April 17, 2002
[science] The Time Lord — profile of Stephen Jay Gould‘…in 1974, Gould – now with Harvard University – began writing a monthly column on ‘This View of Life’ (a phrase borrowed from Darwin’s The Origin of Species) for the US journal Natural History. It became a Western publishing phenomenon. For the next 26 years – he always vowed he would stop writing them in 2001 – Gould produced a stream of 10,000-word essays, uninterrupted even when he needed intense treatment for abdominal cancer, on subjects that have ranged from snails to the evolution of typewriters, from dinosaurs to Antoine Lavoisier, and from space travel to, of course, baseball. All were written with authority and verve, and very often an engaging dry wit. One, on the evolution of human sexual organs, he even tried to call ‘Clits and Tits’ but was blocked by his publishers.’
April 13, 2002
[quote] Albert Einstein: ‘You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat.’ [via Sore Eyes]
April 12, 2002
[brain] The Fully Immersive Mind of Oliver Sacks — great profile from Wired Magazine … ‘The periodic grid of the elements first appeared in a dream to the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869. Before falling asleep at his desk, the white-bearded chemist played several rounds of solitaire, and his ordering scheme may have been influenced by the arrangement of suits in the game. The table in South Kensington was an unusual one, containing not only the atomic weight, number, and symbol for each element but also samples of the elements themselves sealed in jars, bequeathed to the museum by one of Napoléon’s heirs. To the young chemist and neurologist-to-be, this grand display was an irrefutable confirmation that there was order underlying the apparent chaos of the universe, and that the human mind had been keen enough to perceive it.’ [via Follow Me Here]
January 9, 2002
[books] The Digested Read covers The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking‘Apparently, a large number of the many millions who bought A Brief History of Time got stuck on page one. Oh dear. I expected more of my readers.’
August 19, 2001
[profile] Salon profiles Robert Ballard (the discoverer of Titanic) … ‘In “Eternal Darkness,” Ballard describes what he saw: “Warm water shimmered up from cracks in the lava flows. It was turning a cloudy blue as manganese and other minerals, carried from deep within the seafloor, precipitated out of solution to form a solid coating on the cooler surrounding rocks. But that was not all. The seafloor was teeming with life.” For several days, Ballard explored the hydrothermal vents, taking specimens and preserving them in Russian vodka purchased at port in Panama. In other words: Been there, done it, mapped it, sampled it and pickled it in vodka.’
July 28, 2001
[mindfucking] Taming the multiverse — New Scientist on Parallel Universes… ‘In classical physics, [Deutsch] says, there is no such thing as “if”; the future is determined absolutely by the past. So there can be no free will. In the multiverse, however, there are alternatives; the quantum possibilities really happen. Free will might have a sensible definition, Deutsch thinks, because the alternatives don’t have to occur within equally large slices of the multiverse. “By making good choices, doing the right thing, we thicken the stack of universes in which versions of us live reasonable lives,” he says. “When you succeed, all the copies of you who made the same decision succeed too. What you do for the better increases the portion of the multiverse where good things happen.”‘ [NOT Related: Crisis On Infinite Earths]
July 5, 2001
[science] The Prophet of Reason — The Independent profiles Richard Dawkins…. ‘What about, “why are humans so credulous?” I ask. So happy to pay through the nose for an aura massage or crystal healing. Mustn’t gullibility have an evolutionary explanation too? “I would put it back to childhood and say that there’s a Darwinian survival value in children believing what their elders tell them, because the world is too dangerous a place and it takes too long to learn what you need to learn to survive,” Dawkins replies. “You’ve got to have a rule of thumb that’s built into the nervous system that says ‘Believe what you’re told’. And once you’ve got a rule of thumb like that, it’s like having a computer, which is vulnerable to viruses.’
June 30, 2001
[life] A Lease On Life — the Guardian looks at human longevity… ‘In theory, evolution could have come up with a different design, a human who reached sexual maturity decades later, or who went on having children for longer. But then the sabre-tooth factor kicks in. In mankind’s hunter-gatherer days, the chances were that something would kill you before you reached your mid-30s. It might have been famine, or murder, or a predator, or a nasty bacterium. There would have been no evolutionary point in having a man or woman who was in their physical prime at 70, if they had only a million-to-one chance of surviving violence and illness for that long. We’re a bit like cars. Maybe you could design and build a car that would last 1,000 years. But why would you, if the cars cost a billion pounds each, and were 99% likely to be destroyed in an accident in half that time?’
