Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Inflatable Animals

No reason.  I just think this is neat.  Enjoy.

Swallowtail Caterpillars
  • Purpose - defense.  They're stinky.

Primates Rumps
  • Purpose - it's sexy...apparently.  And, it lets the guys know you're ready for some lovin'.  
    • Thank the stars that we evolved away from this.  Can you imagine all the 'lip stick' and implants some women would get?  I shudder at the thought...

black crested macaque

hamadryas baboon
Stalk-eyed fly
  • Purpose - to show off to the ladies.

Wear a brain diaper for this:

Hooded Seal
  • Purpose - sexiness
Don't even try to figure it out.  It's the inside of one of his nostrils.

*** You must see this to believe it.  Unreal.   Surreal.  Really real.
ARKive - Hooded seal video - Cystophora cristata - 12

Frigate bird
  • Purpose - sexiness

    Tragopan bird
    • Purpose -what else? Sexiness

    Greater Sage Grouse

    • Purpose - sexiness.

    • Purpose - resonate croaks for...what else?  Sexiness

    Puffer fishes
    • Purpose - be too big and spiky to eat.

    • Purpose - gorge
    This is so disgusting I have vivid memories from watching it years ago:

    Swell shark
    • Purpose - become a mouthful.
    • Purpose - they're hungry

    Longer, awesomer, David Attenborougher, also pit viper:

    Even gators like to wear snake skin

    • Purpose - camo and to look intimidating

    • Purpose - internal fertilization
    I'll limit myself to one that is just too ducking great to pass up posting.
      17 inches

      Images from here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, herehere and here.

      Monday, December 27, 2010

      Why Do Dogs/Cats Have Wet Noses??

      Since a dog's nose doesn't have sweat pores, it's moisturized, aside from licking, by capillary action in the rivulets of the nose.

      If you've ever watched a good cops and robbers chase movie, or played tag as a kid you might understand how that the best place to hide is often in plain sight - make it so obvious that no one would look there.  That's also what makes for a great twist at the end of a movie - it's right in front of you and you'd never guess it - brilliant.

      Stick Man is 'under'-'standing'
      I even love this in words.  It's great to learn something about a root word and be in awe that you never thought about that before.  I'll give an example from the above paragraph (completely unplanned)--understand.  Our language is loaded with words like this that you probably never, ever think about how it's the combination of 'under' and 'stand' - when you understand you are analogically standing beneath the idea.  Brilliant.  So obvious.

      It's the same with this question.  I'm captivated because it's so obvious.  Why have I never thought about or questioned why dogs and cats (and plenty of other mammals) have wet noses (rhinariums)!!!

      Let's look at some possibilities and consider how they could be falsified (I've been convicted that I need to add falsification tests to more of my blogs). (Let me say that I'm biased and clearly have one favorite answer)

      • Thermoregulation - the nut shell: "Dogs and cats have wet noses like we sweat - to cool off."
        • Compare cold and warm weather wet noses.  They should be bigger in hot weather climates and smaller farther north/higher in elevation.
        • Measure heat coming off nose.  It should be significant if that's the purpose of the rhinarium.
        • Consider blood flow levels and the shape of the organ in comparison to other 'known' thermoregulation organs.  Consider the ears of a jack rabbit or elephant or the spinal ridge of a dimetrodon.  Each of these organs got big, thin and heavily vasculated to radiate heat out.  Those examples are quite different from a wet nose.
      African elephants have bigger ears because they have a greater need to deal with excess heat.

        • Lick Hypothesis - *Winner of the Tautology Award.  Talk about cart before horse.  The websites that I saw this at (which were many) have not thought through this.  Giraffe necks are long because they grew alot.  Duh.

        • Smell Catcher
          • Identity/count olfactory receptors or channels to receptors in comparison to known receptor zones.
          • Consider why being able to passively smell (as opposed to actively breathing in the scent) might be an advantage - high wind environments, low breathing rates...
          • Interesting article on the rhinarium's smell sorting function.

