Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities

Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities has 50 remote-ready activities, which work for either your classroom or remote teaching.

Biology 103 2003 Forum

Comments are posted in the order in which they are received, with earlier postings appearing first below on this page. To see the latest postings, click on "Go to last comment" below.

Go to last comment

greetings ...
Name: Serendip
Date: 2003-08-31 17:16:51
Link to this Comment: 6296

Welcome to the Bio 103 course forum area. This is an interestingly different kind of place for writing, and may take some getting used to, but we hope you'll come to value it as much as students in other courses have.

The first thing to keep in mind is that its not a place for "formal writing" or "finished thoughts". Its a place for thoughts-in-progress, for what you're thinking (whether you know it or not) on your way to what you think next. Maybe simpler, imagine that you're not worrying about "writing" but instead that you're just talking to some people you've met. This is a "conversation" place, a place to find out what you're thinking yourself, and what other people are thinking, so you can help them think and they can help you think. The idea is that your "thoughts in progress" can help others with their thinking, and theirs can help you with yours.

So who are you writing for? For yourself, and for others in our classes primarily. But also for the world. This is a "public" forum, so people anywhere on the web might look in (and might even add their own thoughts in progress, though that doesn't in fact often happen).

That's the second thing to keep in mind here. You're writing for yourself, for others in the class, AND for others you might or might not know. So, your thoughts in progress can contribute to the thoughts in progress of LOTS of people. The web is giving increasing reality to the idea that there can actually evolve a world community, and you're part of helping to bring that about. Glad to have you along, and hope you value/enjoy sharing the activity.

How is Science like Life?
Name: Nomi Kaim
Date: 2003-09-03 13:42:26
Link to this Comment: 6312

How is the process of science similar to life itself? Well ...

- Neither provides clear or objective "answers"
- Both strive for (but cannot attain) objectivity
- Both often take you to a place other than your predicted end-point
- Both sidetrack (and annoy) you with unforeseen things, information, events, various blockades than hinder or change your path
- Both are easier understood when reduced, divided up, compartmentalized
- Aspects of both seem more meaningful to us when we assign them labels
- Just when you think you've got it under control and figured out, it often appears the world / destiny has other plans in store
- You're never quite sure of what questions you're supposed to ask – at least, not until you've already got some answers
- In retrospect, the proper questions, steps, actions seem so much more clear
- Sometimes, things you think you can "finish" / "solve" quickly end up dragging on and on, never quite finishing, perhaps not even seeming to progress at all
- Other times, you've only just begun something difficult when progress, change, solutions you never would have conceived of pop out in front of you
- There are long, dry periods in which little changes
- This lack of change can be extremely frustrating
- Nothing is ever quite certain; there are always infinite more questions
- The more you learn / find out, the more questions you develop, and the more you perceive the extent of your own ignorance and tininess in the universe
- You're constantly afraid of missing out, being in the "wrong" place at the "wrong" time
- It's always much easier to explain the "what" than the "why" (you can never quite be sure of the why)
- We strike out with ideas in mind of what we are looking for, and do not notice much of what exists that we are not looking for.
- Even if you seem to be "right," do "well" (which is exciting), you still have to dive right back into the same old game (scientific inquiry, life) you've been playing all along
- Others can see / experience the same thing and interpret / respond to it entirely differently
- The unknown is intimidating and, sometimes, threatening; we struggle to know
- Life as continuous repetitions / readjustments of the scientific method of inquiry
- The drive to be right, fear of controversy
- The desire to assign everything we encounter a subjective moral "value judgment," and the struggle against this desire

This science thing
Name: Julia Wise
Date: 2003-09-03 14:30:58
Link to this Comment: 6314

I guess I thought of math/science as a realm apart from me and mine, since most of the people I was around in high school were much more into verbal/social classes than math and science. My thought patterns changed a bit this summer when I spent a lot of time around somebody who's very much into engineering and astrophysics and taught me ways to program solutions to the Traveling Salesman problem for the fun of it. Now it seems more like something you can fall in love with, just like dancing and sociology are for me.

