Posted by c. wagner on February 1, 2010
Scientists such as Thomas Huxley and the anatomist Carl Gegenbaur found lungfish to be essentially a cross between an amphibian and a fish. Locals found them delicious. [page 33]
What’s important depends on your perspective.
(from Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish)
Posted in Recent reading | Tagged: amphibians, evolution, fish, Neil Shubin, perspective, practical, science | Leave a Comment »
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.
Posted in Recent reading | Tagged: animals, Avatar, biology, evolution, exterrestrials, movies, Neil Shubin, other planets, outer space, science, science fiction | Leave a Comment »
Posted by c. wagner on November 20, 2009
What to Audit lists a series of incarnations or a “time-track” from the beginnings of the universe to man: the evolution, or “genetic line,” of the human body. According to Hubbard, the “time-track” runs back to a point where the individual seemed to be “an atom, complete with electronic rings.” After which came the “cosmic impact,” then the “photon converter,” and then the first single-cell creature to reproduce by dividing, the “helper.” Passing quickly through “seaweed,” the evolutionary line moved on to “jellyfish” and then the “clam.” … The next stage in Hubbard’s evolutionary theory was another shellfish, the “Weeper” (also the “Boohoo,” or as Hubbard jovially refers to it at one point, “the Grim Weeper”). This creature is the origin of human “belching, gasping, sobbing, choking, shuddering, trembling.” Fear of falling has its origin with hapless Weepers which were dropped by predatory birds. After a few comments on “being eaten” (which allegedly explains diet fads and vegetarianism), Hubbard moves forward in evolution to the sloth. It seems that none of the incarnations between shellfish and the sloth was unpleasant enough to cause major psychological damage. From the sloth, Hubbard moves on to the “ape,” and the Piltdown man (who had very large teeth, and a nasty habit of eating his spouse); then the caveman (who presumably had smaller teeth, and used to cripple his wife instead of eating her). From there, usually “via Greece and Rome,” Hubbard’s theory moves to modern times. [page 131-132]
Whoa. I had no idea one of my ancestors was a creature whose skull contained a lower jaw from an orangutan and a cranium from a modern human that was buried by a hoaxster in a gravel pit in England in 1912. That’s what the Piltdown man was. So, technically he should come after “Greece and Rome” on the Scientology evolutionary tree. Sheesh, he’s young enough to be one of my grandparents.
Way to go, higher Scientological higher intelligences!
(quote from A Piece of Blue Sky by Jon Atack)
Posted in Recent reading | Tagged: evolution, hoaxes, L. Ron Hubbard, Piltdown man, Scientology, WTF | Leave a Comment »
Posted by c. wagner on November 12, 2009
I’ve probably said this already, but I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. A lot of reading. I had yesterday off and went through two good-sized hunks of non-fiction. One title I stumbled across after following a link from a Twitter feed to a blog to a magazine article to my library and finally the book. The other I spotted in the hand of one of the hosts of a documentary I was watching.
The documentary-inspired title was T. rex and the Crater of Doom by Walter Alvarez. It details the hunt for the meteor impact crater linked to the extinction of the dinosaurs (and just about everything else on Earth at the time). This would be the monstrous, but nigh-invisible crater called Chicxulub just off the Yucatan peninsula.
Alvarez’s description of the immediate effects of the dinosaur-killer is terrifying and strangely beautiful. There’s nothing like the image of a mushroom cloud reaching up all the way through the atmosphere or the very air glowing red from bits of rock screaming back down. And there’s nothing like that sort of image to make you feel for the fragility of life on our beautiful little planet.
It is worth pondering the realization that each of us is descended from unknown ancestors who were alive on that day when the fatal rock fell from the sky. They survived and the dinosaurs did not, and that is the reason why we are here now–as individuals and as a species. That one terrible day undid the benefits which 150 million years of natural selection had conferred upon the dinosaurs, making them ever fitter to be the large land animals of Earth. Evolution had not equipped them to survive the environmental disasters inflicted by a huge impact, and when the holocaust was over, they were gone. [page 130]
I feel very, very small.
Posted in Recent reading | Tagged: Chicxulub, craters, dinosaurs, evolution, life, mass extinctions, randomness, science | Leave a Comment »
Posted by c. wagner on November 10, 2009
One thing that all of my recent reading on science, skepticism, and atheism has given me is a renewed sense of the magic and wonder of life, the universe, and everything. I’ve run up against a number of sentences like this one from Joel Achenbach:
All we know for sure is that a human being is the distillate of four billion years of genetic change. We embody the magnificent patience of chemistry, its ability to plod ahead, atom by atom, molecule by molecule, and gradually bumble its way toward something remarkable. And we take it all for granted. [page 296]
There’s just something … majestic in that. That out of randomness and mindless molecules something as beautiful and remarkable as the world in which we find ourselves came to be. Somehow, it seems even more awe-inspiring to me when you take an intelligent designer out of the picture. If things were just a little different, if things had happened differently, everything might be completely different. We might not even be here to contemplate it.
It’s nothing short of miraculous.
Posted in Recent reading | Tagged: chemistry, evolution, humans, life | Leave a Comment »
Posted by c. wagner on November 2, 2009
A little more Mr. Deity hilarity for your viewing pleasure. This time he consults with his science advisor (science blogger PZ Myers) about ways to improve his designs for humanity. *giggle*
Posted in Videos | Tagged: evolution, god, humor, Mr. Deity, PZ Myers, science | Leave a Comment »
Posted by c. wagner on October 26, 2009
Poll data suck and the sample is small, but the trend shown in a recent poll printed in the Guardian is still disturbing. Apparently, the Brits have caught the creationist bug, too. 54% of respondents said that creationism should be part of the national science curriculum along with evolution. *sigh*
And then I find more polls from the BBC. I’ll just let the article summarize itself.
More than half of adults in a survey of 10 countries [Argentina, China, Egypt, Great Britain, India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Spain, and the USA] thought school science lessons should teach evolutionary theories alongside creationism.
Read the article from the Guardian.
Read the article from the BBC.
Posted in News | Tagged: creationism, evolution, religion, science | 3 Comments »
Posted by c. wagner on October 26, 2009
It’s not just the Christian fringe that’s deluded itself into challenging the validity of evolution. Islam has its own anti-evolution fringe.
I can’t say I’m surprised. I am surprised, though, by just how whacky the fringe’s loudest voice in Turkey, Haroun Yahya, can sound:
When I asked how so many evolutionary biologists could be wrong, he replied, “We need to talk about the Masons’ role because Masons manage the world through a scientific dictatorship.” When I suggested that scientists would be surprised to hear this, he said that’s because the Masons’ “essential characteristic is that they act secretly and they are invisible.”
A “scientific dictatorship”? Whoa. And I thought blaming the Masons went out of style a while ago. Guess it’s too good a theory to let go.
Read the article at Slate.
Thanks to Richarddawkins.net for pointing this one out. (I lurve my Twitter feeds!)
Posted in Recent reading | Tagged: creationism, evolution, Haroun Yahya, Islam, Masons, WTF | Leave a Comment »