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In 2008, the Toyota Prius was the best selling gas-electric hybrid car in the world. In Japan, it was frequently at the top of the list of bestselling cars overall. In 2009, Honda introduced their new hybrid model, which looked... a lot like the Toyota Prius. The reason for this wasn't some plot among Honda designers to confuse their product with the Toyota. It was merely a case of form following function. Both automakers were trying to craft a vehicle that maximized available interior space, and provided the best gas mileage possible. To reach that second goal, they needed to minimize the drag caused by air flowing over the car. The result was two vehicles that, if not identical, could pass for siblings.

The same rules hold true in many areas of commerce.  An Apple iPhone looks a lot like a HTC Touch looks a lot like a Blackberry Storm, because all of them are trying to give their users the largest area of screen possible while keeping the shape and size of the device suitable for the average pocket.  From bicycles to washing machines, there are few pieces of technology that really stand out from the crowd.  Chances are that two items designed for the same task will have very similar forms.

A woman named Mary Anning was one of the first to discover that what applies to gadgets today, applied to animals through the ages.  Mary's father died of tuberculosis in 1810, leaving ten year-old Mary and her twelve year old brother, Joseph, to provide for the family.  They made a living by scouring the cliffs and beaches in Dorset, looking for fossils that weathered out of the limestone in an area known to collectors as the "Jurassic Coast."  Collecting fossils had become fashionable, and while the specimens she found were at first barely enough to keep the family fed, Mary soon gained a reputation for turning up extraordinary finds.  

At the age of twelve, she found the first complete skeleton of an animal called an ichthyosaur.  

Ichthyosaurs (there were many types) were streamlined creatures with long snouts, large eyes, and a powerful tail. Later fossils would show that they had a large dorsal fin on their back. They sped through the seas of the Jurassic (and Triassic, and Cretaceous) racing after fish and shellfish. If one were to pop up off the Dorset shore today, observers on land might well believe that they were watching a dolphin as the animal dashed and jumped among the waves. But Ichthyosaurs were not related to dolphins.  They were reptiles, members of a family that originated from lizard-like ancestors instead of the land-dwelling mammals that produced dolphins and whales.  

The reason that Ichthyosaurs look much like dolphins is because both are performing the same role in a similar environment.  Both are predators that hunt their prey in the ocean.  The large eyes come because sea water is clear and sight is an important aspect of tracking and capturing fast-moving fish in shallow water (those few species of dolphins that live in the muddy waters of rivers are either nearly or completely blind).  The long snout filled with banks of sharp, narrow teeth is an excellent mechanism for catching fish.  Most of all, both had the same major problem — moving quickly and efficiently through water.  

The ease with which an object can move through a medium like air or water is measured by looking at the drag coefficient. A high drag coefficient means that an object is not very efficient at moving through the medium, and will need to expend more energy. A person walking in air has a drag of about 1.2 (which is not particularly good).  Older cars have drag coefficients as high as 0.7.  The Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight both have drag coefficient below 0.3.  That's not bad. The most streamlined supersonic aircraft manage a drag less than 0.02 — they give up only about one fifteenth as much energy to pushing aside the air as even a highly efficient car.

But water is 830 times as dense as air, so the penalty for a water-going creature that isn't shaped to avoid drag is 830 times higher. The drag coefficient for dolphins is less than 0.004 — much better than the sleekest aircraft.  Ichthyosaurs looked a lot like dolphins because dolphins are a pretty good design for moving in water. Both animals were refined by the same powerful forces: the need to defeat drag... and the idea first fully realized by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace.

Two types of organisms moving toward similar solutions to the same problem, despite having very different origins, is a common feature of the fossil record (and of the living world around us). Bats and pterosaurs had very different ancestors, but made some of the same adaptations to flying. Marsupial animals in Australia developed many of the same solutions to existence as their placental relatives in the rest of the world, leading to informal designations of some Australian natives as the "marsupial mouse" or "marsupial cat" or "marsupial wolf."  

Both creatures and consumer products adapt to an "environment."  For the first it can be something as simple as the medium through which they move, but it's also the food they search for, the predators that hunt them, the temperature of the water, the chemistry of the air, their competitors, their diseases — everything around them. Likewise, products exist in an environment that includes consumers, competitors, retail markets, economic conditions, resource availability, and items as ephemeral as "style."

Ideas also form in an environment. They require a foundation of previous ideas, the availability of raw information, and a society that supports new thinking. In 1684, German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz published the first paper based on calculus, which he had invented over the previous decade. Meanwhile Isaac Newton didn't publish his first work of calculus until 1693, but said he had been working on his version since 1666.  For three centuries, adherents of both men have argued over who really invented calculus, but there's no reason to believe the answer isn't both.  On the technological front, the list of near simultaneous discoveries is lengthy.  Was the first practical electric light bulb invented by Thomas Edison, or Joseph Swan?  Did Alexander Bell invent the telephone, or was it Elisha Gray? The radio, the television, and the MRI imager all have multiple claimants to the title of "inventor of." Even when it comes to relativity, there are several others who anticipated at least some part of what Einstein would so brilliantly assemble.

When Charles Darwin opened a note from Alfred Russell Wallace in the spring of 1858 and found that Wallace had deduced the same ideas on natural selection that Darwin had been thinking over since 1837, it wasn't too surprising. Both men had been inspired by reading the Reverend Thomas Malthus, whose 1798 essay fretted over the possibility of the human population outracing its food supply.

The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man. Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio.A slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power in comparison with the second.

Malthus limited his speculations to man, but both Darwin and Wallace began to think about what the limits of population meant for other species. If any creature expanded its population generation by generation, it must inevitably run into limits. Limits on food.  Limits on space.  Limits on the proper kind of habitat.  In fact, most creatures must be at that limit all the time, with the environment supporting as many as possible.

Both Darwin and Wallace knew that there were differences between individuals.  That was clear in the observations of animals and plants they had made on their travels.  It was equally obvious from the domestic animals they saw all around them.  Thinking of Victorian England today, the idea that the streets of London were full of horses seems odd — and somewhat charming.  But those streets were also full of sheep, goats, cows, chickens, and other animals. With no refrigeration, thousands of animals were slaughtered every day throughout the city.  Cages of birds, pens of animals, rooms of houses turned into makeshift stockyards, slaughterhouses and butcher shops where blood ran into gutters were also standard features of most London neighborhoods. Which seems a good deal less charming. Even people who didn't live on farms were constantly exposed to domesticated animals of all types. Which is a large part of why both Darwin and Wallace made extensive use of domesticated animals as examples in their work.  

And that's all the ingredients there are for natural selection. Limits on population put a pressure on which organisms hang around and reproduce. Not all organisms of the same species are identical. Those that live, love, and have offspring, tend to pass their traits to the next generation.

Populations of organisms can, and do, contain many variations all the time. Often the variations they carry don't have any effect on their ability to produce offspring. Is a blue-eyed wolf more likely to have pups than a grey-eyed wolf? Only if the wolf's potential partners have a thing for a certain eye color.  When conditions are good, many traits have such a minimal effect on reproduction that they linger in the populace. What does it matter if you're able to skate by on less food when food is abundant? Until it's not.

A change in any aspect of the environment can suddenly turn what had been just another variant into either an advantage or a detriment. Being able to survive on less water might not be valued, until there's a prolonged drought. Tolerating heat or cold better than your neighbors might have no value, until extreme conditions strike. Being the fastest rabbit in the area might not matter, until faster foxes arrive. Big can be big when there's plenty of food, until shortages turn small into an edge.

There are differences among individuals. Some of those differences tend to be inherited by the offspring produced by those individuals. If there is a selective pressure that acts against those differences, you get evolution.  The end.  In any given generation, the differences may be small.  The edge given to one variant over another can be razor thin. Still, evolution moves on, aided by that secret ingredient spelled out by James Hutton — deep time.  

The simplicity of the idea is part of what made it hard for some people to accept. There were scientists among Darwin's immediate circle of friends who knew that evolution had happened, but who thought Darwin's mechanism was just not sufficient. There had to be more to it. Over the next sixty years, natural selection would come in and out of favor as the driving system behind evolution, and that bald simplicity would be one of the biggest problems. Even in Darwin's time, his most vocal opponents were not those who didn't believe that evolution had taken place, it was those — like anatomist Richard Owen, who had worked with Darwin on specimens returned from the Beagle — who didn't believe that Darwin's simple process could be responsible for all the variety in the world.

However, this simplicity was also one of the theory's biggest assets. Once explained --  and Darwin couched the idea expertly, with many examples and answers to the questions he anticipated from opponents -- there was a forehead smack heard round the world.  Many who had been followers of some earlier system, or doubters of evolution altogether, saw the unmistakable nature of the idea and became vocal supporters.
Thomas Huxley's reaction was probably typical of many who read On the Origin of Species when it reached the stands in 1859.

"How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!" -- Thomas Huxley

Huxley could have thought of it. So could any one of hundreds of naturalists who had backgrounds, experience, and information similar to that held by Darwin and Wallace. The many examples of animals and plants that Wallace had cataloged in his Malaysian wanderings and Darwin had seen in his shipboard travels, gave them both an important nudge toward thoughts of natural selection.  But others had seen as much and done as much. Certainly men like Huxley, who had also been part of a round-the-world scientific voyage and had access to the same data that Darwin had used, or men like Owen, who had examined and cataloged tens of thousands of creatures both fossil and living, could have come up with the same idea.

