FALL, 2000

Name:  Julie Wise
Subject:  death of stars=life on earth
Date:  2001-09-28 10:13:43
Message Id:  323
I just wanted to comment on how fascinating I found class the other day when we discussing the formation of our universe and the likelihood that life on earth evolved from the deaths of surrounding stars. In light of that deduction, I find it even more unlikely that we are the only forms of "life" in the universe and in galaxies beyond. I must also note that I absolutely love the picture taken from Hubble that shows many glaxies out in space. It boggles my mind that that is both a picture of a vast distance, and it is also a picture of TIME, of the past...of the entire history of the universe!! In one picture!!
Name:  Ilana Moyer
Date:  2001-09-28 18:45:32
Message Id:  328
Today someone brought to my attention that in biology one cannot study life without studying time. We use time as a categorization to "smooth out" the "clumpiness" of life and create a pattern through which we can follow life and evolution. In class we talked about the error in describing evolution as things getting better or more adaptive over time, since the original organisms still exist on earth. Evolution is not moving towards perfection but exists in a state of exploration, generating and trying out new things over time. The concept of time is generally associated with scales and improvement, or change continuing in a certain direction. For once, we must disassociate evolution with time; it seems they have no correlation in the direction of growth patterns. Life does not evolve on the straight path of time. It is difficult for me to understand time without the notion of a pattern. Where is life going? Is it going forward, backward or staying in the same place?
Name:  Paul Grobstein
Subject:  this week ... and on
Date:  2001-09-29 12:04:38
Message Id:  329
Does seem that this week has been about what happens when we add the time dimension to our thinking about what life is (see archive for earlier thoughts about diversity/"clumpiness"/evolution). So, you're free as always to write about whatever struck you as interesting this week, but if you need something to get you started:

What DOES knowing something about life's past suggest about its future? About the future of parts of it, like humans?

Name:  Claudia
Subject:  complexity
Date:  2001-09-29 20:56:06
Message Id:  336
Our history of life is often a story of ever-increasing complexity. This increase in complexity begins with life's prehistory: hydrogen atoms are compressed into more-complex helium atoms as suns form, helium molecules become more-complex atoms of heavier elements including carbon when suns die; carbon atoms become parts of huge, complex organic molecules. Then we go from prokaryotic life to eukaryotic life to multicellular organisms and so on, building organizations of organizations, with complexity always increasing. And the possibilities of diversity increase with complexity. Of course, the reverse process is going on all the time -- things are constantly decomposing and breaking down into less complex components -- but that narrative doesn't seem so compelling. Perhaps that's because it seems so much more probable.

But the process of thought sometimes seems to be more nearly analogous to the deomposition process. We feel that we have understood something only when we have taken it apart into its constituent parts -- the simpler (and thus less diverse) the basic components, the better our analysis has been. Then we feel that we have achieved order.

I found that after the lab in which we counted and categorized types of plants, I was much more apt to notice the diversity of plant life all over campus. I noticed that plant life on campus has become considerably more diverse since the Grounds Department started going "green" and stopped using herbicides, and it occurred to me that it's typical of traditional landscaping to equate order with sameness. A standard lawn ideally has one type of grass (with perhaps a few other kinds of plants restricted to their particular places). The more diverse any group of things, the less predictable their behavior is -- and the more difficult it is to control.

