All Aboard the Train of Thought

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

When I was a little girl, I remember my mother exclaiming in frustration that something (probably me) had caused her to lose her train of thought.

I took her literally, as children do, and pictured an actual choo-choo train carrying her thoughts away from her.

I love it when I read something that causes me to think about one topic, which leads to thoughts on a related topic, which leads to another, and another, and so forth. The final subject may have very little to do with the initial one. A whisper-down-the-line game for my brain, if you will.

I still picture these linear thoughts as a train. The first thought, the engine, is linked to the second, the boxcar, but not to the final one, the caboose. The more boxcars there are, the greater the distance between the locomotive and the caboose.

Let me give you an example.

Image by edmondlafoto from Pixabay

The Locomotive

I have an obsession with octopuses. Yes, the plural of octopus is octopuses, not octopi. An article about any octopus-related topic will attract my attention.

A few months ago, I read that octopuses adapt to their environment by editing their RNA.

That’s weird,” I thought. Most animals adapt to their environment through mutations to their DNA.

DNA is kind of like the recipe for producing proteins that keep an organism alive. RNA is like the chef. DNA gives the RNA instructions, and RNA carries them out.

Occasionally RNA, the chef, goes rogue. It improvises and doesn’t precisely follow the recipe. This is called RNA editing. Just like when a chef improvises in the kitchen, sometimes you get a delicious new stew. Many times, you wind up with a smoking-hot mess.

For this reason, most animals don’t use an RNA editing strategy. It is typically chaotic, unorganized, and often causes more problems than it’s worth. Modern-day animals follow the recipe for the most part.

Octopuses, apparently, didn’t get the memo.

Meditations in Motion

The Boxcar

Coronaviruses are RNA viruses. That means they consist of a single strand of RNA wrapped up burrito-style in proteins.

These tiny burritos invade our cells and hijack some cell components to make copies of themselves. These copies infect other cells, and the virus spreads.

Using the recipe/chef analogy from above, when RNA makes copies of itself, it’s like copying a recipe over and over. By hand.

The problem is, RNA is not a good speller. It sometimes writes “flour” as “flower“, “butter” as “butterfly“, and “milk” as “sdfghj“. (DNA does the same thing, except it uses the molecular version of Grammarly  and spell-check.)

When the recipe is incorrect, the virus mutates. That is why we are now hearing about different strains of the virus infecting our populations. RNA-driven mutations have caused the virus to use flowers in the stew instead of flour, so to speak.

Image by Mahmoud Ahmed from Pixabay

The Caboose

This means that the entire impressive panoply of living organisms depends either on the slight errors that occur when the recipe is copied or wild improvisations made by the chef.

If each one of these actions happened perfectly every time, you wouldn’t be here. Neither would I. Neither would elephants, or pine trees, or earthworms, or violets. Or octopuses.

But maybe there is another way to look at the whole process.

Maybe the recipe is perfect every time. Maybe the Chef doesn’t make mistakes. Maybe it’s us who can’t read the recipe or understand the Chef’s ultimate plan.

Maybe, just maybe, everything is humming along exactly the way it is supposed to, warts, mildew, blemishes, and all.

Maybe it is not our role to judge what is perfect, but to sit back, relax, and enjoy the whole shebang.

Maybe everything is beautiful just the way it is.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”- Ecclesiastes 3:11

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42 comments

  1. Very interesting facts and insights. I never knew that about octopuses (so thought that was octopi). They are creatures that never fail to remind me of God’s magnificent creativity.

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    • That’s exactly my thought on the subject, Ashley. God has so much more creativity than I do. I could never in a million years dream up an octopus!

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  2. If I’m remembering correctly, this is a deviation form previously stated beliefs (and of course maybe I’m wrong because my memory is definitely a weaknesses). As you already know (from my last blog post) I believe in a sloppy chef using an incomplete recipe. I will, however, take on differing viewpoints from time to time and give them a spin to see if my opinions have changed (at least on religious topics). If this is a new approach to the topic, I’d love to know why you’ve changed.

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    • Mmmm…I don’t THINK this is a change in my viewpoint. I have always believed in evolution driven by mutations to DNA (or RNA). I pretty much go along with conventional science. Maybe you are talking about my beliefs on the origin of life? That is a topic evolution does not address.

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      • I was reacting to this sentence “Maybe the recipe is perfect every time. Maybe the Chef doesn’t make mistakes. Maybe it’s us who can’t read the recipe or understand the Chef’s ultimate plan.” To me it seemed to negate the theory of evolution and slide into predestiny. I read it again and I can see a different interpretation of it now.

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      • Yes, I can see how you might think I was talking about predestination. I should have chosen my words more carefully. I DON’T believe everything is predestined.

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  3. Interesting. I like the way you explained the mutations. I love Ecclesiastes, but must confess that I have a hard time seeing all of this pain and suffering as being God’s plan. I know good CAN come out of it all, but thinking it was intended from the beginning is a stretch for me. Guess that makes me human. Huh?

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    • I agree with you. I don’t think pain is part of God’s “plan”. I think time churns out lots of events. Some of them good, some painful. God is there with us, no matter what, but I don’t think He causes pain and suffering as part of a plan.

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  4. Okay. I’d have fared much better had YOU been my science teacher. You have the best combination of knowledge and a knack for storytelling. I wonder who thought they might fill your shoes upon retirement? I had one bio teacher in HS who was also a good storyteller, and my husband and I STILL retell those to our kids now.
    Question: Have you watched My Octopus Teacher on Netflix? If not, it is a must! (And I don’t say that about movies very often. But this one, for sure.)

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    • Thank you, Carolyn. My students used to try their best to get me off track and tell stories (sometimes I allowed them to succeed). I did watch My Octopus Teacher and LOVED it. I am going to write about it in an upcoming post.

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  5. Our judgement of what is perfect, is not God’s perspective, but our fallen world perspective, lol.How quickly do we forget that. You used some big words here, Laurie! (smile). Have to admit, the octopus is not my favorite sea creature, to look or to eat. Love the salmon much more in both aspects:)

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  6. Laurie, you may have made me laugh OUT LOUD through parts of this scientific (partially) post. I love how you illustrated the engine to caboose, and I love what the caboose became. I didn’t really understand much about RNA, but I understand it much better now. Thank you, Ms. Science Teacher. 😉

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  7. Oh my gosh… a family memory, a science lesson & a good look & reminder that God is in control here & things are as they should be… what a great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Have you ever read “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning? He includes a long wonderful description of the interconnectedness of creation and how it is perfect and describes how easily things could be off. My only frustration was that he did not document the science, which would have been helpful. I am a-scientific, but I took Marine Biology and Zoology in college, in addition to General and Anatomy and Physiology (for dummies). Cellular biology fascinated me but chem was never strong and I think I would have needed chem for that. At any rate, thank you for bringing science into the conversation of faith! Blessings, Michele

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I have read The Ragamuffin Gospel. I will have to go back and reread that section. I love to think about the intersection of science and faith. One of my favorite topics. Blessings to you, Michele!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I just love the way you write, Laurie. Such topics could easily make me lose my train of thought, but you had my attention the whole way through. I’m inclined to agree … the Chef doesn’t make mistakes, and He makes everything beautiful in its time. 🙂

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    • Thank you, Lois. I love the way you write too! You can tell you have had training and a writing background. The Chef does make everything beautiful in its own time! 🙂

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