Science

My extremely subjective take on issues in and around science. Juicy videos of nature, physics, and chemistry which are much more fun.

Reductionism is a cultural behavior required of scientists. If you wander too far from reductionism you will be ostracized. Reductionism denies that anything is greater than the sum of its parts. Things may appear to be complex but when looked at correctly they are “Merely” so much of this and that. It doesn’t account for what is happening with these “merely bits” that generated complexity.

Religion pushed science into this reflexive position. Religion is like rising floodwaters always seeking the weak point in Science’s levee of empiricism. Religion generated this dogmatic defense within science that would have been unnecessary without the influence. One can sympathize with the need to keep theology out, but the results are like a peaceful culture becoming militaristic in its own defense and losing something important.

Reductionism in religion is the name of the game, it is the machine operating as intended. “It is God’s will.” Religion takes a world of complexity and mystery and sorts these according to its filing system, placing each in an “orthodox box”. If this boiling down mechanism wasn’t present in church doctrine the religion would be saying, in effect: “Here is the eternal, unchanging truth unless someone has a better idea, one that seems to fit the facts better”. In other words, science. When the Pope weighs in on something heavy in his official capacity, clarifying it in extra-bold red underlined words for all time he is speaking “Ex Cathedra“, or infallibly. Use of the Ex Cathedra voice in science is plainly antithetical to the mission.* In war, the difference in weaponry evens out into a common approach. Both settle for example on bows and arrows or spears and clubs, otherwise it isn’t a battle, but a rout for one side. Science fought religion’s reductionism by developing its own parallel. The parallel had to be hard, cold and unflinching. It used the serious daddy voice. It defined and circumscribed scientific culture to the world at large with unambiguous borders. It is understandable and regrettable.

But reductionism in science is the mirror of doctrinal certainty. It is a bulwark against invasion but it makes us dumber.

Reductionism confidently declares our current level of partial understanding as the end zone of reality. Since its origin, every scientific discipline has crawled painfully over lots and lots of wrong to find little bits of right. At every point down this ever changing track the current state of knowledge determined where “Nonsense” began. It’s reminiscent of “Aren’t you lucky you were born a member of the one true church?”. Science history is full of people who found treasure where the experts said there was only nonsense. It doesn’t mean nonsense is where to look, just that it shouldn’t be overlooked.

Things that are “Unscientific” are things science doesn’t want to talk about. Often but not always, for legitimate reasons. Some exiled things will likely become accepted scientific facts someday. It would be much more true to scientific principles to refuse to answer questions from outside the data or at least give an unambiguous disclaimer that reporting the facts of scientific research is like reporting what you see looking out the window of a train, there is the truth and there is the truth a mile further along the track, both are true to their moment: Neither describes with certainty what we will see ahead. The facts of science have transformed the world. But to the long view they are like the rocks dug out of the tunnel as we pass through, and the real riches of scientific research are the emerging questions that power our forward journey.

It is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explains not, then it says there is nothing to explain.

– Bram Stoker, Dracula

Reductionism is like a kid who argues that whatever does not fit into his toy box is not a toy.

– Nancy Pearcey

 

>* except for “flat-earthers” and their ilk, fuck them and the stupid horse they rode in on.

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I could happily sit on the floor playing with magnets for a couple of hours. I have never outgrown the delight of feeling invisible forces at work, all the more because magnets almost seem to possess some agency and a playful nature. Like baby monkeys, they snatch things that get too close and the next minute freak out and run away. If you look back a couple of posts at the one called ‘magnets sorting themselves out’ they move like highly trained but bumbling soldiers racing to stand at attention, and in formation. They show what feels like certainty about their destination and they seem to clamber over each other to get there.

The thing about invisible forces is how difficult it is to properly imagine what is taking place. If we never saw air moving through smoke or mist, the wind would be a similar mystery to our imagination. 

The only way to see the shape and force of a magnetic field is similar to seeing the wind act on smoke. We can’t see the force in a pure, abstract way… we need to see it acting upon something. We need a material the magnet will engage with, but not a large, lumpy object like another magnet. We need something like a cloud, made of tiny, reactive particles.  To the right is a familiar image of light iron filings scattered like sand on paper lying atop a horseshoe magnet. A little gentle tapping on the paper and they line up cleanly along the magnetic field lines. If you want a better look, it’s linked to a full-size version.

This is a rather static vision of the effect though. Below is a slightly more dynamic way to see it. Rather than paper, it’s a clear acrylic box with a liquid suspension of iron filings.

It’s better, we can even get a little taste of the three dimensionalities of the effect.  Remember though, we never see a magnetic field acting in a vacuum. Iron filings don’t show the truth of magnetic fields, they show that truth as applied to iron filings.

Ferrofluid

Ferrofluid shows that truth acting on a rather dense liquid. There’s an earlier post on the composition and history of Ferrofluid. Take a look if you need a touch more foundation. Basically, it’s a colloidal suspension of magnetic nanoparticles. Ferrofluid breaks the “fourth wall” of being demurely flat and passive. It’s often in a bowl or other container, open and available to us. The very different physics of a liquid and a powder are instantly apparent. Ferrofluid makes one think of an alien life form or some stylish evil entity. It undulates, it climbs up and down surfaces like sentient oil. It even leaps. It appears to have moods, and rather peculiar ones.

