Monday, May 24, 2010


by Richard Crews
For many centuries philosophers have rhapsodized and expostulated on the importance of surroundings, or context.

Example one: If you write an equation or draw a pretty picture with white chalk on a blackboard, most of the area of the blackboard remains black. The area of background may exceed the area that conveys meaning or beauty by a hundredfold or more, yet without it there is no meaning, no beauty.

Example two: If you peek within a computer at the streaming series of ones and zeros that do the work of the computer--that carry the crucial information and relationships, and manipulate the crucial evolving changes that manifest as a word processor or interactive map or video game--you will invariably see long strings of zeros. Although one might think intuitively that there would be roughly as many ones mixed in as there are zeros--as many "YESes" as "NOs," as many "stop here and do something's" as "never mind, pass on's"--this is, in fact, not the case. This is the reason, for example, that compression software can usually reduce a computer file to one tenth of its original size, sometimes to one one-hundredth. A compression algorithm that simply says, each time it is appropriate, the equivalent of "skip 500 zeros here, and then go back to work recording the ones and zeros" can reduce the overall size of an ordinary file many-fold. Later, the computer file must be decompressed or "unpacked" again before it can be used. For the computer program to accurately find the "addresses" it needs to proceed with its task, there must be many strings of zeros filling in the cracks.

Example three: In the DNA that carries the genetic code necessary for life, there is so much unnecessary filler--so much "junk" DNA--that well over nine-tenths of the DNA could be removed from a cell without affecting the cell's ability to grow, metabolize, reproduce, and do all the crucial things that make it alive. In the human genome, for example. about 1.5% of the DNA codes for proteins and another 1.5% has some other known usefulness, but some 97% appears to have no function at all.

Example four: Scientists have recently succeeded in fabricating a "living" cell using a computer program that accesses bottles of chemicals sitting on a laboratory shelf. The artificial cell they created can grow, metabolize, reproduce and do all the things characteristic of "life." The computer program laboriously assembles more than a million chemical "base pairs" into the DNA code. Interestingly, the scientists saw fit to include along with the genetic coding the website where the listing of the full genome can be found, and a literary quotation as well (the James Joyce quotation, "to live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life").

This seems so sophisticated to me that I call it "junque" rather than just "junk."

Truly, it seems, junque is a way of life.