FALL, 2003

Motion, Change, and Evolution

Name:  La Toiya La Vita
Subject:  I wonder........
Date:  2003-09-30 23:54:18
Message Id:  6737
I'm wondering......You know how Professor Grobstein is always testing us in ways that boggle our minds? Well, I wonder if at the end of the semester he's gonna say that the whole class was just a big test.<-- The things that make you go HMMMMM....
Name:  Talia Liben
Subject:  constant movement - lab
Date:  2003-10-01 19:00:46
Message Id:  6766
I was thinking about lab yesterday, and about how everything is always in motion, even though it is not seen by the human eye. It sort of upsets me to know that there never truly is calm in the world. Even when we are alone overlooking a placid lake, we have been told to look at it as a "raging maelstrom." I guess it just troubles me that with all the chaos in the world, these is even turbulence where there should be tranquility. And yet, it also interests me to know that the world would not exist without the turmoil, and constant movement everywhere.
Name:  J'London Hawkins
Subject:  Maelstrom of Motion
Date:  2003-10-01 20:31:37
Message Id:  6767
Concerning our lab today:

Professor Grobestein was successful in impressing each student with the fact that everything, even those useen by the human eye, is involve in a "constant maelstrom of motion." However I am perplexed... The microspheres we observed in the first phase of our lab were described as "particles". I would be interested to know the composition of these particles, (organic or homemade)? I am thoroughly convinced that the table is moving, it is composed of wood, which came from a "living" tree... is plastic moving... is silicon moving?

Can a made made, inorganic product ever be considered living? I assume that all living things as we have defined them in the context course share the quality of the organisms which comprise it constantly being in motion. Is the organism, which we can refer to as a complex random assemble of cells constantly in motion?

I am constantly in motion... my computer screen is constantly in motion. I am living, is my computer screen? Is the quality of constant motion one that we can assign to all living things and if so all thing in the universe even galaxy are constantly in motion. If so, then is everything alive?

I understand from previous courses in science that the motion which exists in all things contributes heavily to that items stability. Motion is something which in my realm of understanding predicated life. We are many times able to identify the dead among us by the fact that these organism cease to "move". Can we successfully add "movingness" or "the ability to move" to our list of something that a living organism possesses? (Keeping in mind that motion can often times go undetected by the human eye.)

Is my reasoning off? Am I crazy? Someone please help humor me with a response...

Name:  Patty
Username:  ppalermo
Subject:  To J'London- With Love
Date:  2003-10-01 20:47:22
Message Id:  6769
I will engage in your battle with this motion and livingness. I think that although everything is in contant motion, it does not mean it must be alive. The particles in plastic are in constant motion, as with water, as with the human body, and yet plastic is not alive, and neither is water. I think the real dilema comes with the contemplation of space. Because all things are made up of other things, or of something, it must account for the space that must exist to make make one thing seperate from another. And yet, although there is space, there is very little when we speak of solid objects, and very big when we speak of fluid and air and things of that nature. So, what many philosophers then ponder is space. I don't think that motion is at all a property of life. But I think that all things in life, and all their particles, are unstable. And so everything moves, no matter how tightly bound. There can never be anything without space to exist around it. Existance requires space. Which may not seem that fascinating to anyone else, but has always really set me back. I just thought that I'd add my frustration to your frustrations, JLo*, but I really don't know why everything is in contant motion...
Name:  enor
Subject:  fitting the formula
Date:  2003-10-03 02:22:59
Message Id:  6779
I just wanted to give a high five forum style to the girl in class on wed who had the guts to say that she beleived in creation in the midst of an intense evolution discussion in biology. I don't know what I beleive, but I thought that was a stand up thing to do. It got me thinking - a couple weeks ago in lab (during the Darwin trip) we were discussing how impossible it would be for human beings not to catagorize things. Most of us could not picture a world in which things could not be catagorized. Is evolution merely a theory that got approved by scientists because of their obsession with catagorization? The whole idea of evolution is arranged by Kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species - then by time period (again catagorization) - Does life on earth fit the scheme of evolution or does evolution fit the scheme of life on earth? While I realize that my posting will not and isn't even attempting to discount one hundred and fifty years of research and analysis - I still feel that the dependancy on one another (evolution and natual catagorization) should be questioned. After all - doesn't it sometimes feel a bit too perfect an explanation?
Name:  Natalya Krimgold
Subject:  evolution
Date:  2003-10-03 14:54:47
Message Id:  6785
In class on Friday, Professor Grobstein said that evolution does not produce organisms that are better-adapted to their environment than those that came before them, and cited as an example that humans are not better adapted to earth's environment than bacteria. This ignores the fact that in the time between the emergence of bacteria and the emergence of the human species, a lot of other species have been weeded out and have gone extinct. As Professor Grobstein said in class, natural selection promotes the adaptiveness of living organisms and the clumpiness of diversity is due not only to reproduction with variance, but the extinction of other types of organisms. Humans may not be any better adapted to life on earth than bacteria, and it is probable that bacteria have longer staying power on the planet than we do, but we are still better-adapted to life on earth than all of the species that have gone extinct during the period of our existance, aren't we?
Name:  Kathryn McMahon
Subject:  evolution, baby
Date:  2003-10-03 15:05:05
Message Id:  6786
During today's (Friday's) class when we were talking about evolution I couldn't help but think of the X-Men. I never read the comics, but I saw the movies and I think the general idea is that they are mutant humans born out of the evolution of the human species. The "explorations" taken by the species are in the form of people with different physical characteristics or psychic abilities. While I believe in evolution, I think that might be a bit of a stretch. Still, I couldn't help thinking about how provocative the topic is, even for those of us who believe in evolution. It's so scary to think of the limited span of time for which we humans as a species will exist, even though that's potentially thousands (millions?) more years in the future. Or just tomorrow! It really makes me feel my own mortality and think about the impact that I make on the world not only as a person, but as a human living and breathing and taking up space and energy. It also makes me think about the impact that so many humans using up so many resources has on the Earth and the evolutionary process. We wipe out different species all the time, and then we invest time, energy, and money creating more of what we already have, and probably some that we don't. I'm not sure I like how much power we have, or the effect that generates. We talk about scales all the time; how about the scale of impact that we as a species have on the rest of the world?
Name:  su-lyn
Subject:  Superorganisms
Date:  2003-10-03 18:40:00
Message Id:  6787

