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Cancer, Evolution and the Nature of Nature: Part 2 

Today I offer a simple explanation of cancer. It’s far bigger than just cancer because it’s a basic truth of all life:

The problem with cancer cells is that they are doing what they want to do. All the chemotherapy in the world will only strengthen their resolve to do it with more gusto. 

Cancer is not essentially about malfunctioning genes or broken parts. Those things are real, but they are symptoms, not the problem. If you want to cure cancer, start by making cancer cells want to go back to being a cooperative part of you. 

In other words, curing cancer is not a matter of fixing broken parts. It’s actually more like persuading the parts to cooperate.

This might seem like common sense, yet in most of the medical profession, talking about cancer cells (or any cells) as though they are living beings with wants and desires will get you dismissed. What most people don’t notice, though, is that somewhere in the tree of life we still have to start admitting that there’s a point at which life is a “being” and not just a “thing.” 

As my friend Doug Mitchell, a Medical Doctor, said: “If all the cells in my body are just wind-up toys, it gets hard to explain how *I* am not just a wind-up toy.”

Some people do believe we are wind-up toys (Sam Harris for example). But the funny thing is, people resent it when you treat them like wind-up toys. If you don’t believe me, try it. 

Next time you have a disagreement with someone, try saying “Yeah, well your genes probably programmed you to be a republican / bricklayer / ill-mannered slob. It’s not like you have a choice in the matter, so what’s the point in explaining anything to you?” 

Then watch how they react.

I don’t know about your friends, but all the folks I know like to be treated in conversations and daily life as though they have genuine thoughts, opinions and choices.

This isn’t only about humans. It extends to all life, and there has always been a great number of biologists who, despite fads, dictums or political correctness, agree that all things from single cells on up are agents with the ability to choose and act and construct their environments. Frankly I think this is the only perspective that actually makes sense.

The problem is that it’s hard to square with the “Newtonian science” view of the world, which for 300 years has presumed that everything in the universe is simply an outgrowth of fixed universal laws. The more “educated” you are about science, the harder it is to see the world any other way. 

Yet the “Newtonian” view has never managed to explain how life works or where it comes from, and for a century, its failures have grown more apparent with each passing year. The list of things it fails to account for is endless. (Start with “where does code come from” – it only gets worse from there.) 

It’s time for a new view. But it’s really the old view! It reaches back to the ancient Greeks. My place is simply to add rigor to what we’ve already known for 2500 years.

Several of my own contributions to the world turn cause and effect on its head. My re-working of the 80/20 Principle appeared in Harvard Business Review in 2018 with new mathematics. Most people won’t care much about the math, which is entirely understandable. But a quick look at the Amazon reviews of 80/20 Sales and Marketing demonstrates a great number of people who suddenly saw the world in a whole new way. 

Once you see it, you can’t un-see it. 80/20, rather than being a ‘biz school rule of thumb’ is a fundamental law of cause and effect. It’s everywhere and it’s fractal, meaning there’s an 80/20 inside every 80/20. Thousands of entrepreneurs have used the 80/20 Curve to find holes in pricing strategies, make their businesses more profitable and make simple changes that make a big difference.

Similarly, Biology Transcends the Limits of Computation transforms the conventional understanding of cause and effect. Except this addresses the relationship between life and the non-living matter that it is constructed from.

At first glance this may seem heady and philosophical. But it has everything to do with how we treat disease. My mom struggled with bipolar and mild schizophrenia. She spent 30 years of her life slicing pills into tiny little pieces, spiraling into either mania or depression if she took a smidgen too little or much. 

Everybody knows we have an epidemic of opioid abuse; one of my colleagues overdosed a few years ago at age 38 after a long battle with addiction. Everyone knows the pharmaceutical industry is hardwired to hook us on a lifetime subscription to some drug or another. 

Yet when I’m not feeling well, a $95 trip to my acupuncturist solves the problem much of the time – as several friends who’ve suffered from chronic pain and fatigue can attest. I don’t know that we understand why Chinese medicine works. But that doesn’t keep it from working very well, thank you very much. 

