In a letter dated October 1, 1861, Charles Darwin wrote to Charles Lyell:
“But I am very poorly today and very stupid and hate everybody and everything.”
It’s nice to know that even the most brilliant among us have bad days, surly days, downer days doubtful days, and days they just hate it all. It’s part of the human process.
It’s one of those classic questions that have tickled the human brain for ages. Let’s take something whose scale we have no way of reconciling, like the number of stars, and compare it to something else whose scale is completely neuron-warping, like the number of grains of sand on every beach.
Which is bigger?
This likely isn’t the first time you’ve heard this mind-bender. So I won’t be spoiling it by telling you that stars win … big-time. The universe is a very large place.
But we don’t have to go big to beat the stars. You’ll never guess how little of a certain common liquid it takes to beat both of those numbers … I’ll leave that to Robert.
Relating animal behaviors to human behaviors? Exercise caution.
Birds Hold Funerals For Their Dead, trying to draw the link between birds and humans at Discovery News:
The “funerals” therefore serve, at least in part, as a lesson. Since the birds don’t necessarily know what bumped off their feathered friend, they seem to focus more on the area, associating it temporarily with danger.
The researchers noted that the living birds tended to avoid foraging in the place where they found the deceased bird for a period of at least 24 hours.
Prior research suggests giraffes and elephants might also hold ceremonies for their dead. If so, perhaps there are shared factors with humans and birds. Solidifying group togetherness and social bonding appear to be key benefits, along with learning how to avoid (if possible) whatever did in the deceased.
See that bolded part? It’s not incorrect to say that both humans and birds are dependent on social bonding, but funerals serve the same purpose as birds gathered around their dead? Scratching my chin there. Then there’s this …
“Do Birds Hold Funerals?”, discussing whether the word is appropriate at NPR:
For instance, they presented the birds with a novel object made of wood, approximating the form of a dead scrub-jay, and some days later presented them instead with the actual skins (plus feathers) of dead jays. The birds never called or formed cacophonous aggregations in response to the wood object, but they always called at the skins, and almost always these callings escalated into noisy gatherings.
In other words, the birds tell each other about a dead companion, and so individually and collectively the scrub-jays may learn something about predation risks. By calling in others (the cacophonous aggregations), they may be more likely to drive a predator away or to warn relatives and mates of danger.
Where is the funeral promised in the title?
I know some people may think this is splitting hairs, but the way that a story like this is delivered, down to the words chosen to explain it, are crucial to what lesson gets taught. So birds gathering around the remains of their dead is important, biologically. In fact, it’s an awesome story on its own. It shows that evolution has provided them a way to learn from what killed their relatives, strengthening their social structure and improving their odds for survival. But does it have anything to do with the emotional, elaborately ceremonial funeral customs practiced by myriad human societies?
That idea’s dead on arrival.
… the technology is advancing about four times faster than Moore’s law is taking computer technology forward, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Basically, the ability to read and write genomes is improving about eight fold every year now. That means going down in cost, up in smarts and up and up in sophistication. The techniques are keeping up with the technology. They’re taking on more and more interesting challenges. Many of them will affect human health obviously, and that tends to bring in money and maybe as a byproduct, we can … restore natural systems with some of the species that we usually were responsible for removing from those systems.
Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, speaking about his new project “Revive and Restore”.
His team plans on tackling the ethical, environmental and technical aspects of working to bring extinct species back to life, and making sure that habitats and humanity are ready for them.
More, and a full audio interview: Reviving Extinct Species May Not Be Science Fiction - NPR
They caught up with Jad on the day of one of their recent live shows, a new experiment from the show that is full of them, in content and production.
“Even Charles Darwin himself—Chuck D!—says, ‘The eye, to this day, gives me sort of a shudder,’” Abumrad declares. As he reflects on the evolution of photon-grabbing proteins called opsins, guest musician Thao Nguyen chimes in with whistles and guitar strums, while shadow puppets on a yellow screen reach out to snatch dots representing quantum packets of light. Before long, members of the renowned modern-dance troupe Pilobolus have taken to the stage wearing tissue paper masks; the audience sees six floating eyeballs doing the Charleston to the guitar riffs of cowboy-boot-clad Vietnamese rocker chick Nguyen. One of the dancers, wired for video, is held upside down by her fellow eyeballs as an image is projected through a slit in a piece of cardboard in her hands—creating a pinhole camera to show how our eyes function. The cohosts manage it all deftly, conversing almost nonchalantly as they juggle the swift-moving elements via projectors and control panels.
If you’re not listening to Radiolab, you really should be. It’s the best in the business.
Here’s the question that Robert Krulwich poses to close his article:
Will ordinary Janes and Joes, going about their days, agree to spend a little extra effort and money to preserve an animal that isn’t what most of us would call beautiful? Its main attraction is that it has lived on the planet for a long time, and we have the power to keep it around. I don’t know if it will work, but in the end, that’s the walking stick’s best argument:
I’m still here. Don’t let me go.
Would you go out of your way to save a tree lobster? Or any other creature you hadn’t heard of? It doesn’t live in your backyard, it doesn’t feed into your ecosystem. But it is something that we have the power to do, if we choose to. Neighbors or not, this is a story of caring for species with an evenly weighted scale.
It’s the story of an ancient volcanic spire in the South Pacific, enormous rock-dwelling insects, a bunch of shipwrecked rats, a serendipitous mountain-climber, and a dedicated zoologist. You’ll have to read Robert’s words to find out more, but know that stories like this allow us to experience rebirths like this video:
(via Krulwich Wonders… )
… our cultural expectations of radio — funneled through different technological listening devices — are changing. It may be broadcast over traditional airwaves, but it’s webby. It feels interactive and interrogative rather than narrowly investigative. Abumrad and Krulwich aren’t coming from on high, but right there with the listener adventuring through the story.
These guys, and their whole team, have changed the way I and others strive to tell science stories. The sky’s the limit, and I can’t wait to explore what’s coming.