In class: prokaryotes --> eukaryotes --> multicellular organisms.

Colonies of ants are composed of many multicellular individuals. But they communicate so effectively (chemically, by releasing pheromones) that when provoked, these 'parts' come together and respond practically in unison, as one superorganism. Are superorganisms next in the development of increasingly improbable assemblies?

If so, some implications for science... Populations of single-celled organisms were once considered "life", but now, grouped within single multicellular organisms, the definition has been wrested from them. So too might multicellular organisms some day find themselves defined as mere 'parts' to a truly "living" superorganism. There goes the definition of life again, and imagine what this will do to the classification scheme as we know it.

Of course, to be fair, single-cell organisms are very different from, say, cheek cells. Probably the most significant change occured in the function that each cell fulfills. We might similarly expect future multicellular organisms to play far more specialized roles in superorganisms. The implications for such a society: forget individualism, embrace the collective.

If this were to happen in human society, the "collective" wouldn't necessarily equate a communist state. In fact, many would argue that individualism is a fiction and that examples of superorganisms are already rife (corporations and nations are just a few that have been suggested). I imagine culture is probably the most legitimate entry.

Of course that brings us to a set of very demanding questions. What happens when we apply the superorganism concept, which has only been observed in insects (I think?), to human societies? What happens to consciousness, free will, etc.? And what about the nature of different "roles" in such superorganisms: Are they predetermined? Are they natural? Are they random? Are they assigned? Do they change/evolve?

Would love to hear anyone's thoughts on this.
Name:  su-lyn
Subject:  Adaptation
Date:  2003-10-03 20:31:51
Message Id:  6788

"evolution does not produce organisms that are better-adapted to their environment than those that came before them" - Prof Grobstein (quoted by Natalya).

Prof Grobstein threw that comment in at the end of class and I left with exactly the same question. But I think his statement needs some clarification. By "came before them", does he mean their precursors (same lineage), or those organisms whose lineages arose before theirs?

The question of "who's better adapted" needs to be considered over a period of time, rather than using a snapshot of life at any one moment. The important thing to remember is that extinction works in the same chronological direction as evolution. The present environment may not be as favorable to a particular species as the past was, and it is possible that the species is being naturally selected against. But at the same time, you can't then argue that it was "better adapted" in the past than in the present, because the conditions for adaptation have changed. This then renders the question irrelevant, which may have been Prof Grobstein's point...?