        • Weathervane - related question: why do many animals have two nostrils, but they're on the same side of the head??  One might assume we have two nostrils in order to sense the direction a smell is coming from.  This is why you have ears on each side of your head.  Your brain does split second calculations comparing which ear heard first and loudest.  Have you ever had the experience where you hear something unexpected directly behind you and it sounded like it was in front of you?  It's rare, but I have.  Like abnormal psychology has much to teach us about normal brain function, so can a slight malfunction of our normal sound directionality perception teach us how important and powerful having ears on each side of our head to determine the location of the sound. 
          • Count/identify temperature and touch nerves in comparison to other parts of the skin.
          • Is the wet nose omnidirectional?  If it's not then it wouldn't be a very effective weathervane.  It needs to be able to sense zephyrs of wind from many vantage points and contrast the evaporative coolness on different sides.
          • Anesthetize one and later both sides of the outside of the nose.  See if directionality of smelling is inhibited or if animal is misled to the wrong direction.  As in, if the right side is anesthetized that the animal goes to its left to find smell source since all wind will seem to come from the left.
          • Anesthetize the olfactory cells in one side of nose.  See if directionality of smelling is inhibited.
          • Create windless environment and see if directionality of smelling is inhibited.
          • Do animals that breath through one nostril at a time (like humans, supposedly we alternate nostrils every 6 hours) need directional smelling less or have other adaptations to deal with the problem?  Is this alternating form of breathing widespread?
          • Are animals that have dry noses more likely to have nostrils that face opposite directions to make up for a directionality sensing deficit? 
        A theoretical sketch of the possible advantages and disadvantages of having nostrils on opposite sides of an organisms head versus a nose with a built in weathervane.
        *Related bonus question: why do many species with rhinariums have a slit running on the outside of the nose (see bear picture above)?  I've  heard that many species have a flap within their nasal passage that directs out going air out the sides and inward throw the middle to flow over the smell receptors.  This helps avoid the problem of double smelling or smelling something coming out of your lungs.  Fascinating!
            Wet noses are so largely universal in mammals that the above exception is so notable that it's become a part of its name: hairy-nosed wombat.  Certain primates are another another exception: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haplorrhine

            Images are from:  here, here, here, here, here, here, and here 

              Thursday, December 23, 2010

              Cooperation Outcompetes Competition - The Evolution of Morality

              When people don't believe in evolution it's never because of science. It's for religious reasons often masquerading as moral reasons:

              Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ ideas thus powerfully shaped Stalin’s approach to society. Oppression, self glorification, atheism and murder resulted from Stalin’s rejection of his Creator after reading and believing the evolutionary ideas of Darwin. And the most tragic aspect of all? That while Stalin was turning his back on his Creator, he was building his philosophy on a lie. http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v10/i4/stalin.asp

              Hitler’s understanding of the history of life, and that of Marx, Stalin and Mao, was not devised by a German, Russian or Chinese. It was shaped by an Englishman named Charles Darwin. http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v27/i2/darwin.asp
              Those quotes are, of course, complete rubbish, but, in some ways, understandable. Humans have an innate fear of nature. Predators, poisonous snakes, spiders and harsh elements eliminated those of our ancestors that weren't afraid of nature on some level. I think it's possible that this evolved fear might be a partial explanation of why people fear evolution - a purely natural explanation of our own origins.

              This negative, almost condemning tone, can even be seen in Darwin's choice of words, or more accurately, the public's choices of Darwin's words (since he wrote much on altruism as well) . The full title, often unknown, of Darwin's most well known book is: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. The most quoted section of this watershed book ends speaking of the "war of nature, from famine and death.” One can attribute this bellicose view of nature from his contemporary Europe that was in the throws in industrialization, colonization, political turmoil, Marxism, and Malthusian philosophy, poets like Tennyson who spoke of nature being "red in tooth and claw" and even Freud, who in Civilization and Its Discontents spoke of renunciating 'animal' passions.