That they didn't only shows how hard simple things can be. Natural selection looks simple, and it is simple, but out of that simplicity endless complexity can be generated. Looking at the world, most scientists (and non-scientists) saw only the complexity. The living world was so massive, so intricately interwoven, so complex, that people looked for massive, intricate, complex answers.  The real insight that Darwin and Wallace shared was that complexity could spring from simplicity. There was no need to go looking for a complex solution.  There was no need for divine intervention at the appearance of every species, and no need for a mechanism that propelled the world toward some hidden plan.  

In fact, for all their apparent similarities, Darwin and Wallace reached their similar conclusions from different directions. Darwin, despite originating an idea that's the most powerful in all of science, was something of a conservative thinker. The words of his textbooks and professors put him on a path where he gradually, almost tentatively, moved toward the idea of natural selection, and then spent decades expanding, testing, and validating his thoughts. Wallace was the real radical, a man who welcomed odd thoughts and unorthodox notions.  Wallace would go on to not only elaborate on natural selection, but also to note that many animals employed "warning colors" to announce that they carried poison or some similar threat.  He would be the father of biogeography, doing much more than Darwin to explain and establish the distribution of plants and animals. He would also be a spiritualist who attended seances and supported channelers. Wallace was something of a scientific James Dean — if there was a traditional thought, he had a rebellion.

Both men were brilliant. Both were capable of highly original thinking. But Darwin was persistent, dogged, and obsessive when it came to working out every implication of an issue. Wallace was more mercurial, always ready to tackle something new. The two men came together on natural selection because they were driven there by the data. Once glimpsed, the idea of natural selection was as powerful and necessary for them both as the streamlined bodies of the dolphin and the ichthyosaur.  Some ideas are so compelling that they shape the direction of the whole world.

Some people are equally compelling. A decade before Wallace's letter arrived in Darwin's mailbox, the Geologic Society realized that they had to do something to recognize one of the most important paleontologists in the nation — Mary Anning. The woman who had started by selling fossils to support her family had continued at the work all her life. The beautiful specimens she recovered, among the most complete ever found, provided additional proof of extinction and showed how different the seas of the Jurassic had been. She had uncovered not only the ichthyosaur, but multiple forms of the long-necked plesiosaurs, extinct fish, crocodiles, and even a beautiful pterosaur that had been unlucky enough to plunge into the ancient sea.

Anning sold her discoveries to the men like Richard Owen who described them and gained fame in the process, but Mary was never more than a step away from poverty.  Still, the importance of what Anning had done and the dedication with which she pulled out one complete skeleton after another won her admiration among the men who were rewriting science. In 1847 the Geological Society was, like all such societies at the time, restricted to men only, but by overwhelming vote they made Mary Anning an honorary member. Only a few months later she died of breast cancer at the age of 47. On her death, a stained glass window as erected in the church of St. Michael the Archangel. The inscription on the window read "This window is sacred to the memory of Mary Anning of this paris, who died 9 March 1847 and is erected by the vicar and some members of the Geological Society of London in commemoration of her usefulness in furthering the science of geology, and her benevolence of heart and integrity of life."

The window shows how valued Anning's contributions were, but there's another remembrance of Mary Anning that's perhaps an even better claim to fame — though it's not quite "parallel" to a stained glass window. Mary Anning, the child who sold fossils on the beaches of Dorset to save her impoverished family, is said to be the inspiration behind the old tongue-twister "She sells sea shells by the sea shore."

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 06:00 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I'm wondering what strange denizens in the future (20+ / 0-)

    will think of the fossilized remains of our extinct species, the first to be so successful that it had the ability and the wherewithall to so drastically alter the planets climate that it could die off at its own hands.

    Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

    by rktect on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 06:11:18 AM PDT

    •  Interesting thought (5+ / 0-)

      and I wonder what they will look like as well.

      Larger brains, smaller bodies that require less energy to metabolize a shrinking food supply. Capable of withstanding temperature extremes. Politically liberal tendencies no doubt.

      Reason can never prove the existence of God. Immanuel Kant

      by Patriot4peace on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 06:19:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Think of how they will reconstruct our ruins. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      historys mysteries, Lashe, Coilette

      When I lived in an apartment complex that was part of an industrial park I used to joke with my friends that when the lizard people eventually dug up that part of Austin after we'd killed ourselves off they would talk about how the worker monks lived near their work church.

      We'll tell a story, though we'll have no voice.  At least in extinction we'll finally return to nature, eh?

      "In the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick." -Barack Obama

      by electricgrendel on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 06:30:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  meh (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I have never subscribed to the "man can make himself extinct" line of thinking..  at least not through climate change.. nuclear war, perhaps.

      Science and technology should keep a good sized population alive to live on.. perhaps wiser.. perhaps not.

      "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others." - G. Marx

      by Skeptical Bastard on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 06:37:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Odd, I started to read Dt's diary (7+ / 0-)

      and vaguely remembered Mary Anning, and her contributions. My thought process led me to "they don't make fossils anymore". That led me to establish if I felt guilt for fossil (and rock) collecting. So, I have some, and if I am thoughtful some of the fossils may go to a museum when I move or die. Oh yes, dying IS moving, just not to another state or town.

      Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry. F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Great Gatsby

      by riverlover on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 06:48:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Guilt? Get outtahere........ (6+ / 0-)

        We have a really large piece of shale in the front yard that bears the impression of a long extinct conifer cone (almost 2 feet long). If i had left it in place, today it would be just so many shards of shiny rock downstream from the falls we retrieved it from. In my front yard, it has sparked dozens of conversations about the true age of this "little blue marble" we inhabit.
        No guilt at all here.

        IGTNT...Honor the Fallen...Respect Their Loved Ones.

        by geez53 on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 07:34:35 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Don't feel the least guilt. Surface soils (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        riverlover, Kewalo, geez53, Calamity Jean

        in denuded areas where fossils are easily found are constantly getting weathered and eroded. What you find will be eroded/moved, mechanically destroyed by the moving, and deposited elsewhere in a relatively short amount of time.

        People who hunt striking fossils "professionally" for the money that high end collectors will give, without collecting the associated science are the ones that should feel guilt. If you feel that you've made a significant find, then is when to get an academic geologist or appropriate government geologic survey official involved.

        Some people will hold that nothing should be taken from public lands (BLM, National Forest land, state lands, etc.), because strictly speaking everything on those lands belong to the government. In those cases your conscience may prove the best guide, but those fossils will by far more than likely suffer the fate of erosion and mechanical destruction too.

        If your conscience balks, ask yourself if old growth timber being sold for perhaps less than a penny on the dollar by the government for timber companies to harvest at profit are wise use of government property, compared to saving an inconsequential fossil for your and your acquaintances' edification and enjoyment.      

        It's not a campaign anymore, Mr. Obama.

        by huntergeo on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 08:02:53 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  My best fossil find (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          is a cast of a tree root, and was sticking up out a horse pasture in Indiana. And it was identified by an academic geologist at IU. I have no guilt on that one, and it lies in state in my house, getting solar gain.

          But how are areas like the Falls of the Ohio (Devonian) protected from pick and shovel in the night? Probably not at all. That site is designated a State Park in Indiana.

          Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry. F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Great Gatsby

          by riverlover on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 08:37:37 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  We will make what's know as an (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      riverlover, mamamedusa

      excellent index fossil. Index fossils have wide geographic range and narrow chrono-stratigraphic distribution. That is, they are distinctive for the time of occurrence and found many places; therefore, they provide an important means of categorizing rocks across the earth with time.  

      It's not a campaign anymore, Mr. Obama.

      by huntergeo on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 07:41:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The Homo sapiens Interlude (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        vets74, huntergeo

        After the Permian extinction killed off 90% of everything on land, a sheep-sized reptile named Lystrosaurus suddenly spread across the globe.  What made it a candidate for survival when everything else that size was gone isn't clear.  Did it wade in the water?  Burrow underground?  No one is sure.

        But the damn things just litter the ground during a period of a couple of million years called "the Lystrosaurus Interlude" where these things dominate all other fauna.  That makes Lystrosaurus a great, but not perfect, index fossil because it was around both before and after the narrow Interlude period.

        We'll be better.  We're extensive, we've buried many of our dead in ways that will help with fossil formation, and Homo species seem to have very short spans.  

        Want to make a bet on the the Homo s. Interlude lasting even 20,000 years if we date from wide expansion of the species starting around 12,000 years ago?  In the geologic record, that would make a layer about as thin as the clay that truncates the Cretaceous.  

    •  alas, I think "intelligence", or at least (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      "technological intelligence", will prove to be an evolutionary failure. Like virii, the technologically-intelligent species may reproduce wildly and be hugely "successful" at first, but it inevitably kills its host and dies out.  Not a very good evolutionary strategy for the longterm.

      I hope to god we don't start inhabiting other planets.  Then instead of a mere virus, we become a galactic cancer.

      Red and Black T Shirts - T Shirts for social change*

      by Lenny Flank on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 09:42:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  hmm. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I. The plural of "virus" is "viruses."  Or "virus," if you're speaking of multiple particles of the same virus strain.

        II. Viruses will be around long after humanity goes extinct. And even if they aren't, many viruses have permanently burrowed into the human genome (along with every other genome).  It's strange to say that their evolutionary strategy isn't extremely successful over the long term.  

        III. Since cancer normally does not spread between individuals, I don't see why it would be more worrisome than a virus.

        The North will rise again!

        by happymisanthropy on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 11:04:13 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I know (7+ / 0-)

    I know we usually use the species "adapted" to...

    Unfortunately this causes many to misunderstand the idea of adaption. (It is the "freaks" that live on in response to environmental change, the normal ones just die off).

