Posts Tagged ‘evolution’
Further to last weekend’s visit with Silicon Valley’s security robots...
Researchers led by the University of Cambridge have built a mother robot that can independently build its own children and test which one does best; and then use the results to inform the design of the next generation, so that preferential traits are passed down from one generation to the next.
Without any human intervention or computer simulation beyond the initial command to build a robot capable of movement, the mother created children constructed of between one and five plastic cubes with a small motor inside.
In each of five separate experiments, the mother designed, built and tested generations of ten children, using the information gathered from one generation to inform the design of the next. The results, reported in the open access journal PLOS One, found that preferential traits were passed down through generations, so that the ‘fittest’ individuals in the last generation performed a set task twice as quickly as the fittest individuals in the first generation…
“Natural selection is basically reproduction, assessment, reproduction, assessment and so on,” said lead researcher Dr Fumiya Iida of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, who worked in collaboration with researchers at ETH Zurich. “That’s essentially what this robot is doing – we can actually watch the improvement and diversification of the species… We want to see robots that are capable of innovation and creativity…”
As we select naturally, we might spare a thought for Blaise Pascal; he died on this date in 1662. A French mathematician, physicist, theologian, and inventor (e.g.,the first digital calculator, the barometer, the hydraulic press, and the syringe), his commitment to empiricism (“experiments are the true teachers which one must follow in physics”) pitted him against his contemporary René “cogito, ergo sum” Descartes…
Photographer Ryan Deboodt and his team hiked (for days)…
… then flew a drone even further into the belly of Vietnam’s Hang Son Doong, the world’s largest known cave.
See more extraordinary photos (and larger versions of those above) on Ryan’s site.
* Joesph Campbell
As we go spelunking, we might send crusty birthday greetings to Adam Sedgwick; he was born on this date in 1785. One of the founders of modern geology, he proposed both the the Devonian and the Cambrian periods of the geological timescale. Sedgwick was a fierce critic of the theory of evolution when it appeared, calling it “”utterly false… from first to last it is a dish of rank materialism cleverly cooked and served up”; nonetheless, he and Charles Darwin (one of Sedgwick’s students at Cambridge) were friends until Sedgwick’s death in 1873.
“Intoxicated? The word did not express it by a mile. He was oiled, boiled, fried, plastered, whiffled, sozzled, and blotto”*…
The expanded fifth edition of Glaswegian surgeon Robert Macnish’s The Anatomy of Drunkenness (1834) examines inebriety from a wide range of angles. Though alcohol is the main focus, he also explores the use of opium (popular at the time), tobacco, nitrous oxide, and of various (real or reputed) “poisons,” like hemlock, “bangue” (cannabis), foxglove, and nightshade. Macnish’s examination includes wonderful descriptions of the different kinds of drunk according to alcohol type, methods for cutting drunkenness short, and an outlining of the seven different types of drunkard (Sanguineous, Melancholy, Surly, Phlegmatic, Nervous, Choleric and Periodical).
The seventh chapter of the book examines the phenomenon of “spontaneous combustion” which, Macnish reports, tends to strike drunkards in particular.
Page through at Public Domain Review.
* P.G. Wodehouse, Meet Mr. Mulliner
As we ask for a club soda, we might consider just how far we have– and haven’t– come, as it was on this date in 1859 that Charles Darwin published The Origin of the Species. Actually, on that day he published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life; the title was shortened to the one we know with the sixth edition in 1872.
For about a billion years, life on earth was a relatively simple proposition: it was composed entirely of single-celled organisms (prokaryotes) in either the bacteria or archaea families. Then, about 2.1 billion years ago, one of those single-celled critters crawled inside another; the two merged, and a new kind of life– multi-cellular (eukaryotic) life– was born…
This inner cell—a bacterium—abandoned its free-living existence and eventually transformed into mitochondria. These internal power plants provided the host cell with a bonanza of energy, allowing it to evolve in new directions that other prokaryotes could never reach.
If this story is true, and there are still those who doubt it, then all eukaryotes—every flower and fungus, spider and sparrow, man and woman—descended from a sudden and breathtakingly improbable merger between two microbes. They were our great-great-great-great-…-great-grandparents, and by becoming one, they laid the groundwork for the life forms that seem to make our planet so special. The world as we see it (and the fact that we see it at all; eyes are a eukaryotic invention) was irrevocably changed by that fateful union—a union so unlikely that it very well might not have happened at all, leaving our world forever dominated by microbes, never to welcome sophisticated and amazing life like trees, mushrooms, caterpillars, and us.