              There's so much more to the story, though! Thankfully, many great scientists/writers are bringing this message to the public (EO Wilson, Kropotkin, Matt Ridley, Frans deWaal, Robert Wright, et al).

              Here's why this matters: identity proceeds activity.

              Creationists (nor evolutionists) need to be afraid of learning about our past, though. Nature is nice. Evolution is a pragmatist to the extreme and the bottom line is that cooperation works. It's not just polite, it's a smart long term strategy.

              Controversial thesis: nearly every major revolution in evolution is the result of cooperation. Let's take a look.

              • The First Life - 4 Billion years ago- The first life, our cenancestor, was a community of gene, metabolism, protein sharing organisms. Living came from nonliving as a team.

                • Gaia - 3.5-2.0 bya -- Cyanobacteria produce enough oxygen as a by product of photosynthesis that the Earth's atmosphere is drastically change enough that the Earth 'rusted' causing iron in the ocean to dissipate and produce most of today's iron deposits. This 'pollution' also paves the way for future complex aerobic life to evolve.
                  • What Earth's atmosphere would look like without life:
                  • 98% Carbon dioxide
                  • 0% Oxygen
                  • 1% Nitrogen
                • What Earth's atmosphere actually looks like, since life has drastically changed it:
                  • .00035 % Carbon dioxide
                  • 21% Oxygen - not too little to be anemic and not too much to have rampant oxidation, mutation and out of control conflagrations
                  • 78% Nitrogen - highly stable, wonderfully innocuous media
                  • Source: James Lovelock's Gaia

                • Endosymbiosis - 2.0 bya - Scientists like Lynn Margulis looked at mitchondria, the powerhouse of our cells and other eukaryotes, and said, "Gee-whiz, these mitchondria divide like bacteria, have protein making ribosomes like bacteria, have their own unnucleated genome like a bacteria, are structurally shaped like a bacteria...I wonder if they once were bacteria!!??!" When you think about it, it's a shocking proposition. We, and other eukaryotes aren't one thing, we're many things working together. We aren't a human. We're trillions of evolved bacteria working together, bacteria that if you were to separate us from our friends, the mitchondria, we'd quickly die, as would they. This genius idea might have come about as aerobic bacteria (the mitchondria) and anaerobic bacteria (that'd be 'us', so to speak) dividing the labor, became specialists and after billions of years are absolutely, completely, 100% dependent on each other. Marvelous!

                  • 1 bya -- Multicellular life further refines the idea of working as a team of specialists. As oxygen continues to build up in the atmosphere, complex organic molecules like collagen, that use oxygen, can start to stick stuff together to build the vast city scape networks of multicellular life.

                    “...Astonishing is the thought that a human body consists of 10 trillion cells and that a brain contains about 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses.” --William R Murry in the essay Grandeur in This View

                    • Sex - 600 mya -- Organisms wise up and start sharing the best of their DNA in exchange for the best of another organism's DNA thus 'spawning' a revolutionary new way of evolving - sexual recombination, the shuffling of genes. Another major advantage is having a bank of reserve genes stored in recessive genes.

                      “DNA in a single cell of our bodies, so small we cannot see it, if stretched out would reach from fingertip to fingertip of our outstretched arms and that there are trillions of cells in a body and that there is enough DNA in those cells to reach to the sun and back, can fill us with profound amazement." --William R Murry in the essay “Grandeur in This View”

                      • Digestion - 600 mya?-- Simple animals with the first digestive tracts co-evolve with bacteria (and later fungi and protists) to digest food more completely. Consider ourselves. By count, we are more bacteria than human. It's been estimated that a normal person has 10 trillions cell, but on and in us we have100 trillion bacteria cells. Once again, on another level, we are cooperation on legs.

                        • 500 mya -- Plants colonize the land possibly by the symbiosis of fungi (structure) and cyanobacteria (food production).