"Humans may not be any better adapted to life on earth than bacteria, and it is probable that bacteria have longer staying power on the planet than we do, but we are still better-adapted to life on earth than all of the species that have gone extinct during the period of our existance, aren't we?" - Natalya

A re-phrase to make sure I understand your point: Being around the longest doesn't necessarily mean that you're the best adapted, only that you have been adaptable in the past. Adaptations are not fool-proof as they are highly context-dependent (if the environment changes, adaptations can become useless at best, deadly at worst).

PS: In spite of the emphasis placed on the idea of "evolution as process", and the ease with which this is applied to the past leading up to the present, I still find it difficult to think of the here & now as part of a process, especially when writing in this forum...
Name:  Julia Wise
Subject:  the uncertainty of theories
Date:  2003-10-04 10:09:40
Message Id:  6790
I liked Enor's comment that we are depending too heavily on evolution as a theory. One of my favorite things the teacher ever said to my high school bio class was "The theory of evolution is just that - a theory. Statistically, most theories the scientific community has come up with in the last few thousand years have been wrong. So statistically, someday we'll probably realize that this theory is wrong and replace it with another one. But that one will quite probably be wrong too."

Gosh, doesn't that sound familiar?

Name:  Adina
Subject:  earth's changing environment
Date:  2003-10-04 14:50:45
Message Id:  6791
I left Friday's class with similar thoughts to those of Natalya and Su-Lyn. The earth's environment is continually changing. Bacteria has been on the earth for a very long time, but that is because no change in the environment has occurred that has caused all becteria to become extinct. However, there have been changes that have allowed new forms of bacteria to come into existance. Humans are better adapted to *today's* environment than are the organisms that have become extinct. In the past, these organisms *were* well adapted to the earth, and I doubt that humans could have survived had they lived in an environment of the past.
Name:  Nomi
Subject:  Superorganisms
Date:  2003-10-04 17:59:32
Message Id:  6793
What happens when we apply the superorganism concept, which has only been observed in insects (I think?), to human societies? What happens to consciousness, free will, etc.? -- Su Lyn

Very interesting questions here. Though I find it unsettling, I do not believe the concept of "superorganisms" invalidates what we have learned regarding the progressively complex assembly of living organisms. It might just require that we reframe our previous assumptions.

Ultimately, I think everything, whether living or not, is just one piece of something bigger, in addition to being an assembly of smaller pieces. (Yes, this assumes that there are no limits to how big or how small things can get; that space extends forever and particles can be divided infinitely. At this point, I do believe this, although I know we lack the technology to see it.) Life only exists within a certain size-range of these infinite assemblies (for reasons we can only speculate), but the levels continue below and above the size-range defining life.

What about consciousness? Well, I believe it exists on many levels. As individuals, we are conscious of ourselves and also, to some extent, of the world around us. People speak of a group, collective, or cultural consciousness. This greater consciousness is what allows us to understand and work with each other; it is what unites us as a culture, a species, and, ultimately, a life form. Conflicts arise between people, of course; but then, we also encounter conflicts within our own minds! It is this collective consciousness, I believe, that lends us similar feelings, aspirations, fears; that allows psychologists to make sweeping generalizations about the minds of all of humanity or, indeed, all of life; that causes our individual souls all to melt down in the face of certain great works of art or literature. So, in answer to Su-Lyn's question, I would say yes, ant communities possess a collective consciousness; so do human communities. Ours is not as apparent as insects' because, perhaps, it is more complex -- and, at any rate, we are caught in the midst of it! (Consciousness, like life, must exist within a certain size range -- I think. Starting at a bigger size than that at which true life begins.)

As for free will: I think it's a human construction. I really do. Not that I believe everything that happens is carefully predestined; I don't know who would be in charge of that! But all aspects of life are inevitably interconnected, whether or not we realize or aknowledge it. I believe that the body of an organism is, through its long and varied lineage, intricately programmed to perform any number of responses to any number of stimuli. The nature and sequence of the responses the organism performs depend on the stimuli it encounter; these stimuli consist of either random non-living forces or living forces which are, in turn, responding to other stimuli. In other words, all living things' actions are really just reactions to randomly-occurring events. And I don't see why we human beings should be exempt from that. Our minds appear complex because they involve so many possible reactions to so many possible stimuli; however, the mind is really just a part of the body. Thoughts may seem like more than simple S-R sequences, but that's really what they are: chains of stimuli and responses (which in turn stimulate new responses). Importantly, stimuli can be internally- as well as externally- generated; a thought can trigger another thought.