“Holistic” medicine (acupuncture, chiropractic, functional medicine) is the red-headed stepchild of the medical profession. Cynics accuse these fields of being “woo woo.” But would there be 50,000 chiropractic clinics in the United States, with most patients paying out of their own pockets, if their treatments didn’t work? Witness “wisdom of crowds” in action.

The holistic view asserts that the body is a marvelous, self-regulating, intrinsically purposeful entity; systems within systems that support the whole. It has a particular way it wants to be, and mostly takes care of itself. The holistic view is emphatic that the body is not a machine. In all healing, the body does the heavy lifting. We just assist with our meager efforts.

The “reductionist” (non-holistic) view insists life is nothing more than a machine, that the whole is merely a sum of its parts. And if we study the parts closely enough, we will automatically understand the whole. 

The non-holistic view has the advantage that all of the “parts” are (at least allegedly) quantified and measurable. This view is no doubt successful. Nobody can appreciate this more than an engineer like myself, because reductionism works even better in engineering than it does in medicine.

The processor chip that runs your phone or computer was perfectly modeled on a computer before it was built and it works in the real world exactly the way theory said it would. With 99.999% accuracy.

But any engineer also understands that analysis is not design. All the analysis in the world will never build you an airplane. So engineers more than most people appreciate that reductionism only gives you half the story. 

This is why one is hard pressed to find any drug that actually cures any disease. Drugs manage symptoms. They are band-aids. Rarely do they deal with root causes.

This is why there has long been a war in science. What I’m going to show over the next several installments is that reductionism is not “wrong” as though people who use it need to apologize for their mistakes. Within its proper purview, it works extremely well. However, it is very incomplete, and living things cannot be fully understood without thinking in terms of wholes. 

The news is that there is now hard proof for this, and it is mathematical. It says the “bottom-up” view of the world contains an inherent contradiction. It shows that biology does nine specific things that computers by definition can never do. Machines die no matter how hard we try to keep them alive. Life stays alive no matter how hard we try to kill it.

This new paper which I published in Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology offers a mathematical proof that accounts for a 100 year impasse in science and how we can escape from it, by unifying six major scientific questions under a single framework.

These questions are:

  1. How is it possible that cancer cells out-maneuver any therapy we throw at them?
  2. Where did life come from?
  3. Where did the genetic code come from?
  4. What is consciousness and where does it come from?
  5. How can we create AI that is genuinely smart and doesn’t need constant babysitting?
  6. Given that Microsoft needs thousands of talented programmers to issue software updates, how is it that bacteria and viruses evolve with zero help from anybody? 

I don’t believe these are six questions. They are one question. The question is: 

What is choice and where does it come from?

Where do novelty and creativity come from? (Not just in evolution but in anything, including art, literature and technology.)

Or to phrase it a different way: How does any whole – a whole cell, a whole organism – exercise control over its own parts in order to maintain itself, survive and thrive?

Not only have these questions evaded the finest minds in history, answers to any of the above will be a Nobel Prize level breakthrough. Much rides on this, because the US government alone has spent a quarter trillion dollars on its war on cancer, and not improved patient outcomes by much. 

Real AI doesn’t even exist yet. (We can and should be asking whether we really want real AI in the first place; that’s debatable.) But if you’re concerned about that, this paper should alleviate some of your concerns because it proves computers in their current form will never achieve it. 

In Part 3 I ask: When is AI good? And when is AI the dumbest idea in the world?

Cancer, Evolution and the Nature of Nature: Part 1

When I was in high school, I was in the basement on a hot summer afternoon when I heard my dad arrive early from work. He walked through the door and broke sad news to my mom:

Betty, the cancer is back. 

Two years earlier, he’d been diagnosed with cancer in his kidney. After surgery, the doctors said they’d nipped it in the bud. We breathed a sigh of relief.

But now the second time around I listened from the bottom of the stairs as my mom went to pieces. Mom became hysterical and was an emotional wreck for the next several months.