                            • 200mya - Mammals - What makes us so different from other organisms? How is that we rule the Cenozoic? Warm blood? No, think of other warm blooded animals like birds and arguably dinosaurs. Is it having fur? Not really. Feathers are probably more effective at retaining heat. Is it our differentiated teeth. Eh. I think what makes us special is the way we take extraordinarily good care of our young - we feed them milk through mammary glands. The child offers a way to pass on the mother's DNA and the mother offers milk. Cooperation, care, maternal love.

                              • 140 mya-- Which came first? Dinosaurs or flowering plants? It blows my mind that the correct answer is dinosaurs. For hundreds of millions of years there were forests without any flowers or vivid color, just seas of mostly green. Flowering plants evolved using insects as pollinators and animals as seed distributors. They now out number ferns and conifers 20 to 1. Cooperation works. There are 300,000 species of plants and the newcomers, flowering plants, number 250,000. If there were no flowering plants there'd be none of our normal fruit, butterflies, honey bees, cotton, roses, orchids, or us since our ancestors were fruit eaters, frugivores.
                                These are native to Florida - passion flower!

                                  • 6 mya - 2 mya -- Alloparenting, gives Homo sapiens the ability to provide food for large brained, feeble offspring. "It takes a village to raise a child" really is true for humans. As our brains got bigger, our bodies got smaller (since there were selective forces that were keeper our hips small, like needing to run fast) and our babies started to need so much care that one woman couldn't do it alone, nor could one couple. A whole village was needed - someone to get carbs, like digging up tubers, several men to hunt meat collectively, another to gather fruits and nuts, another to bring water home, etc, etc. Contrast this with wildebeests that have to stand within minutes and join the herds migration or become dinner. Our babies can even raise their head, roll over or walk for a considerable time - often a year before walking!

                                      Yes, there will always be parasites and heterotrophs using short term strategies that take advantage of other organisms, but there must, necessarily, obligatorily be more cooperation than all out competition otherwise the ecosystem will collapse.

                                      Long term, cooperation out competes competition.

                                      Nature is nice.

                                        Images from here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.

                                        Monday, December 6, 2010

                                        Science as Myth Part I of II

                                         Note: these are sketch notes from my presentation at UUCT. They aren't meant to read like my typical blogs. Some of the below was in my presentation and some of it is clippings from the cutting room floor that I thought were great, but not conducive to my presentation 's thrust. Thus, the below may seem a little scattered.

                                        • Intro quotes to the topic of science and religion.
                                          • “I am absolutely convinced hat science is vastly more stimulating to the imagination than are the classics, but the products of the stimulus do not normally see the light because scientific men as a class are devoid of any perception of literary form.” JBS Haldane
                                          • “The next great task of science will be to create a religion for humanity.” --Lord Morley
                                          • “New ideas, usually classed as scientific, have permeated a large section of the community and prevented them from belonging to any of the established churches, whose belief in miracles, in revelation, in the inspired authority of the Bible, runs counter to the established truth, as the scientifically trained see it. The problem is to make a religion for these men and women, whose numbers are bound to increase with the spread of education, and who will otherwise be left without a religion, or with one to which they cannot whole-heartedly give their assent. The conflict between religion and science in the last half-century resulted in the complete defeat of religion's claim to impose its view as authoritative on man’s mind, but it did not build up anything for those whom it emancipated. That reconstruction is our problem today.”--Julian Huxley
                                          • “We can keep from a child all knowledge of earlier myths, but we cannot take from him the need for mythology” Carl Jung

                                        • Purpose of myth - What's function? Purpose? Why is every religion largely collections of myths? Why is the Bible a story book and not a theological disertation?
                                          • UNI(one)VERSE(many)
                                          • Identity - Who am I? Identity supersedes activity. We must know who we are.
                                          • Worth - is the universe/humanity/I good? Can I trust the universe/humanity? Can I open myself up to loving and being vulnerable others?
                                          • Awe/Mystery - What is my context? People must have something greater than themselves to worship or we worship ourselves.
                                            • “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” Albert Einstein
                                          • Sacred/hallowed -
                                            • What is sacred to you?
                                            • ‘reverence for life’
                                          • Morality - How should I relate to others? How should I live? Moral compass to avoid shipwrecking.
                                          • Evil/Devil - “A movement can exist without a god, but never without a devil. There has to be an enemy to be destroyed." --Tony Campolo
                                            • Who is our devil?
                                          • Gratitude - is life worth it? Gratitude is the secret to happiness.

