Not a single one of the cells that compose you knows who you are, or cares.
Just a reminder that your whole is far greater than the sum of your parts.
At least we know and care who they are!
Not a single one of the cells that compose you knows who you are, or cares.
I was reading through this year’s responses to the annual Edge question, What scientific idea is ready for retirement? and came across a gem of a response from Penn State’s Nina Jablonski regarding race.
It’s just so perfect, I’ve gratuitously excerpted practically all of it here:
The mid-twentieth century witnessed the continued proliferation of scientific treatises on race. By the 1960s, however, two factors contributed to the demise of the concept of biological races. One of these was the increased rate of study of the physical and genetic diversity human groups all over the world by large numbers of scientists. The second factor was the increasing influence of the civil rights movement in the United States and elsewhere. Before long, influential scientists denounced studies of race and races because races themselves could not be scientifically defined. Where scientists looked for sharp boundaries between groups, none could be found.
Despite major shifts in scientific thinking, the sibling concepts of human races and a color-based hierarchy of races remained firmly established in mainstream culture through the mid-twentieth century. The resulting racial stereotypes were potent and persistent, especially in the United States and South Africa, where subjugation and exploitation of dark-skinned labor had been the cornerstone of economic growth.
After its “scientific” demise, race remained as a name and concept, but gradually came to stand for something quite different. Today many people identify with the concept of being a member of one or another racial group, regardless of what science may say about the nature of race. The shared experiences of race create powerful social bonds. For many people, including many scholars, races cease to be biological categories and have become social groupings. The concept of race became a more confusing mélange as social categories of class and ethnicity. So race isn’t “just” a social construction, it is the real product of shared experience, and people choose to identify themselves by race.
Clinicians continue to map observed patterns of health and disease onto old racial concepts such as “White”, “Black” or “African American”, “Asian,” etc. Even after it has been shown that many diseases (adult-onset diabetes, alcoholism, high blood pressure, to name a few) show apparent racial patterns because people share similar environmental conditions, grouping by race are maintained. The use of racial self-categorization in epidemiological studies is defended and even encouraged. In most cases, race in medical studies is confounded with health disparities due to class, ethnic differences in social practices, and attitudes, all of which become meaningless when sufficient variables are taken into account.
Race’s latest makeover arises from genomics and mostly within biomedical contexts. The sanctified position of medical science in the popular consciousness gives the race concept renewed esteem. Racial realists marshal genomic evidence to support the hard biological reality of racial difference, while racial skeptics see no racial patterns. What is clear is that people are seeing what they want to see. They are constructing studies to provide the outcomes they expect. In 2012, Catherine Bliss argued cogently that race today is best considered a belief system that “produces consistencies in perception and practice at a particular social and historical moment”.
Race has a hold on history, but it no longer has a place in science. The sheer instability and potential for misinterpretation render race useless as a scientific concept. Inventing new vocabularies of human diversity and inequity won’t be easy, but is necessary.
Well put, I think. Read the rest here.
To me, that’s the beauty of science: to know that you will never know everything, but you never stop wanting to, that when you learn something, for a second you feel crazy smart, and then stupid all over again as new questions come tumbling in. It’s an urge that never dies, a game that never ends.
Excellent read in Aeon Magazineabout the scientific and philosophical question of when apparent moral behavior in animals really becomes moral behavior. You know, whatever that is. Case in point:
"Binti Jua, a gorilla residing at Brookfield Zoo in Illinois, had her 15 minutes of fame in 1996 when she came to the aid of a three-year-old boy who had climbed on to the wall of the gorilla enclosure and fallen five metres onto the concrete floor below. Binti Jua lifted the unconscious boy, gently cradled him in her arms, and growled warnings at other gorillas that tried to get close. Then, while her own infant clung to her back, she carried the boy to the zoo staff waiting at an access gate."
From videos of dogs saving other dogs in the middle of highway traffic to a humpback whale appearing to give a “thank you” to fishermen who freed it from a net, these are clearly moments of significance to the animals involved.