Now, for what I think on the discipline itself - biology is a science, but there are a lot of other things that can be considered sciences in the sense of social sciences. If chemistry is the science of how substances work, and biology is the science how organisms work, then sociology is just as much the science of how people work together, and politics is the science of how governments work. So science is looking at one part of the world and trying to figure out how it works, and the main difference between it and any other study is what area of the world it's looking at.

I'd say that since the course is so big on there not being definitive answers to any question about science, I don't think there are definitive truths about anything. What I see as the truth about religion, say, or the best economic policy for Panama, is going to be different for what other people see as the truth on those subjects. Part of that's based on different values we have, but part is based on observations about how the world works. That's just like science.

Name: Patty
Date: 2003-09-03 14:45:42
Link to this Comment: 6315

What interested me most about Nomi Kaim's very thorough list was the statement that "Both strive for (but cannot attain) objectivity." This is so true. Objectivity, along with the new idea that science may not be able to strive for "truth," says alot about the current field of and future for biology. I have always found the sciences and the field of medicine to be particularly interesting because of the power and authority both fields have, and the ability such authority has to change our lives. Science and Medicine (Scientists and Doctors of any kind) are without objectivity. They are without objectiveity when they make their observations, and they are without objectivity when they summarize their observations. They are even without objectivity when they choose WHAT to observe. With such a foundation to the findings of science and medicine, it impresses me that we have been able to do the things we have done. (Put a man on the moon, cloning, cell regeneration, etc.) And yet, it also makes me wonder, what would the world be able to accomplish if it had diffrent goals? As a society, or at least Americans, I know we want to be beautiful, sexy, powerful, and live very long lives. From this we have worked on "summaries of observations" until we were able to provide our people with excellent plastic surgery, liposuction, viagra, the fastest cars technology can provide, the fastest computers, and medicine and tools and treatments to prolong or stabalize our lives until the very last second. However, if society had diffrent values, our science may land us with diffrent conclusions: A way to transport and preserve all types of foods in order to spread them to the millions who die without food everyday. Society may have used science in a way to persuade all people that being generous is the most effective and only way for a species to survive. Instead, science provides us with values such as "Survival of the Fittest." I'm not saying that our society's values are wrong. We have done many great and helpful things. I'm just wondering how much we could accomplish if we had a diffrent objectivity and if we had diffrent values. If there is no one truth, could we have a far better "overall summary of observation" if we payed more attention to the problem of objectivity, and the importance science and medicine have on the world.

Name: Talia Libe
Date: 2003-09-03 17:20:54
Link to this Comment: 6320

Someome said in class today that she was comforted by the fact that there were no truths in science, just as there are no truths in life. She said that this similarity made her feel better about the world, because it coincided with what she already thought, or knew, of the world.
I thought that this was an interesting point, because many people find comfort in "knowing" the truths of the world, thereby puting to rest the notion that the world is random in its entirety and chaotic by nature.
I was never someone who enjoyed science classes. I found most of them to be pure memorization, and I generally thought that science should be left to those for who m in was natural. However, through me everchanging and unstable adolesence (as I assume most are), I tended to feel better about circumstances (mostly revolving around boys, grades, parental conflicts, etc) "knowing" that there were explainations for these occurances that could be "proven" by psychologists, biologists, neurologists, etc. I'm glad that it wasn't until today (long past awkward stages and puberty) that I find there are actually no truths. Today, not being as frightened by the unstable world, I feel more like the student in class today (I think it was Toiya)who feels that it is conforting that the world is indeed the way she feels it is.

random stuff
Date: 2003-09-03 23:22:24
Link to this Comment: 6328

As the stereotypical "English" girl, I've been frustrated by the tendency of my professors--both science and English--to insist on truths, or, if not, at least require us to draw our *own* solid conclusion. What I've always liked about the field of English is that everything is open to interpretation. If you view a certain passage one way, it says one thing; if you view it another way, it might give you the completely opposite message. Portraying science in the same grey light makes it seem a lot less hostile. However, my experience with high school professors was often negative in that they *insisted* on there being a "certain" way, even if it wasn't their way (although that was often the case). You could never be wishy-washy or present data as supportive of more than one thesis. You had to choose either black or white.

