(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Life

“Humans as we know them are just one morphological waypoint on the long road of evolution”*…

 

Imagine a world where the human race is no longer the dominant species.

Extinct through war or spectacular accident. By devastating pandemic, super-natural disaster, or cosmic cataclysm.

Passed through the Singularity to become unrecognisably posthuman, and left the natural order forever behind.

Infected by a virus, hijacked by a parasite or otherwise co-opted to become ex-human – a “bio zombie” – moved sideways to a new position as ecological actor.

Gently absorbed into – or completely overshadowed by the unfathomable actions of – a superior civilisation comprising benevolent – or unacknowledging – emissaries from the stars (or extra-dimensions).

Dethroned by the return of ancient species, the reawakening of the slumbering Old Ones… Out-competed by the arrival of an invasive species from another world making the Earth just one habitat in a galactic ecology.

It could be far into the future or The Day After Tomorrow.

Robots may rule the world… not so much enslaving as letting us retire to a life of Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism; life in The Culture as Iain M. Banks foresaw it could be.

What is the world like then? After us…

Imagine a world where the human race is no longer the dominant species: “What is the Post-Human World.”

* Annalee Newitz in “When Will Humanity Finally Die Out?

###

As we stretch our frames, we might spare a thought for Marvin Minsky; he died on this date in 2016.  A biochemist and cognitive scientist by training, he was founding director of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Project (the MIT AI Lab).  Minsky authored several widely-used texts, and made many contributions to AI, cognitive psychology, mathematics, computational linguistics, robotics, and optics.  He holds several patents, including those for the first neural-network simulator (SNARC, 1951), the first head-mounted graphical display, the first confocal scanning microscope, and the LOGO “turtle” device (with his friend and frequent collaborator Seymour Papert).  His other inventions include mechanical hands and the “Muse” synthesizer.

 source

 

Written by LW

January 24, 2018 at 1:01 am

“To imagine a language is to imagine a form of life”*…

 

Jeremy England is concerned about words—about what they mean, about the universes they contain. He avoids ones like “consciousness” and “information”; too loaded, he says. Too treacherous. When he’s searching for the right thing to say, his voice breaks a little, scattering across an octave or two before resuming a fluid sonority.

His caution is understandable. The 34-year-old assistant professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is the architect of a new theory called “dissipative adaptation,” which has helped to explain how complex, life-like function can self-organize and emerge from simpler things, including inanimate matter. This proposition has earned England a somewhat unwelcome nickname: the next Charles Darwin. But England’s story is just as much about language as it is about biology…

A new theory on the emergence of life’s complexity: “How Do You Say ‘Life’ in Physics?

* Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

###

As we resist the urge to simplify, we might send carefully-constructed birthday greetings to Sir Karl Raimund Popper; he was born on this date in 1902.  One of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century, Popper is best known for his rejection of the classical inductivist views on the scientific method, in favor of empirical falsification: A theory in the empirical sciences can never be proven, but it can be falsified, meaning that it can and should be scrutinized by decisive experiments. (Or more simply put, whereas classical inductive approaches considered hypotheses false until proven true, Popper reversed the logic: conclusions drawn from an empirical finding are true until proven false.)

Popper was also a powerful critic of historicism in political thought, and (in books like The Open Society and Its Enemies and The Poverty of Historicism) an enemy of authoritarianism and totalitarianism.

 source

 

 

 

Written by LW

July 28, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The missing link in cosmology is the nature of dark matter and dark energy”*…

 

Familiar visible matter can be thought of as the privileged percent—actually more like 15 percent—of matter. In business and politics, the interacting 1 percent dominates decision making and policy, while the remaining 99 percent of the population provides less widely acknowledged infrastructure and support—maintaining buildings, keeping cities operational, and getting food to people’s tables. Similarly, ordinary matter dominates almost everything we notice, whereas dark matter, in its abundance and ubiquity, helped create clusters and galaxies and facilitated star formation, but has only limited influence on our immediate surroundings today…

The common assumption is that dark matter is the “glue” that holds together galaxies and galaxy clusters, but resides only in amorphous clouds around them. But what if this assumption isn’t true and it is only our prejudice—and ignorance, which is after all the root of most prejudice—that led us down this potentially misleading path?…

Indeed,  Harvard theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lisa Randall asks, “Does dark matter harbor life?

