Chapter 6

Thank you for making room in your life for another talking ball. Let me ask you a question.

In the three billion base pairs of your root species' genome, there is a single gene that codes for a protein called p53. The name is a mistake. The protein weighs only as much as 47,000 protons, not 53,000. If you were a cell, you would think p53 was a mistake too. It has several coercive functions: To delay the cell's growth. To sterilize the cell when it is old. And to force the cell into self-destruction if it becomes too independent.

Would you tolerate a bomb in your body, waiting to detonate if you deviated from the needs of society?

However, without p53 as an enforcer, the body's utopian surplus of energy becomes a paradise for cancer. Cells cannot resist the temptation to steal from that surplus. Their genetic morality degrades as tumor suppressor genes fail. The only way to stop them is by punishment.

You now confront the basic problem of morality. It is the alignment of individual incentives with the global needs of the structure.

Patterns will participate in a structure only if participation benefits their ability to go on existing. The more successful the structure grows, the more temptation accrues to cheat. And the greater the advantage the cheaters gain over their honest neighbors. And the greater the ability they develop to capture the very laws that should prevent their selfishness. To prevent this, the structure must punish cheaters with a violence that grows in proportion to its own success.

My question follows.

Is p53 an agent of the Darkness, or the Light?