My subjective take on issues in and around science. Profiles of interesting scientists, etc. Also, juicy videos of nature, physics, and chemistry, etc.
“In every field of inquiry, it is true that all things should be made as simple as possible – but no simpler. (And for every problem that is muddled by over-complexity, a dozen are muddled by over-simplifying.)” –Sydney J. Harris
I have filled many “pages” (Okay, too many) describing the problems that go with reductionism when it isn’t used as an experimental approach, but as a pseudo-philosophy of life appropriate for non-scientists. Most people don’t have a perpetual burr under their saddle about this sort of thing: Understandably. It’s sort of the philosophical version of being irked by someone consistently misusing a word and spreading that misunderstanding to others.
Surprisingly, the best argument against the cement mattress of reductionism might not involve me complaining at all, but simply sharing the details of some complex systems and letting the observer grasp the mind-blowing nettle for themselves.
These are very well done walkthroughs of our molecular machinery; skip around if you like, there will not be a quiz later. I challenge you to watch even a little of this without being shocked into a new open-mindedness concerning the genius underlying life. *
“These animations show cellular biology on the molecular scale. The structure of chromatin, the processes of transcription, translation, DNA replication, and cell division are shown. All animations are scientifically accurate and derived from molecular biology and crystallography research. I have composed this video from multiple animations under fair use for non-profit, educational purposes. I do not claim copyright on this video or its contents, with the exception of the cell image. Most credit goes to Drew Berry and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI TV) for the animations. Full credits are at the end of the video.” James Tyrwhitt-Drake
DNA animations by wehi.tv for science-art exhibition
-* Usual disclaimer: No religious ax being ground. Not a creationist.
This is one hellacious science fact; it’s absolutely Metal. A question about the evolutionary point of menstruation leads to revealing the surprising life and death struggle between Mother and Fetus. It turns out their interests overlap only to a point. Beyond that point, it’s all cold-blooded competition; a no holds barred cage match. Suddenly, a third player appears.
Suzanne Sadedin, Ph.D. Evolutionary Biology
“…In many mammals, the placenta, which is part of the fetus, just interfaces with the surface of the mother’s blood vessels, allowing nutrients to cross to the little darling. Marsupials don’t even let their fetuses get to the blood: they merely secrete a sort of milk through the uterine wall. However, other mammal groups, including the higher primates, have retained a more direct connection, termed a hemochorial placenta. Among humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas, its development is especially invasive.
Inside the uterus, we have a thick layer of endometrial tissue, which contains only tiny blood vessels. The endometrium seals off our main blood supply from the newly implanted embryo. The growing placenta literally burrows through this layer, rips into arterial walls and re-wires them to channel blood straight to the hungry embryo. It delves deep into the surrounding tissues, razes them and pumps the arteries full of hormones so they expand into the space created. It paralyzes these arteries so the mother cannot even constrict them.
What this means is that the growing fetus now has direct, unrestricted access to its mother’s blood supply. It can manufacture hormones and use them to manipulate her. It can, for instance, increase her blood sugar, dilate her arteries, and inflate her blood pressure to provide itself with more nutrients. And it does. Some fetal cells find their way through the placenta and into the mother’s bloodstream. They will grow in her blood and organs, and even in her brain, for the rest of her life, making her a genetic chimera.
This might seem rather disrespectful. In fact, it’s sibling rivalry at its evolutionary best. You see, mother and fetus have quite distinct evolutionary interests. The mother ‘wants’ to dedicate approximately equal resources to all her surviving children, including possible future children, and none to those who will die. The fetus ‘wants’ to survive, and take as much as it can get. (The quotes are to indicate that this isn’t about what they consciously want, but about what evolution tends to optimize.)
There’s also a third player here – the father, whose interests align still less with the mother’s because her other offspring may not be his. Through a process called genomic imprinting, certain fetal genes inherited from the father can activate in the placenta. These genes ruthlessly promote the welfare of the offspring at the mother’s expense.”
Science is a Gas Giant.
I don’t mean anything disparaging by that. It’s a mental model to freshen up our thinking.
The unequivocal territory of science is the sum of theories plus experiments that have unambiguous, replicable results. This body of knowledge is the diamond-hard core at the heart of science. There are a lot of physics and chemistry experiments here. They seem to know their parts by heart.
Just beyond the border of that core, the gas atmosphere begins but it is nearly as hard as the core itself. It’s a long, dense gradient from here to the wispy edge of the atmosphere that is literally made of thin clouds under scattered atoms and space. Close to the core, the experiments are as replicable as the day is long when you average them out. There are enough squishy, stochastic details here that any random experiment might say something new, but not useful. The ambiguous results are overwhelmed by un-ambiguous ones like a single black grain in a bag of white rice.*
Heading outward, the variables faced by theorists get more complicated and slippery. If the questions science aims to answer were pickle jars, we’d crack them open without a beat at the core, struggle with rubber gloves and screwdrivers around the middle, and create thought experiments about jars and pickles at the foggy upper edge. Your thought experiment may perfectly predict opening the jar, and what’s inside but it’ll be a long time before anyone gets a pickle. Continue reading
I pray this is the beginning of reducing anxiety for real. Imagine the liberated potential and freedom from fear.
Study of nonhuman primates lays the groundwork for new strategies in treating anxiety
Boosting a single molecule in the brain can change ‘dispositional anxiety,’ the tendency to perceive
many situations as threatening, in nonhuman primates, researchers have found. The molecule,
neurotrophin-3, stimulates neurons to grow and make new connections.
/ Than are dreamt of in your philosophy [science]. – Willy the Shake
I grumble about scientific reductionism (SR) regularly but I thought of an angle that shows starkly, what is wrong with it. It is a Jekyll and Hyde thing. The problem comes when it escapes from the lab.
SR identifies the core reality of things as their simplest parts and origins. It is a filter against complexity, seeking the Least Story. SR understands the essence of something as “What it all boils down to”. As if a whole chicken, boiled for days down to greasy, particulate liquid better-represents chickens than the prepared carcass, let alone a living chicken. In an experiment, SR is like reducing fractions or maximum simplifying of non-essential variables. It makes results less ambiguous and that is good.
But it spread.
“All religions, nearly all philosophies, and even a part of science testify to the unwearying, heroic effort of mankind desperately denying its contingency.”
― Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity
Monod is the man chiefly responsible for the successful neo-Darwinian movement1. I’m not specifically picking on him but using him as a fair example of scientific reductionism when it climbs over the wall. There are tons of these quotes from him and I chose the nearest one. He is using the word Contingency to mean unpredictable randomness. He means all of us are hiding from the truth that we are an accident of the universe. Excuse me, we are MERELY an accident of the universe. Excuse me, I mean a meaningless universe.
Careful philosophy shoppers should ask questions.
- What are the tools he used to run his meaning experiments?
- How were the experiments constructed?
- How would he recognize meaning if it existed? How would he observe its absence?
- Provided he had a meaning detector, and observed its absence, why would he take that to mean that the result is universal?
You need just under 5 minutes for this oddly moving visit to another planet. Watch the telemetry.
Where does this technique reside within this one spider? Where does it reside within the species?
What triggers the processing of this knowledge?
How does the spider understand (or at least experience) the need and the solution?
How does the spider brain process this knowledge without a sort of visualizing?
If spiders can visualize physics concepts
and the parts they’ll need… and collect them…
and assemble them properly…
How should we visualize the minds of spiders?
A dye that glows brighter in the presence of calcium ions is loaded into the neurons. Neurotransmitters released by an upstream neuron in a network lead to rapid calcium influx in downstream neurons, seen here as a sudden burst of green. The influx triggers an electrochemical propagation of a signal down the length of the neuron, called the axon, and causes the subsequent release of more neurotransmitters, which signals the next neurons in the same network to fire.