While this view of magnetic fields is not truer than the behavior of iron filings, it’s more dynamic and thrilling. It’s truer perhaps in that way. From the point of view of magnetic energy, peaks and valleys are energetically favorable. In the corrugated configuration, the magnetic field is concentrated in the peaks; since the fluid is more easily magnetized than the air, this lowers the magnetic energy. In consequence, the spikes of fluid ride the field lines out into space until there is a balance of the forces involved.

At the same time, the formation of peaks and valleys is resisted by gravity and surface tension. It requires energy both to move fluid out of the valleys and up into the spikes and to increase the surface area of the fluid. In summary, the formation of the corrugations increases the surface free energy and the gravitational energy of the liquid but reduces the magnetic energy.

Just for fun, ferrofluid mixed with glow-stick liquid:

And finally, with some awesome coloration in the mix.

 

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“‘Jailer, I’ll tell you an interesting fact. Everything we study, we modify by our study of it. Hence truth eternally eludes us.’
“He did not look convinced, just held out his hands for the plates.
“‘Take crabs, for example, I said ‘We poke them with a stick to see how they behave, and they behave as if poked by a stick.’
He folded his arms, the plates dangling from his fingertips.
“This is, of course, a very simple example,’ I said. Take a subtler example, such as atoms of light. Light, as you know, is one of the four great elements-in common parlance, fire. We study it by bouncing it off polished stones, or bending it in water, or squeezing it through holes. And how does it behave? It behaves as if bounced or squeezed or bent. We learn nothing, we merely cause events.’ I bent closer to him, waving my finger to keep his attention. ‘Has it occurred to you that sundials do not measure time, but create it?’ It had not, I saw. Time,’ I said,’is actually a thing, like porridge.’ I folded my arms and beamed at him, triumphant. The left side of his mouth twitched very slightly. He withdrew.”

From The Wreckage of Agathon, John Gardner – 1970 

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Ferrofluid is a liquid that becomes strongly magnetized in the presence of a magnetic field. A grinding process for ferrofluid was invented in 1963 by NASA’s Steve Papell as a liquid rocket fuel that could be drawn toward a pump inlet in a weightless environment by applying a magnetic field. Ferrofluids are colloidal liquids made of nanoscale ferromagnetic, or ferrimagnetic, particles suspended in a carrier fluid (usually an organic solvent or water). Each tiny particle is thoroughly coated with a surfactant to inhibit clumping.

When a paramagnetic fluid is subjected to a strong vertical magnetic field, the surface forms a regular pattern of peaks and valleys. This effect is known as the Rosensweig or normal-field instability. The instability is driven by the magnetic field; it can be explained by considering which shape of the fluid minimizes the total energy of the system.

From the point of view of magnetic energy, peaks and valleys are energetically favorable. In the corrugated configuration, the magnetic field is concentrated in the peaks; since the fluid is more easily magnetized than the air, this lowers the magnetic energy. In consequence, the spikes of fluid ride the field lines out into space until there is a balance of the forces involved.

At the same time, the formation of peaks and valleys is resisted by gravity and surface tension. It requires energy both to move fluid out of the valleys and up into the spikes and to increase the surface area of the fluid. In summary, the formation of the corrugations increases the surface free energy and the gravitational energy of the liquid but reduces the magnetic energy. The corrugations will only form above a critical magnetic field strength when the reduction in magnetic energy outweighs the increase in surface and gravitation energy terms.

Ferrofluids have an exceptionally high magnetic susceptibility and the critical magnetic field for the onset of the corrugations can be realized by a small bar magnet. – Wikipedia

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A fascinating glimpse at the first Americans via genetics. They crossed the Bering Strait and shot off in all directions. A body from Nevada turns out to be very closely related to a body found in Brazil, across the equator…a few hundred years later. Close relationships were found between people who lived 10,000 years apart.

Crossing From Asia, the First Americans Rushed Into the Unknown
By CARL ZIMMER November 8, 2018
Three new genetic analyses lend detail, and mystery, to the migration of prehistoric humans throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Some early peoples came 20,000 years ago and died out, their DNA never found again. Some stayed in Alaska or doubled back to it later, apparently soured on the American dream. This article describes the adventure and sweep of this virtual gold-rush of a migration.

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A ‘star drop’ refers to the patterns created when a drop, flattened by some force, is excited into shape mode oscillations

Abstract: “These patterns are perhaps best understood as the two-dimensional analogs to the more common three-dimensional shape mode oscillations. In this fluid dynamics video, an ultrasonic standing wave was used to levitate a liquid drop. The drop was then flattened into a disk by increasing the field strength. This flattened drop was then excited to create star drop patterns by exciting the drop at its resonance frequency. Different oscillatory modes were induced by y varying the drop radius, fluid properties, and frequency at which the field strength was modulated.”