    Personally I prefer "the environment adapted the ... to...". While not perfect I think it makes the point clearer.

    Great series by the way. Wonderful writing on a fascinating topic.

    I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong- Feynman

    by taonow on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 06:20:07 AM PDT

  •  What's Michael Phelps' drag coefficient in water? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    behan, Vacationland


    michael phelps gold medals Pictures, Images and Photos

    America is sick of you, Republican Party. You are a lie factory. That's all you ever do.
    -- Alan Grayson

    by Jimdotz on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 06:22:34 AM PDT

  •  beautiful. THX. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti, goheelsgodems, moosely2006, dle2GA

    we are often looking right at the evidence for a long time, but our bias does not allow us to see it. Even today most scientists just feed the prevailing bias and are very successful. But, thanks to open minds, who can see with eyes unclouded, mankind moves on.

  •  This is a beautiful essay. (15+ / 0-)

    This to ponder on a Sunday afternoon is the sort of thing that makes this site extraordinary.  

  •  Ichthyosaur (9+ / 0-)

    Is the official dinosaur of Nevada. I only know this because Great Basin Brewing in Sparks NV(think Reno) brews the wonderful Ichthyosaur Pale Ale.

  •  Fantastic and engaging essay. (11+ / 0-)

    I really do enjoy these diaries.

    "In the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick." -Barack Obama

    by electricgrendel on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 06:31:25 AM PDT

  •  God Introduces New Bird (20+ / 0-)


    THE HEAVENS—In what is being described by advance marketing materials as "the first divine creation in more than 6,000 years," God Almighty, Our Lord Most High, introduced a brand-new species of bird into existence Monday.

    "Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve, prepare thine eyes for the most exciting line of avian wildlife in millennia," God announced as He released an estimated 14 million first-run models into the important bird markets of North America, Australia, and Eurasia. "This new bird has it all: slicker wings, a more streamlined beak, better-than-ever capacity for beautiful song. Plus, all of the grace and majesty you've come to expect from the Eternal Creator of Life Itself."

    "The bird is back," God continued, His booming voice parting the very heavens. "And baby, it's never looked better."

    According to the latest specs, etched in two tablets of stone and handed down from atop Mount Sinai, the new bird is anticipated by God to be His finest creation to date. Available in two colors-—male and female—the bird reportedly combines everything God has learned from His previous works into one "new twist on an old favorite."

    "This came out at the perfect time," said Chet Clem, Chair of Biblical Science at Oral Roberts University. "God hadn't come out with anything in a long while, and people, quite frankly, were beginning to lose faith in Him. But this bird is totally worth the wait."

    Added Clem, "It's classic God."

    This ain't no party. This ain't no disco. This ain't no foolin' around!

    by Snud on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 06:33:27 AM PDT

  •  Biogeography (12+ / 0-)

    One of my favorite subjects.  The "discovery" of plate tectonics some 40 years ago gave a huge impetus to understanding in this field.

    Grab all the joy you can. (exmearden, 8/30/09)

    by Land of Enchantment on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 06:34:49 AM PDT

  •  Re: the Honda Insight ... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Phoenix Woman, Kewalo

    It looks remarkably like the OLD Honda Insight, which was released well before the Prius.

    And Honda also has the Hybrid CIVIC (which is the only hybrid to come with a manual transmission option) since 2002 which looks nothing like the Prius.  It still has excellent wind resistance and carry, and the impact of the design on MPG is slight.

    The main form factor that aids the Prius in beating out the CIVIC for gas mileage is that the Prius engine engages in 100% electric mode while the CIVIC engages in gasoline mode.  That means the Prius is doing the hardest work -- moving a heavy object from a dead stop -- with no gas while the CIVIC isn't.

    Either way, a good article here but not a terribly accurate lede.

  •  I always feel smarter (8+ / 0-)

    for having read your posts, Devilstower.  Always.  So allow me a small editorial suggestion:  chronologically speaking, I think it would make sense to write that dolphins look a lot like ichthyosaurs because ichthyosaurs were a pretty good design for moving around in water, instead of the other way around.  One doesn't have to believe in ID to observe that evolutionary processes rarely throw the ichthyosaur out with the salinated bathwater.  And again, I enjoy and admire the range of your thought.  

    Life is good. Injustice? Not so much.

    by westyny on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 06:41:37 AM PDT

    •  O.K. , for whatever religion is left in me, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      westyny, moosely2006, mamamedusa

      I just said a small prayer that many more Kossacks could enjoy your sense of tact and sensitivity in offering a correction or even paying a complement, westyny. I'm thinking you must be the product of good parenting.

      •  Wow, thanks, behan. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Helena Handbag, behan

        My dad is still alive and I'l pass that on to him.  I'm in Rome for a year and it's amazing to be able to call the old homestead on Skype for pennies.  I hope this isn't read as shilling for the company.  All best.  

        Life is good. Injustice? Not so much.

        by westyny on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 07:30:59 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'm in Japan on a cool Sunday night. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I have traditional Japanese harp music playing on a new Super Audio disc (SACD), and it sounds amazing. Now, let's see, with respect to Deviltower's diary, the parallel evolutionary high definition audio component produced here in Japan would be the HMCD, and the two formats SACD versus HMCD will battle it out like Beta and VHS did thirty years ago.

  •  Reminds me of 'The Design of Everyday Things' (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti, Kewalo

    I hope you publish an equally popular book!

    •  Donald Norman's book published in 1998 (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ybruti, vets74

      "Norman . . . makes a strong case for the needlessness of badly conceived and badly designed everyday objects . . . . [T]his book may herald the beginning of a change in user habits and expectations, a change that manufacturers would be obliged to respond to. Button pushers of the world, unite."
      —Los Angeles Times

      •  After 20 years of using my electric stove (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Red Bean, vets74, zow

        I still make the mistake of turning on the front instead of the back burner, but I just exclaim "bad design" instead of blaming myself.

      •  We have Sony radio in the bathroom. 1967. (0+ / 0-)

        It works.

        We have a special CD/DVD-and-VHS thingie in the living room. 2006.

        It doesn't work because it "ate" a VHS and broke a tiny odd-looking nylon wheel off inside.


        Over the years that radio sold about 20 items with the Sony name on them. We always bought Sony for gifts and T.V.'s and whatever.

        Now ????????????????

        And it died immediately after reaching the end of warranty....

        Angry White Males + Personality Disorder delusionals + sane Pro-Lifers =EQ= The GOPer Base

        by vets74 on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 01:28:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  We bought a VCR (0+ / 0-)

          with some wedding money, what?, some twenty years ago. It still works. We are on our second or third DVD player and these are all "good" brands. Planned obsolescence, I guess.

          There's a reason Democrats won massively the last two cycles, and it wasn't because people were desperate for "bipartisanship". --kos

          by Debby on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 07:16:51 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Durability used to have a selective pressure (0+ / 0-)

            Making a durable item has a selective value in the automobile marketplace, still.  When a TV used to cost what was the equivalent of a car, that same pressure worked on reliability of TVs.  Same for radios.

            But as consumer electronics have become cheaper, reliability has gotten down to that "eye color" position, where it has low selective pressure.  DVD #3 failed? Eh, there's another one for $20 at Walmart.

            •  I spent $30 at Target. (0+ / 0-)

              It's really a hideous cycle though, isn't it, because now it includes the guilt of what do I do with all this plastic and these wires and crap, add it to the landfill? And why is the DVD player twenty or thirty bucks? Because they're made by the trillions by people who get paid crap to do it, not by your neighbors or folks in the next state over who are going to plow that money back into your community. It's a sucky model in my opinion.

              There's a reason Democrats won massively the last two cycles, and it wasn't because people were desperate for "bipartisanship". --kos

              by Debby on Mon Oct 12, 2009 at 07:02:54 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Mary Anning! (4+ / 0-)

    She's the one who inspired the tongue-twisting ditty:

    She sells sea shells by the sea shore.

  •  Thanks again, everyone (27+ / 0-)

    For being great "first readers" and helping me turn this series of rambling Sunday posts into a (more) coherent book.  It was the comment from a few people who were upset that I kept talking about how people "didn't get Darwin right" but didn't tell what Darwin actually said, that inspired this week's essay.

    So if you were among that chorus, that chapter wouldn't be in the book if not for you.

    •  This is a great great series (4+ / 0-)

      One of the reasons I love this blog is the science writing.

      Let's pause for a moment of science...

      by cleverblogname on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 06:53:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  You maybe wrong about Newton and Leibniz (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      denig, ybruti, happymisanthropy, bryker

      "In 1684, German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz published the first paper based on calculus, which he had invented over the previous decade. Meanwhile Isaac Newton didn't publish his first work of calculus until 1693, but said he had been working on his version since 1666.  For three centuries, adherents of both men have argued over who really invented calculus, but there's no reason to believe the answer isn't both."  

      Acclaimed mathematician/logician Gregory Chaitin writes in his extraordinary book Meta Math...

      [...]To make further progress on the road to Ω, we need to add more to the stew. We need the idea of digital information---that's measured by the size of computer programs---and we also need the idea of irreducible digital information, which is a kind of randomness. In the next chapter we'll discuss the sources of these ideas. We'll see that the idea of complexity comes from biology, the idea of digital information comes from computer software, and the idea of irreducibility---that's my particular contribution---can be traced back to Leibniz in 1686.

      Chapter III---Digital Information: DNA/Software/Leibniz

         "Nothing is more important than to see the sources of invention which are, in my opinion, more interesting than the inventions themselves."---Leibniz, as quoted in Pólya, How to Solve It.

