In the beginning there were no sequences. The Earth of four billion years ago was devoid of one-dimensional patterns, capable of supporting life but not yet doing so. As with every planet we know about, the behavior of the prebiotic Earth could be described and explained by the primeval processes of physics and chemistry following their universal and inexorable laws. Nothing to see here, move on.

The Earth we inhabit today is overrun with sequences and their products. DNA. RNA. Speech. Text. Code. We swim in an ocean of sequences. And like the proverbial fish who does not know what water is, we are largely oblivious to their profound influences.

How did linear patterns of tiny molecules allow life to emerge from a background of ordinary physics and chemistry? How did sequences of vibrations in the air, marks on paper, and voltages in silicon allow civilization to emerge from a background of Tennyson’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw?” How did sequences guide matter and energy to become organized into liver cells and violins and universities? 

These are the questions that animate this book. And they can be summarized in one simple but profound question asked by biophysicist Howard Pattee: “How does symbolic information actually get control of physical systems?” Sequences are something special. They operate according to their own rules, and those rules have never been fully explored. It is time for them to get their due.

Understanding the one-dimensional evolution of three-dimensional complexity requires an interdisciplinary march through physics, molecular biology, linguistics, anthropology, computer science, and other related disciplines. The author has found this march exhilarating and hopes you will too.