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Tu-Anh Vu's blog

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The Evolutionary Basis of Sleep

Darwin’s evolution theory revolves around the concept of natural selection.  Natural selection can be seen as a process of elimination.  The quote from Herbert Spencer, “the survival of the fittest” is relevant to the explanation of natural selection.  Offspring that will survive to the next generation are those who possess characteristics or phenotypes that are particularly well adapted to the current environmental conditions.  Therefore the term, “the fittest,” refers to individuals who are capable of coping with the challenges of their environment and in competing with other members of their populations will have the best chance to survive and pass on their genes.  Natural selection eliminates individuals who lack particular attributes that would make them more superior to others are selected against.  Adaptation is what makes individuals superior.  The definition for adaptation is a property that an organism possesses, which could be physiological or behavior traits, of which assists the individual in the struggle for existence.[1]  Some traits that individuals possess will become extinct with time due to the process of natural selection’s elimination of maladaptive traits.             

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Darwinian Evolution in On Beauty

In the class Evolution and Evolution of Stories, we discuss the evolution of universes, species, and populations.  In Darwinian evolution, individuals who are better adapted to their unique environment have a better chance at survival. These biological aspects of evolution can also be used to describe literary evolution.  For example, books that are useful or generative are kept in humanity, whereas books that have no use or readers cannot connect with are rarely read thus become extinct.  Looking further into literary evolution, we can analyze the evolution of a character in a novel and see if the character changes over the course of the novel to adapt to his changing environment.  In Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, the Belsey family does not evolve.  At the start of the novel, Howard and Kiki’s marriage is strained and Howard cannot connect with his kids.  At the end of the novel, nothing has changed within the dynamics of the family.  The relationships of the family members remain unchanged. Biological evolution is seen at the population level, but delving deeper into the levels, we can also say that the unit of selection is the individual.  Although the family unit as a whole in On Beauty does not evolve, do the characters evolve in the novel (in particular Howard Belsey)?

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A Reductionist Viewpoint on Evolution

Richard Dawkins’ theory of the Selfish Gene is controversial.  His theory suggests that biological organisms are vehicles or machines that carry genes.  Genes are the replicators that create biological organism; they function to replicate themselves and as a means to acquire resources.  Dawkins argues that natural selection operates at the genetic level and not the individual organism, since individuals are just programmed carriers.  The purpose of life for the organism is to provide survival and reproductive sites for genes.  Proponents of Dawkins’ theory assert that the main point is that the gene is the unit of selection, which completes and extends the explanation of evolution given by Darwin before the mechanisms of genetics were uncovered.  Critics argue that the theory oversimplifies the relationship between genes and the organism (The Selfish Gene).  I believe that a gene-centric view of evolution is a revolutionary way to view the selection process, but it is also a useful theory to explain many biological phenomena, such as altruism. 

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Viewing the Story of the Development of the Periodic Table as “Getting it Less Wrong”

Men possess an innate need to understand things.  For this to happen, the process of categorizing and explaining relationships are use.  The “loopy scientific method” is the core procedure in which men apply to categorize things.  Using this loopy scientific method assumes that the summary of observations receive after the experiment is done, is not a final answer.  Since new observations can appear that might refute the old observations thus one can call it “getting it less wrong.” This idea of “getting it less wrong” can be applicable to the field of Chemistry, in this case the Periodic Table.  Although Chemistry can be considered as a science branch that is relatively more concrete than Biology, due to the possibility that experiments can be perform under controlled environments in a laboratory to confirm summaries of observations, it is never-the-less theories and not facts.  In this paper, I will make an argument stating that the Periodic Table is a man-made product that follows the loopy scientific method, thus can be considered as something that is “getting it less wrong” compared to earlier tables.  One can also consider it as a specific view, out of many possible views, on the relationships of elements though it is the most useful.  With this in mind, the Periodic Table is not a scientific truth but a good and useful chart of observations. 

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