      In this chapter I'm going to show you the "sources of invention" of the ideas of digital information, program-size complexity, and algorithmic irreducibility or randomness. In fact, the genesis of these ideas can be traced to DNA, to software, and to Leibniz himself.


      Who was Leibniz?

      Let me tell you about Leibniz.

      Leibniz invented the calculus, invented binary arithmetic, a superb mechanical calculator, clearly envisioned symbolic logic, gave the name to topology (analysis situs) and combinatorics, discovered Wilson's theorem (a primality test; see Dantzig, Number, The Language of Science), etc. etc. etc.

      Newton was a great physicist, but he was definitely inferior to Leibniz both as a mathematician and as a philosopher. And Newton was a rotten human being---so much so that Djerassi and Pinner call their recent book Newton's Darkness.

      Leibniz invented the calculus, published it, wrote letter after letter to continental mathematicians to explain it to them, initially received all the credit for this from his contemporaries, and then was astonished to learn that Newton, who had never published a word on the subject, claimed that Leibniz had stolen it all from him. Leibniz could hardly take Newton seriously!

      But it was Newton who won, not Leibniz.

      Newton bragged that he had destroyed Leibniz and rejoiced in Leibniz's death after Leibniz was abandoned by his royal patron, whom Leibniz had helped to become the king of England. It's extremely ironic that Newton's incomprehensible Principia---written in the style of Euclid's Elements---was only appreciated by continental mathematicians after they succeeded in translating it into that effective tool, the infinitesimal calculus that Leibniz had taught them!

      Morally, what a contrast! Leibniz was such an elevated soul that he found good in all philosophies: Catholic, Protestant, Cabala, medieval scholastics, the ancients, the Chinese... It pains me to say that Newton enjoyed witnessing the executions of counterfeiters he pursued as Master of the Mint.

      [The science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson has recently published the first volume, Quicksilver, of a trilogy about Newton versus Leibniz, and comes out strongly on Leibniz's side. See also Isabelle Stengers, La Guerre des sciences aura-t-elle lieu?, a play about Newton vs. Leibniz, and the above mentioned book, consisting of two plays and a long essay, called Newton's Darkness.]

      Leibniz was also a fine physicist. In fact, Leibniz was good at everything. For example, there's his remark that "music is the unconscious joy that the soul experiences on counting without realising that it is counting." Or his effort to discern pre-historic human migration patterns through similarities between languages---something that is now done with DNA!

      So you begin to see the problem: Leibniz is at too high an intellectual level. He's too difficult to understand and appreciate. In fact, you can only really appreciate Leibniz if you are at his level. You can only realize that Leibniz has anticipated you after you've invented a new field by yourself---which as C. MacDonald Ross says in his little Oxford University Press book Leibniz, has happened to many people.

      In fact, that's what happened to me. I invented and developed my theory of algorithmic information, and one day not so long ago, when asked to write a paper for a philosophy congress in Bonn, I went back to a little 1932 book by Hermann Weyl, The Open World, Yale University Press. I had put it aside after being surprised to read in it that Leibniz in 1686 in his Discours de Métaphysique---that's the original French, in English, Discourse on Metaphysics---had made a key observation about complexity and randomness, the key observation that started me on all this at age 15!

      [Actually, Weyl himself was a very unusual mathematician, Hilbert's mathematical heir and philosophical opponent, who wrote a beautiful book on philosophy that I had read as a teenager: Philosophy of Mathematics and Natural Science, Princeton University Press, 1949. In that book Weyl also recounts Leibniz's idea, but the wording is not as sharp, it's not formulated as clearly and as dramatically as in Weyl's 1932 Yale book. Among his other works: an important book on relativity, Raum-Zeit-Materie (space, time, matter).]

      "Could Leibniz have done it?!", I asked myself. I put the matter aside until such time as I could check what he had actually said. Years passed... Well, for my Bonn paper I finally took the trouble to obtain an English translation of the Discours, and then the original French. And I tried to find out more about Leibniz.

      It turns out that Newton wasn't the only important opponent that Leibniz had had. You didn't realize that math and philosophy were such dangerous professions, did you?!

      The satirical novel Candide by Voltaire, which was made into a musical comedy when I was a child, is actually a caricature of Leibniz. Voltaire was Leibniz's implacable opponent, and a terrific Newton booster---his mistress la Marquise du Châtelet translated Newton's Principia into French. Voltaire was against one and in favor of the other, not based on an understanding of their work, but simply because Leibniz constantly mentions God, whereas Newton's work seems to fit in perfectly with an atheist, mechanistic world view. This was leading up to the French revolution, which was against the Church just as much as it was against the Monarchy.

      Poor Voltaire---if he had read Newton's private papers, he would have realised that he had backed the wrong man! Newton's beliefs were primitive and literal---Newton computed the age of the world based on the Bible. Whereas Leibniz was never seen to enter a church, and his notion of God was sophisticated and subtle. Leibniz's God was a logical necessity to provide the initial complexity to create the world, and is required because nothing is necessarily simpler than something. That's Leibniz's answer to the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing? For nothing is simpler and easier than something." (Principles of Nature and Grace, 1714, Section 7)

      In modern language, this is like saying that the initial complexity of the universe comes from the choice of laws of physics and the initial conditions to which these laws apply. And if the initial conditions are simple, for example an empty universe or an exploding singularity, then all the initial complexity comes from the laws of physics.

      The question of where all the complexity in the world comes from continues to fascinate scientists to this day. For example, it's the focus of Wolfram's book A New Kind of Science. Wolfram solves the problem of complexity by claiming that it's only an illusion, that the world is actually very simple. For example, according to Wolfram all the randomness in the world is only pseudo-randomness generated by simple algorithms! That's certainly a philosophical possibility, but does it apply to this world? Here it seems that quantum-mechanical randomness provides an inexhaustible source of potential complexity, for example via "frozen accidents", such as biological mutations that change the course of evolutionary history.

      Before explaining to what extent and how Leibniz anticipated the starting point for my theory, let me recommend some good sources of information about Leibniz, which are not easy to find. On Leibniz's mathematical work, see the chapter on him in E. T. Bell's Men of Mathematics and Tobias Dantzig's Number, The Language of Science. On Leibniz the philosopher, see C. MacDonald Ross, Leibniz, and The Cambridge Companion to Leibniz, edited by Nicholas Jolley. For works by Leibniz, including his Discourse on Metaphysics and Principles of Nature and Grace, see G. W. Leibniz, Philosophical Essays, edited and translated by Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber.


      More here:

      •  Leibniz was indeed a renaissance man. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        vets74, zow

        But try reading his philosophical tracts. I've read his Discourse and Monadology and can't say they were all that enjoyable. Personal opinion, of course.

        I'm in the pro-Obama wing of the Democratic Party.

        by doc2 on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 07:22:17 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Personally, I'd go with... (6+ / 0-)

        Madhavaas pulling all the threads together first -- and there were a lot of threads out there centuries before either Leibniz or Newton.

        I'd also wonder if either of them had access to the writings of Seki Kōwa.  There have been rumors that these papers -- which appeared around the same times as Leibniz' first writing on calculus and in some ways went farther than either Leibniz or Newton -- were circulated past one or both men.

        •  Indeed, India (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ybruti, moosely2006, mamamedusa, iceweasel

          made some great contributions to math (including the concept of Zero and Al-gorithms) that was popularized by Arabs who traded with both India and Europe.

          When Europeans found a sea route directly to India (Vasco da Gama was the first man to reach western coast of South India, the state of Kerala), I assume a lot of mathematical work of Madhava was shared.

          There were many other mathematicians of the school of Kerala after the arrival of the Europeans to India...

          I wonder if tehre were other mathematecians in the rest of India whose work did not live, like the work from the small coastal state of Kerala it was connected to bot Arab and Europen traders. The ports of Kochi and Calicut in Kerala were the center of spice trade...

          •  Keralese school became prominent (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            during 13-16 centuries AD. It was the most recent (and profoundly important) leg of the whole range and sequence of the evolution of (pre-modern) Indian mathematics during the period between c. 500 BC and 1600 AD, a brief account of which is the following study:

            Indian Mathematics: Redressing the balance

            Ian G Pearce


               1. Abstract
               2. Introduction
               3. Early Indian culture - Indus civilisation
               4. Mathematics in the service of religion:
                  I. Vedas and Vedangas
                  II. Sulba Sutras
               5. Jainism
               6. The Bakhshali manuscript
               7. Decimal numeration and the place-value system
               8. The Classical period:
                  I Introduction
                  II. Aryabhata and his commentators
                  III. Brahmagupta, and the influence on Arabia
                  IV. Mathematics over the next 400 years (700AD-1100AD)
                  V. Bhaskaracharya II
                  VI. Pell's equation
                  VII. The end of the Classic period and the state of Indian mathematics abroad by the 12th century
               9. Keralese mathematics:
                  I. Introduction
                  II. Mathematicians of Kerala
                  III. Madhava of Sangamagramma
                  IV. Possible transmission of Keralese mathematics to Europe
              10. Conclusions


            Not listed (but mentioned somewhere in the text) in the section titles of this article is Panini, whose invention of the world's first grammar (for Sanskrit, c. 520 BC) was perhaps a monumental turning point in human intellectual evolution (in both linguistics and mathematics) based on what scholars say about his work:


            Born: about 520 BC in Shalatula (near Attock), Ancient India
            Died: about 460 BC

            Panini was a Sanskrit grammarian who gave a comprehensive and scientific theory of phonetics, phonology, and morphology. Sanskrit was the classical literary language of the Indian Hindus and Panini is considered the founder of the language and literature. It is interesting to note that the word "Sanskrit" means "complete" or "perfect" and it was thought of as the divine language, or language of the gods.
            Let us end with an evaluation of Panini's contribution by Cardona in [1]:-

                Panini's grammar has been evaluated from various points of view. After all these different evaluations, I think that the grammar merits asserting ... that it is one of the greatest monuments of human intelligence.

            Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson

            Srinivasa Ramanujan is, perhaps, the most significant Indian mathematician in the modern era, thus far. Most significant contributions by Indian mathematicians in the post-WW2 period seem to have come in theoretical computer science (which can be considered to be a branch of mathematics) and related areas.

            Did you know that Indians invented the # 0 and the decimal/binary systems: a primer on Indian mathematics.

            by iceweasel on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 11:09:43 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Panini (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Panini and modern linguistics:

              ...the influence of Pāṇini on the founding father of American structuralism, Leonard Bloomfield, is very clear, see e.g. his 1927 paper "On some rules of Pāṇini".[11]

              Noam Chomsky has always acknowledged his debt to Pāṇini for his modern notion of an explicit generative grammar.[12] In Optimality Theory, the hypothesis about the relation between specific and general constraints is known as "Panini's Theorem on Constraint Ranking". Pāṇinian grammars have also been devised for non-Sanskrit languages. His work was the forerunner to modern formal language theory (mathematical linguistics) and formal grammar, and a precursor to computing.[13]

              The Backus-Naur form (Panini-Backus form) or BNF grammars used to describe modern programming languages have significant similarities to Pāṇini grammar rules. Pāṇini's grammar can be considered to be the world's first formal system, well before the 19th century innovations of Gottlob Frege and the subsequent development of mathematical logic. To design his grammar, Pāṇini used the method of "auxiliary symbols," in which new affixes are designated to mark syntactic categories and the control of grammatical derivations. This technique was rediscovered by the logician Emil Post and is now a standard method in the design of computer programming languages.

              "Most significant contributions by Indian mathematicians in the post-WW2 period seem to have come in theoretical computer science (which can be considered to be a branch of mathematics) and related areas. "

              I doubt if there are any significant contribution of Indians based in India in the fields of math or computation/computer science. as can be seen from the Nobel prizes of 4 Indians post Independence, (in physics, biology, economy and teh latest in chemistry) who were based in the US or UK.

              •  AKS primality testing. (0+ / 0-)
                "I doubt if there are any significant contribution of Indians based in India in the fields of math or computation/computer science."

                AKS primality testing work was done entirely in India:

                AKS primality test

                From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
                Jump to: navigation, search

                The AKS primality test (also known as Agrawal-Kayal-Saxena primality test and cyclotomic AKS test) is a deterministic primality-proving algorithm created and published by three Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur computer scientists, Manindra Agrawal, Neeraj Kayal, and Nitin Saxena on August 6, 2002 in a paper titled PRIMES is in P.[1] The authors received many accolades, including the 2006 Gödel Prize and the 2006 Fulkerson Prize for this work.
                The key significance of AKS is that it was the first published primality-proving algorithm to be simultaneously general, polynomial, deterministic, and unconditional. Previous algorithms have achieved any three of these properties, but not all four.

                Thanks for the extra info on Panini's work. I'll check his theorem out shortly :)


                Most (but not all) of the top Indian scholastic talent gets induced into the IITs, which are engineering schools. Although some 5 year science/math MS degrees were offered, they never caught on. Personally, I wanted to pick a 5 yr MS math program when I was choosing my area at IIT, but my father didn't allow me to take that route (because job placement for math/science degree holders was poor in India, unless you end up going all the way to do a good phd, and end up becoming a prof at a top school like the IITs), and so I ended up doing an engineering degree for my Bachelors (against my will, if you will :)).

                Typically the top IIT/JEE rankers choose computer science as their major (since the late 70s when the CS programs came to exist; before that, the subject was covered in electrical/electronics engineering streams), implying that some of the best Indian brains have IIT computer science (and related) degrees, and some 90-95% of the IIT CS grads come over to the US for their graduate studies. So, it follows that, more or less, the best scientific work from Indians over the last 30 years would be in computer science, and done in the US for the most part since many of them also stayed back after their phds in the US academia. Since there is no Nobel prize in either CS or math, obviously one can't expect many Indian Nobel prize winners from this generation of Indian minds, unless they changed directions and went into Physics or Economics later on (Biology and Chemistry are sort of out of the way for a typical engineer.)

                Drs. Chandrasekhar and Khorana did their college work before the IITs came to exist, and when Dr. Sen went to college, the IITs were just getting started. So only Dr. Ramakrishnan, among the post-colonial Indian Nobel Laureates (non-peace), chose a science stream even though IITs were the leading institutions in India by his time. I think, in order to produce world-class talent (and thus research) in the basic sciences (which I kinda feel the very best of Indian minds are better suited for, over technological fields), India should create a handful of IIScs, and popularize the science degrees offered (at the undergrad level) in the IITs, draw some top science talent from around the world to work in all of these programs, create an infrastructure with attractive pay scales for people to stay back for phds and subsequent academic work, with incentives for publications in the top international journals. A ton of investment, but I think it will pay off in the longer run for India as well as the world of science.

                Did you know that Indians invented the # 0 and the decimal/binary systems: a primer on Indian mathematics.

                by iceweasel on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 01:23:20 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  My Seventh grader is a dedicated (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kewalo, jwinIL14, zow

    armchair paleontologist. He has expressed an interest in reading The Origin of Species, but I'm thinking he should first read something a little more accessible. Any suggestions?

    The weak in courage is strong in cunning-William Blake

    by beltane on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 06:47:03 AM PDT

    •  I'd say he should NOT read OofS. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Kewalo, vets74, beltane

      He should be able to read Bryson's book, and that will make a lot more sense to him.

      I'm in the pro-Obama wing of the Democratic Party.

      by doc2 on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 07:06:55 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Here are a few thoughts.... (9+ / 0-)

      Anne Weavers "The Voyage of the Beetle" is a look at the Beagle voyage from the point of view of a beetle that tags along with Darwin.  Though that may make it should too childish for a sharp 7th grader,  it's actually quite well done (and I have to admit I'm taken with the illustrations).  

      There is also a book on evolution in the Eyewitness series that includes the usual plethora of pictures that Eyewitness uses -- through the text is a mixed bag (despite some great contributors).

      Dawkin's new "Greatest Show on Earth" is a celebration of evolution -- and less didactic than some of Dawkin's other books.  A good read.

      Personally, I'm still very fond of Stephen Jay Gould's collected essays (though Gould's thoughts on the Cambrian explosion and punctuated equilibria have been tempered by new interpretations and better evidence).  Try "The Richness of Life" for a collection of some of Gould's best.  Good writing from a person who really loved the subject is hard to beat.

      Finally, sure, let him read Origin.  It's a beautifully written book that makes, as Darwin said, "one long argument."  He may end up having a reaction kind of like my friend's when I forced them to watch "Lawrence of Arabia" (i.e. "it's so slow!") because Darwin hits the points again and again, with example after example, and beats a very careful path to his conclusions.  And of course nearly all the fossil evidence of evolution came after Darwin's writing, so there's no chance to discuss much of the fossil record but for a few mentions and some speculation.  BTW, Darwin's speculations have turned out to be spectacularly accurate because, as as with natural selection, Darwin rarely ventured a guess before he was extremely sure of the outcome.

      •  Thanks (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Kewalo, maizenblue, happymisanthropy

        He would probably enjoy Dawkins. Already, at the tender age of twelve, his enthusiasm for science has caused a few run-ins with evangelical classmates, which has made him more anti-religion than I ever was.

        The weak in courage is strong in cunning-William Blake

        by beltane on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 07:20:04 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You should be proud. What (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Kewalo, maizenblue, geez53, beltane

          a sad thought, that there are 12-year olds who are already evangelical, close-minded fools.

          I'm in the pro-Obama wing of the Democratic Party.

          by doc2 on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 07:24:01 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The frames are set in stone well before age 12. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Kewalo, beltane, happymisanthropy

            Starts with: Daddy, why is the sky blue? "Because god made it that way child."

            Takes decades of freer thought to jackhammer through that steel reinforced, cast-in-place, synaptic structure.

            IGTNT...Honor the Fallen...Respect Their Loved Ones.

            by geez53 on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 07:59:23 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  We didn't even teach our kids (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              geez53, happymisanthropy

              about Santa Claus when they were little. Once you allow for impossible fantasies being real, it is that much harder for them to grasp reality.

              I'm in the pro-Obama wing of the Democratic Party.

              by doc2 on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 08:16:59 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Did you let them play house (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                or cops and robbers?  Imagination can also be stifled at a young age.  As the mind develops people realize santa is not real.  Thinking outside of the box requires imagination and imagination muscles must be stretched and exercised.  Congrats on keeping a child from believing in non christian pagan cling-ons of a holiday that is mostly commercial.  Do you let them watch cartoons with talking animals?

                I don't care if I fall as long as someone else picks up my gun and keeps on shooting. Che Guevara

                by Paid Troll on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 08:30:55 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Sure, they watched cartoons. (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  But we, their parents, never told them that animals can talk, nor that Santa can fly to every house in the world in one night. What does the kid think when years later they realize that their parents were lying to them? Trust is paramount in importance, and it didn't seem to me that lying about anything was a good idea.