Life seems, to me, to treat us the same way. Although most people hold beliefs that can't be easily classified into one category, the world often requires that they try to stuff their complex belief systems into a small, simple box. Take politics. In this country, you're either a Democrat or a Republican. Period. End of story. Religion works the same way, although it's a little more deceptive in that it offers you *many* little boxes--Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, etc. Life wants you to know yourself well enough to be absolute in all of your choices. Likewise, high school (and some other) science wants to know...well, *itself* well enough to be absolute in all of its conclusions. It doesn't even need to be *correct*--it just needs to be sure of its own position. It wants to be multiple-choice-test sure, when in reality the only way you can answer almost any question is through an essay (albeit, in some cases, a short one... for example, some guy comes up to you and asks, "Do you like onions?" "Yes," you say, but qualify it: "I like them on sandwiches but not in salads."). Whoops, there I go into English again. But seriously, this is why I've always been more comfortable with essays. They give you the flexibility to be unsure if that's how you really feel. A scientific environment that doesn't make you choose seems a lot fairer than one that does. . . is this making any sense? ...

how are science and life similar?
Name: abby fritz
Date: 2003-09-04 14:11:40
Link to this Comment: 6333

considering the things we have discussed so far in class: i would say that a strong similarity between life and science is that just as life is full of uncertainty, so is science. in life, we make observations, test those observations, and then determine if those tests bring about results that support our observations. more often than not, these real life tests bring about unexpected results, but we learn from those results. the same is true for science. only unexpected results in a scientific test will force us to continue our inquiries, leading us to, hopefully, a broader understanding of what we are studying.

Past Science Experiences
Name: Melissa Te
Date: 2003-09-04 18:36:08
Link to this Comment: 6335

my past science experiences haven't been terrible, but they have been extremely different from the experience i anticipate on having in this bio class. in middle/high school the courses were very rigid. there was always a right or wrong answer. there were formulas, facts, and memorization involved. i spent many years studying physics in high school, which dealt mainly with mathematics, specifically calculus. but this class seems entirely different. this class seems to be more philosophical, more of a social science way of thinking than anything else. as much as i enjoy the rigid mathematically structure of my past science classes (i am a math major, so that explains it), i am looking forward to expanding my way of thinking in sciences.

Name: Brianna Tw
Date: 2003-09-04 18:43:20
Link to this Comment: 6336

"- Aspects of both seem more meaningful to us when we assign them labels"

I found this comment particularly interesting, given some of the events going on on campus. Professor Grobstein mentioned the diversity seminars and forums that will be taking place throughout the semester. Also, tonight I am participating in Q-Forum, and the panelists have chosen to discuss the ways that labels are useless and at times hindering to progression.

After discussing the scientific process/method, I came to understand that, just like life, you cannot necessarily confine science to a box, to rules, or to constants. You have to remember not to label things. For example, during Q-Forum we intend to discuss how ridiculous it seems to view persons as their sexuality. While a persons sexuality is one of their defining qualities, sometimes the most personally important, it is not the only quality an individual has. Similarly, just because a ball will drop due to gravity in a certain environment, that ball will have a different reaction in a different environment.

Hope that is clear enough to draw connections.

Name: Katherine
Date: 2003-09-04 18:54:00
Link to this Comment: 6337

Wow. I wasn't in class Wednesday, and I have obviously missed something really interesting. Anyway, here's my 2 cents...

