Tuesday, February 10, 2009

JeNPR wishes Darwin a Happy 200th!

Q: How do you tell the sex of a chromosome?

A: Pull down its genes.

Today you get an introductory primer in Evolutionary Theory. This is my attempt at educational blogging (i.e. links to where smarter people have explained really cool stuff way better than I can). So, if you're looking for stupid-humorous Jen anecdotes, you'll be disappointed.

Two hundred years after Charles Darwin's birth we all could do to understand evolutionary theory a little better. At first glance, it is a beautifully simple process but the results, implications and continued research of evolutionary theory quickly become mind boggling and wonderfully thrilling. If you begin to scratch the surface of your knowledge about evolutionary biology,(even as a complete amateur there are a number of books that allow you to do this), you may soon realize that you barely understand anything about it and there's always some new concept to research in order to further your depth of knowledge. Here's a link to some basic misconceptions about evolution.

And what's not to like about evolution? For one thing it's about us - Homo sapiens and how we have gotten the way we are with no need to invoke a supernatural creator or 'intelligent design'. Even better is that it's about the entire biological/botanical world around us and how our mutual genetic "destinies" have co-evolved throughout time to produce what exists today. Even more importantly still is that because Evolutionary Theory is a science and not a dogma, it is open to inquiry, skeptic scrutiny and refinement as the knowledge base grows and changes.

The sciences can seem intimidating to an amateur like me. The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know. I read a quote recently that said that's what it means to be educated. But with a little investment of time, access to the internet, some library or book store action, and a few friends willing to hash over questions with you, the scientific world slowly begins to make sense and unfolds with mind-expanding possibilities.

Last week I finished a difficult book discussing the existence of Free Will in a deterministic world. I was in way over my head intellectually, but did gain some insights into the topic and it piqued my interest for investigating some neurobiology, which should be fun. But the most important thing I came away with was this encouraging sentence offered by the author after a particularly arduous section:

"A semi-understood, dimly imagined version will do just fine, as always, as we pick our way gradually from obliviousness to comprehension."
Daniel Dennett - Freedom Evolves p. 265

For me, the never-ending wonder and discovery science offers to a curious intellect far surpasses the inflexible, dogmatic nature of superstitious belief any day.

Ignorance knows no bounds...check this out, I hope it's a joke...but I'm pretty sure it's not:

Well there, that settles it. Peanut butter proves that evolution is a fairy tale. Glad that debate is over. I wonder what jelly has to say about the after-life?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I'm a little uncomfortable with your statement "Evolutionary Theory is a science and not a dogma, it is open to inquiry, skeptic scrutiny and refinement as the knowledge base grows and change".

    I wouldn't pat ourselves on the back too much regarding the notion that "science" (meaning the collection of people in academics and industry who are charged with performing "science") that "science" is NOT a dogma. I think that you're giving it too much credit.

    "Science", because it is based on people, is also very susceptible to group-think, to control by a limited priesthood, and to a resistance to change. It's human nature.

    I caution against feeling overly proud of the openness of science.


  3. Perhaps I shouldn't have used the word 'dogma' - too loaded, I guess. I will agree that human nature must affect how science is carried out and that this will result in the things you mention. However, it seems to me that when it comes to making discoveries and further inquiries into our world, the ideal of the scientific method is more rational and open to change than the ideal of religious doctrine. I never claimed perfection in science. Nothing involving humans involves perfection, I realize that.

    I wanted the main point of this post to be about the wonder, awe and inspiration that can be found (even on a very amateur level) when one delves into the scientific world. Religion often claims ownership of these "spiritual" areas (wonder, awe, inspiration). I think that misleads and discourages people from making their own investigations into scientific topics. I was trying to share my enthusiasm not "pat ourselves on the back" for anything. Sorry if that message got drowned out by my perhaps overly-righteous praise of science.

    Geez Chip, you're such a hard ass. It was for a guy's birthday celebration after all. Party pooper. ;-)

  4. Hey Jen if you liked what you read about theevolution stuff perhaps you need to look into the new thing in science and genetics and all. That is the network scsience. I saw an article on this the other night regarding how they have looked at how this network science has given some new and exciting info on human diseases and other mystical stuff.

  5. Except for my typing skills I'm happy my post went through!

  6. Hey Dad! Welcome to the comments section of the blog! See, an old dog can learn new tricks! ;-) Glad you were successful in posting a comment and yes, I've had the topic of network science on my radar screen but haven't done any reading in that area yet, so thanks for reminding me about it.

    Don't worry about your typing. The message gets across just fine and it'll give me something else to pick on you about!

  7. you can expect more now that I don't get discriminated against for being an old fart. Now I'm going to go have a peanut butter sandwich and see if I can make any life! Or maybe tomorrow I can make a creationist!!!! Oh that was cruel, sorry

  8. I'm jealous, I wish my father would comment on my blog! hehe

    I tried to tackle the issue of free will on my own, but ultimately I think I came up short. I'll start my research with Dennett, and hopefully I can revise my post to make it more complete.

    I'd love to hear your thoughts on the issue.

  9. Hey Muse Parade,

    Thanks for checking out my blog and commenting. I read your post about the Illusion of Free Will and left a comment for you there.

  10. Hey Jennifer,

    You're quite welcome! Thanks for your opinion and recommendations, I really appreciate it.

    I agree with you that much of the problem has a lot to do with semantics. I watched the Dennett lecture, but like the last man in the Q&A section, I'm still not convinced. Perhaps after reading his books I'll get a better sense of what he's trying to get across. There's this nagging voice in the back of my head that's telling me that we're all just a bunch of colliding particles and much like issue in the Dilbert comic, leaves no room for "Free Will", despite what science might discover about human consciousness. Who knows though, maybe a little research will make the little demon go away.

    I'm glad you enjoyed some of my posts. It's always nice to know someone's reading. You can be sure I'll be revisiting yours as well.

    I have yet to be disappointed by Murakami. He throws out a lot of taboo which can deter some readers, but that's part of the reason I like him so much. Let me know how you like Sputnik Sweetheart, that was probably my favorite so far.

  11. Hehe, you may be right. You know what they say about philosophers....they're just lazy scientists. Then again look what Einstein achieved by way of thought experiments alone.

    Sputnik Sweetheart was the first novel I read of his, so that might be why it's my favorite. From what I understand, many of his books share many of the same themes. I can also understand his sort of removed writing style, but again this is another reason why I can relate.