional structure, something similar to the complicated assembly instructions that come with do-it-yourself unit of furniture. To the best of our knowledge the simplistic little “bare bones” language used by DNA is utterly incapable of such sophisticated forms of expression.

Sandwich Language Bread, Turkey, Ham, Cheese, Lettuce, Tomato, Onion, Bacon Various types of sandwiches Anything that is not a sandwich
Exercise Language Jump, Crouch, Stretch, Punch, Lift, Bend, Squat, Spin Various types of exercises Anything that is not an exercise
DNA Language Alanine, Asparagine, Aspartic acid, Arginine, Cysteine, Glutamine,
Glycine, Glutamic acid, Histidine,
Lysine,Leucine, Phenylalanine, Methionine, Serine, Proline,
Tryptophan,Threonine, Tyrosine, Valine
Polypeptide sequences – a linear sequence of amino acids Anything that is not a polypeptide sequence, including the 3D shape of a protein, the shape of any body part, the body plan of any organism, or a behavior or instinct.

One of the simplest data structures you learn about in computer science is a stack. A stack is like a stack of cards in which each card has one particular piece of information. Complex hierarchical data cannot be represented with so simple an arrangement.

To get an idea of why DNA cannot store body plans, imagine you  have twenty boxes on a table. Each box has a particular type of card, and on each card is printed some part of a house. So there's a box full of cards each showing a single glass pane, and another box full of cards each showing a brick, and another box full cards each showing a wood beam, and another box full of cards each showing a tile, and so forth.

Now imagine you are trying to create a specification of a very complicated mansion. But you cannot lay the cards out on the floor. All you can do is put the cards in a single stack. You would quickly realize the impossibility of such a task. A one-dimensional thing such as a stack cannot represent complex three-dimensional information. For the same reasons, the stack that is the DNA molecule cannot be storing three-dimensional body plans.

The second reason for thinking that body plans are not stored in DNA is that even if DNA somehow did contain the extremely sophisticated instructions necessary for expressing body plans, there would be nothing in the human body capable of interpreting such instructions. It is never sufficient merely to have instructions capable of specifying some complicated output. You also need to have an instruction interpreter sophisticated enough to read those instructions and produce the complicated output. We know of nothing in the body that could be capable of creating three dimensional body outputs using any three-dimensional body plans if they happened to exist in DNA.

The third reason for thinking that body plans are not stored in DNA is that we have not discovered evidence that DNA stores either algorithmic information for constructing a human body, or any type of three-dimensional blueprint specifying the structure of a human body. For example, we have particular parts of DNA storing proteins used by the eye, but no part of DNA that lays out the very complicated three-dimensional structure of an eye.

A fourth reason for doubting that body plans are stored in DNA is that if body plans were stored in DNA, we should expect that the size of an organism's DNA should be proportional to the size and complexity of an organism. For the same reasons that the blueprints of a skyscraper use much more paper than the blueprints for a house, under a “DNA has the body plan” assumption we should think that the human DNA is much bigger than the size of, say, any flowering plant. But astonishingly, the opposite is true. The chart here shows the relative size of the DNA in different organisms. We see that the size of the DNA (in base pairs) in mammals is much smaller than the size of the DNA of many amphibians and flowering plants. We see on this logarithmic chart that the DNA of some amphibians and flowerings plants holds ten times more information than the DNA of humans. This discrepancy is know as the C-Value Paradox.

A related comparison is the number of genes in the DNA. According to this link, rice has between 32,000 and 50,000 genes, while humans have only about 20,000 genes. That's the opposite of what we would expect if DNA stored body plans.

These reasons powerfully argue that DNA does not store the body plan of a complex organism such as a human or a dinosaur. On page 26 of the recent book The Developing Genome, Professor David S. Moore states, "The common belief that there are things inside of us that constitute a set of instructions for building bodies and minds -- things that are analogous to "blueprints" or "recipes" -- is undoubtedly false." Biologist Rupert Sheldrake says this about this issue:

DNA only codes for the materials from which the body is constructed: the enzymes, the structural proteins, and so forth. There is no evidence that it also codes for the plan, the form, the morphology of the body.

''A gene makes a protein and that's about it,'' states biologist Brian Goodwin. ''It doesn't tell you how proteins interact, how cells and tissues communicate, how organs come into being, how an immune system forms, or how evolution works.'' 

In a 2016 scientific paper, three scientists state the following:

It is now clear that the genome does not directly program the organism; the computer program metaphor has misled us...The genome does not function as a master plan or computer program for controlling the organism; the genome is the organism's servant, not its master. 

The myth that DNA stores a complete blueprint of an organism is actually six levels removed from reality. To show that DNA stores a complete blueprint for an organism, you would have to establish this chain of assertions:

  1. You would need to establish that DNA actually specifies the three-dimensional shapes of proteins.
  2. You would need to establish that DNA specifies a blueprint for particular cells.
  3. You need need to establish that DNA specifies a blueprint for particular tissues.
  4. You would need to establish that DNA specifies a blueprint for particular organs.
  5. You would need to establish that DNA specifies a blueprint for particular organ systems.
  6. You would need to establish that DNA specifies a blueprint for particular organisms.

None of these things have been done – not even the simplest one, the first of these six. Scientists have been trying for decades to solve what is called the protein folding problem, the problem of how proteins get their 3D shapes. It has still not been proven that such shapes are determined solely by the linear sequence of amino acids in the proteins. DNA does not even seem to specify the 3D shapes of a protein molecule. How could it, when the impoverished DNA language doesn't have any capability for stating three-dimensional positions?

If DNA does not store the body plan of an organism, we will never be able to resurrect dinosaurs by using some recovered dinosaur DNA. Nor will it be possible to ever create a flesh-and-blood dinosaur through any possible artificial manipulations of DNA. We may have great fun in parks filled with robotic dinosaurs, but they won't be flesh-and-blood organisms like us. 

If you see this, you'll know it's a robot

Whether we will be able to resurrect dinosaurs isn't all that interesting a question. A far more interesting question raised by these questions is the fundamental question: where are the body plans of organisms stored?

The answer we must give to this question is: we don't know. We have every reason to suspect that the secrets of life are far deeper than the average biologist suspects, and that we are far very indeed from uncovering such secrets.

Imagine a little child who is given a palm-sized digital device. The child may make simplistic assumptions about the device, such as the idea that all of its functionality is contained inside it, and that the device stores every item that the child sees when she uses the device. But the truth is vastly more complex. The device is connecting with a grand mysterious external infrastructure that the child knows nothing about : the Internet.

Similarly, life itself may involve a mysterious connection with some grand cosmic information infrastructure utterly beyond our current understanding. Somewhere within such an infrastructure may be stored the body plans of organisms that cannot be expressed by the poor man's language of DNA, with its impoverished vocabulary of 20 nouns (all chemicals).

The absurdity of calling DNA “the secret of life” (as if it had all the information needed to explain an organism) becomes clear when we consider that an organism is something vastly more than just a body plan. Every organism is a continuous symphony of operations needed to maintain the organism. Just as you don't explain the music coming from the performance of a symphony by just giving a physical specification of the musical instruments and an orchestral seating plan, a body plan would never explain the biology going on inside an organism. DNA not have the body plan of the organism, nor does it have the information for the fantastically complicated interactions needed for the organism to keep living.

Rather than being "the secret of life,"  DNA must be only one of many secrets of life.  Some of the most important of those secrets have not been discovered.  We still have not discovered the secret of life that might explain where body plans come from and how they are stored.