June 27, 2001
[BIG questions] Time wonders How The Universe Will End‘…Adams predicts that all this dead matter will eventually collapse into black holes. By the time the universe is 1 trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion years old, the black holes themselves will disintegrate into stray particles, which will bind loosely to form individual “atoms” larger than the size of today’s universe. Eventually, even these will decay, leaving a featureless, infinitely large void. And that will be that?unless, of course, whatever inconceivable event that launched the original Big Bang should recur, and the ultimate free lunch is served once more.’ [via Ghost in the Machine]
March 20, 2001
[comics] Master of the Universe — Wired has a great article about Neal Adams and his slightly off the wall ideas about science. ‘Adams has been fascinated by science for as long as he can remember, and he travels between disciplines like a car zigzagging on the freeway. For him, the notion of a growing Earth is just a starting point on the way to debunking not only a core principle of geology – plate tectonics – but the very underpinnings of geophysics, cosmology, particle physics, even Einstein’s assertions about the speed of light. If the Earth is growing, he insists, this means the total amount of matter and energy in the universe is increasing – which means matter is infinite, not finite like big bang theorists believe. Adams doesn’t even believe there was a big bang. It was more like a whimper, a birthing cry to herald what’s really been going on ever since: Matter is being created all the time, in astounding quantities. The Earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the entire universe – it’s all growing. Not just expanding relative to one another through space. Growing.’
February 12, 2001
[aids] Excellent website with lots of information on the controversial / disturbing theory that AIDS origins lie in a early polio vaccines contaminated with viruses from chimpanzee kidneys. [Related Links: Scientists rule out polio link to Aids]
January 28, 2001
[nasty] What is Botox? ‘Produced by a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum , Botox – or Botulinum toxin, to give it its full name – is a nerve impulse ‘blocker’, a medication used to temporarily paralyse muscle function. This has been useful in the treatment of illnesses such as MS and cerebral palsy, but more recently has been used to cure that plague of affluent Western civilisation: wrinkles.’
January 20, 2001
[weird science] Excellent overview of the underground movement building up around the science of cloning from Wired… ‘All of these activities point to an unmistakable conclusion: Human cloning has become inevitable. “It will be done by someone, somewhere,” Columbia’s Sauer asserts. And when it’s done, say experts, we’ll be in for a major shock. Not because human cloning will be as terrible and disruptive as widely assumed. But because we will realize that most of our ideas about it were all wrong, that the cloning fostered by our imaginations and nightmares doesn’t really exist. We’ll also see that the ethical hand-wringing over the issue is anachronistic compared with other biotech dilemmas waiting just around the bend.’
January 14, 2001
[weird science] Makes me think of Blade Runnera proposal for a standard way to encode ASCII characters in DNA. ‘Once we start editing DNA on a large scale, we will need to keep track of what we do, revision histories, comment the new genes and add copyright notices.’
January 6, 2001
[more weird science] Forbes profiles Stephen Wolfram another of those scientists with brains the size of planets who are trying to figure out exactly what the rules are that make this Universe tick… ‘One rule, whose number he refuses to disclose, is a “universal computer,” apparently capable of creating the complexity found in the universe, not to mention possibly revolutionizing the way computers are built. It sounds clever, but is it right? After all, it’s a long way from something that looks like a crack in a sidewalk to the hundreds of billions of stars and all their accompanying planets, and every molecule on every one of them, in the Milky Way. “Is there any other evidence,” I ask, “that this process takes place in the real world?” Wolfram makes a small smile. He takes me over to a bank of printers and terminals and pulls out a large sheet of paper. On it are the results of a rule that creates great triangles within triangles. “Now,” he says, “look at this.” He pulls open a drawer, takes out one of those odd seashells, and hands it to me. A chill runs down my back. On the cold, shiny surface of the conical shell, in light brown, is etched the exact same pattern as in the printout.’ [via Metafilter]
December 31, 2000
[weird science] The Observer looks at another attempt at creating a viable fusion reactor — a great piece of journalism about science. ‘…the human culture surrounding the Machine attempts to mimic the Machine itself , which is trying to mimic the universe. The mannerisms of the Machine become the mannerisms of its minions – people rage and tyrannise, overheat, relent, synergise, procreate, vanish, and recur. One idea seems brilliant and fails, while another may start as a quail but then, compressed by other ideas – electrons stripping off, ions colliding – transforms into something sharp and fast, something agitatingly, beautifully right. And then, of course, it is shot into the Machine to see if it is.’