Name:  Alexis Baird
Date:  2001-09-30 12:12:59
Message Id:  339
The last few classes have raised a rather interesting paradox for me. As we talked about time and how OUR history (the history of humans or even the history of multicellular organisms) occupies such a very small percentage of time as a whole, it made me feel rather insignificant. On the other hand, the more we study how "improbable" our assemblies are, the more I'm struck by how amazing it is that we're here thinking, feeling, and acting. It's strange to feel so trivial on one hand, and yet so unique on the other hand.
Name:  Jessica Kiefer
Subject:  more thoughts
Date:  2001-09-30 19:52:59
Message Id:  340
Another wild thought, while we are thinking of the vastness of it all, is that somewhere in those dust clouds, if the statement that matter can not be created or destroyed, were parts of ourselves, since everything we're made up of has always been around. this has always been a philosophical thought that I have liked, in this vastness it seems like we are so small, but we have been around too, just in diffrent forms. I also have thought a lot about improbable assemblies and the lack of natural probable ones, aren't improbable assemblies then probable, because they are what actually happens, unlike probable assemblies which are artificial?? someone else may have discussed this before, but it's just been a thought thats been lurking in my brain.
Name:  Millicent Bond
Subject:  Is there faith in science?
Date:  2001-09-30 22:51:50
Message Id:  342
During a recent C-Sem class discussion my professor mentioned how old the text we were reading was. While Herodotus’ Histories are extremely old compared to what we can conceive, I couldn’t help but think of the age of “life as we know it”. Considering the age of life the text is quite new. My problem with this idea is that I can’t even begin to imagine anything before human life. This incomprehensible quality of science has always bothered me. How do I get beyond having little faith in science because there are so many questions and very few answers? We can continue to come up with hypotheses for what the earth was like before our time but we will never really know.
Name:  viv
Date:  2001-09-30 23:05:16
Message Id:  343
its hard to think of oneself as an evolving species. as humans, we detatch ourselves from the process or believe we have mastered it through technological advancement. it is only when we realize that this ongoing process of exploration will continue as long as life does that we see the lack of control we have over it. it is strange to think that like whales that "are believed to be descended from terrestrial, 4 legged animals," we too exhibit signs of an evolving species. Our pinky toes are slowly shrinking, and more and more people have wisdom teeth that never grow out of the gums; it makes you wonder what kinds of adaptations we as a species will exhibit in the future.
Name:  Rebecca Roth
Subject:  Thoughts
Date:  2001-10-01 00:10:00
Message Id:  344
Evolution is an ongoing process. It is an experiment that replicates itself countless times even during ones lifetime. Therefore, the behaviors that seem prevelant in humans are likely to appear in successive generations. Even a significant number of human generations are small amounts of time in terms of evolution. Therefore, human behavior over the past couple of hundred or thousand years may be strong indicators of present or future human behavior. The biological makeup of human beings has not been altered to a significant extent in the last couple of thousand years and beause the humans of today are genetically and biologically similar to their ancestors, they are subjects of the same evolutionary forces that guided human evolution in the past.
Name:  Sasha
Subject:  Time spans
Date:  2001-10-01 01:13:46
Message Id:  345
I thought what Viv said was very intersting. We know that we have evolved, and that we are in theory still evolving, but we seldom look at ourselves as compared to previous generations to watch evolution take place. This brings back the question of time spans. We have trouble even conceiving of time spans in terms of our generations to witness evolution. Another question is that of how long a generation is. People are living longer and longer. Will this slow down our evolution? Will it make us more able, over time, to witness evolution of species around us?
Name:  Sarah Sterling
Subject:  Darwin& life now and then
Date:  2001-10-02 15:20:26
Message Id:  362
In The Origin of Species Darwin writes, "On the theory of natural selection, the extinction of old forms and the production of new and improved forms are intimately connected together". After considering this and also what we've been talking about in class, it became suddenly clear to me the way in which knowing and comprehending the past is important in understanding the present. It's interesting how little I've realized before how change is constant in life and things not only become more complex and diverse, but NEED to change in order for the evolutionary process to continue. I always looked at pass happenings and thought little about how greatly they really do impact who we have become. As far as the evolution of people (which in class felt like a topic that few wished to discuss) I think that not only will we continue to evolve, but also that perhaps our intellectual progress could actually slow our natural, physical evolutionary process. It just seems that since we have so many machines and gadgets to do things for us, our bodies may not evolve to the potential that they were originally meant to. Though this thought reminds me of what was said in class about how life itself doesn't choose the direction it goes. Thus, this brings me back to my original thought of how understanding the past is important in comprehending the future: Perhaps we just don't know enough about the past yet to do so.
Name:  kat
Subject:  just musing
Date:  2001-10-02 23:27:13
Message Id:  371
in a previous post, someone posits that our intellectual growth will hinder the process of our evolution. is our intellectual growth not, in fact, an EFFECT of our evolution? i, personally, see the world as it is (our societies, our streets, our buildings, our institutions, our relationships, our jobs and our factories etc) to be part of our evolutionary process--we created these things as we evolved intellectually enough to conceive of them, plan them, and carry through with them. progress in our intellect leads to progress in societal growth, so claiming a "hindrance" to our evolution seems counterproductive, yes?

just musing, of course.

Name:  Rianna
Subject:  patterns
Date:  2001-10-03 09:52:52
Message Id:  376
I think that knowing the past of our planet is much like knowing our own social history (things like wars, inventions, philosophy, etc). We say that when we forget our history we are "doomed to repeat it" and we say this because our history is full of patterns and similarities which aid us in understanding how and why we act the way we do in the present. Trying to discover the history of our planet and our species may show us patterns that will help us understand where we as a species may be going, and how our earth is changing around us.
Name:  charlotte ford
Username:  cford
Subject:  genes
Date:  2001-10-03 17:57:55
Message Id:  383
In researching for my paper, I've come across a basic genetic theory that I'd never fully digested--the idea that every life begins as a single cell. Each of us is carrying around itsy bitsy genetic templates which have the capacity to produce hundreds of generations. My possible great-great-great grandaughter is in my body inside a tiny strand. I feel like I should take better care of myself.
Name:  Debbie Wang
Subject:  Darwin
Date:  2001-10-04 03:00:27
Message Id:  391
The Darwin quote in one of the web postings earlier referred to "new and improved forms" replacing old species. I wonder what did Darwin have in mind when saying "improved". Improvement in this case, is an adaptation to the changing environment. What forms of improvement did Darwin imagine? Physical adaptation? Increase in intellectual and thought processes? We say that we learn from the past, but evolution takes place through such long, unfathomable time periods, how would we be able to discern its lessons? It seems unrealistic to think that we would be able to see from an unfathomable past, some indisputable lesson to guide us to the unfathomable future.
Name:  Jessica Blucher
Subject:  evolution
Date:  2001-10-05 10:46:12
Message Id:  398
I think the problem with discussing evolution is that we have so many 'missing links'. There's the jump from ape to man, but what about from single-celled organisms to multi-celled organisms? Or even worse, we noted in class that we don't even know where single-celled organisms came from. I wish we knew at least a little more because for now it seems that everything spontaneously appeared, which is the sort of the science likes to explain.

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