Hydrogen, oxygen and carbon,
in ways sublime,
To construct a new bargain.
In protein and DNA
They create a new alphabet,
To make a world at play
That the universe won’t forget.
In coils, fibres and globules
In viscous solutions,
Sparking electricity in
The wise or fools,
Along their very own rules.
What a combination –
Creating plant and nation.
Resulting in spaceships and schools.
And oxygen –
Amen amen amen.
Opher – 8.5.2020
As you can imagine the debate is getting heated. After Attenborough did his programme on humans evolving from marine apes the conservative human evolution establishment is up in arms. They do not like their current theory being challenged.
Human beings evolved from apes in the Rift Valley area of Africa about two million years ago. Not many, apart from the flat-eithers and creationists, are disputing that. We have the fossil evidence.
It is widely believed that we became bipedal on the African savannah in order to hunt and hold tools. The development of intelligence, along with binocular sight and the opposable thumb, necessary for tool manipulation, is well documented.
What David suggested was that we did not become biped on the savannah for hunting but developed this from wading in water to live off molluscs.
So what is the evidence for our aquatic past?
a. Evidence that primitive man ate a lot of bivalves
b. We have blubber (a thick layer of fat under the skin)
c. Babies are born with an immersion syndrome. They naturally hold their breath and can swim under water.
d. We have a physiological change when immersed. Our peripheral blood system shuts down and there are changes in metabolism and brain activity.
e. The hair deposition is of an aquatic animal.
f. We have an affinity for water. We love it.
It is an interesting idea. I look forward to seeing where it goes.
Our Zoology course was a disaster. We had a huge mass of facts to learn and regurgitate. Instead of a celebration of life it was a boring memory test. Instead of piercing the awe and wonder of living specimens it was a tedious analysis of dead bodies. We had to learn diagnostic features and categorise everything.
It ran counter to our love of the living world.
Pete summed it up with this cartoon.
Science should we about wonder, awe and mystery. It should be fun and fulfilling. It is the most exciting subject ever.
If you start off by imagining a plant and an animal as a blob we can go from there!
Plants make their own food from light, water, carbon dioxide and mineral salts.
Animals have to eat complex food from plants and animals.
It has to find its food so it needs senses.
It has to move to get to its food so it needs limbs.
It has to eat and break down the food so it needs a digestive system.
It needs a nervous system to coordinate the senses and control the limbs.
Because it is moving it uses lots of energy and requires lungs and a heart and blood system.
Because there are waste molecules in the food it takes in it has to excrete them.
Hence the animal is complex and has lots of crucial systems that make it vulnerable.
It doesn’t have to move because all its necessary materials are all around it.
It develops flat projects to increase it’s surface area to absorb light and carbon dioxide (Leaves)
It develops projects to go down into the soil to absorb water and mineral salts (Roots)
It develops tubes to carry the water and food around its body
It sits there and feeds.
Reproduction is a problem because it can’t move so they get insects and the wind to do all the hard work for them.
A plant’s cells are 200 times more complex than an animals but it’s body is much simpler. Therefore it is not prone to damage. It is less vulnerable. It does not have lots of essential, delicate systems.
It is conscious.
The difference between a plant and animal is due to the way they eat. Plants are the highest forms of animals. They are much more complex than us.
We both felt that our Biology course was dire. Our Science education was reductionary and all about dissecting and breaking things down.
Science education should be about illuminating the wonders of the universe, celebrating life and the joy of living. Science is about investigating the mysteries. It should be life-affirming and joyous.
Looking at dead things through microscopes was a million miles from the happy life Pete and I had experienced in our childhood, wading through ponds and streams, climbing trees, lying in meadows while the dynamo of nature hummed around us and infinity was all around.
We wanted better education – better science!! More Wonder and Awe!!
A new Calendar
I suggest 1809 should now be year 0 and henceforth we move into a calendar based on that. Year 1 is AD 1810 and so we are living in AD 207
Surely in this age of science and enlightenment it is time to move on?
The world has largely progressed out of the age of superstition and has emerged into a new understanding of life and the universe. When someone asked AJP Taylor, the famous historian, when it was that we emerged out of the Dark Ages, his reply was that we had not done so yet. When someone asked Ghandi what he thought of civilisation he replied that it would be a good idea. I take a more optimistic view; I think we are at the start of a new era. It is the era of science and enlightenment.
I have hopes for it. I believe it will augur a new age of tolerance. We are at the threshold of an age of discovery and wonder – the age of science.
