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Posts Tagged ‘science

Grass seems so ordinary and unimportant

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Image by Getty Images via Daylife

That’s probably because we know so little about grass and how it relates to our humanity and our evolution as humans. As usual Olivia Judson, my favorite science writer, tells the story of grass and grasslands and their basic connection with humans in today’s NY Times Science section.

Some very basic facts about grasses:

“Today, the grass family contains more than 10,000 species — that’s more species of grass than species of bird — and grasslands cover about a third of the planet’s landmasses. (“Grassland” refers to an ecosystem, like prairie, where grasses dominate; it doesn’t mean they are the only plants there.)”

She informs us that “Rice, wheat, rye, oats, maize, millet, barley, sorghum and sugar cane are all grasses” and constitute one third of our diet.

She ends her essay with these thoughts:

Yet regardless of how much grasses shaped our earliest evolution, in the recent past they have transformed us. We usually talk of our domestication of grasses, and the ways in which we have evolved them: we have made plants with bigger, more nutritious seeds that don’t fall to the ground, for example.

But their effect on us has been far more profound. Our domestication of grasses, 10,000 years ago or so, allowed the building of the first cities, and marks the start of civilization as we know it. Grasses thus enabled the flowering of a new kind of evolution, a kind not seen before in the history of life: the evolution of human culture.

So much for the ordinariness of grass!

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2010/03/03 at 11:30

What Earth’s journey through space means to us, homo sapiens!

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Comparison of the current-day Sun and the Sun ...
Image via Wikipedia

Olivia Judson often offers thoughts that are based on science and common sense. Here’s one from her science essay in today’s NY Times:

A pedant has pointed out that our journey ’round the sun is only seemingly endless, and that we’ve only got another four or five billion years to go before the sun turns into a red giant and engulfs us. He’s right; but a few billion years is so long that it feels endless to me.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2009/12/30 at 10:37

How can one ignore new evidence that Einstein was right, for now!

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Albert Einstein book cover illustration
Image by morgantj via Flickr

From this morning’s ubiquitous Science reporteur, Dennis Overbye:

October 29, 2009

7.3 Billion Light-Years Later, Einstein’s Theory Prevails


Astronomers said Wednesday that a race halfway across the universe had ended in a virtual tie. And so the champion is still Albert Einstein — for now.

The race was between gamma rays of differing energies and wavelengths spit in a burst from an exploding star when the universe was half its present age. After a journey of 7.3 billion light-years, they all arrived within nine-tenths of a second of one another in a detector on NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope, at 8:22 p.m., Eastern time, on May 9.

Astronomers said the gamma-ray race was one of the most stringent tests yet of a bedrock principle of modern physics: Einstein’s proclamation in his 1905 theory of relativity that the speed of light is constant and independent of its color, or energy; its direction; or how you yourself are moving.

“I take it as a confirmation that Einstein is still right,” Peter F. Michelson of Stanford, principal investigator for Fermi’s Large Area Telescope and one of 206 authors of a paper published online Wednesday in the journal Nature, said in an interview.


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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2009/10/29 at 06:37

Neural Buddhism according to David Brooks NYT

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In today’s column in NYT he says:

This new wave of research will not seep into the public realm in the form of militant atheism. Instead it will lead to what you might call neural Buddhism.

If you survey the literature (and I’d recommend books by Newberg, Daniel J. Siegel, Michael S. Gazzaniga, Jonathan Haidt, Antonio Damasio and Marc D. Hauser if you want to get up to speed), you can see that certain beliefs will spread into the wider discussion.

First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships. Second, underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions. Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when they transcend boundaries and overflow with love. Fourth, God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is.

In their arguments with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the faithful have been defending the existence of God. That was the easy debate. The real challenge is going to come from people who feel the existence of the sacred, but who think that particular religions are just cultural artifacts built on top of universal human traits. It’s going to come from scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism.

In unexpected ways, science and mysticism are joining hands and reinforcing each other. That’s bound to lead to new movements that emphasize self-transcendence but put little stock in divine law or revelation. Orthodox believers are going to have to defend particular doctrines and particular biblical teachings. They’re going to have to defend the idea of a personal God, and explain why specific theologies are true guides for behavior day to day. I’m not qualified to take sides, believe me. I’m just trying to anticipate which way the debate is headed. We’re in the middle of a scientific revolution. It’s going to have big cultural effects.

It’s likely I’ll be doing some reading research about this.

About an hour after the post above I found this interesting link!

And minutes later, this link!

Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2008/05/13 at 08:08

The end of cosmology, or something to contemplate about our Universe!

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What’s in our cosmological future in the long long long long run?

According to an article in the latest Scientific American here is the short story:

  • A decade ago astronomers made the revolutionary discovery that the expansion of the universe is speeding up. They are still working out is implications.
  • The quickening expansion will eventually pull galaxies apart faster than light, causing them to drop out of view. This process eliminates reference points for measuring expansion and dilutes the distinctive products of the big bang to nothingness. In short, it erases all the signs that a big bang ever occurred.
  • To our distant descendants, the universe will look like a small puddle of stars in an endless, changeless void.
  • What knowledge has the universe already erased?

Check it out! There’s a great video with the piece.

Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2008/03/04 at 07:49

Does religion work as well as science is claimed to?

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Seed is the new standard in popular science writing. It seems to be attracting scientists who are web aware and visible on the web, or blogosphere. The excerpt below is taken from Seed and provides one of the reference points for the question posed in my title above.

As psychologist Daniel Gilbert puts it in his book Stumbling on Happiness, “Each of us is trapped in a place, a time, and a circumstance, and our attempts to use our minds to transcend those boundaries are, more often than not, ineffective.” The reason science does manage to be astonishingly effective is not because large groups are automatically wiser or less prone to self-deception than individuals. History adequately demonstrates that, if anything, the opposite is more nearly the case. Science works because its core dynamics—not its methods or techniques per se—are rooted in pitting intellects against one another. Science eventually yields impressive answers because it compels smart people to incessantly try to disprove the ideas generated by other smart people.

Yes there are some smart people who try to disprove religious ideas generated by other smart people. People like John Haught, Charles Taylor, John Polkinghorne to mention a few of the more prominent. But the popular image of smart religious people was interviewed on Larry King tonight. His name is Joel Osteen and he seems to be smart and very popular since he preaches to tens of thousands of people who describe themselves as Christians.

Joel Scott Hayley Osteen (born March 5, 1963[1] in Houston, Texas) is the senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, North America’s largest[2] and 2006’s fastest growing church,[3] averaging more than 47,000 attendees at weekly services.[2] He is married to Victoria Osteen, who serves as co-pastor. The Lakewood was formerly then arena of the Houston Rockets and the nearby Interstate has ramps designed especially to bring people to this facility. Joe credits that design to the act-of-God.

Joel Osteen was featured as one of Barbara Walters‘ “10 Most Fascinating People of 2006”[4] and was named “Most Influential Christian in America” in 2006 by[5] He is also the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Your Best Life Now. It reached the top of the New York Times bestseller list, and has sold more than four million copies since its release in October 2004. The book is available in 19 languages. His television ministry is the most watched inspirational program in the United States.

Lots of preachers in the Christian America and some of them are very smart and very rich. But for me they don’t conform very well to the image of scientists who are bent on disproving ideas proposed by their scientific colleagues, or by religionists who dabble in the arena of public discourse about scientific values vs. religious values.

Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2007/10/22 at 00:04