Michael Graves, class of '56, was the most famous graduate of the University of Cincinnati's School of Architecture. Michael Was, was the 'stable genius,' of our, class of '68. His design projects always received the highest marks, not only for their aesthetics but because of their intriguing concept theme. Therefore it came as no surprise that Michael a QUEEN Of Clubs, "Mother of Intuition," would self-publish a book, that traces the science of who we are from the Big Bang to the Genome to Jung to the Deck of Cards. 'Why Can't We Agree' - Michael Was.
As an architect, it’s always enjoyable to learn what a client wants, then apply that awareness to designing an attractive residence that fits a budget and conditions of the property. The process of meeting those needs while creating a building shape is actually fun. But after the conceptual design phase, the real work begins—developing detailed plans to guide construction. In the old days such plans were drawn by hand. Computers make the work easier now. Yet it’s still a big challenge to produce the necessary drawings and specs to anticipate potential problems and get it all right.
Thus, I am in awe of life’s method for guiding the ongoing construction of complex organisms by means of protein strings encased in almost every living cell. Incredibly, those tiny proteins hold the complete plans for each organism using a genetic code that is spelled out with just four different chemical ‘bases’ repeated in various combinations to form instructions—the ‘genome’—for building a particular organism. For human beings, the genome for how we are built is a long protein string (a ‘polynucleotide’) containing 3.2 billion bases. All of that chemical information is coiled up in a molecule that’s smaller than a pin point. No doubt, you are familiar with some of the amazing features of DNA, so we need not go into great detail discussing how it allows life to reproduce by transmitting specific genetic information that can be adapted from one generation to the next. If you want to learn more about DeoxyriboNucleic Acid (DNA), as well as its cousin RiboNucleic Acid (RNA), you can read about ‘DNA’ or ‘RNA’ from many sources on the internet. But what we will focus on here is the way that DNA’s four bases: A, C, G, T (or in the case of RNA: A, C, G, U) carry out the same four-way pattern of functional traits as exhibited by life’s ‘Big Four’ elements.
Life’s Four-Letter Genetic Code: A, C, G, T
I’ve used the term ‘Big Four’ to describe hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, since they are the only four elements used in forming the four chemical bases in either RNA or DNA. Each of DNA’s nucleobases (‘bases’)—which are named Adenine (A), Cytosine (C), Guanine (G), Thymine (T), as well as RNA’s Uracil (U)—are compounds that contain only hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, or oxygen. And the coincidence of just four elements making up four bases that carry out life’s genetic code— in either DNA or RNA—was what intrigued me (see there Michael goes on another stable genius quest) to look for a pattern in how they function.
Yes, RNA is a complication for explaining this nice and easy. But if you Google it, you’ll see that DNA operates something like an advanced and more stable version of RNA. Here’s how they work: DNA makes RNA, which then makes proteins. All three of these huge molecules—DNA, RNA, and proteins—play essential roles in guiding the biochemistry of organisms, but at different stages. Genetic information is safely carried by the double-stranded macromolecule DNA. When a cell divides, DNA also divides to form an identical copy of the genome. But within a cell, DNA can also be transcribed into a single-stranded RNA version that is more efficient for building complex proteins. Among the distinctions between double-stranded DNA and single-stranded RNA is that one of their nucleobases is different: DNA uses Thymine (T) as one of its four bases, but in RNA this same role is held by Uracil (U). Yet the other three bases (A, C, G) are consistent in both DNA and RNA.
To make this as easy as possible, let’s forget about RNA for the time being. After we check out characteristics of A, C, and G, you’ll be better prepared to consider why life safeguards the genome by using Thymine in DNA, but retains Uracil in RNA for its virtuosity in chemical synthesis. Note, however, that as we discuss traits of either DNA’s or RNA’s bases, we want to grasp how these bases functionally influence a variety of chemical tasks in all sorts of living organisms.