It didn’t take a genius to see that dad’s outlook was not rosy. Eventually he got accepted into a special treatment program at Johns Hopkins in Bethesda Maryland. This brought three unexpected dramas for me. 

The first drama was the fierce roller coaster of hope and despair that befalls cancer patients and their families. I battled depression my entire junior year of high school. 

The second was that while my parents went to Bethesda, a college professor and his wife took me and my brother in for a month. Living with a different family and their two daughters was a remarkable growing-up experience. 

My dad was a minister, and the third surprise was that our faith community sent out a secret fundraising letter: “Bob has never been to the west coast and he has terminal cancer. If you’d like to send Bob, Betty and the family on a special vacation, contribute and let’s help them enjoy their final days together in a memorable way.” 

They broke the news to my parents on a Sunday night. $11,000 had come in and someone loaned their luxury van. To us, this was a princely sum of money. There was not a dry eye in the place. Their generosity funded a 5-week tour of every state west of Nebraska – including Alaska and Hawaii. I had never been west of Colorado so this was special indeed. We took the photo above on that vacation.

During our trip, we had ample time to process and plan for “life after dad.” The vistas of Alaska and the painted deserts of New Mexico were breathtaking, but our days were punctuated with reminders that dad was slipping away. He took painkillers on regular intervals, with rising discomfort as the most recent dose would fade. Bedtime triggered coughing that often lasted an hour before he fell asleep.

His treatments at Johns Hopkins, sophisticated though they were, did not succeed. The cancer spread and his voice became hoarse. Three months after our vacation, he passed.

Having first lost dad when I was 17, then witnessing numerous friends and mentors being taken away by cancer; now having organized a symposium on Cancer & Evolution with some of the world’s most respected scientists… I can’t help but ask:

Are cancer cells flat out smarter than any oncologist or scientist? Or is this just an illusion, a story that we tell ourselves? 

Answer: I don’t believe cancer cells appear to be smart or simply act as though they are smart. I believe cancer cells are smart. To a startling degree.

But “smart” is a category that mainstream science doesn’t know what to do with. In fact a large part of the profession has been in denial of this for 100 years. The field has evolved an entire terminology to evade the purposiveness of life… all the way down to the dictum that every scientific paper should be written in passive voice (which makes for a lot of dreadful reading). 

But far worse, it obscures cause and effect.

As a result, research is beset by what appears to be a thicket of seemingly unrelated questions, cancer being one of many. Some people even define cancer itself as “100 different diseases, all under the same name.” But I believe a whole range of science’s deepest mysteries are all the same question – the question of purpose

The technical term for this is “agency” – the capacity to act with intent. The very question that materialistic science has tried to avoid for a century.

My new paper in Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology offers a mathematical proof that accounts for this 100 year impasse in science, and how we can escape from it – while unifying six major scientific questions under a single framework. All are Big Questions.

When I say proof, I use the word in the formal mathematical sense – which is an important detail. Science can only disprove; mathematics proves, using pure logic. 

As I say in the paper: 

“If it can be proven that information or mathematics itself cannot be reduced to computation, then such a proof would shake the very foundations of science itself. It would mean that science’s goal of defining rules for everything is impossible. This paper provides such a proof.”

In Part 2 I’ll explain why, far from being some philosophical or academic abstraction, this offers a completely different way of viewing our familiar world, and engineering new solutions to old dilemmas.

This discovery is key to very practical problems… like our medical profession’s failure so far to find a cure for cancer.

Hear the Incredible Rob Berkley: His final interview

Rob Berkley left this earth December 2019 as a result of cancer. 58. Rob was THE most empathic and warm-hearted individual in the entire marketing space (I’m not exaggerating). When you would sit down with him you would feel his warmth focusing on you like an infrared heat lamp.

He was one of my most valuable business advisors. Being trained by him and Victor Cheng was like having Oprah and Stephen Hawking together in the same room.

Stormy weather nearly prevented me from making his memorial at Martha’s Vineyard, but I managed to snag the boat ride and I’ll never forget the December 18 solstice sun streaming through the windows at his somber yet joyful gathering.