But are they moral? Or are we applying human explanations where they don’t belong or where simpler explanations could suffice? And if a simpler explanation could suffice, is that necessarily always the right explanation? And if animals become moral, do they accept moral responsibility for their actions?
What are we even doing when we’re being moral? These are challenging issues.
Check out more at Aeon Magazine: lots of questions, few answers, and many intriguing thoughts.
(image via Wikipedia)
The memory cannot, from all its stores, cast up any image that nearly resembles this strange appearance … It stands alone and by itself in the imagination, and refuses to be grouped or confounded with any set of objects whatever. The imagination and memory exert themselves to no purpose, and in vain look around all their classes of ideas in order to find one under which it may be arranged. They fluctuate to no purpose from thought to thought, and we remain still uncertain and undetermined where to place it, or what to think of it. It is this fluctuation and vain recollection, together with the emotion or movement of the spirits that they excite, which constitute the sentiment properly called Wonder, and which occasion that staring, and sometimes that rolling of the eyes, that suspension of the breath, and that swelling of the heart, which we may all observe …
Adam Smith, defining the feeling of wonder, that experience of novelty, that rush of newness and curiosity. In his 1795 writing on the “History of Astronomy” Smith placed wonder as the cornerstone of science and philosophy, where it has always been, and where it will always continue to be.
Perhaps this is the key experience that separates us from animals. Our ability to investigate disturbances in our imagination, to answer for the unexpected, to embrace confusion, knowing that it can be conquered. And perhaps this most of all: We enjoy the experience.
We live in a world increasingly dominated by science. And that’s fine. I became a science writer because I think science is the most exciting, dynamic, consequential part of human culture, and I wanted to be a part of that. Also, I have two college-age kids, and I’d be thrilled if they pursued careers in science, engineering or medicine. I certainly want them to learn as much science and math as they can, because those skills can help you get a great job.
But it is precisely because science is so powerful that we need the humanities now more than ever. In your science, mathematics and engineering classes, you’re given facts, answers, knowledge, truth. Your professors say, “This is how things are.” They give you certainty. The humanities, at least the way I teach them, give you uncertainty, doubt and skepticism.
The humanities are subversive. They undermine the claims of all authorities, whether political, religious or scientific. This skepticism is especially important when it comes to claims about humanity, about what we are, where we came from, and even what we can be and should be. Science has replaced religion as our main source of answers to these questions. Science has told us a lot about ourselves, and we’re learning more every day.
But the humanities remind us that we have an enormous capacity for deluding ourselves. They also tell us that every single human is unique, different than every other human, and each of us keeps changing in unpredictable ways. The societies we live in also keep changing–in part because of science and technology! So in certain important ways, humans resist the kind of explanations that science gives us.
Pair with Dorion Sagan on why science and philosophy need each other.
“Now, for the first time in its billions of years of history, our planet is protected by far-seeing sentinels, able to anticipate danger from the distant future–a comet on a collision course, or global warming–and devise schemes for doing something about it. The planet has finally grown its own nervous system: us.”
So I suppose the question is this: do you want to be merely a sensory neuron or can you rise to become a motor neuron?
The difference between science and philosophy is that the scientist learns more and more about less and less until she knows everything about nothing, whereas a philosopher learns less and less about more and more until he knows nothing about everything.
A meditation on what we’d live for if we could live forever, from Neil deGrasse Tyson (via explore-blog):
Also see Tolstoy’s Calendar of Wisdom.
So make ‘em count.
Bonus points for connecting my favorite band to my favorite astrophysicist!!
"What SHOULD We Be Worried About?"
That was the question posed to a gaggle of the world’s smartest people by Edge.org. Great thinkers from all disciplines weigh in with everything from “Chinese eugenics” to”out of control nanotechnology” to “the fall of science journalism”. What do you think of their ideas?
Guaranteed to be the most intelligent thing you read for the rest of the week, at least.
I'm Joe Hanson, Ph.D. biologist and host/writer of PBS Digital Studios' It's Okay To Be Smart.
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