• Tag Archives evolution
  • Newton, Darwin, Einstein–an Enlightenment Trinity.

    41  bar steady 30.16 1mph SSW dewpoint 26  Spring

                  Last Quarter Moon of Growing

    Charles Darwin was and is a remarkable man.  Newton, Darwin, Einstein–an enlightenment trinity.  An old paradigm physicist, a new paradigm physicist and the first student of complexity, a biological pioneer.  These three have direct influence on so much of our world: calculus, atomic energy, genetic sciences, conservation biology, space travel, orbital mechanics.  So much.  To know the work of just these three and still deny the reality and power of ideas.  Impossible.

    Darwin has influenced my own thinking.  A constant question I bring to the biological world is, “How is that adaptative?”  “What adaptative advantage does that confer?”  These two questions alone encourage speculation about fever, pollen, phototropism, the color of plant  leaves, the place where birds nest, bipedal locomotion and so on ad infinitum.

    I have multiple reading projects that will happen when I have time. One of them is to read through Darwin’s work, at least the important books.  Why?  To separate what Darwin was about from the muddled and often inaccurate picture offered by his acolytes.  Here’s an example.  An instructor at the arboretum’s symposium I attended on Saturday used the term survival of the fittest.  Not Darwin.  Herbert Spencer.  Spencer used Darwin’s ideas to speculate about the succession of civilizations.  He invented the now long ago discredited notion of social darwinism.  Oswald Spengler brought the idea into its zenith of disrepute during the Nazi era.

    Darwin’s idea is natural selection.  It is not only the fittest, that is the strongest and most competitive, that survive.  Those also survive who have a protected niche (think islands and deep valleys), a winning reproductive strategy (seeds versus spore mats) and great defense (lion fish, poison ivy).  The long sweep of evolutionary time favors those whose characteristics favor survival, whether the organism is the fittest in their niche or in their species or not.  Thus, the many endemic birds of Hawai’i may well not survive in some other environment.

    Here’s a brief paragraph from Wikipedia that says this better than I can: 

    “An interpretation of the phrase to mean “only the fittest organisms will prevail” (a view common in social Darwinism) is not consistent with the actual theory of evolution. Any organism which is capable of reproducing itself on an ongoing basis will survive as a species, not just the “fittest” ones. A more accurate characterization of evolution would be “survival of the fit enough”, although this is sometimes regarded as a tautology.[3][4]”    

    I have added a link to the Digitial Darwin Library on the right side here.  Allison Theil turned me on to the Darwin exhibition at the Brooklyn Botancial Garden.  They had the link to this library.   In 2009 we will celebrate the 150th year of the publication of Origin of the Species.  Much sturm und drang can be expected.  I stand with Darwin.

  • A One-Celled Organism’s Progeny Looks Back in Wonder

    45  bar steady 30.06  9mph WNW dewpoint 20


                  Waning Gibbous Moon of Winds

    There lives more faith in honest doubt, / Believe me, than in half the creeds. -Alfred, Lord Tennyson, poet (1809-1892)

    I’d put the percentage higher than Tennyson, but his general principle strikes me as true.

    The gro-light fluorescents switched on today at 10:00 AM.  At the same time the small electrical heating pads began their function of warming seed mediums bottom layer.  Earlier tiny lettuce seeds went into the small holes in the rock wool seeding mediums, soaked overnight in 5.0 ph water.  Four peat pots, filled with miracle-gro potting soil, received two tomato seeds each.  All the seeds are heritage seeds.  After both trays went into plastic tubs they went under the lights and on the heating pads.  The early phase, sprouting, requires a humid environment so a clear plastic hat went over the lettuce and tomato seeds.  Now we wait, wait, that is, after remembering to turn the lights off after twelve hours and checking periodically to keep the seeding mediums moist, but not so moist that they rot the seedlings.

    This process is still unfamiliar to me, so I don’t know what to expect.   Managing heat, light, water and humidity exceeds by a factor of four  what happens in outside gardening.  Outside you have to plant where the new seeds will get enough light, but you don’t provide the light.  You also have to provide water if there isn’t enough, but again, that’s rare.  Unless you’re over eager and plant too early, you don’t have to worry about heat either.  Humidity is fine here, at least during the crucial seed sprouting time.  Outside, you provide decent soil (if not provided for you by the land) and plant at the proper depth.  That’s it for a while.  In this process you are the sun and the rain, the atmosphere.

    Over the years I’ve tended to plant perennials and of those almost all flowers or shrubs, so working with seeds is something I’ve not done often.  As I picked up the tiny lettuce seeds with the pick-up (a medical device much like tweezers, but with a finer point, great for removing splinters and, it turns out, picking up tiny seeds), I marveled at how something  so small can unfold and develop into edible lettuce.  A lettuce seed is smaller than the inside of an o and not much bigger than the enclosed portion of an e.  The tomato seed is a bit bigger, it would cover a capital O, but again, from something that size and almost flat, a 24″ plus vine and ripe tomatoes for the salad will emerge.  And you don’t believe in miracles?

    This is why proteomics is still the hot new field.  In that seed is the dna for a particular type of lettuce or tomato.  The dna, once the seedling begins to sprout, switches on and off various genes in a finely orchestrated sequence.  The genes, when switched on, express a protein which unfolds, literally, to form, say, part of a stem, or a leaf, or a fruit like the tomato. 

    The same process created you, dear reader, and me, too.  Not only life had to come into being, a miracle when inorganic chemicals combined in such a manner as to respond to their environment rather than submit to it, but that life had to create as well a means of propagating that first miracle.  Without reproduction, no future.  Those twisted twin ladders that constitute our dna developed out of that first dna, in other words, that first one-celled organism somehow managed to propagate itself in such a way that its future included a species that could look back on it and say, Grandpa!  We are life with the ability to reflect on itself and its place in the cosmos.  Pretty wonderful.