The other thing I will never forget is meeting his wife Debbie for the first time, right there at his memorial service. I had heard much about her, and she had heard about me, but we had never crossed paths.

I approached her in their kitchen and introduced myself. “Perry! I am so delighted to meet you!” She faced me squarely, looked deep into my eyes and connected, human to human. I instantly felt the jolt of her conviction and aliveness. She wrapped her arms around me, embraced me and welcomed me as though I were a friend of 25 years. Her energy was so palpable I was momentarily startled.

It only makes sense that Rob would marry a woman like Debbie.

Today I would like to share Rob’s last interview with you: a very candid conversation between Rob, Debbie and their caregiver and collaborator Meredith, describing humility and courage in the face a terminal diagnosis:

Read PDF transcript

 

 

Origin of Life & Evolution: Proof these questions don’t have answers

Why does the world need both mathematical proof AND a $10 million prize verifying that we have failed to answer biology’s most basic questions? Why does the world need a science paper like “Biology transcends the limits of computation”? This video explains.

View the paper online in Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology at
https://www.​sciencedirect.​com/science/article/pii/S0079610721000365

How To Halt Cancer at “Stage NEGATIVE 1” – Azra Raza

Today if you’re diagnosed with Stage 3 or Stage 4 cancer, your chances of surviving are no better than if you lived in 1930. But your chances are 100 times better when catch it early.

What if you could catch cancer SUPER early – years before any obvious indication of a problem?

And what if you could then solve the problem at its roots so it never recurs at all?

Azra Raza is an oncologist at Colombia University and author of The First Cell: The Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last. Here she describes the First Cell Project. This is a collaboration with world class cancer researchers who have discovered how to identify “Giant Cells” that PREDATE and predict the generation of tumors YEARS in advance.

You’ll be privy to the incredibly moving story of Andrew, her daughter’s best friend who died of brain cancer at age 24… and the systemic problems that continue to plague the cancer field and repeat the tragedy of Andrew. Here we discuss why only outsiders will solve these problems.

WEBSITE LINKS:
www.azraraza.com
www.firstcellcenter.com

Be sure and watch my previous interview with Azra Raza at www.evo2.org/azra – it’s a barn burner and provides important background that gives rich context to this new discussion.

Institute for InterGroup Understanding reviews Evolution 2.0

George Halvorson, founder of the Institute for InterGroup Understanding, reviewed Evolution 2.0.

He writes:

“I had the opportunity to function as the CEO of a small hospital system and then a larger hospital system. We did some things in those settings to make care better and safer for patients.

That was an extremely useful learning experience.

As a believer in classic Darwinism, I saw how hard it was for us to Read more »

The Bible Was Written FOR Us But Not TO US

Biblical Scholar Dr. Michael Heiser reveals a very important piece of information about how the Bible was written which directly impacts how we interpret it; The Bible was written FOR us but not TO us.

While this simple fact does not undermine the impact of the Bible on our lives, it does alter the lens that we read, interpret and ultimately apply through. 

Take the explanation of wealth as an example. Read more »

New Contest Submission for $10M Prize

Dmitry Kukuruznyak

We get a significant number of submissions for the Evolution 2.​0 Prize. Unfortunately, most of them do not even come close. However, some make very respectable attempts to reframe the problem and this new entry by Dmitry Kukuruznyak  is above average. Dmitry is a physicist from Russia and I often find that, for some reason, physicists often bring a blend of artistry and rigor to these questions. He explores whether there might be a blurry boundary between life and non-life and has a lot of good observations about the unique characteristics of biology. You will also find detailed explorations of emergent properties in chemistry. His submission is followed by a thoughtful response from my research team explaining what he has and hasn’t achieved thus far. It is not without its problems but it raises good questions.

You can explore other past submissions, several of which are extremely interesting, here. Finally, don’t miss the interview I had last year on the Unbelievable? show with world renowned chemist Lee Cronin who assured us that he is someday going to win this prize.

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