So again, DNA’s four nucleobases are compounded from just four chemical elements. The molecular formulae of the bases are: Adenine C5H5N5, Cytosine C4H5N3O, Guanine C5H5N5O, and Thymine C5H6N2O2. Let’s apply what we know about the functional roles of the ‘Big Four’ elements to hypothesize functional skills for these bases, drawing our speculation from the quantities of various elements in these compounds.
“And that’s it? You’re going to draw conclusions about the functional roles of A, C, G, and T from only the amounts of various elements in their recipes? You’re not going to base it on what these bases actually do?”
Hold your horses. I’ll get to that. I’m merely playing a detective game. I’m exploring whether or not the composition of various elements could predispose a compound toward specializing in one of four categories of chemical work.
Looking at the chemical formulae for the four bases, we see that except for Adenine they contain all of the ‘Big Four’ elements—but Adenine has no oxygen. This suggests that Adenine is not well suited for Adapting, but instead is employed for its Stabilizing skills. All of the bases contain nitrogen, but the one with the least amount of nitrogen is Thymine. This hints at Thymine representing the Bonding function, similar to hydrogen. And Thymine does contain more hydrogen than the other bases. Of the two remaining bases Guanine has more nitrogen, so perhaps this base handles a Separating function, much like nitrogen. That leaves Cytosine to play the Adapting role, similar to oxygen. And true to form, Cytosine has the least amount of carbon, so that fits, too.
“What are you thinking? Why should the amount of any element impart some functional role?”
Well, consider how companies operate. Let’s imagine a change in staff for, say, a legal department. Up to now, three stalwart attorneys in that department have been seasoned experts at applying the law and influencing the corporation to maintain safe, aboveboard operations. But wouldn’t you know, the company CEO’s nephew wants a job. So when the managing attorney retires, the CEO makes his nephew the legal department manager. While the nephew has a law degree, he’s a more free-spirited party boy than steady professional—more ‘whatever’ than ‘what’s required.’ Thus, the department’s legal advice soon changes. The nephew is inclined to bend the rules to make everyone’s job easier, and the other two attorneys worry that it’s only a matter of time until the SEC investigates them for corporate misconduct.
The point is that the mix of functional expertise within any group is likely to affect how the group works. It is possible that this principle—so noticeable in human enterprise—is applicable to chemical processes as well. I have no basis for this other than a hunch. But it will be interesting to see if our composition analysis of the four bases is borne out by their aptitude for carrying out particular kinds of operations. As we study each of the four bases, we’ll see if they do fit this four-way pattern of functional specialties: Adenine-Stabilizing versus Cytosine-Adapting, and Guanine-Separating versus Thymine- Bonding. The use of ‘versus’ here represents the notion that these pairs serve opposing functional roles.
Four Families of Biochemicals Affect Behavior
By the year 2000, our Strong Suit book54 had just been published. Yet without a degree in psychology or a psychology-related career, I felt stymied in promoting the book and its ideas. So my architecture background carried me through a second home building business, then a few years of designing custom homes, until the harrowing real estate recession shut down both livelihoods. All the while I kept researching tie-ins to the four thinking styles presented in Strong Suit—gathering evidence about the ‘Big Four’ atomic elements as essential ingredients of DNA’s four nucleobases and how their diverse functions undergirded those four thinking styles. Moreover, Strong Suit demonstrated how four different types of cognitive functions influenced everything in which human beings are involved, from relationships to work roles to political processes. Even so, I had a knowledge gap between DNA’s four nucleobases and the four types of cognitive processes.
Then by chance in 2006, I read a magazine article about internet dating services. One of those services—Chemistry.com—was touting a date- matching technique developed by the noted author, anthropologist, and behavioral researcher, Dr. Helen Fisher. The Atlantic’s article disclosed that Dr. Fisher’s expertise in the brain physiology of romantic attraction led her to create a ‘hormone-based’ model of four personality types that Chemistry.com used in matching compatibility. Dr. Fisher revealed: “When Chemistry.com approached me, I said to myself, ‘I’m an anthropologist who studies brain chemistry, what do I know about personality?’” But from research, she knew that:
Serotonin “tends to modulate one’s degree of calm, stability, popularity, and religiosity.”
