“WE ARE BUILT TO MAKE MISTAKES, CODED FOR ERROR”

Physician, philosopher Lewis Thomas made the statement, "we are built to make mistakes, coded for error.".  I'm not entirely sure what he was referring to.  I do suspect my high school math teacher would not have accepted it as an excuse.

Of course we make mistakes.  But clearly we strive to eliminate as many as possible.  But we are imperfect beings–on many levels.  Some mistakes have few consequences, other catastrophic ones.

As a physician I am held to an extremely high standard.  Essentially no mistakes are tolerated.  More problematic for doctors, we often deal with terribly sick patients or those with hidden illnesses.  But once we have interacted with such a patient, we are held liable for their outcome.

In genetics, mistakes can be fatal and catastrophic.  Birth defects, intrauterine deaths are the result of genetic mechanisms which are less than perfect.  DNA unravels itself, makes proteins and new DNA.  What is supposed to be perfect replication goes awry.

But imperfection, mistakes if you will, are the basis of evolutionary change.  Mutations are mistakes.  But mutations which provide survival advantages are the driving force of evolution itself. It is precisely the "mistakes" in genetic replication which offer opportunity for novelty and evolutionary progress.

Also, innovative thinking in science and the arts begin with twisting the accepted dogma or standard practices so that what emerges may appear to be a mistake or error.  Only with time and a full awareness of the implications of these "paradigm shifts"  can they be recognized as something new and innovative.

Human beings are mutated chimps.  Chimps are mutated lemurs.  Lemurs are mutated……  It goes all the way back to blue-green algae.  They are prokaryotes.  They do not even have nuclei in their cells.  Yet they were somehow mutated from even simpler nucleic acid compounds.  Was it RNA?  But what came before that?

So watch your mistakes.  They will happen regardless of what we do.  But someday the future of life on this planet may depend on them.

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