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John Carpenter's

 

HOW IT DOES WHAT IT DOES

by K.C.

An explanation for the supposed ability of each new incarnation of the creature to retain usable, complete genomes from all previous victims/meals of its ancestors occurred to me. From what I gather of bioscience, each cell in our bodies with the exception of red corpuscles contains DNA. This DNA however is not inert, like a book on a shelf, but rather active, like a computer. It repairs itself, and helps structure the workings and growth of the cell. Some scientists at present are even working on molecular and specifically DNA-based computing, whereby a mathematical problem is solved chemically in a test-tube and then the results analyzed and translated back into digital form. But our cells have been computing for eons.

From what I've read of Drexler's "Engines of Creation" a single cell contains a vast amount of empty space from a molecular or atomic perspective, and at first I thought that the Thing might have some sort of high-tech nanomachinery buried inside it that helped rebuild itself on cue. This hints at an engineered rather than an evolutionary origin for it. But to me this solution of the problem with brute computing force seems inelegant compared to the improved solution below, while explaining certain observed limitations which a completely super-computational nanofluidic creature should not have.

Simple: parallel processing. The Thing introduces certain new command potentials into the cells. It might do this by splicing in a new strip of DNA, creating a new organelle or second nucleus, or, maybe more fitting, it hides inside and/or replaces the mitochondria, which as its own DNA. In any case, though, it does not arrive on the doorstep of each cell laden with the genomes of every one of its previous victims, with the aim of cramming these codes into every nucleus.

Which should be fairly obvious in retrospect, since in order to become a dog a Thing has to have sufficient mass, so there's no sense in each cell having the (meaningless) potential to "become a dog". That each cell might serve as an emergency genetic library if separated from the main mass seems plausible, but given the creature's observing hunting behavior I suspect this argument is specious because we have no indication that single cells or relatively tiny groups of Thing cells can infect anyone, so there's no need for them to retain such copious genetic redundancy. A parallel can be found in humans: most human cells contain DNA, but only a few of them are stem cells. From what I know, DNA is just a blueprint and a single-cell maintenance and duplication program, but a zygote (i.e. totipotent stem cell) contains not only the blueprints but the machinery needed to construct the entire organism, and only requires a suitable setting in order to do so.

The human genome densely written out would fill about 200,000 pages, taking an indefatigable human brain around 9.5 years to consciously read, according to the Human Genome Project. The human brain itself has something like 10 billion neurons, each potentially connecting to 10,000 of its neighbors, yielding vast computing power (around 10^15 operations per second). Yet the human body contains around 6 x 10^13 or 60 trillion cells. If each of these cells could function as a neuron, then a human-sized Thing would have approximately 6,000 times the available brain mass, and if this mass could function as a single ad hoc brain, based on the evidence that every doubling of available nodes increases their potential interconnections six-fold, conservatively halving this increase to account for structural limitations, I estimate a human-sized Thing would have around 4 billion percent more brainpower.

With that much processing power, it could read the human genome in less than a hundredth of a second. I don't think the Thing actually has or uses this much power; it's smart but it's not ultra-smart. And each cell may not be as sophisticated as a neuron. These numbers are more to give an idea of how much computing power a living organism might have at its disposal if it were able to rewire itself into a single body-brain. But even if we reduce this by a factor of a 100 to 1000, we still see how we're in the range of the mutation rates observed in the film, where an explosive transformation might take between 8-80 seconds.

So all of those assimilated genomes would be stored in the creature's body-memory, recalled at will by its distributed body-mind, which would transmit signals, perhaps creating temporary glands to secrete appropriate hormones, to cells telling them to begin transforming in certain ways. This may well be a lot more unconscious than we might've thought, whereby the creature dreams its way out of its situation by imagining that it is a dog, and its body conforms to its imagination necessarily. When the creature splits, each division may contain a memory-copy of the entire genome bank, and this information might even be temporarily chemically encoded and transferred in nodules to be later deciphered and dissolved. Something as small as a blood sample may possess certain intrinsic Thing-like qualities, but under this hypothesis would have access to neither a rational brain, nor the necessary blueprints for creating one. Thus the blood can think of nothing better to do than sit in its petri dish, responding only in terms of the amoebic response of moving toward food (don't stick your finger in it), and away from noxious stimuli (a hot needle).

In other words, this places an interesting corollary spin on the creature's limitations, by implying that it has no creativity when metamorphosing, only reactivity and mimicry. It can only think normally, rationally, clearly, and creatively when it possesses animal-like brain structures. It wants to be human because it has to be human in order to think. This might help explain why the relatively deformed creatures such as the head-spider, the Palmer-atrocity and the Blair-monster seemed so tactically inept, while the Norge Husky seemed so collected and capable of planning. Given the tactically unnecessary transformations Blair and said dog embarked upon, this may strengthen the notion that the Thing is at root insane or voracious in some way, and that it uses its stolen rationality to further its conspiratorial ends, but ultimately must yield to its sexual mandate from time to time.

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