November 12, 2000
[reading] Jurrassic Park by Michael Crichton: ‘”But we have soothed ourselves into imagining sudden change as something that happens outside the normal order of things. An accident, like a car crash. Or beyond our control like a fatal illness. We do not concieve of sudden, radical, irrational change as built into the very fabric of existence. Yet it is. And chaos theory teaches us,” Malcolm said, “that straight linearity, which we have come to take for granted in everything from physics to fiction, simply does not exist. Linearity is an artificial way of viewing the world. Real life isn’t a series of interconnected events occurring one after another like beads strung on a necklace. Life is actually a series of encounters in which one event may change those that follow in a wholly unpredictable, even devastating way”. Malcolm sat back in his seat, looking towards the other Land Cruiser, a few yards ahead. “That’s a deep truth about the structure of our universe. But for some reason, we insist on behaving as if it were not true.”‘
November 7, 2000
[science] I have two brains… one in my stomach! How cool is that? ‘This ‘second brain’ is made up of a knot of brain nerves in the digestive tract. It is thought to involve around 100 billion nerve cells – more than held in the spinal cord. Researchers believe this belly brain may save information on physical reactions to mental processes and give out signals to influence later decisions. It may also be responsible in the creation of reactions such as joy or sadness.’ [via Bloglet]
October 12, 2000
[wierd science] Human cloning. It’s going to happen — sooner than you think: Cult in first bid to clone human ‘The Raelians offered no proof that they had any of the medical skills required to clone, but they last year stated their ambition to make it happen and, according to impartial scientists, there is no longer any technical reason why they should not succeed.’ [via Robot Wisdom]
September 29, 2000
[metafilter] Great posting on Metafilter: ‘130 Years old! See! God may not exist, but technology will outpace religion and THEN I will live FOREVER!’
September 23, 2000
[eugenics] Guardian Unlimited reports on a new book alleging that an American scientist infected thousands of South American Indians with a measles-like virus [in the process killing hundreds] to test a theory on the effects of natural selection on a primitive society. ‘Prof Turner says that Neel held the view that “natural” human society, as seen before the advent of large-scale agriculture, consists of small, genetically isolated groups in which dominant genes – specifically a gene he believed existed for “leadership” or “innate ability” – have a selective advantage. In such an environment, male carriers of this gene would gain access to a disproportionate number of females, reproducing their genes more frequently than less “innately able” males. The result would supposedly be a continual upgrading of the human genetic stock. He says Neel believed that in modern societies “superior leadership genes would be swamped by mass genetic mediocrity”.’
September 13, 2000
[aids] Heretic! Scientists argue over whether AIDS was caused by western virologists developing polio vacines in the 1950s… ‘Since The River was published Hooper has had his integrity questioned throughout. His powerful critics have accused him of being a “madman”, “a tenth-rate journalist”, a “conspiracy theorist”, of having “more time than sense”, and of being “speculative”. His accuracy has been questioned as well as his journalistic methods and motives. John Moore, professor of microbiology and immunology at Cornell University, has accused him of “twisting and manipulating” facts, of being paid by his “crony Hamilton to write about his pet theory”.’ [BBC Report: Scientists rule out polio link to Aids]
July 11, 2000
[vikings] The BBC wants to find out if you are a Viking.
June 28, 2000
[genome] newsUnlimited on biotech bullshit: We are told that the Book of Life is the most complex sequence of letters ever written, though whoever said that never took One Hundred Years of Solitude on holiday.’
June 8, 2000
[weird science] Two links that prove we have left the 20th. Century: Scientists transplant brain of eel into robot and discover that some things travel faster than light.
May 18, 2000
[tech] Vavatch Orbital has a dig at Prince Charles over his Reith Lecture: “I believe that if we are to achieve genuinely sustainable development we will first have to rediscover, or re-acknowledge a sense of the sacred in our dealings with the natural world, and with each other. If literally nothing is held sacred anymore – because it is considered synonymous with superstition or in some other way “irrational” – what is there to prevent us treating our entire world as some “great laboratory of life” with potentially disastrous long term consequences?” — Prince Charles [Update: Unsurprisingly, Stephen Hawkins has entered the debate: “[…] people in 50 years’ time will wonder what all the fuss about GM food was all about”]
May 10, 2000
[clones] First cloned mouse dies reports BBC News. “Dr Yanagimachi has indicated that Cumulina’s remains will be preserved and mounted in a new permanent exhibit in a new Institute for Biogenesis Research.”
May 6, 2000
[dna] newsUnlimited has a good overview of the race to decode the human genome. Beneath the venom towards Venter lies another human emotion – fear. “Everyone is frightened of losing,” said a senior scientist from the Pasteur Institute. “The human genome is only going to be sequenced once and it will never need to be done again. There are Nobel prizes riding on this. It’s a big, big prize and it’s technology driven. Craig is in cahoots with the American makers of the DNA sequencers we all use. He is also a self-aggrandising pain in the arse.”
April 1, 2000
[the world only makes sense when you force it to] These three links caused my head to ache yesterday: The Universe is a Holgram? Guh? Mount Etna blows smoke rings? Muh? Finally, a Newsunlimited article about what’s happening about cloning around the world. [Text-Only] Duh?