slumber-powered

after the sleeping comes the waking up.

Posts Tagged ‘animals’

Back to Blogging with a Movie Commentary

Posted by c. wagner on January 27, 2010

So, it’s about time I get back on the blogging bandwagon. Since I’m home sick with a sore throat and runny nose (the same one that put my girlfriend out of commission for three days), it seems like a good time to start back up.

I went to see Avatar the other night….

That was a long three hours.

Of course, part of the problem may have been that I was reading Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish at the time. Shubin’s book shows how you can track evolution through the similarities between humans and other animals in body design and structures. His major point is that all forms of life have something in common, especially the more complex the animals are. He writes:

When you see these deep similarities among different organs and bodies, you begin to recognize that the diverse inhabitants of our world are just variations on a theme. [page 80]

For example [my example], just about every animal non-insect land animal has its air intake (otherwise known as a nose) in its head. The air then follows a tube to a pair of lungs in the chest. The humanoids in Avatar have this arrangement. But some of the major animals (the flying lizard-bird things, the “horses”) on their world have a different setup. Their air intakes were in their chests. I couldn’t make sense of this and it distracted me from what there was of a plot. How does one explain such radically different body plans? Were the scientists studying this? Was there even an evolutionary biologist on staff? We sure didn’t hear about him or her.

They also didn’t think about the unlikelihood that an alien planet would have DNA (or something compatible with DNA) as the encoder of genetic information, how odd it would be for so many Earth-like plants and animals to evolve in an environment with a radically different atmosphere, how the tidal forces of being a moon in a gas giant / multi-moon system might make the planet violently volcanically active (like Jupiter’s moon Io), or the odds against the dominant life form being a large-brained, bipedal mammal, like humans.

Of course, the answer is that Avatar is just a movie and some creature designer thought nostrils in chests looked cool (“like jet intakes” according to the girlfriend) and didn’t really think about the evolutionary biology necessary to create that sort of structure. Darn.

Somehow, I think that movie would have been more interesting than the one I saw.

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Did she have an affair with the Easter Bunny?

Posted by c. wagner on October 21, 2009

Wikipedia featured one of my favorite hoaxes on the front page today: Mary Toft and her rabbit “babies”.

Seems that Mary, after a miscarriage, began giving birth to rabbits. Or, more accurately, parts of rabbits. She was examined by a number of doctors, including some of great prominence, who declared that Mary was telling the truth. Miraculously, she was the mother of rabbit parts. Some doctors remained skeptical.

Eventually, Mary was isolated for a number of days. No more bunny bits. Under pressure, Mary confessed it was all a hoax. But that wasn’t quite the end of the story.

The public mockery which followed created panic within the medical profession. Several prominent surgeons’ careers were ruined, and many satirical works were produced, each scathingly critical of the affair. The pictorial satirist and social critic William Hogarth was notably critical of the gullibility of the medical profession.

Mary hoaxed some of the best medicine had to offer in the early 1700s. And it seems as though the profession has learned its lessons from her and other similar incidents. It’s much harder to hoax men of medicine now, but plenty of people are fooled by non-doctors making amazing claims about health and healing.

If your baloney detector goes off, it might just be a scam.

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It would be nice to float upside down.

Posted by c. wagner on October 20, 2009

One of my favorite critters: the manatee.

From Sethtex’s Flickr photostream.

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