                  I'm in the pro-Obama wing of the Democratic Party.

                  by doc2 on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 08:34:29 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  HAHAHA (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    badger, Kewalo

                    I am not judging your parenting, I believe if you really try to be a parent ( and you must be as you have a plan and a thought process ) you probably are a good parent.  I just think teaching a kid to eat right and not do drugs and not lie cheat or steal or read for fun....those vastly outshine santa claus damage.  I worked for several years as a paramedic and saw all the terrible things people do to children and taking away santa is not even close.  I do remember loving the magic around Xmas and it sucks they did not get that although i am sure you make it up in other ways.  

                    I don't care if I fall as long as someone else picks up my gun and keeps on shooting. Che Guevara

                    by Paid Troll on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 08:40:11 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

              •  Oh, we did (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                I figure it will teach them to question everything.  The greatest scientific discoveries have been made by those who engaged in seemingly "impossible" fantasies like space and time not being absolute.

    •  Is he familiar with the "Dino Land" project? (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Helena Handbag, terabytes, geez53, beltane

      It is a group that is trying to be group that is trying to be the first teenagers. They have also organized panels to make the science more accessible.

      Some of their favorites include: "Stranger Than Fiction," by Melvin Berger, "Giant Dinosaurs," by interview subject Peter Dodson and Peter Lerangis, "The Humongous Book of Dinosaurs," by Stewart, Tabori, and Chang, "Dougal Dixon's Dinosaurs," by Dougal Dixon and Dodson, and "An Illustrated Guide to Fossils," by Chris Pellant.

    •  Jurassic Park and Lost World are worth (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Kewalo, beltane

      reading for their pop culture references and fun factor, but make sure you engage in some critical thinking discussions.  For example: JP posited that velociraptors were neat, orderly, and intelligent; for a plot reason, LW had them be sloppy and stupid.  (It's been a long time since I read them, and I may not have the exact point down.)

      I also recommend Raptor Red -- from the point of view of a velociraptor lookin' for love in all the wrong places.

  •  Wonderful to read. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    badger, Kewalo, jwinIL14

    I am sending this to my girlfriend, an archaeologist to enjoy.

    Life is a journey whether you choose a path, or the path chooses you.

    by Dopusopus on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 06:47:34 AM PDT

  •  What a great read (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jwinIL14, maizenblue

    and it's good for me to get my brain engaged on a Sunday morning -- but I will be humming the theme song from "The Patty Duke Show" all day!

    But they're cousins, identical cousins and you'll find...

    Any nation that can survive what we have lately in the way of government is on the high road to permanent glory. --Molly Ivins

    by goheelsgodems on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 06:51:49 AM PDT

  •  Sending the link to my 12 year old son (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kewalo, Red Bean, vets74

    and his best buddy.  We were just talking about the similarities in form among critters occupying similar niches.

    Beautifully written. Thanks for the lovely Sunday morning read.

    wow. that's a lot of work for a little kibble.

    by dakinishir on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 06:58:40 AM PDT

  •  Darwin's movie isn't coming to the US (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Too controversial! I guess science hasn't returned to America yet. Thanks for this wonderful diary.

    •  It's got a US distributor now (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Debby, Helena Handbag, Kewalo

      Newmarket Films announced a week after the Telegraph story that they'll be distributing the film here in the States. Doubt it will get wide release, probably mostly art houses, and you won't find it anywhere near the people who need to see it, but at least it'll be here...and likely followed up by US DVD distribution rights as well.


      Civility is the way of telling someone to go fuck themselves in such a way that the someone agrees it probably is a good idea.

      by Cali Scribe on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 11:23:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks so much for this. We happen to be (10+ / 0-)

    visiting our grandchildren this weekend -- a boy of 10 and a girl of 8. Our plan for today is to visit a nearby zoo, and this essay has been a perfect preparation for the trip. We've read it aloud, celebrated what our granddaughter calls its "robust vocabulary words" and learned a lot. We especially love that it features heroes who are both male and female, and we love the ending. They guessed it, before I read it aloud, and, together, we tripped over the twister.

    Thanks so much for this, Devilstower, and for your steady stream of fascinating and well written work.

    Love,  Paige, Michael and Grandma

    P.S.  We love dolphins!

    I would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for all people. Rosa Parks

    by Alice Olson on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 07:05:19 AM PDT

  •  Going to Lyme Regis is one of my goals. (6+ / 0-)

    It's been on my list of places I want to visit (oh, and okay, collect from) since we moved to France eight years ago. (Life keeps interfering with my plans.)  I collect rocks and shells and am an assemblage artist using materials I have found in the trash, in nature, in flea markets.

    Mary Anning was a quintessential "finder lady." It is a role and title to which I aspire (beyond the family circle).

    Thanks for this, Devilstower.

    Book excerpts: nonlynnear; other writings: mofembot.

    by mofembot on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 07:06:08 AM PDT

  •  Terrific diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    denig, Kewalo, jwinIL14

    What a well crafted and interesting read.  

    This is what makes dkos so special, the incredible diarists like this one.


    The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to beg in the streets and steal bread.

    by BlackBandFedora on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 07:12:16 AM PDT

    •  As I read this great article (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I thought, 'I don't know which jazzes me more: reading this excellent piece or knowing that many people here, will also be riveted by it'.

      I love this place!

      I don't think you can be a success at anything if you think about losing, whether it's in sports or in politics. ~Edward Kennedy

      by denig on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 08:44:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm quite convinced that this utterly fascinating (6+ / 0-)

    essay is an evil a plot to make our skulls grow larger, thus forcing us to buy new hats.

    " It's shocking what Republicans will do to avoid being the 2012 presidential nominee."

    by jwinIL14 on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 07:24:55 AM PDT

  •  Obama as the Renaissance Prince? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti, bryker

    The Renaissance and the Enlightenment were aided by the political, government atmosphere at the times as much as they caused the changes in the politics and government.

    We've come out of a long dark period, 1980-2008 where religion, ignorance and avarice have ruled where suppression of science for religious reasons (stem cell research) and financial reasons (sustainable energy's threat to oil interests) has been ascendant.

    The rejection of the anti-science religious oppression in schools even in places like Kansas and rural Pennsylvania prior to Obama's election. The changes that Obama's election and his appointments and policies that promote science and education can have a huge impact as they've had in the past.

    US was born out of The Enlightenment, hopefully political change in the US can create a new enlightenment to lead the world into a high tech sustainable future.

  •  What a delicious Sunday morning treat (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Beautifully written, thank you for this well-crafted piece!

  •  Thanks for this lovely, perambulating tribute (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to Mary Anning. It was wonderful to sit quietly for a change in the morning and read this.

    Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change. - Tennyson

    by bumblebums on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 07:41:18 AM PDT

  •  Planned to read the comments first in (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    your wonderful essay, but got bogged down in it all. I just want to tell you how interesting it was to read. I drive a Prius ('07), and my husband drives one, too ('09). I had wondered about the copy-cat similarity of the Honda. Reading your explanation of form following function as an elegance of engineering makes a lot of sense.

    As a relatively new vegan, the image of Old London's gutters running with the blood of slaughtered animals got to me. Perhaps as we have learned how to feed ourselves adequately and remain humane, this can evolve our food issues. Science has shown us that the foods we raise to feed meat animals could feed far more people on this planet if fed to those people directly instead of moving through the animals at a tremendous cost in energy and pollution.

    Thanks for your excellent writing and meaningful words.

    The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated - Mahatma Gandhi

    by Nature Maven on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 07:41:36 AM PDT

    •  I had the first new Prius on my block, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nature Maven

      the one we're all thinking of, not the earlier sedan - the 2005 + model.

      Further down the road from us, a friend had a two-seater Honda Insight.  At the time, I marveled at the similarity of form, but quickly realized that it was aerodynamics that shaped both.  That two-seater Honda Insight was a great car, and I considered getting a used one.  (Honda had ended production on that model by 2004.)  But Martha and I often carry our guitars, and they wouldn't fit in the car with both of us inside.

      •  Interesting word picture, that! (0+ / 0-)

        Guess you're saying your Prius has more room. We have been so pleased at the legroom. We have tall friends and family who can sit in front or back with me (5'10") and not feel crowded. We travel to the country every week with our cat and our stuff, and can even fit my husband's golf clubs in, and maybe even a house guest traveling with us. Wishing a good day to you and Martha.

        The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated - Mahatma Gandhi

        by Nature Maven on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 08:16:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Intelligent Design (0+ / 0-)

    Is BS except in the case of all the technology in the first paragraphs.  They did not "evolve"  teams of intelligent minds created them, not in isolation either.  Industrial espionage and reverse engineering is alive and well and it is much easier to do than original research.

    "Is a blue-eyed wolf more likely to have pups than a grey-eyed wolf? Only if the wolf's potential partners have a thing for a certain eye color."

    Wolve's see black and white, blue eyes usually are a disadvantage do to UV susceptibility.  

    Drag on supersonic aircraft has more to do with lift than streamlining.  You need a certain amount of drag to get the lift.  Comparing them to buoyant dolphins or grounded vehicles is not realistic.  Also air density at altitude is much less than ground.

    Good article but you make to many jumps based on your stance and not on science.

    I don't care if I fall as long as someone else picks up my gun and keeps on shooting. Che Guevara

    by Paid Troll on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 07:50:50 AM PDT

    •  ...'based on stance and not on science'? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Leo in NJ

      Paid Troll wrote ..."Wolve's see black and white, blue eyes usually are a disadvantage do to UV susceptibility."  

      Fact or urban myth?

      Please support.