Shape oscillation of a levitated drop in an acoustic field,” by W. Ran & S. Fredericks (Clemson University, Department of Mechanical Engineering)

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These images were taken with a Scanning Electron microscope (SEM). The surface of a specimen is scanned by a beam of electrons that are reflected to form an image. Color is added later.

“Plenty of Room at the Bottom” is the title of an article written by the American genius, Richard Feynman in 1959. He worked on the Manhattan Project that delivered nuclear weapons to our military before the end of World War II. In the 1980s he was the scientist who figured out why the space shuttle Challenger exploded. In “Plenty of room at the bottom” he visualized the core ideas of Nanotechnology 2 or 3 decades before it became a widespread big idea.

“It is a staggeringly small world that is below. In the year 2000, when they look back at this age, they will wonder why it was not until the year 1960 that anybody began seriously to move in this direction.” Richard Feynman

 

We’re talking about a bustling industry where objects are measured in nanometers and micrometers.

  • A nanometer =1 billionth of a meter and is represented by the symbol ‘nm.’. A sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick.
  • A micrometer = 1/millionth of a meter (symbol: μm) A sheet of paper is 70 to 180 μm thick.
  • One millimeter is equal to 1000 micrometers or 1000000 nanometers. A millimeter is equal to approximately 0.039370 of an inch. (mm)

In this video, we begin focused on a shrimp at a scale of 1 mm. We zoom down and in toward the top of the head where we see a microscopic sea plant, which eventually fills the screen. We close on a single bacteria, atop the seaweed zoomed from 1mm to 0.5um.

The remarkable chain drive below was built by the Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories.  The distance between chain link centers is 50 microns. The diameter of a human hair is approximately 70 microns. This is one example of thousands of separate projects and experiments laying the foundation of Nanotechnology.

 

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A cuttlefish transmitting social information via pattern and color change. Apparently, this display means he’s really pissed off. Watch till the end and you’ll be in no doubt.

All cephalopods; cuttlefish, squid, and octopus use the same remarkable technique to communicate among their kind and camouflage themselves.

Close up of a squid’s color-changing cells called chromatophores. Amazingly these cells blend shades to create colors outside their individual range much as we can blend red, green and blue to create any color. Odder still, all cephalopods appear to be color blind.

Finally, here’s an octopus giving a practical demonstration of using chromatophores for camouflage.

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Actual Science

The scientific model is a glorious invention for exploring our universe. The simple rules, if honestly applied, are self correcting, grounding us always in a testable connection to truth. In establishing any fact, it unburdens us of ignorance about that fact not just now, but forever. It moves our piece that many squares forward. Best of all, new and meaningful questions arise which can be explored from that knowledge. Science fractures the unknown, then explores all the cracks and finds unforeseen goodies everywhere: Telescopes, antibiotics, vaccines, better food.  You could say “Like magic!” except, you know…it isn’t. As science got rolling, and gained momentum it also gained the respect that comes from undeniable results.

Science is earthy and practical and performed by people with an improbable and hard to explain love for things like soil or beetles or cancer cells. To the extent that any of us not actively working in science actually “Fucking love science” it’s probably due to the purity, passion and goodness of these nerds. They are the real and lovable thing. (my later complaints about “sciencey culture” are not about these guys) I don’t mean they are all adorable geeks out of central casting, but they have the temperament and interest to patiently keep close company with small simple details of experiments as they change across time, recording them accurately, and leaving a trail that could be followed later. They always understand what the experiment COULD mean in this outcome or that one but they play no favorites, knowing that to do so IS NOT SCIENCE. Therefore there is a core of disciplined virtue within every well conducted experiment. Every honest recording of a disappointing outcome is a public service, promoting the health and strength of the community. There’s no big reward for that, it’s just doing the job as it must be done. How many jobs utterly depend upon carefully documenting and sharing the truth?  Continue reading

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Drones aren’t irrelevant in bee society they just aren’t really the kind of people you want to be seen with.

Drones develop from unfertilized eggs and are haploid. Queens and workers develop from fertilized eggs and are diploid.

Virtually all organisms are diploid, an original genetic mix based on sexual reproduction with a mix of genes from mom (xx) and dad (xy). The only males in a beehive are the drones and they do not participate in gathering nectar and other bee jobs, they are there purely to inseminate the queen (queen being a strange word for ovary, apparently) and drones are the offspring of unfertilized eggs.

So drones are haploid, containing no recombination of the previous generation, it is basically a flying gamete and all its sperm are identical. All those identical sperm have only source of genetic information, the unfertilized egg it hatched from. A drone is basically a clever workaround for an egg to make sperm that makes more eggs. But to bees it’s critical that there is as little genetic drift as possible.  As a result, the sister bees who do all the work are more closely related than ordinary sisters, instead of sharing 50 % of genes they share 75 %. More reinforcement for the idea that a hive is a quasi individual. And get this (pulling from wikipedia below) …

Because the male bee technically has only a mother, and no father, it’s genealogical tree is rather interesting. In the first generation there is one member (the male). One generation back there is also one member (the mother). Two generations back there are two members (the mother and father of the mother). Three generations back there are three members. Four back there are five members. That is, the numbers in each generation going back are 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, … —the Fibonacci Sequence.
bee

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By  Eva Jablonka and Marion J. Lamb

This is a very well written and succinct paper on various kind of inheritance that challenge the Darwinian “Modern Synthesis” model. If you are a Biology nerd you might enjoy it, otherwise it’s here for me to cite certain parts of without directing people to other websites whose link addresses may change.