Read the extraordinary story of how one freakish event may well account for all sophisticated life on earth in “The unique merger that made You (and Ewe, and Yew).”
* Lao Tzu
As we fill out our family trees, we might send microscopic birthday greetings to Carl Woese; he was born on this date in 1928. A microbiologist, Woese recognized and defined (in 1977) the existence of archaea as a third domain of life, distinct from the two previously-recognized domains, bacteria and “life other than bacteria” (eukaryotes). The discovery revolutionized the understanding of the “family tree” of life. And the technique he used to make it– phylogenetic taxonomy of 16S ribosomal RNA— revolutionized the practice of microbiology.
This blog is a result of an erroneous mistake; one day I referred to Dimetrodon as a mammal-like reptile in front of a vertebrate paleomammalogist. These animals are not at all members of Reptilia; they are Synapsids – four-legged, back-boned animals that span back 315 million years on a completely different evolutionary branch on the tree of life.
Since then, I’ve found Dimetrodon partying with members of Dinosauria across the pages of coloring books and frolicking in the aisles of toy stores, surrounded by lifeforms which evolved some 66 million years after those ancient mammalian relatives…
And she’s shared; for example…
More disambiguation of the distant past at … is not a dinosaur.
* Steve Martin
As we make Jurassic judgements, we might spare a thought for The Right Honorable John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury PC FRS DCL LLD; he died on this date in 1913. A banker by trade (and family tradition), Lubbock was an avocational scientist who made significant contributions to ethnography, several branches of biology, and– as a friend and advocate of Darwin– the debate over evolution, and was a central force in establishing archaeology as a scientific discipline.
Okay, what? Shut up, evolution, this cannot actually be a bird. Are you high?
WTF Evolution: “Honoring natural selection’s most awkward creations. Go home, evolution, you are drunk.”
The wolffish is actually modeled after evolution’s cousin Frank. Evolution has always secretly hated its cousin Frank.
As we think over trial and error, we might recall that it was on this date in 1897 that the Indiana State House of Representatives passed Bill No.246 which gave pi the exact value of 3.2– a nice, round… and wrong number.
Hoosier Dr. Edwin J. Goodwin, M.D, a mathematics enthusiast, satisfied himself that he’d succeeded in “squaring the circle.” Hoping to share with his home state the fame that would surely be forthcoming, Dr. Goodwin drafted legislation that would make Indiana the first to declare the value of pi as law, and convinced Representative Taylor I. Record, a farmer and lumber merchant, to introduce it. As an incentive, Dr. Goodwin, who planned to copyright his “discovery,” offered in the bill to make it available to Indiana textbooks at no cost.
It seems likely that few members of the House understood the bill (many said so during the debate), crammed as it was with 19th century mathematical jargon. Indeed, as Petr Beckmann wrote in his History of Pi, the bill contained “hair-raising statements which not only contradict elementary geometry, but also appear to contradict each other.” (Full text of the bill here.) Still, it sailed through the House.
As it happened, Professor Clarence Abiathar Waldo, the head of the Purdue University Mathematics Department and author of a book titled Manual of Descriptive Geometry, was in the Statehouse lobbying for the University’s budget appropriation as the final debate and vote were underway. He was astonished to find the General Assembly debating mathematical legislation. Naturally, he listened in… and he was horrified.
On February 11 the legislation was introduced in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Temperance, which reported the bill favorably the next day, and sent it to the Senate floor for debate.
But Professor Waldo had “coached” (as he later put it) a number of key Senators on the bill, so this time its reception was different. According to an Indianapolis News report of February 13,
…the bill was brought up and made fun of. The Senators made bad puns about it, ridiculed it and laughed over it. The fun lasted half an hour. Senator Hubbell said that it was not meet for the Senate, which was costing the State $250 a day, to waste its time in such frivolity. He said that in reading the leading newspapers of Chicago and the East, he found that the Indiana State Legislature had laid itself open to ridicule by the action already taken on the bill. He thought consideration of such a propostion was not dignified or worthy of the Senate. He moved the indefinite postponement of the bill, and the motion carried.
As one watches state governments around the U.S. enacting similarly nonsensical, unscientific legislation (e.g., here… perhaps legislators went to school on this), one might be forgiven for wondering “Where’s Waldo?”