      •  Only the first part: "Wolves are color blind" n/t (0+ / 0-)
      •  Rods and Cones (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cali Scribe

        Common veterinary science, what do you want?

        Dogs do not breed on visual impression but more on scent and dominance.   Eye color is not even on the list.  My point is an extremely well written article riddled with scientific fallacies confuses the issue.

        I don't care if I fall as long as someone else picks up my gun and keeps on shooting. Che Guevara

        by Paid Troll on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 08:26:10 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You lie (0+ / 0-)

          You originally claimed that wolfs  see in black and white.

          As the article you link says, dogs are red-green color blind, NOT blue-gray color blind.

          Moreover dogs have at least some 'cones', which wouldn't be the case if they can see "only in black and white."

          I see you couldn't find the relevant science eon wolf vision, but that's ok, given dogs are very closely related.

          •  Seeing yellow blue (0+ / 0-)

            is the same as black and white  it is two color.  sensitivity to the spectrum of yellow and blue does not mean you interpret the color this way.  This is common knowledge.

            I don't care if I fall as long as someone else picks up my gun and keeps on shooting. Che Guevara

            by Paid Troll on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 08:43:01 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Wrong again (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Dogs see yellow blue AND gray:

              Neitz confirmed that dogs actually do see color, but many fewer colors than normal humans do. Instead of seeing the rainbow as violet, blue, blue-green, green, yellow, orange and red, dogs would see it as dark blue, light blue, gray, light yellow, darker yellow (sort of brown), and very dark gray. In other words, dogs see the colors of the world as basically yellow, blue and gray. They see the colors green, yellow and orange as yellowish, and they see violet and blue as blue. Blue-green is seen as a gray.


              IOW, they CAN distinguish Grey and Blue, more so especially at close ranges, in the context of the article.

              •  Yellow blue and gray (0+ / 0-)

                like black white and gray.  Responding to presence of a light intensity is not the same as differentiating.  If you watch old computer animation the screen was green and black so you had full green all black and pixilated green gray mediums.  Two colors is two colors no matter how you paint it.

                I don't care if I fall as long as someone else picks up my gun and keeps on shooting. Che Guevara

                by Paid Troll on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 09:27:34 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  No, dogs are NOT monchromats. (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  A complete color blind individual (who sees in black, white and gray alone) cannot distinguish blue and gray. But a typical dog can. Dogs are not monchromats.

                  If a total color blind can see only black, white and shades of gray, dogs can see blue (shades of blue), yellow (shades of yellow) IN ADDITION to 'gray, black and white'.

                •  Again. Your claim is false. (0+ / 0-)

                  Dogs are not monochromatic.

                  Which is what you originally claimed, and continue to argue...

                  If you watch old computer animation the screen was green and black so you had full green all black and pixilated green gray mediums.

                  This is an example of monochorme color...

                  "A monochrome computer display is able to display only a single color, often green, amber, red or white, and often also shades of that color."

                  "A monochromatic object or image is one whose range of colors consists of shades of a single color or hue; monochrome images in neutral colors are also known as grayscale or black-and-white."


                  Two colors is two colors no matter how you paint it.

                  Dogs don't see in monochrome, however much you may wish. They see in blue scale and yellow scale (and their combination) IN ADDITION to a mere gray scale.

                •  Having had a child tested (0+ / 0-)

                  Being able to distinguish between a blue and a yellow object of the same intensity (would show up as the same "gray" object in B&W) is not the same thing as only being able to tell if an object is dark or light.  The wolf "rainbow" doesn't mention black or white for the same reason ours doesn't, because black is the absence of light, and white is a mixture of all light spectra.

      •  Brown eyes come from melanin (0+ / 0-)

        whick blocks UV from skin, so I assume it works the same in eyes. Arctic wolves could get along with blue eyes; tropical wolves (if there are any?) would be better off with brown.

    •  The underlying, valid critique is getting lost (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Paid Troll

      The danger of the "similar designs to solve similar problems" analogy used in this otherwise excellent diary is that it unwittingly reinforces the (false) argument for intelligent design.

      This is a valid point, and is getting lost in one responder's obsession with a side-issue.

      (The diary also rather simplistically ignores commercial motivations for deliberately copying a competitor's successful product, without necessarily engaging in original research that happens to produce parallel results. In the case of the iPhone this is particularly glaring, and is the reason so many of the competitors fall short - they superficially copy appearance without actually emulating the deep design.

      Comparing car drag-coefficients, which are an unavoidable result of physics, with the functionality of touch-screen portable communication devices, which is not, is a not very well thought out argument that could use some more consideration.

      Otherwise, as I said, excellent diary, paritcularly for featuring yet another remarkable woman scientist whom history (through the active intervention of the male establishment) has forgotten.

      One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

      by RandomActsOfReason on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 11:40:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  side-issue (0+ / 0-)

        This is a valid point, and is getting lost in one responder's obsession with a side-issue.

        Who is obsessive here in dishonestly defending a factual error?

      •  iPhone (0+ / 0-)

        DevilsTower makes some good points, but his example of the iPhone is way off base. The iPhone looks radically different from the phones that came before its introduction. I now have to look at new phones twice to see if they are copies or the genuine article (Google, Acer, LG, etc) . To say that they all look alike because of function insults the revolutionary nature of the iPhone design and gives a glaring pass to its blatant and shameless imitators.

        •  And, once you drill down into actual (0+ / 0-)

          functionality and usability, the imitators fall far short, at least for the moment.

          One day posterity will remember, this strange era, these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage. -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

          by RandomActsOfReason on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 04:46:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Note that.... (0+ / 0-)

      I never said that wolves do or do not select their partners on the basis of eye color.  I was merely that allotropic differences, like eye color, have minimal effect on survival rates.  There is little, or no, select pressure acting against this trait.

  •  one implication of this (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Devilstower, bryker

    is that alien life, on planets similar to ours, will likely have forms that are more or less familiar to us. And, knowing the conditions on habitable planets, we could probably use computer modeling to guess at what forms life would be likely to take, so we'd have some idea of what to expect when we got there.

    It's time to turn, "Yes, we can" into "Yes, we will".

    by ubertar on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 07:51:18 AM PDT

  •  In honor of Anning. . . (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Archaeopteryx determined to have been more dinosaur than bird, pushing the evolution of modern birds more forward in time than previously thought.

    It matured like a dinosaur, taking "a little more than two and a half years to mature—compared with just a few months for modern birds of similar size."

    Archaeopteryx's status as the first prehistoric bird has held for more than a century, but a new high-tech analysis of a rare sample of bones from a German specimen challenge that long-held presumption. It turns out that the 150-million-year-old Archaeopteryx appears to have matured to adulthood slowly, more like a dinosaur than a bird. . .

    . . .By looking at the growth patterns in bone, [Gregory Erickson of the Department of Biological Science at Florida State University] and his colleagues were able to discover that Archaeopteryx had a slow and stilted growing period like other dinosaurs, and unlike modern birds, which "just explode into adult size," he explains.  Scientific American

    "Give me but one firm spot to stand, and I will move the earth." -- Archimedes

    by Limelite on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 07:52:20 AM PDT

  •  Nice piece. (sound of applause) (4+ / 0-)

    In one clearly written little essay, you've managed to explain the non-random nature of evolution and the fallacy of "Irreducible Complexity"'s crabbed interpretation of natural selection.

    And that wasn't even the main theme.


    The fact of similar adaptations arising time and again (another example: pterosaur diets can be deduced by comparing their bills with those of modern birds with similar adaptations) highlights that evolution itself is non-random, even if the processes that drive it are.

    And the little discussion around this:

    When conditions are good, many traits have such a minimal effect on reproduction that they linger in the populace.

    is an important point that often gets left out of discussions.  That omission is the wedge ID folks use to misdirect the discussion: "How could something this complex just spring out of nowhere, which it had to do because the individual parts gave no advantage so they would have disappeared"

    Sorry to gush, it's depressingly uncommon to see something so simple so simply put.

    Free speech? Yeah, I've heard of that. Have you?

    by dinotrac on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 08:02:13 AM PDT

    •  random? (0+ / 0-)

      "The fact of similar adaptations arising time and again (another example: pterosaur diets can be deduced by comparing their bills with those of modern birds with similar adaptations) highlights that evolution itself is non-random, even if the processes that drive it are."

      If you roll a 20 sided dice enough times you will notice 20 keeps coming up.  This is random.  If X number of efficient forms exist any you drag that over billions of years of evolution it is still random yet you see similar forms.  A bat wing a bird wing a pterosaur wing and an insect all look similar but are very different.

      I don't care if I fall as long as someone else picks up my gun and keeps on shooting. Che Guevara

      by Paid Troll on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 08:16:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Please help me -- I don't see what point you (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        are trying to make.

        I gather that you take issue with my statement, but you aren't telling me why it offends you.

        It's an accurate statement of the science, so, without elaboration, I am left to presume that you are upset by science.

        I don't think that's the case, so -- can you help me out a bit here?

        Free speech? Yeah, I've heard of that. Have you?

        by dinotrac on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 08:30:18 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I am saying (0+ / 0-)

          Evolution is completely random.  You said it was not.

          I don't care if I fall as long as someone else picks up my gun and keeps on shooting. Che Guevara

          by Paid Troll on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 08:31:52 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Then you are wrong. (5+ / 0-)

            Evolution is not completely random.

            That's the kind of misconception that feeds ID and Creationist types.

            Evolution can be thought of as a rule-based AI system with a single rule: "Breed."