The address directly below is the paper via website and the link below that is to a PDF hosted here.

http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1415-47572008000300001 

Soft inheritance_ challenging the modern synthesis

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A Google assisted remake of Powers of 10. Nicely done, about 3 minutes long. Maya is the Sanskrit word for illusion in Hinduism and Buddhism. It originally meant “To measure”.  I don’t necessarily believe the “we’re living in a simulation” theory but if we are, the farthest out and farthest in moments in the video would be a pair of very effective walls defining the edges.

 

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Arguments against Darwin generally come with theology as the endgame. It reminds me of the artificially intelligent toaster on Red Dwarf; it would engage the crew in deep philosophical chats which all came down to asking if they’d like some toast. My argument against Darwin is his insufficiency. Charles Darwin is the Sigmund Freud of evolutionary theory. His role was groundbreaking and important but his theory is primitive and wrong seen from today. My last article described the cronyism that rewarded him with this iconic status. I don’t know that his name would even be included in our current view of evolutionary theory were it not a battlement that must not be surrendered. Neo Darwinism is essentially Fort Darwin in the middle of extreme Born-again territory. This understandably makes us close ranks despite our differences, but when our wagons are in a circle it’s a sure thing they aren’t going anywhere.

Adding to the situation are the whole constellation of behaviors Thomas Kuhn outlined in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. There is a naturally conservative and reticent approach among scientific professionals. First, there is the paradigm of our moment which is built on all the earlier work in our field. There MUST be a foundation and things that call that foundation into question are not likely to be welcomed with open arms. If something truly and suddenly proved the state of a discipline wrong, at one level it would be a triumph and at another, a tragedy. It would crash and trash much current research and practice. Jobs would be lost and it would be necessary to fall back to the last critical turning point before starting again from more basic principles. Finally, there tends to be a generational transition; the hard heads often have to age out of the system before a new theory is truly accepted.

Fortunately due to the power of the scientific method it’s extremely rare for a large theoretical collapse. However, it IS in the nature of research moving forward that new principles will be uncovered which are so RIGHT that earlier paradigms are wrong in comparison. It can be sudden or through long diligent efforts but all research will look like alchemy from a distant enough point. Still, it seems unfair to earlier scientific explorers who may be wrong by the light of today, but were as right as possible in their own time. A little generosity hurts no one. Lamarck was about the most correct person on earth about his subject at the time of his writing. Darwin and Wallace likewise, let’s grant them all winner status without faulting them for not being perfect and not staying current long after their time.

Some basic problems with Darwinism

  1. It’s a tautology (circular logic): Survival of the fittest means the fittest are the ones who survive. What exactly is fitness? Something that apparently is present in survivors.
  2. It describes a negative feedback (we could call it “natural elimination”) but not a positive feedback.  Or perhaps only a negative-positive feedback which is really just a distinction without a difference. We see why some die, but why do others change and continue to change? 
  3. No helpful mutation in an individual would be reinforced naturally in the next generation, each would be diluted.
  4. There is no evidence from long term well constructed studies of the kind of random helpful mutations Darwinism requires even in the groups subjected to more mutagens.
  5. The fallback explanation of an unimaginable time scale as the missing piece that completes the puzzle is insufficient to close the gaps we find.

Both Wallace and Lamarck believed in some principle that guided evolution generally toward more success on average. Almost as if the infinite monkeys at typewriters had automatic spelling and grammar check turned on. And perhaps an app that edited out utter nonsense. This is closer to what life on earth looks and feels like…but to this day we have no means of identifying and studying such a principle. Therefore it is unscientific not in the sense of being wrong, just by being un-measurable and undetectable. In his time, Dmitri Mendeleev (who imagined the periodic table)  predicted as yet undiscovered elements because within the framework he was using there were gaps in significant places. Logically, he thought,  there should be something in that spot. That’s how I feel about the missing mechanisms in evolutionary theory. I suspect they are there because the current theory is a tiny sheet that does not cover this bed.

The one interesting breakthrough that seems to be in this class of guiding principles is epigenetic or soft inheritance. It’s very new but means of positive feedbacks leading to positive variation are becoming visible in this field and its many developing subdisciplines. We find information across generations, and the experiences of parents affecting the phenome of the children. Wallace and Lamarck are being reconsidered. I think they should be granted full equality with Darwin as founders.

We shouldn’t regularly act from fear of being compromised by theology if we budge from an earlier spot. It’s Theology that never budges with it’s hand full of supposed aces. Science moves, not impulsively but empirically. Our position so long after Darwin, is blessed with a million knowings he didn’t have a available, but relative to the future we are just as wrong and insufficient as he is to us. It can’t be helped. Or perhaps the only help is accepting and remembering it. It won’t help us measure what we can’t detect but it may help us think in less black and white terms and to look for meaningful gaps. The undetectable of today is the foundation of the theory tomorrow.

