Punxsutawney Phil, our furry weather forecaster, definitely earned his paycheck this year, calling for six more weeks of winter on February 2. What he failed to warn us was that we’d ensure blizzards and ice storms throughout the month!
You might laugh, but this ritual of following a simple groundhog can tell us a lot about how we as humans like to operate. Any self-respecting adult knows that Phil’s handlers make the “Shadow/No-Shadow” call days in advance. So why has this ritual continued since 1887?!
A psychologist will tell you that humans perform rituals because it reduces our anxiety and increases our confidence. True enough, but is there something in our DNA that can explain this almost irrational tendency?
More than 10 years ago, the Human Genome Project gave us a map of the genes that make up human DNA. Thanks to huge leaps in advanced computing, a regular person can now get their DNA mapped for only $1,000 (it cost $100 million in 2001!).
This month, researchers at MIT released the first map of the human epigenome, which captures all the chemical reactions taking place. With this information we can better understand why and how certain genes turn off and on in human cells.
Mapping the human epigenome has revealed vital clues into why cells mutate due to disease, and is a key step in eradicating cancer.
Think about it. This is an epic feat! It required a total of 150 billion genome sequencing reads in 111 different cell types. To do that, scientists have had to maximize the latest advances in semiconductor chip manufacturing for advanced computing.
That tells me we’re witnessing a major nexus point between chip manufacturing, supercomputing, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology gene mapping research, all of which is providing disruptive, life-changing technology like never before seen.
As for whether we have any idea of what physical chemistry is involved in our superstitious behavior… well, we’re not there yet, but I don’t think it will take us much longer.