            Evolution is driven by a process that is random at the cellular -- mutation -- but even that process is not quite random on a larger level.

            As you point out, similar appearing structures arise at different times and places, but are not truly identical.  That's because mutations tend to sart from what's already there, which is an accumulation of random mutation PLUS the application of evolution's "breed" rule.

            You are welcome to believe that I am picking nits here, but there's a reason why I do -- and it goes back to another science hijacking by creationists:

            Absent some organizing force, systems tend towards entropy, not order.

            Evolution does have an organizing force: natural selection.  If you breed, your kind survives. Simple and slow, but powerful. It's all the departure from randomness needed to make great things happen.

            Free speech? Yeah, I've heard of that. Have you?

            by dinotrac on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 08:44:28 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  um, no (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Helena Handbag, happymisanthropy

            This "evolution is random" crap is something I have heard from creationuts for 20-odd years.  They keep repeating it because they're too stupid to understand it (in 20-odd years of creationut-fighting, I have never met yet anyone, ANYONE, who both rejected evolution AND UNDERSTOOD IT.

            They are wrong for the very same reason that YOU are wrong-- natural selection is the very OPPOSITE of random.

            The word "selection" should be a clue here. Evolution does not "select" randomly. If it did, evolution itself would b utterly impossible.

            Similar things are not RANDOMLY similar, nor did it happen by sheer coincidence.  It happened because they were both SELECTED, by similar pressures, to be that way.

            Red and Black T Shirts - T Shirts for social change*

            by Lenny Flank on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 09:59:24 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Evolution is neither random nor not random (0+ / 0-)

            it is a process. That's like saying "chemistry is random". Evolution is completely non-random: it always works the same way - those that reproduce more reproduce more, those that don't, don't. The results of evolution are also not random, though they are not as easily predictable as focusing on convergent evolution might cause you to assume. The term used for such a 'unpredictable yet not random' situation is "contingent".

            Mutations are random.
            Natural selection is contingent.
            Evolution is unavoidable.

            "...if Barack Obama were somehow able to cure hunger in the world the Republicans would blame him for overpopulation" - Rep. Grayson

            by the tmax on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 06:12:25 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Not random... (0+ / 0-)

              but also not goal-directed.  That's the crucial difference between what Darwin saw and what Spencer, Haeckel, and so many others wanted evolution to be.  That it lacked "an arrow," that it was a branching bush and not an "escalator of progress." Was something that most people then and now fail to grasp.

              Which is why Social Darwinism has always been misnamed.

              •  An excellent point (0+ / 0-)

                but that's hardly a surprise coming from you. What surprised me is that you weren't simply correcting me in some way, since I only play at knowing much about this stuff.
                I'm wondering, what did they call Social Darwinism before Darwin?

                "...if Barack Obama were somehow able to cure hunger in the world the Republicans would blame him for overpopulation" - Rep. Grayson

                by the tmax on Tue Oct 13, 2009 at 08:15:45 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  Beautifully written DT (0+ / 0-)

    I am always delighted by the way you weave your stories...:-)

    Find your own voice--the personal is political.

    by In her own Voice on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 08:14:27 AM PDT

  •  Beautiful! (0+ / 0-)
    There's not much more to add.

    If there is no such thing as a free lunch, make sure the guy who can afford it picks up the tab.

    by liberalpercy on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 08:20:58 AM PDT

  •  Excellent diary (0+ / 0-)

    Thanks, really interesting.

    I actually learned something today!

    I like diaries like these that really have a lot of meat to them.  Thanks so much for putting so much time into this.

  •  Honda's car looks like the Toyota not. . . (0+ / 0-)

    . . .because form follows function.  Honda changed the shape of the car to the more unusual (and I say odd) Prius shape because the Prius far outsold the Honda product.  Why?  Not because the Honda was an inferior car.  It isn't. They changed it because Hybrid owners want a car that looks different. Prius (and other hybrid owners) want show the poor uneducated fools who drive regular cars that they are something special environmentally.  It is all about appearance and not substance. Just ask any Corvette owner.

    "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated..."

    by waztec on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 08:52:35 AM PDT

  •  one of the best examples of "technological (0+ / 0-)

    convergent evolution" was the Soviet Space shuttle, "Buran".  Probably every American saw that it looked a lot like the NASA space shuttle and assumed that the dirty Soviets had "stolen the design".  They didn't.  The Soviet shuttle system used entirely different engines than the American.  They look the same on the outside because they both perform the same aerodynamic task, they both face the same challenges in speed and stress, and they both responded to those challenges in the same way.

    Red and Black T Shirts - T Shirts for social change*

    by Lenny Flank on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 09:36:27 AM PDT

  •  A very interesting and informative diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I love your diaries about the natural world.

    I found one nit:

    But water is 830 times as dense as air, so the penalty for a water-going creature that isn't shaped to avoid drag is 830 times higher.

    The part after "so" is incorrect.
    Drag is a function of viscosity, not density.  At room temperature water is about 50 times more viscous than air, so the penalty is 50 times higher.

    (Viscosity increases with temperature for gases and decreases for water, so that factor is very temperature-dependent.)

    Silvio Levy

  •  Though others have said as much... (0+ / 0-)

    I must give credit where credit is due!

    What a superbly crafted essay! It is both informative and entertaining!

    It flowed from beginning to end so flawlessly that I didn't even notice there was a middle until I had finished reading the entire piece.

    Bravo to you sir!

    Not only can a small group of dedicated people change the world, its the only thing that ever has.

    by fToRrEeEsSt on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 10:00:53 AM PDT

  •  Just curious, what diagnostic tools did they have (0+ / 0-)

    in the mid-1800s to know she had breast cancer, as opposed to something else?

    In 1847 the Geological Society was, like all such societies at the time, restricted to men only, but by overwhelming vote they made Mary Anning an honorary member. Only a few months later she died of breast cancer at the age of 47.

    My Karma just ran over your Dogma

    by FoundingFatherDAR on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 10:02:54 AM PDT

  •  A word about drag coefficients (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Devilstower, Kewalo

    A drag coefficient is a dimensionless number, meaning it is a ratio between two numbers that have the same dimensional units. In the case of drag coefficient, it is necessary to specify a standard "reference area" to make sure you're comparing apples to apples.

    The point is that drag coefficient is measured on a different scale when talking about a car than it is when talking about, say, an airfoil. That's because a car and an airfoil have different reference areas.

    With an airfoil, the reference area is the square of the chord (the chord is the distance from the leading edge to the training edge of the wing). This makes perfect sense for airfoils, because you usually want to compute the lift and drag of a wing, so the square of the chord can be directly related to wing area.

    But with a car, the reference area is generally the cross-sectional area of the whole vehicle. This also makes sense, because with a car you want to know how much of an improvement your design shape is compared to a flat plate.

    That means that you can't compare the drag coefficient of an airfoil (which are quite low, like .004) to that of a car (which are much higher, like .3) because you're not comparing apples to apples. The square of the chord is always MUCH larger than the cross sectional area, which means that airfoil coefficients are always MUCH lower than the equivalent whole-vehicle coefficient.

    If you don't stand for something, you'll stand for anything.

    by Keith Pickering on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 10:19:30 AM PDT

    •  and one more odd note ... (0+ / 0-)

      The drag coefficient of an airship or dirigible is "volumetric", meaning the reference area is the square of the cube root of the airship volume. Since airship volume is a measure of airship lift, the volumetric coefficient tells you what shape has the best lift-to-drag ratio.

      If you don't stand for something, you'll stand for anything.

      by Keith Pickering on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 10:26:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  great essay, as ususal, Dt. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kewalo, happymisanthropy

    Another "how extremely stupid not to have thought of that" moment was the relatively recent (70's or so?) concept that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

    Here's another example of sychronistic inventions: Back in the 80s, when I was in the alternative energy field, I came up with a solar thermal convection concept that I briefly shopped around till it became clear that I was completely out of my league in trying to get investors interested in it.  It never really got off a crude drawing board, but the idea never left my head, either.  It was a desert installation of a huge upside down funnel, lifted a couple stories above the desert floor, and coated with a black surface so that it super heats the air beneath it.  The hot air is driven by gravity upwards though the small end of the funnel where giant turbines extract the wind power.  

    Heh. I was only about 80 years behind the curve:

    In 1903, Catalan Colonel of the Spanish army Isidoro Cabanyes first proposed a solar chimney power plant in the magazine La energía eléctrica.[4] One of the earliest descriptions of a solar chimney power plant was written in 1931 by a German author, Hanns Günther.[5] Beginning in 1975, Robert E. Lucier applied for patents on a solar chimney electric power generator; between 1978 and 1981 these patents (since expired) were granted in Australia,[6] Canada,[7] Israel,[8] and the USA.[9]

    "Well, yeah, the Constitution is worth it if you can succeed." -Nancy Pelosi, 6/29/07.

    by nailbender on Sun Oct 11, 2009 at 11:00:36 AM PDT

  •  Prius and Honda Hybrid -- who copied whom? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Devilstower, Phoenix Woman, Kewalo
    Since both of them look like the basic layout was borrowed from the Citroen DS, which was designed in 1955.  The DS is cited, along with the original Macintosh computer and the Boeing 747, as being one of the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century.   To this day, there are things the 1950s and 60s Citroens had that are not available on many cars today.

  •  Devilstower Spreads Some LIght (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "And I was made whole by the word of reason",  I made that up for the occation of a glorious essay.

  •  Absolutely beautifully written. (0+ / 0-)

    It's not an easy thing to write something that can enthrall me, but you succeeded in doing just that.

    Thank you.

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