 

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https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/movies-in-the-cortical-theater/

Mapping Perceptions and Thoughts

First of all, would you please take a peaceful moment to imagine two elephants walking across the savannah.

This remarkable story has been out for a while, but it deserves a little consideration. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology can precisely track neurological activity throughout

Peppercorn

the brain down to volumes as small as a peppercorn.

  • A volunteer is shown a movie of two of two elephants walking on the savannah. A certain series of areas display activity.
  • Other volunteers watch the movie. The same areas show the same engagement.
  • Volunteers are told to imagine two elephants walking across the savannah and the same areas light up.
  • No matter what language the volunteers understand, the same areas show the same engagement.

This is where humanity keeps their wandering elephants. What can it mean that the human brain has an exact particular spot for an elephant wandering or an হাতির বিচরণ or an elefante alderraiaren, or an слон блуждающих or an 大象漫遊 ?

 

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The basic difference between Darwin’s theory and Wallace’s was this: Darwin focused on competition between individuals and Wallace focused on environmental pressures on local populations.

Wallace was a nearly lifelong world traveler and naturalist and was taken with the way that distinct subspecies could be found in adjoining territories with no transitional form in between. Why did they change? How did they change? Later Wallace developed BioGeography from these thoughts. He also became a passionate early ecologist and wrote a book speculating on the possible nature of life on other planets. He also suspected that that there was some form of intelligence that played a role in the evolution of species but while this was a spiritual belief, he didn’t attribute that intelligence to any theist god.

There were a couple of logical reasons for the Linnean society favoring Darwin’s theory over Wallace’s (besides scientific cronyism). For one as I mentioned in my first article, Darwin’s bloody struggle scenario with the victory defining the winner as “more fit” supported the very strong belief system among the upper classes that the poor were sort of a failed version of human beings and that it was the kindest thing really, to let them die off in large numbers to “thin the heard”. This is where the chilly phrase “Cruel to be kind” comes from. Wallace thought that understanding the principles of evolution could improve people’s lives and alleviate suffering. This is the essence of how these scientific theories shade into politics. And this exact issue is alive today.

The other reason was Wallace’s teleology (meaningful) driven engine of evolution. If you leave a gap in your theory big enough to drive a god through, the church might rush that spot in an effort to hijack any theory of evolution and claim it for theology. There is some justification for this, Wallace’s work HAS been used as source material for some creationists. The very simple (and incorrect) answer that every bit of evolution was driven by nothing but random mutations and very slow change was a defense against the church, but it became a prison for all evolutionary biologists forced to honor it like a flag as we shall see.

And while Lamarck was never in direct competition with Darwin he was a groundbreaking thinker who had shaped the discussion. Although he was not the first thinker to advocate organic evolution, he was the first to develop a truly coherent evolutionary theory. Lamarck suggested that characteristics which were “needed” were acquired (or diminished) during the lifetime of an organism then passed on to the offspring. He incorporated this mechanism into his thoughts on evolution, seeing it as resulting in the adaptation of life to local environments. Lamarck also referred to a tendency for organisms to become more complex, moving “up” a ladder of progress. He referred to this phenomenon as (translated) “The force that perpetually tends to make order”.  Continue reading

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Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed

~ Alfred Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam A. H. H., 1850.

No human creation stands isolated from the culture around it. Or from the deep rules of the species.

Charles Darwin wasn’t a bad guy, he was highly intelligent with a gentle disposition. Nor was he an especially good guy. As restless as his intellect was, he was a creature of his class and his time. He was rich and privileged and utterly convinced of the rightness of this arrangement. In his world, the aristocracy earned it’s good fortune with innate superiority. The poor were a sorry lot who were to be pitied for their inadequacy. They lived in squalor and lack due to their flawed nature.

This harsh, excluding and rejecting area of the human mind is becoming well documented. If you haven’t already read it, I suggest you take a quick look at my post Neuromechanical Cruelty. Hating or at least disdaining the poor appears to be a human norm. Being nice to the rich, likewise. Those behaviors are based in classic homosapien elevation of an “alpha” group deemed superior. This is the piece of our nature that supports the rich elite that exists everywhere since the late Neolithic. It is an innate part of how human tribes past a certain size keep themselves organized. It is similar to the reason why you can convince a dog that you are the “master”.

Anyway, the reason you know about Darwin’s theory of evolution is not because he was correct and nobody else was. It is because his version of evolutionary theory supported the pre-existing beliefs of the English aristocracy, and because he was one of them.

In terms of public reaction, the publication of Darwin’s theory of evolution played several different roles simultaneously.

  1. When many people were beginning to look at life through a non-religious lens and sensing the absurdity of Adam and Eve, it was a practical, possible alternative.
  2. When several different ideas about evolution were gaining popularity, it was the one that most supported the status quo, current biases and justified the existence of the upper class.
  3. It was the insurgent landfall of science in the struggle with religious authority and therefore ground that must not be surrendered.