                                        • “The evolutionary epic is probably the best myth we will ever have.” EO Wilson
                                          • Why so ineffective then?
                                          • Why 40% of America not believe?
                                        • What are ways we tell history of universe poorly?
                                          • How not to tell:
                                            • Anti-Gospel - biological history is a history of aggression, dog eat dog, “Struggle for Life” “war of nature, from famine and death” --Darwin , Malthusian, heat death of universe...
                                            • Facts versus story
                                              • All we are? 4 nucleotides, 22 amino acids and one millionn billion cells? If so, of course people don't give a flip.
                                        Star Dust - Children of the Cosmos - Our Atomic हिस्टरी

                                          • For thousands of years we got our mythology, the heavens. Nothing has changed!!
                                          • Before you were a  twinkle in your mother's eye you were a twinkle in a star!!!
                                          • The true alchemists: stars!
                                          • 1% of the static on an old tv set is caused by microwave radiation background noise from big bang
                                          • Hydrogen is a light, odorless gas, which, given enough time, turns into people.' --Dan Wallach
                                          • Smile at the person next to you. Think about the awesome fact that the calcium in their and your bones and teeth is formed by the process of nucleosynthesis deep within the core of a star or in a nova event.
                                          • Press your fingernail and watch the red blood fill your flesh again. Why red? Iron. Same message.
                                          • Supernova overview: Once iron core, no more fusion fuel - core collapses into neutron star whose gravitation force causes an outer layer collapse at 70 km/s that causes it all to undergo nuclear fusion in a matter of seconds causing a bounce back shock wave making heavier elements and the light of 4 billion suns, or all the energy of the sun’s entire life in a matter of moments at 10k miles per second.
                                          • Who wearing gold/jewelry? Those heavier metals only formed in super novas.

                                        • We have right place in galaxy.
                                          • close in for heavy elements
                                          • far out for gamma radiation.
                                        • “If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile. The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible, but all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence.” Ralph Waldo Emerson in “Nature”
                                        • “We are the local embodiment of a cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars!” --Carl Sagan on Cosmos series
                                        • To you ladies, the next time someone asks you how old you are now you have a new response
                                          • I am 13.7 b y old
                                        • Eschatology
                                          • We need to have care in how we speak about death and end times.
                                          • Resurrection
                                          • We have our life through the Death of Stars - Connie Barlow
                                          • Circle of Life
                                          • Legacy

                                        “Middle World” Dawkins
                                          • Large Scale - (Pictures below) Earthrise (230k miles away), Mars Lander Pic (about 50ish million miles), Pale Blue Dot picture from Voyager 1 (3.7 billion miles)
                                          • If the Earth was the size of a basketball:
                                          • Proxima Cetauri - 4400miles. Driving distance from Tallahassee to Anchorage, AK
                                          • The Milky Way is about 100,000 light years in diameter. We would have to make our model 100 million miles wide. This means that to make a model of our galaxy where our sun is the size of a basketball, our model would have to reach from the sun to a point some 10 million miles beyond the earth.
                                          • The edge of the universe, if it's proper to talk about the universe having an edge, is thought to be about 15 billion light years away from us in all directions. Distances this large are incomprehensible. To extend our model to include the entire universe we would need all the space between here and Alpha Centauri

                                          • “Telescopes are time machines.” Carl Sagan
                                          • So old that stars as we seem them must look completely different in reality
                                          • So old in completely different location
                                        • Huble Deep Space
                                          • 3,000 galaxies in shot with 100 bil stars each
                                          • picture size of grain of sand at arm’s length
                                          • 125 billion galaxies