* Stephen Hawking

###

As we reach reflexively for a flashlight, we might send particular birthday greetings to Abraham Pais; he was born on this date in 1918.  After earning his Ph.D. in physics in Holland five days before a Nazi deadline banning Jews from receiving degrees, he went into hiding– and worked out ideas in quantum electrodynamics (later shared with Niels Bohr) that became the building blocks of the theory of elemental particles.  He was later a colleague of Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton.

Pais was also an widely-respected historian of science.  Among his many works were a biography of Bohr and (the work for which he’s best remembered as a historian) Subtle Is the Lord: The Science and Life of Albert Einstein, which is considered the definitive Einstein biography.

 source

 

Written by LW

May 19, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Nothing can better cure the anthropocentrism that is the author of all our ills than to cast ourselves into the physics of the infinitely large (or the infinitely small)”*…

 

From illustrator John Hendrix, a series of graphics (based on an essay by Gregory Laughlin)–  see them all (and in larger sizes) at “How Big Can Life Get?

* Julio Cortázar, Around the Day in Eighty Worlds

###

As we step on the scales, we might send fiendishly ingenious birthday greetings to Rube Goldberg; he was born on this date in 1883.  A cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer, and inventor, he is best remembered as a satirist of the American obsession with technology for his series of “Invention” cartoons which used a string of outlandish tools, people, plants, and steps to accomplish simple, everyday tasks in the most complicated possible way. (His work has inspired a number of “Rube Goldberg competitions,” the best-known of which, readers may recall, has been profilled here.)

Goldberg was a founder and the first president of the National Cartoonists Society, and he is the namesake of the Reuben Award, which the organization awards to the Cartoonist of the Year.

 source

Written by LW

July 4, 2016 at 1:01 am

“I believe alien life is quite common in the universe, although intelligent life is less so. Some say it has yet to appear on planet Earth”*…

 

 source

If the range of habitable radii is sufficiently broad, most inhabited planets are likely to be closer in size to Mars than the Earth. Furthermore, since population density is widely observed to decline with increasing body mass, we conclude that most intelligent species are expected to exceed 300kg…

From the summary of University of Barcelona cosmologist Fergus Simpson‘s paper, “The Nature of Inhabited Planets and their Inhabitants” (which can be downloaded as a PDF here).

* Stephen Hawking

###

As we phone home, we might recall that it was on this date in 1960 that the first weather satellite, TIROS I, was launched from Cape Kennedy (or Canaveral, as then it was) and sent back the first television pictures from space. The first in a long series of launches in the TIROS program (Television Infrared Observation Satellite), it was NASA’s initial step, at a time when the effectiveness of satellite observations was still unproven, in determining if satellites could be useful in the study of the Earth.  In the event, TIROS I and it successors proved extremely useful in weather forecasting.

TIROS I prototype at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

 source

 

Written by LW

April 1, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Such is the essential mystery”*…

 

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.

 source

 

Written by LW

July 15, 2014 at 1:01 am

“I find it hard to believe that human beings are the crowning achievement of life on earth. Something better than us has to come along”*…

 

Data From: Reader, John. (1986). The Rise of life. London: Roxby Prehistory Press. – Lutgens, Frederick K. (2006). Essentials of geology. Pearson Education. Inc.

click here, and again on the image, for a larger version

From Columbian designers Carlos Ramos, Zamira Saab, William León, The History of Life As We Know It.

* Doug Coupland

###

As we put things into perspective, we might recall that it was on this date in 1922, after a 10-year hiatus, that the muse of the Duino Elegies returned to Rainer Maria Rilke, who completed his hugely-influential cycle of poems in a week.  

Rilke had completed the first two elegies and drafts of the next two in 1912, while staying at the Duino Castle as a guest of Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis.  But his experience as a conscript in World War I threw him into a deep depression.  News of the death of a close friend of his daughter’s shocked him out of his funk.  On February 2, 1922, Rilke set to work on his Sonnets to Orpheus (in which he frequently refers to his daughters departed friend).  On February 9 he began working on the The Elegies as well; then having finished the remaining eight, completed the Sonnets by February 23.  Rilke’s February fecundity has come to be known as his “creative hurricane.”

A sketch of Rilke by Leonid Pasternak (father of novelist and poet Boris Pasternak)

source

 

Written by LW

February 9, 2014 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: