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Bio 103, week 6

Paul Grobstein's picture

Welcome to the on-line forum for Biology 103.  This is a place for thoughts in progress, a place to leave thoughts and questions that others may find useful and find ones that you might find useful, a place for conversation.  Join in, and let's see what we can make of life together.  If you're registered for the course, be sure to sign in before posting.  Others are welcome to join in as well but posting of comments will be delayed to check for spam.  You're free to write about whatever has struck you.  If you need something to get you started though, here are the questions we started the week with

Do we need to recognize change or can we ignore it in studying biology?  Can we live with multiple perspectives or do we need to stick with one?  Can we accept random motion as a first cause or must it itself have a cause?   Are these incompatible stories amongst which we must choose or can we come up with stories that take account of the observations underlying both?

What further light does our looking at the chronology of life on the earth during the week shed on these and other questions?  What new questions does it bring to mind? 

lcorhan's picture

perspectives and change

Do we need to recognize change or can we ignore it in studying biology? 

I think we need to recognize it because basically what we study in biology IS chance. The whole "evolution tree" is just a mapping of change itself.

Can we live with multiple perspectives or do we need to stick with one? 

I don't think we have a choice on this one. We have been living with multiple perspectives and we are going to have to keep living with multiple perspectives. I don't really feel that any one being or species could have only one perspective let alone share the same perspective with another being or species.

Can we accept random motion as a first cause or must it itself have a cause? 

I don't feel that we as humans can ever accept anything without cause. I feel that we have a fear and curiosity for the unknown that we always try to fill with some sort of explanation.


lcorhan's picture

Evolutionary Hierarchy...???

Last time in class we were talking about how a spider is not more/better evolved than a human or a whale vs a chimp etc... however, this got me thinking: i feel that we are the only species that could wipe out life if we chose to. many animals are becoming extict due to loss of habitat (because of our growth of habitat) and hunting (because we are/encourage poaching); many forests no longer exist due to deforrestation; etc. the only thing i could think of that is alive and could possibly "take us [humans] out" would be bacteria--however--we then would just develope an antibiotic to "take it out". 

I can't see any other living organism that can keep us in check. i mean if all of humanity decided that we needed to destroy life, i believe we could. what keeps us in check? our mind? our belief in a higher power? do we have an innate affinity for life that keeps us from doing this? hmmm.... 

Terrible2s's picture

Complexly Evolving

In class we were talking about "change" and how evolution doesn't actually make entities more "fit" but rather more complex. We talked about how the process was not only one of filtering, but one which created more creativity. A particular image that was given which I liked was that time "makes door open." I like this idea that time does not make us any better, but rather just expands what was already in existence. It makes me wonder, however, when will these doors stop opening/ when will we run out of doors. In other words, when will we be the most complex, unable to evolve any further?

What about these evolutions? What if the more complex we become, the actually less and less suited to our environment we become. If it's really true that it's complexity not fitness that evolution gives us, than couldn't the complexity somehow work against nature and make us unfit? If so, is there any way that we could try to reverse or stop our evolution? I'm scared.

Kalyn's picture

Evolution + Change = Aliens?

As we discussed in class, evoultion consistently moves from the "simple" to the more "complex." Evolution is the on-going process of trying new things with what currently exsists. This entire process is random meaning their is no such thing as a creature that is more or less adaptive than another. Taking into consideration these claims I can not help but wonder what happens in the universe. If random evolutionary change exists does it exist everywhere? If it exsists everywhere, what is the probability that life elsewhere will immitate the human species, replicate it or generate similar species that are in a sense "more adaptive" than the humanity that exists on Earth today? My thoughts lead me to believe that the concept of aliens may be a stronger probability then most people are willing to believe, especially if change is the only sure constant in life.

drichard's picture

patterns, other stuff

Patterns across entities, themselves improbable and statistical, are, as a result, improbable and statistical; a pattern, because it is based on "ordered" entities that arose from disorder, is a highly improbable "assembly" arising from countless instances of "order-from-disorder." Thinking about it this way, patterns become increasingly awe-inspiring. That so many random events could result in entities similar enough to resemble each other in a defined pattern is amazing. This notion speaks to the effect environmental factors have on "random" motion. For example, temperature in a room will effect the movement of all the water molecules in that room in a similar way, making all the random movement of the molecules to take on certain similarities, or patterns.

I would argue, yes, motion is random even if we can "predict," or approximate it. Molecules do not move similarly of their own accord; no atoms "try" to form patterns. However, we can manipulate and approximate random motion to the effect that it responds to environmental factors.

It is interesting to think about simple patterns that are widely accepted, even admired. The author of the article I posted above talks about ripples, for example. My question is: does a ripple in a lake (a particular pattern) exist outside of my mind? My tentative answer is: no, ripples only exist when I recognize the pattern of little waves radiating from a center-point and call then "ripples." In this way, patterns, which consist of a specific trait and the exhibition of that trait over many entities, involve an extra player: me.

achiles's picture

Is movement truly random if

Is movement truly random if it can be predicted and/or patterned?

xhan's picture

"stick with what you know"


I think that being able to accept that our world is constantly changing, growing, and expanding, is a feat that individuals constantly strive to achieve.  I think that humans innately desire to remain at ‘homeostasis” (the ability or tendency of an individual to maintain a stable, constant condition) and this concept can be applied to an individual’s outlook on life.  I think that this tendency allows us to look for certain situations that are in agreement with our pre-conceived notions and limits are ability to understand those that are unknown, and unfamiliar.  I think that this “exploration of the unknown” requires a conscious effort to expose ourselves to different beliefs and ideas, although even then, we will still struggle to refrain from letting our opinions affect our views of the previously “unexplored” and “unknown”.  As biologists, scientists, psychologists, anthropologists, and human beings, I think it is important that we examine different perspectives, regardless of whether we chose to believe in these perspectives or not.
This can help us answer questions as to why and how we think the way we do(show how we arrived at our conclusions and our ways of looking at situation). I do not think that we need to be able to live with multiple perspectives, but I think that we should be able to recognize that people may have legitimate reasons for subscribing to a certain notion, belief, religion, etc. I think that an individuals’ background, culture, and environment really determines what they are exposed to and thus these influences and experiences shape the beliefs that they have. These beliefs may conflict with that of others, but I think unless we understand the context to which individuals arrive at their beliefs, we have a very limited view of the way the world works.


cejensen's picture


I have been thinking about the idea of constant change a lot over the past week. It both excites me and depresses me. Change makes the world go round, but it also means that nothing stays. As far a science is concerned, constant change is exciting. As far as my life is concerned, it makes me a little sad. People and places change. We've discussed the idea that people perceive that less change happens than actually does because it is often difficult to deal with. Now that I am more aware of constant change, I sort of feel like I perceive change everywhere; I perceive change in places and people that I wouldn't have previously.

Kalyn's picture

Change is essential

Change can never be ignored within the study of biology because change happens to the very discipline of biology. Everyday new discoveries are made which always carry the possibility of altering current biological theories. In this way, biologists are forced to look at these multiple perspectives which present new theories everyday. One of the driving forces behind such rapid change is the constant change found within humanity. As humans change in our way of thinking we create and discover new technologies that help us make sense of the world around us. The very technology we use allows us to gain or lose a perspective when studying biology. Just think of the different views one gets when using a microscope compared to a telescope.

ED's picture

Thoughts on patterns, "truth", change

Humans cannot perceive...well, we can't perceive what we can't perceive. We used to not be able to see atom/molecules, cells in our bodies or bacteria; now we can. Now we can see photos of outer space and our world from afar. WE have seen patterns at many levels beyond organic human perception. It seems no matter what, we are still confined by the way our brains work, the way we sense/see. I am tempted to look for "objective" patterns-- patterns that 'just exist' without me just believing they exist-- by looking at atoms. My instinct says "atoms are uniform. Each element looks the same as other units of that element." Atoms might not necessarily be the smallest particles in the universe, however. Though WE can't cut an atom up, an atom is still a 3D something, and can therefore be divided. An another reality is that, although one carbon atom looks just like another carbon atom (I think?), they are still different carbon atoms even if they physically look the same. If there were a uniform smallest particle then I would hypothesize that patterns exist independent of human perception. But since there is no known limit to how big the universe is (even though we talked about its diameter...), there's probably no limit to how small something can be. What I'm saying is that the existence of infinitely small or infinitely big would mean that absolutely no two thing are identical in the universe. Infinite difference is too much for the human brain to handle. For the purposes of of human clarity and stability, it's OK to only see/sense what we can see/sense... we can construct the patterns we are able to organically observe (w/o microscopes or the hubble).... But we cannot let ourselves believe that any sort of human perception is sufficient enough for us to start announcing [T]ruths about patterns of life. 


Some poetry from a museum I went to in California:

"Ever present never twice the same" and "ever changing never less than whole" -December Robert

My last fortune cookie: The only certainty is that nothing is certain.

Quotation from NYC sidewalk graffiti: "Change is the only constant"

Lili's picture


 I still want to know where the big bang came from!

ED's picture

 Humans are funny animals.

 Humans are funny animals. Why do we always need to know? What's the point? We just use knowledge to change stuff because we think the change will be somehow beneficial (to whom/for what?). What kind of animals are we that question, pick apart and change the organic ways of the world? Then again, it doesn't really matter, because here we are-- organically. We didn't choose to evolve. So, since evolution/natural selection doesn't have any intention-- evolution isn't constantly striving to make the world "better" or to make the world "worse" (unless there is a some deity out there fiddling with us, which actually would make a whole lot more sense to my now limitless, reasonless brain), humans exiting was totally random. Even though we are so drastically different than other animals in the way we think and act (cognition, reason, using emotion to decide), our evolving to be this way was just chance. And maybe Evolution (personified evolution) made a big mistake in putting us here because s/he didn't realize we would make weapons of mass destruction or suck out all the fossil fuel and burn it. Oops?

No. The planet doesn't care if it goes on. We're stardust; we're random.

Kalyn's picture

Asking "Why?"

I think one of the great things about being human is we can ask questions and we can seek answers. "What's the point?," you ask. Well that's the beauty of having possibility and being self-aware. Humans posses these qualities which allow everyone to give their life purpose or not. To have the luxury of caring about everything or worrying about nothing but yourself is only possible because humanity has self-actualization. According to Kurt Goldstein's book The Organism: A Holistic Approach to Biology Derived from Pathological Data in Man, self-actualization is "the tendency to actualize, as much as possible, [the organism's] individual capacities" in the world. The tendency to self-actualization is "the only drive by which the life of an organism is determined."Goldstein defined self-actualization as a driving life force that will ultimately lead to maximizing one's abilities and determine the path of one's life. I feel humans constantly wish to make sense of the world because their ultimate goal is to find their place within it.

heatherl18's picture

Change and Perspective (October 5th Discussion)

We must recognize change in biology, because if you are not taking change into account, you are looking at the way things have been, instead of what we know about the way things are at present. Although change brings about different perspectives, sometimes it is useful to use one perspective to study something in particular. The perspective that is used however, can keep changing to incorporate different points of view, or that perspective can combine a few different points of view. We can accept random motion as a first cause, because something always has to come from nothing. We can see this even in life, which arose out of a long period of nothing.

jingber, sophie balis, c. k. koech, heatherl18

ED's picture

What do you mean life "arose

What do you mean life "arose out of a long period of nothing"? How do you know? And how are you defining life... as the existence of the universe or life on earth?

sophie b.'s picture

At least the way that I view

At least the way that I view it is that while we can to an extent track the way that universe has shifted and changed, there are things that we probably will never know about the formation of the world we live in today, perhaps because we don't have the capacity to understand it. We can trace the beginning of our existence to the big bang, but there still has to be the question of what set it all in motion, and save for divine intervention, we kind of have to accept that existence essentially sprang from nothingness. 

paoli.roman's picture

Class Discussion October 5th

 Group: JJ, Lili, Vdonely, Ktan, Kalyn, and Paoli

Having multiple perspectives and changes is a natural system amongst humans allowing us to adapt to change and creates stability. Humanity would not exist if we could not be capable of adapting to change. Since nothing aroung us is concrete we can have principles that change over time which can give humanity stability and these can be subjective. If this was not the case and the world around us was a system of having only one perspective, one type of change, and one conclusion then everything would be boring/ programmed/ structured to have the same foundations constantly. There would be no conflicts, more "safety", more "Truth", less fear of consequences, and the idea of risk would not exist. This is why having multiple perspectives helps individuals carry out a more productive environment for each other that allows change and growth.  



cejensen's picture

Class Discussion: Change

 By JyL, dchin, achiles, Emdoscio, and cejensen

We came to an agreement that we need to recognize change as a constant factor in our everyday lives and in the world, despite the fact we humans are not entirely comfortable with the idea of constant change (we often look for patterns, reasons, and constants). Because change is happening all the time, to deny it or ignore it would not be conductive to progress. However, on a personal level, people are allowed to, at the very least, perceive constants in themselves and their lives, because constant change on a personal level can be extremely distressing. On another note, humans like to prioritize perspectives and come to agree on perspectives with which we view the world and each other. However, these perspectives are also constantly changing. This change occurs through viewing things in retrospect. We must, therefore, also take into account the constant change of our perspectives. (group-members: feel free to reply to this if I left something out or got something wrong)

Paul Grobstein's picture

Class discussion paragraph

(originally posted by mfmiranda)

Even though this motion may be invisible to the human eye, we accept that things are constantly changing. We know this from our observations during the lab and from every day life. It's important to recognize the presence of this constant change but it's also important that we don't let it obstruct new observations. For example, if we're studying any organism we should take into consideration that change exists in the past, and that there may be further changes in the future, but our observations should concentrate on the current aspects of the organism. Individually, each person should choose one perspective, but in order to communicate with each other and work together, we need to respect that other perspectives exist. We can accept random motion as an initial cause, because it what we have observed thus far, however we know that this could change, and if we made further/different observations our theory could be adjusted. These observations, in our view, seem to function together and not exclusively. 


mfmiranda, jen pierre, Yashaswini, jmstuart

Paul Grobstein's picture

life: matters arising

Interesting conversation this morning.  Thanks all.  For me (and anyone else interested) to mull further ....

Life seems to us to have some degree of pattern and stability, and the lives of other organisms appear to depend as well as some degree of pattern and stability in themselves and other living things.  Is some kind of pattern and stability the explanation of life or the product of it?  Could our preference for seeing pattern/stability be itself a product of life rather than an inevitability? 

JJ's picture

My immediate response to this

My immediate response to this question is that the pattern and stability we see is a result of life. I think it relates to the evolutionary theory of survival of the fittest in that when a species develops and evolves, it tries different ways of doing things. The animals or plants that "discover" the most efficient ways of doing something such as reproducing, finding food, and migrating will be the ones who are ultimately the most successful. They will probably live longer and pass on their genes, creating a pattern of actions and therefore stability within that species' community.