I’m going to found the Empirical Proof Foundation. Our job will be very simple. We will crisscross Africa and collect specimens from every phenomenon that needs further investigation so that we will help establish empirical proof.
Here is a good example: last week, Nigeria’s Sun newspaper published a fascinating story of a young woman who vomited a padlock and gave birth to a turtle right inside a church. The newspaper told the story of the woman, the prophet who made it happen and the congregation who joined in the celebration of the miracle. For some inexplicable reasons, the newspaper did not show the pictures or the videos of the padlock and the turtle. Maybe the reporter was too lazy to get a picture from scores of church members who pulled out their cameras as soon as the miracle happened. Or maybe the congregation was so shocked by the audaciousness of the turtle that they forgot to pull out their phones to record the miracle for posterity.
Whatever the case may be, the job of my foundation begins after the reporter is gone. Our first task is to collect the padlock and the turtle. We will preserve the turtle in a rescue facility. Working with research universities across the world, our scientists will map out the turtle’s genome. We will feed it and observe it 24 hours of the day and record other transformations the turtle may still undergo. As for the padlock, we will follow its digital footprint to find its maker, the person that imported it into Nigeria and track its journey to the woman’s native doctor father who mysteriously placed it inside the woman’s body some ten years before.
With support from you, my foundation will be very busy. Each time a woman delivers a baby accompanied by a Bible or a Quran, we will be there to pick up and preserve the Bible or the Koran and the chaplet or the beads that came along. We will collect, with the woman’s permission, her placenta. Unlike people like Kim Kardashian who ate their placentas, we will just study the placenta that brought food to the Bible or the Quran and the chaplet and the beads. We believe there may be new knowledge and new ingredients we may be missing by simply dismissing these wonderful events of our time- events that God has made to happen only in Africa. Also, we will check every verse of the Bible and the Quran and crosscheck with the ones the printers made just to make sure that God has not passed across a brand new message with these Holy books He placed inside the wombs of these women.
If we do our job well, we may be able to replicate these phenomena in the lab. For instance, based on our findings, we could add to the ordinary test-tube baby process certain ingredients that will make a pregnant mother to give birth to a baby accompanied by a diamond, $1000 dollar bills, or an unpublished Harry Porter novel manuscript. The possibilities are endless. But it starts when we stop dismissing these great blessings of our time and start studying them and exploring them for our greater good.
Africa missed the age of Enlightenment when empirical proof became a standard for discourse. And we have been paying for it for centuries in lives ruled by superstition. We also missed the industrial age. The payment for that can be seen in the primitivity of our lives. This information age that is upon us has placed in our hands the digital camera, YouTube and Facebook, we have no excuse not to use them.
Which brings me to my epiphany- the Empirical Proof Foundation. I encountered my epiphany listening to Brewster Kahle talk on National Public Radio (NPR).
Kahle, the founder of Internet archives, was passionately talking about how his pet project of over 20 years was going. He is preserving and saving all the pages of the Internet that he could. So far, he has saved pages of 145 billion websites, every two months since 1996. He is saving them simultaneously in eight countries across the world to avoid what happened in Alexandria, Egypt, in first century BC when an effort to save every book or scroll ever made ended with the burning down of the library.
What is fascinating was Kahle's concern about space to continue storing the Internet pages as well as every books, music, movies, software, games ever made. Currently, he has uploaded over 2 million books in 30 scanning centers in eight countries. Its Wayback Machine preserves past versions of around 145 billion websites. His project is often referred to as Library of Alexandria 2.0
So far the Internet Archive has used up 21 petabyte of data in storage. At 190 terabyte a month, the project is going to consume a lot more. So Kahle is looking forward to moving his storage to DNA.
Few years ago, engineers at Harvard University cracked the DNA storage by storing 700 terabytes of data in a single gram of DNA. Its equivalence in Blu-ray discs will be 14,000 50-gigabyte discs or 233 3TB hard drive devices. Such data can all be stored in a droplet of DNA that would fit on your fingertip.
To store in DNA, scientists synthesize strands of DNA in such a way that each of the bases (TGAC) represent binary value. To read the data stored, scientists simply sequence it the way they sequence the human genome. Scientists are excited about storage in DNA because of its dense and volumetric properties. But the most fascinating property is that “it can survive for hundreds of thousands of years in a box in your garage.”
Brewster Kahle hopes that the new technology promising to store information inside DNA would make it possible to store every picture, video, book, music, software, game ever made and every word ever posted on the internet rather than in servers stored in an old Christian Science church building in San Francisco.
Meanwhile, on the same day that I listened to Brewster Kahle on NPR, I read of a Harvard professor named Dr. George Church. This molecular biologist is working on bringing back to life the woolly mammoth that was extinct some 4,000 years ago - 2000 years before Christ.
The professor is using the new gene-editing technique called CRISPR-Cas9. Using DNA retrieved from frozen remains of woolly mammoth, Dr. Church will splice it into the DNA of an Asian elephant genome, deleting and replacing genes until he gets the already sequenced woolly mammoth’s entire genome. He estimates that in 7 years, mammoths will once again walk on the surface of the earth. And using the same technique, other scientists plan to de-extinct animals that had long been extinct.
I’m sure that Dr. Church would be amazed that the people in the padlock and turtle story are not extinct.
At the risk of being extinct, in the last 16 years, but more especially, in the last 5 years, I’ve been berated for criticizing those living large. I’ve been warned that if I didn’t find joy in the success of the nouveau riche that I would not know success. “Celebrate with those whom God has blessed,” they said, “so that God will bless you too.”
I did not know that why God hasn’t blessed me yet was because I was worshipping the wrong God. I was worshipping the God who demands accountability and justice and equity instead of the God on whose door it was boldly written: National Security Adviser.
With Empirical Proof Foundation (EPF) we will begin to ask who, why, when, what, where and how- basic questions that clarify all blessings and invalidate abstruse miracles of padlocks and turtles, arms deals and jeeps, and rising suns on and off the Niger.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.