Once the genie is out of the bottle it cannot be put back. There is an inexorable flood.
Every culture has its creation myths and religious stories which are being shown to be the products of fertile human imagination – nothing more.
We have moved into an age where we are no longer willing to believe the fantastic without evidence. Science has affected our gullibility.
Science is evidence based. The results are all around us. They have transformed the world. If something cannot be seen, measured and replicated then it is no longer believed.
Science is the melding of imagination, creativity, thought, observation and recording. It has heralded a new age of wonder, awe and incredibility.
We have learnt more in this last single year than in the whole prescience history of the world. Yet what we know is still only touching the surface.
This is still the beginning. We are only just beginning to slowly shuffle out of the Dark Ages and there are many forces struggling to throw us back.
To signify this move forward into the light of a new era I suggest we adopt a new calendar. Not a calendar based on some erstwhile religious prophet, such as Jesus or Mohamed, but one based on a scientist of note; one of the many who have risked all to take us forward; someone instrumental in dispelling the myths and shedding light on reality.
There are many courageous people to choose from. We could go back to the likes of Copernicus, Galileo or Da Vinci, who risked grizzly death at the wrath of the church for daring to challenge the myths and investigate the truth. We could go back to the ancient Chinese or to the pre-Islamic scientists who invented agriculture, maths, the alphabet and astronomy. Here were the rudiments of science. There are hundreds to choose from.
We could go to the geniuses who arose after the enlightenment who laid the groundwork for the amazing technology of today – people like Newton, Currie or Einstein – or even Hawkin? We could choose Watson, Crick and Franklin.
II even toyed with Richard Dawkins. I felt he would be a suitable candidate. Whoever it turned out to be had to be a symbol for all the brave pioneers that had gone before, someone who symbolised this move into an age of reason.
For me there is only one candidate – the man who by revealing the whole sequence of evolution demolished all those millennia of myth. Charles Darwin started a ball rolling that has not stopped. It clearly shows that we are not divine creatures created by a god but flawed animals little different from our closest relatives – the chimps, gibbons, orangutans and gorillas. DNA has taken it a step further. The ball is still in motion. The new age is unfolding before us. It has brought the electric light, cars, flight, space travel and all the machines and technology we have become used to.
Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, along with genetics, fired the magic bullet into the overinflated balloon of organised religion. For me it meant that the claims for Jesus, Mohamed, Shiva, Jehovah or Zeus are all exposed as primitive superstition.
Science has not yet discovered all the answers and probably never will. Perhaps there is an underlying spirituality? The machinery of the universe is extraordinary and more mysterious with every new discovery but it is a million miles away from the simplicity of religion and our primitive concept of god. We are not the centre of any universe and of no great significance. To suggest the universe was created for us is laughable – an egotistical nonsense. We have quarks, string theory, quantum physics, black holes, quasars, the human mind, artificial intelligence and a universe that is a whole lot more complicated and wondrous than anything in a religious text, more extraordinary than any religious leader could imagine.
I suggest we take the year of Darwin’s birth as the beginning of our new calendar.
I hope 210 After Darwin – 211 AD – is a good year for you!
It was Cheryl who sparked these thoughts off.
As a Biologist I am always aware of what puppets we are to our genes, chemistry and psychology. We think we have free will but I believe it is largely a myth. We are ruled by our evolution.
As a species we are so new that our body chemistry and psychology hasn’t even begun to keep pace with our technology. We are chimps living in cities but acting like we are still in the jungle.
Friendship – such a crucial element for hunting. When you are out in the jungle with dangerous animals you have to put your trust in the friend next to you. Together, as a small hunting group, you can drive off a fearsome predator or make a kill that will feed the whole tribe. As a young hunter you had respect. Your friendship group of fellow hunters were trusted friends – you put your life in their hands; you faced danger and fear together; you bonded through terror. Your bravery and loyalty was crucial.
Now-a-days we see groups of youths in gangs on the streets in their hunting groups. Except there are no predators to ward off or beasts to kill. Yet they still crave the excitement and danger, still bond and seek the respect. They’ve lost their purpose and status.