The British empire was at the height of its “Imperial Century”, at this time, it included over 14 million square miles of territory and 450 million people. It included more than a quarter of the world’s population and it was said that the sun never set on the British Empire, a phrase attributed to a Scottish writer, John Wilson. It’s not surprising then, that the dominant meme about life among the upper class British at this time was that life was a bloody struggle, that success was evidence of superiority and to the victor go the spoils. You can hardly blame them for thinking so.

With its emphasis on fitness as the key to evolutionary success and competitive pressure as the engine driving it, Darwin’s theory described a bloody struggle, in the end rewarding the best. This is a case of fielding a scientific theory which is radical on one hand but reassuringly supportive on the other.

Darwin’s competition was Alfred Russel Wallace who was poor, politically progressive, and lower class. Wallace had sent Darwin his own theory in 1858 to see what he thought of it. Darwin was shocked at the similarity to his own and after YEARS of sitting on his work, rushed to publication. When the theory of natural selection was unveiled to the scientific community at the Linnean Society on July 1, 1858, the entire program was engineered by Darwin’s colleagues and close friends, Joseph Hooker and Charles Lyell, to give their friend priority. When Origin was published a little over a year later modern evolutionary theory became Darwin’s theory.

It’s worth noting that the champions of “Survival of the fittest” cheated to win. This was probably not the last time that a scientific theory gained prominence through collusion by powerful friends but possibly the most ironic. Of course it’s possible that it would have won in a fair fight… but it didn’t.

In a follow up I’ll talk about:

  • The fascinating redemption in just the last few years of of both Wallace and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Lamarck was a still earlier evolutionary theorist who has mostly been mentioned in a hundred years of biology textbooks in order to say he was wrong.
  • How “Social Darwinism” grew like a weed in Darwin’s yard.
  • The reason certain weaknesses of Darwinian theory have lasted far longer than they should have.
  • The reason that the current right wing is ALREADY getting involved in fighting against certain recent discoveries about inheritance. (Hint: they lead to questions about some of the very same biases I mentioned at the beginning of this article).

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Humans are born according to an algorithm allowing a wide curve of features and preferences such as:


  1.  Self asserting (extreme archetype: Psychopathic self involvement)   |    Self transcending (extreme archetype: Saintly generosity and sacrifice)
  2. Follow the pack (instinctively flows with peer pressure)   |    Follow my own path (instinctively flows their own way)
  3. Past loving (keep the familiar = “conservative”)    |    Future loving  (allow for change = “progressive”)
  4. Preference for small groups (town)    |    Preference for large groups (city)
  5. Submissive (naturally accept leadership) | Dominant (naturally take charge)
  6. Cautious (“Wouldn’t be prudent”)    |    Daring (risk taking adventurers)
  7. Wandering (Viking approach)   |    Homebound (Bushman approach)
  8. Standard Sexuality    |    Alternate Sexuality 
  9.  Xenophobic   |    Xenophophilic
 There is no pattern or hierarchy in what I’ve listed, merely some of the options.
Wherever people form communities these characteristics will lean this way and that in any given generation. Then a  Darwinian survival of the fittest behavior-styles for that time and place plays out. Naturally certain constellations of these data points are more popular and successful in general, but also specific groups of traits are prized (and thus more successful) in different cultures and different environmental areas with different challenges.
People with the surviving personality data points become the stereotypical “person from…”. But we should be able distinguish the difference between there being SOME reality to a geolocated personality style and simple bigotry. Naturally that generation will have children which trend their way but it’s never as simple as that. Human communities require at least a degree of tension between personality extremes. A group needs to have the adaptability to change gears and directions if opportunity or need arises. There needs to be a healthy homeostasis. Human groups are (pre)programmed to organize themselves to have a society which has a dominant style but includes a range of opinions and styles from fundamentalist hardliners for the local hive story to critical thinking rebels or even revolutionaries.

One reason we can conclude “It takes all kinds” is because life MAKES all kinds.

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  1. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (methane, carbon dioxide, etc.) let visible light pass through, but absorb infrared light
  2. This causes the earth to heat up.
  3. The warmer atmosphere emits more infrared light, which tends to be re-absorbed
  4. Since the industrial age began around 1750, atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased by 40% and methane has increased by 150%.
  5. Such increases cause extra infrared light absorption, further heating Earth above its typical temperature range (even as energy from the sun stays basically the same).
  6. Energy that gets to Earth has an even harder time leaving it causing Earth’s average temperature to increase–– producing global climate change.
  7. Emissions are measurable. Temperature changes are measurable. The effects are measurable.
  8. They lead to the same conclusion. 97% of scientists agree. The standouts have ties to fossil fuel industries.

Karen Geier

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Fast travel to farthest space and deepest inner space by factoring each distance. Science has advanced since this was made but it still does a brilliant job of mind stretching. Balanced between quantum foam and infinite space our lives are utterly mysterious. This is very nice way of FEELING the Holon levels that stack to make the world. See my posts on Holons if that is a baffling sentence. Right here.