                                          • 70,000 million million million stars. That's the total number of stars in the known universe, according to a study by Australian astronomers. It's also about 10 times as many stars as grains of sand on all the world's beaches and deserts. 7 followed by 22 zeros or, more accurately, 70 sextillion
                                          • When we recognize our place in an immensity of light years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.” --Carl Sagan in The Demon-Haunted World

                                        • Small
                                          • If you were to blow up an atom to the size of a stadium the nucleus would be the size of a fly.
                                          • If an apple was magnified to the size of the Earth, then the atoms in the apple would be approximately the size of the original apple. --Richard Feynman

                                        • Mysteries Universe - How much we don't know
                                            • Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose. I suspect that there are more things in heaven and earth that are dreamed of, or can be dreamed of, in any philosophy.” JBS Haldane

                                          • 4 Fundamental forces
                                            • We have no a how the four fundamental fources work. I mean, why don't electrons (negative) and protons (positive) collide? We have no idea!
                                          • Matter - what is matter made of? What are quarks? Are they made of smaller subatomic particles?
                                            • Electron spin revolves 6.568*10^15 rev per second at much the speed of light
                                          • Time - Is it an illusion? Why is that as you approach the speed of light that time slows down?  Why is that massive bodies have slower time nearer to them (in comparison.
                                          • Space - quantum entanglement - electrons created at the same time separated by hundreds of kilometers behave and spin connectedly. Is space an illusion? Is all matter entangled?

                                          • Electro-magnetism
                                            • Light - double slit experiment - two slits - interference patterns - what happen if you shoot one photon through slits? - interference patterns - goes thru 1, none, left, right simultaneously - observe it only goes thru one - knows it’s being watched...

                                            • If you thought of the electromagnetic spectrum as a movie real running 2,500 miles from Tallhassee to San Francisco, CA, visible light would be one frame on that reel.

                                            • Close eyes. Every second, about 65 billion (6.5×1010) solar neutrinos pass through every square centimeter on the part of the Earth that faces the Sun. (no charge, no interaction)
                                          • Darks - expanding at an increasing rate? What is 90% of the universe? We have no freakin' clue.
                                        • Sun Worship - Children of the Sun - Our Chemical History
                                            • Pop quiz: What's the closest star to us? THE SUN! Duh!
                                            • Fusion Solar Power is what the Earth runs off of
                                            • Did you guys hear the news? Fusion power on Earth has been perfected over the weekend. (Punchline is that fossil fuels are stored fusion power of the sun)
                                            • Hey, did you guys hear? I just bought a solar powered car that can go 120 miles per hour and accelerates from 0 to 60 in about 6 or 7 seconds. (Punchline is that fossil fuels are stored solar power)
                                            • Think about this. The Olympics are just a masterful symphony of solar energy being expended.
                                            • Drinking soda is drinking solar energy (the sugar is stored solar energy).
                                            • Bite in Steak- stored fusion energy!

                                          • Potosynthesis
                                            • Is bombarding photons and exciting electrons to transfer energy.
                                            • Base of ecology of ecosystem
                                            • Predators eat herbivores which eat plants which eat sunshine. So, indirectly we all eat sunshine!!(being overly simplistic)

                                        Solar Powered

                                        Solar Powered

                                        Solar Powered
                                        “For the first time in human existence, we have a cosmic story that is not tied to one cultural tradition, or to a political ideology, but instead gathers every human group into its meanings...We are now creating the common story which will enable Homo sapiens to become a cohesive community. Instead of structuring American society on its own human story, or Soviet society on its own human story and so on, we have the opportunity to tell instead the cosmic story, and the oceanic story and the mammalian story, so that instead of building our lives and our society’s meanings around the various human stories alone, we can build our lives and societies around the Earth story.” 
                                        --Brian Swimme from “The Cosmic Creation Story” in The Reenchantment of Science