Dopamine is “associated with motivation, curiosity, anxiety, and optimism.” Testosterone is linked to being “rational, analytical, exacting, independent, logical, rank-oriented, competitive, irreverent, and narcissistic.”
Estrogen is associated with being “humane, sympathetic, agreeable, flexible, and verbal.”
“‘So I had these four sheets of paper,’ Fisher continued. ‘And I decided to give each a name. Serotonin became the Builder. Dopamine, the Explorer. Testosterone, the Director. And Estrogen, ...the Negotiator.’”
Immediately, I realized that Dr. Fisher’s studies of brain chemistry might fill the missing gap in my own model of life’s evolution of four functional traits. Her research offered evidence that hormones as well as neurochemicals in the brain serve characteristic roles to influence behavior. Fisher’s descriptions of four types of traits were not an exact match with those we recognized in Strong Suit’s four thinking styles, but they were in the same conceptual ballpark.
In this chapter we saw how excitatory neurotransmitters— Dopamine, L-dopa, Noradrenaline, Adrenaline, and the Endorphins— equip us for exploration and adventure. They serve Adapting functions that enable us to desire, imagine, take an interest, create, explore, learn, optimize benefits, enhance capabilities, and expand awareness. Novelty-seeking activities involve experimenting and taking risks so we can change and improve our condition.
Such purposes often conflict with safety-seeking, regulating processes served by inhibitory neurotransmitters that maintain routine body functions as well as control sequential cycles of repetitive operations. The Stabilizing, conserving influences of Serotonin, Melatonin, and GABA regularize repetitive motor activity, mood, appetite, sleep cycle, pain control, and immune system function. These biochemicals tend to inhibit information processing in the nervous system and may serve to coordinate functions as needed for the task at hand to facilitate orderliness, precision, conscientiousness, and adherence to plans, details, methods, and habits.
On the other axis of opposition, certain steroid hormones— Testosterone, the Progestogens, the Estrogens and Cortisol—facilitate gender differentiation, manage gender-driven physiological processes, and deal with the stresses of competition. Testosterone directs the organization of more lateralized brain architecture that promotes systematizing skills, such as analyzing, figuring out how things work, spatial acuity, targeting, competitive interests, and technical aptitude. Its physical and mental influences tend to enhance individual dominance—that is, isolating and setting one apart from others in order to gain a personal advantage. This Separating function is critical to the successful achievement of individual needs and desires.
Conversely, Estradiol prompts more interconnectivity of cognitive processing between hemispheres of the brain, thus fostering more whole-minded, balanced consideration. And Oxytocin as well as Vasopressin influence pro-social behaviors, including the establishment of trust, reading emotions in others, empathy, attachment, sexual arousal, pair-bonding, and nurturing. These Bonding activities—such as empathizing and relating—benefit group needs and interests.
Notice in figure 3 that the behavioral attributes linked to these four classes of biochemicals fit the same functional pattern evident among life’s ‘Big Four’ atomic elements as well as four nucleobases that carry out life’s genetic code. We find here at the biochemical level the same pairs of counteractive functional roles. Serotonin is a key component of the Stabilizing suite of biochemicals that (like precursors carbon and adenine) regulate and conserve established, repetitive order. Dopamine, however, is a prime mover of the Adapting group of biochemicals that (like oxygen and cytosine) facilitate transformation and change. On the other axis, Testosterone is the lead agent of the differentiating, Separating biochemicals that (like nitrogen and guanine) enable singling out one from another, as necessary for individuation. And Oxytocin is the star of the Bonding team of biochemicals that (like hydrogen and thymine/uracil) promote the joining of one to another for benefits of connectivity. 'Why Can't We Agree' - Michael Was.