1977 POWERS OF TEN © 1977 EAMES OFFICE LLC

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Blake-TheAncientOfDays-Trans292I am in LOVE with evidence of truly complex and sophisticated systems in Biology. It makes me really happy when something strange and amazing shows up revealing higher order relationships and systems than anyone thought. I love it because life seems more deep and meaningful in a world of higher orders of mind and connectedness. I have my suspicions that they exist and it doesn’t seem strange to me that we have trouble seeing it.  We are locked into a level of existence and limited perception that make it deeply challenging to learn anything beyond the obvious scope of our senses. Often these exciting results suggest something like intelligence, or intent. Not directly, just a through a kind of “How in the world would that work?” feeling. I have an awestruck joyous response to this. It feel like wonderful news.

But I am not in any way a creationist or intelligent design advocate. “Creation scientists” have named themselves in a way that suggests they are on par with other scientific disciplines but their work begins with tossing out the scientific method. When they teach science they are peddling a substitute. If they want to start a church of intelligent design, by all means do, that sounds like a relatively nice, relatively enlightened  theology. But that is the only appropriate place for their efforts because they are committed in advance to an outcome without testing. Because they conflate experimental results out of proportion to the experiment. Because they start with an agenda and reject counter evidence. Scientists CAN be religious people without tainting the results. They simply practice each in its own domain. “Creation scientists” are lobbyists in lab coat drag.

In this blog I am stating as if with the force of facts, things I only happen to think are true. Things I see and want to share. Occasionally I will report on experimental results that I find interesting or even supportive of my position. The difference is, I don’t call what I am doing Science. I am not a scientist and anyone disagreeing with me would be fair to say I am pretty much just talking out my butt. Maybe even those who agree with me.

My “theories” are true from where I’m looking. I find them compelling enough to want to share but I make no exaggerated claims for their worth. One man’s revelation is another’s “Meh”. Often I challenge myself to figure out something big and the best means I have found to do this is to write about it in public. When my name is on it in in a place where someone might see it, I feel inspired to keep digging and improving.

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 Fade in:

We pan in to see an early stone age man.  
This is a fantasy to properly set the stage so please indulge me.  Imagine this early stone age man with no clothes or tools. It’s as if he just popped into existence this minute with nothing but teeth and strength and a brain. Like a “for reals” version of “Survivor Man”. He is living much like a bear or any other animals smart enough to scratch together a living and come in out of the rain. But he has no tools to help him cope. 
This IS a fantasy because animals like monkeys and crows routinely use simple tools to access food. This means that they are thinking beyond beaks and fingers, that they can visualize an external means of extending their grasp or strength. I expect people have been automatically reaching out for sticks to knock down the high fruit as long as they’ve been here. But this guy is just a way of picturing the human predicament in the raw. It’s cold and wet, it’s hard to catch food. Hell, it’s hard to do pretty much anything. 
 

Cut to: 

 Several cavemen hunters standing on the crest of a hill dusted with snow. They are wearing treated skins carefully sewn with a bone needle and thread spun from flax fibers. Among them they have:
  • Extremely sharp spear points
  • Long spears that let the holder stay well back from danger
  • Throwing spears with atlatl, a flexible extension that gave the throw far more power and accuracy by using a snap motion just before release
  • Bows and arrows
  • Cutting and scraping tools for butchering
 These late stone age men have become creatures that can resist rain and stand colder temperatures. They can walk over hard sharp stones without pain. They have  deadly stingers that can shoot meters away. They have another tool that makes them daunting.  They can say things to each other like “He’s behind that tree!” or “go down there and wait” or “Now!”. This language is closer to innate than his lance or clothes but is in a created code. The code contains invented nuances that are certainly honed and shaped to make them “sharper”. 
 
If I described any two animals with such dramatic differences between them as our early and late cavemen, the only sensible guess would be that they are different species. Our “Modern Cavemen” have taken on things that nature never gave them directly. They have staked out the human pathway: To adopt technologies that change us in practical terms, into a different sort of species than any human group that doesn’t adopt it. Not only ARE we cyborgs, we always have been.
 

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A Species is often defined as the largest group of organisms where two individuals are capable of reproducing fertile offspring, typically using sexual reproduction.

Species Complex is a group of closely related species that are very similar in appearance to the point that the boundaries between them are often unclear. Differentiating measures include similarity of DNA, morphology, or ecological niche.

Speciation is the evolutionary process by which reproductively isolated biological populations evolve to become distinct species.

Adaptive radiation is a process in which organisms diversify rapidly into a multitude of new forms, particularly when a change in the environment makes new resources available, creates new challenges, or opens new environmental niches. Continue reading

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  • Genotype: The genes present in an organism, potential or expressed.
  • Phenotype: The genes the organism is expressing.
  • Epigenetics: the turning on or off of gene expression via environmental events…”nurture”.
  • Behavioral Epigenetics: The study of how these events in the environment trigger molecular biological changes in our brains. These include: social experience; nutrition; hormones; and toxicological exposures that occur prenatally, postnatally, and in adulthood. 

A common example is the way that twins, born with basically identical phenotypes, vary as individuals in behavior, appearance and health. Nurture, experience and behavior drive the expression of different genes, leading to generally larger changes over the course of their lives. 