If you place the mind, thought, consciousness on the same plane as other stimulus-response sequences naturally performed by living organisms, you see that all the levels -- cellular, psychological, societal -- conscious or non-conscious -- consist of practically-infintesimal units of sensing, registering and responding. Though the process by which all of this occurs is totally arbitrary, the end results seem very carefully ordered: brains. bodies. anthills. societies. This is because the random events occur in a progressive, though changing, sequence, building upon prior events. For this reason, evolution, though entirely random and arbitrary, appears, upon analysis, to be brilliantly ordered, supremely complex.

Such is the power of countless tiny forces working together as one!

So, why is it so hard to conceive of a human society as a sort of organism? (I listen to myself and think I must be crazy!) I think a great deal of the difficulty lies in our vantage point. Whether biologically or culturally, our minds are somehow constructed to perceive ourselves as existing within the bounds of our bodies. Perhaps this is necessary for us to continue doing what we do, to not give up and give in to tininess, futility and insignificance. An ant may think of itself as a vital and unique being and not recognize the whole structured community in which it plays only a tiny part. If cells could think, maybe they, too, would be incredulous to discover they were only useful in conjuction with so many billions of others!

Certainly, there is a need to be unique.

Name:  megan williams
Subject:  theories
Date:  2003-10-05 14:07:25
Message Id:  6795
according to the dictionary, a theory is a set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.

so on our hands, we have the theory of evolution and the theory of creation. which is right? is there a right one? no. both are devised to explain how life came to be.

however, which is the more widely accepted view? the story of adam and eve, i would venture to say that a good majority of the population knows it. the story of evolution? uhhhhh....well, i'm in an evolution class right now, and all i can really say about it is that a lot of folks think we used to be monkeys. there are multiple steps in evolution, especially human evolution, but can as many people name them as could describe the story of God's creation of the world and Adam and Eve?

I'll admit, the theory of creation is put into a fun story, where as the theory of evolution would make me rather poke my eyes out than read. The stories of the Bible, the earliest ones that is, were set down more than 3500 years ago and the new testament being written around 100 AD. The theory of evolution? Darwin put it down in 1859. Which of these has the lasting power?

Name:  Katherine Ottati
Subject:  theories
Date:  2003-10-05 17:11:04
Message Id:  6798
I think there is some purpose to recognizing that the story offered by the bible has been more widely accepted for a longer period of time. I wonder, however, how much this has to do with who has control of institutions of education - while this was left up to the church for many years, and all "learned" people had a religious background, that is not necessarily so today. As scientists continue to take over the system, will people change their views? I don't think so, partially because one of things that I believe causes people to gravitate towards creationism is the openess of the story. It allows you to believe in God and the story it presents but still believe in other stories, like the one presented by evolution (as was pointed out in class wednesday). I don't have any real conclusion to draw from any of fact, the more I think about it, the more frusturating it is.
Name:  Lindsay Updegrove
Username:  lupdegro
Subject:  questions
Date:  2003-10-05 21:22:42
Message Id:  6800
This discussion of how life came to be on earth has always been one I have avoided by saying that it doesn't matter what happened however many thousand years ago; what matters is what we do in our lives now. The question has simply never been that pressing for me. But the thing is that a lot of people seem to be very concerned with the question of how we got here, so I don't feel I can dismiss it as quickly as I have in the past. I think that by nature, people are mostly concerned with what is going on in the present. We are less concerned with what will happen in the future, and so it would seem that an event that occurred so long ago would hold very little bearing on our daily thoughts. What are we hoping to get from the knowledge that we were created a certain way? Many people are interested in learning about their heritage, researching their geneaology and country of origin. Is our search for a creator/creation driven by the same feeling that causes orphans to try to track down one of their unknown parents? And if we found an answer to the question, would our lives change even a little bit because we knew the details of a five-million-year-old story?
Name:  Manuela
Username:  mceballo@bmc
Subject:  thoughts
Date:  2003-10-05 22:50:18
Message Id:  6803
In response to Linday's comments on the importance of knowing our past or "where we come from"...
I think that knowing or coming close to finding out where we come from would change everything. Science, philosophy, art, all of these human pursuits aim towards the same places, who we are, why are we here, what role do we play, and how we got to where we are now. I don't know if we feel like the people in search for their biological parents trying to find answers on simple things such as "where does my brown hair come from?" to more complicated ones, like the origins of disease or questions of identity. But with the origins of the earth, the question extends beyond the personal, unveiling the possibility or impossibility of a God, our connection with the rest of the universe, and also reaches all frames of time: by knowing the past, we can know our present, and also our future, like the DNA strands that carry information of ourselves, our parents and their parents, and their children. Knowledge always creates a reaction, and that engenders, necessarily, change.

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