Love – a biological phenomenon to pair bond sufficiently to have, and raise, children. An hormonal rush, endorphin saturation of the brain, and a passing phase. The female selects the highest status male she can. The aim is to find compatible genes to meld with her own in order to produce offspring who are endowed with the best in order to survive. The pair bonding is a euphoric rush of brain chemicals – no more. It induces feelings of protection and promotes crazy bouts of sex. The idea being that while the male is infatuated and the female hampered by pregnancy and an infant, he will protect and provide. But the love that will last forever soon loses its glow as after the duration necessary for the child to grow, the brain chemicals subside. A new infatuation develops with other potential partners – it is better no to put all your eggs in one basket (so to speak). A different set of genes provides more survival possibilities for a female’s offspring. Genetic variation. DNA testing in modern families show that a high proportion of children from supposedly loyal monogamous marriages have different fathers. Biologically we are programmed to be serial monogamists and some males more promiscuous (the cuckoo effect). Women are seduced by status.
Yet we also see that once the hormones and brain chemistry subsides there is the possibility of a different relationship – based on respect, affection, trust and ‘love’. It is deeper and less frenetic and brings pleasure and contentment. It is a different partnership.
I’ve put this out before but as I was tidying up my anecdotes for publication I found myself amused by this piece. So I’m putting it out again. I hope you will enjoy as much as I did.
Dark Matter becomes weirder than Sci-fi as Opher names the DM atoms and sub-atomic particles.
It appears that only 4% of the universe is visible, the rest is made of Dark Matter. That’s right – 96% of the known universe is made of something we can’t see.
And as for Dark Energy (DE to us buffs), that accounts for 70% of all the energy in the known universe and we haven’t a clue what it is.
All the ‘ordinary’ matter in the universe is made of atoms and all atoms are made of quarks. Everything is made of the same building blocks.
But Dark Matter (DM to us authorities on the subject) is made of something else. It does not appear to be quarks. So I will deign to name them prior to their discovery. I want it noted that the subatomic particles that make up the ‘atoms’ (or Goodwins, as they are now termed) of Dark Matter are to henceforth be known as Ophers.
I predict that there will be a number of different Ophers just as there are with quarks. Rather than calling them upward, downward, strange and charm as with quarks I want them named after my favourite Rock stars. So, depending on how many we later discover, in descending order, I want them named Roys (after Roy Harper), Dylans (after Bob Dylan) Beefies (After Captain Beefheart), Jimis (After Jimi Hendrix and Woodys (after Woody Guthrie). If there are more discovered then I would like them called Elmores (after Elmore James) and Nicks (after Nick Harper). Hopefully we’ll eventually discovered loads more and we can deploy Howlins (after Howlin Wolf) and Muddy’s (after Muddy Waters) as well as Beatles and Countrys (after the Fab Four and Country Joe and the Fish).
The interesting thing about Dark Matter is that it is probably all around us but we cannot see it or feel it. It is only detectable by its gravitational effect. There is a whole world out there made of Ophers all constructed out of Roys, Dylans, Jimis, Beefies, Nicks, Elmores and Woodys. There are people just like us moving through us right now having a conversation that is a conjecture about what the other 4% of their Dark Matter (our matter) might be made of.
I told you it was weirder than imagination.
Thomas Robert Malthus was a reverend from the eighteenth century who foresaw the effects of a huge burgeoning world population. He thought it would be a catastrophe. It would take room, use up resources and create famine and pestilence. He proposed that measures needed to be taken in order to restrict the population.
He was a man of vision.
Unfortunately Malthus’s ideas were aimed at restricting the increase of the working class! He was a trifle elitist.
Malthus is being proved right though. The population increase is building in pace, threatening food, water, mineral resources, the natural environment and most wild animals. It is changing the climate of the planet.
The answer does not lie in forcing poor people from breeding. It requires a much greater application of intelligence. We have to address the social issues that create the need for big families, the religious stupidity that is preventing people from regulating the number of progeny, the political policies that encourage big families and do not penalise having too many children and the means to access contraception and use it effectively.
Education and social change is the answer.
Step 1 – recognise that we have a major global problem.
Step 2 – bring in social changes so that there is health care and pensions which remove the need for large families
Step 3 – Bring in contraception and education to limit children
Step 4 – begin an awareness raising campaign to highlight the need to reduce population
Step 5 – limit the places that humans can live, exploit nature or hunt and conserve the wilderness (50% for humans – 50% for the rest of life)
Step 6 – Stop religions going through their silly games to try to win through sheer weight of numbers by encouraging large families
Step 7 – Bring in political inducements and disincentives to encourage small families.
If action is not taken now we will be heading for disaster – a virus, a catastrophe, famine, starvation, emigration, climate change and the devastation of the wilderness.
I don’t want that. I want a beautiful world for my beautiful grandchildren. I want action!