The study of epigenetics is a tiny new branch off the tree of molecular biology and behavioral epigenetics is a bud on that branch. Yet it is already a vast and exciting field. Excitement and ferment in science can be measured partly by how many new questions are bubbling up in that area. Most experiments in this area are yielding more questions than answers but that in a sense describes how deep and rich a mine this is for scientists to explore.  The field is seen as holding the potential to explain and perhaps even solve medical troubles, such as mental retardation, autism, schizophrenia, and neurodegenerative disorders, and even social issues, such as aging, addiction, suicide, child abuse, and child neglect. 

 

Food for thought: 

  • This totally relates to my earlier post “Epigenetics changes everything” The idea that a fear could be passed epigenetically three generations forward with no reinforcement still absolutely boggles my mind. It hints at some of the complexity within this system. 
  • In relation to Darwinism – It doesn’t exactly invalidate Darwinism because at its root, Darwinism is a small group of simple truisms that explain very little. But it further reveals how much more elegant and sophisticated life is than explained in classical Darwinism. Not that Darwin himself can be faulted for not have more advanced knowledge. Interestingly, two of Darwin’s losing rivals for a theory of inheritance, Alfred Russell Wallace and Jean Baptiste Lamarck continue to be redeemed by our advancing knowledge. Wallace saw a potential for improving the lot of the poor through this knowledge and Lamarck believed the experiences of  an organism could cause changes inherited by later generations. Darwin himself favored the idea of harsh competition as the driving force. The importance of Darwinism has always been drawing a hard line between nature and theology. The continued social disputes over Darwinism VS creationism just show how hard it is to make any intellectual advances culturally on hot button issues. 
  • If the experience of gruelling poverty causes measurable impact on children (and thus, their entire lives and descendents) couldn’t this be considered cultural child abuse or at least neglect? 
  • A related but separate issue. Darwin was personally a mild and retiring character but he was wealthy and privileged. In his own mind his theory was also a justification for rich vs poor, upper class vs lower class. EG: We are rich and well because because we are fitter. You are poor and sick because you are less fit. H.G. Wells sketched a nightmare projection of this into the future in his book: The Time Machine with the two branches of the human race, the Eloi (rich) and the Morlock (poor). Although Wells was a socialist, Darwin must have had a somewhat similar picture of the future except for him it would have been acceptable. 
  • I’d like to reference my earlier post “The Neuromechanics of Cruelty” for a number of examples of how Darwin was simply acting out the familiar human traits of rationalizing his privilege and seeing it as based on personal merit. As were all the harsher “social darwinists” who followed. 
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 Connecting some of the subjects here recently: The Blending Problem, Holons, etc. here’s a natural, earthy synthesis. It proves nothing, I think you see it or you don’t. It’s fascinating too how paradoxical individuality is from this point of view. Every individual is a colony but every colony is built of individuals. bee
 
From Thomas Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy:

“A colony of honeybees is, then, far more than an aggregation of individuals, it is a composite being that functions as an integrated whole. Indeed, one can accurately think of a honeybee colony as a single living entity, weighing as much as 5 kilograms (10 pounds) and performing all of the basic physiological processes that support life: ingesting and digesting food, maintaining nutritional balance, circulating resources, exchanging respiratory gases, regulating water content, controlling body temperature, sensing the environment, deciding how to behave, and achieving locomotion.”

There is an idea gaining credibility that just as hives behave as individuals made up of the independently moving “cells”, that primate brains are almost like hives unto themselves…vast collectives of caste system individuals handling tasks that cumulatively produce the neurological reality experienced by the individual. This can’t be described as a final proven fact, but the model holds up, right down to the notion of specific cells that are needed being produced. algorithmically to changing needs. This extends to decision-making, which is the main subject of Honeybee Democracy. The bees exercise a collective intelligence that mimics not just small-group decision-making but the cognitive deliberations of our own brains:

“We will see that the 1.5 kilograms (3 pounds) of bees in a honeybee swarm, just like the 1.5 kilograms (3 pounds) of neurons in a human brain, achieve their collective wisdom by organizing themselves in such a way that even though each individual has limited information and limited intelligence, the group as a whole makes first-rate collective.”

Like many biologists, Seeley sees a bee colony as not just a collection of individuals but as a sort of super-organism. He continues:

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Earth needs a little team spirit! In a quest for unity and good sportsmanship we’ve started a team that everyone can join in anticipation of eventual extraterrestrial opposition. You know it will come and we need to be ready.

So Go Team Terra! Yup, we called dibs on naming it. We’ll have to hammer out what sport we play later, We’re torn between Australian Rules Football and Curling. Either way, it’s not the sort of issue likely to become divisive. And of course we have to keep in mind that our alien adversaries may have sports that vary in small ways from our own. So that can wait.

But we need a mascot. Both cats and dogs have been considered but to choose one and not the other would alienate almost half the human race. Not  a good start. Some sort of cat/dog hybrid was considered but it turned out to look like a carnivorous monkey. That brought up the idea “Why not People?” So…The Terran …People? We quickly realized that it would be necessary to have a cute mascot pictured on the jerseys and key chains and coffee mugs and we could not agree on a cute person, or face, or sex or ethnicity or implied religion… Continue reading

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