I am not a science person. I have never liked that, as an area of study, science seems to ask you to be able to produce the right answers, and that there is only one right answer in any given situation. But maybe my perception of science is wrong - perhaps my other science classes have tried to make the discipline cut and dry in an attempt to make the material "easier" to digest. I'm looking forward to a class that looks at science in a different way, and hopeful that it will allow me to discover whether I dislike science or just don't science as it has been presented to me in the past.

Life != Science, Life > Science
Name: Su-Lyn Poo
Date: 2003-09-04 23:22:14
Link to this Comment: 6339

What really struck me about the points that Nomi made are that they apply so accurately to my experiences and, I would imagine, to those of others. It is this gift of "intuition", of understanding at some level the fundamental experience of being human (which we all have in some capacity), that leads us to a feeling of 'truth', even if it may be more localized than universal, more faith than fact.

But I wonder if our intuition stems from biological traits that we share as human beings. A priori knowledge may be an outdated concept but it seems we must still be biologically predisposed to experience phenomena (and therefore gain knowledge) in certain ways. For example, we can only detect unaided a fraction of all sound frequencies. We perceive a continuum of light waves as a spectrum of colors. We only feel temperature differences, we do not see them.

We have become conscious of this bond, though we may not know its exact origin, and we articulate it through art, music, folklore and mythology, political institutions, and so on. Our reactions to such articulations (say, to different works of art) may be evidence of our predisposition to respond to certain phenomena more strongly than others.

If this is an acceptable point, then it also means that our observations of the world – whether for use in life or in science – are guided by such 'intuition'. This then reinforces the idea we have already discussed about the practice of science as a summary of observations, not at all a practice independent of, more objective than or above the very practice of life, but perhaps essentially a subset of it.

Unfinished thoughts: So science != life, but rather, Life is more than Science...? But this would seem counter-intuitive, given the ways in which science has expanded life from the way we first experienced it, on the tiniest level (atoms, genes) and the largest (theories of the Universe)... And yet, what is it that has driven such scientific pursuits? Aren't these creative sparks still grounded in our established norms of existence i.e. life?

Julia - I'm a social science major myself so don't take this as a territorial claim by some overzealous natural scientist... The social sciences have achieved nowhere near the same rate of progress that biology and medicine have in the past few decades. While biomedical research has led to numerous cures and vaccines for deadly diseases (that is, solutions to the problems that such research is charged with addressing), the predictive power of social scientists is still incredibly poor – we don't know when we'll come out of the economic slump, or when ethnic conflict will erupt, or why political situations unfold the way they do. This is not to say that the problems that the social sciences seek to address are any less important, only that our base of knowledge doesn't yet allow us to tackle such broad questions of human behavior definitively. If biology is only now beginning to make concrete progress with regard to human beings, then you can see that it's a daunting leap from cells and organs into more complex levels of organization. But if the social sciences can inherit such a knowledge base from the natural sciences, then perhaps what the natural sciences can inherit from the social sciences is a little more self-reflexivity, an awareness that science is not immutable – a rhetoric that we social scientists have become so adept at invoking, for whatever reasons.

feelings about truth (or the lack thereof)
Name: Maggie Tuc
Date: 2003-09-05 07:53:31
Link to this Comment: 6345

Moving on, the prof asked a question in class. It was after our
conclusion that doctors and scientists don't really KNOW anything. That there are no 'truths' and that everything is sort of dependent on other factors. He followed this conclusion with a question: how does that make us feel? I didn't answer in class, but I'd like to here. I really thinkthat I feel good about knowing that. If I believed everything I was told by a scientist or a group of doctors, and acted on whatever it was that they concluded, then my life really wouldn't be my own. I would be controlled by this outside authority. Life habits would have to be changing constantly to the extent that there wouldn't be any 'life habits' at all. I guess I'm just glad to have that control.

I'd also like to add that this class is already very different from any other science course I had in high a good way.

a new look at science
Name: megan will
Date: 2003-09-05 10:32:36
Link to this Comment: 6346

My father is actually a naturalist, and the fact that science never really interested me was always a sore point for him. The only science i enjoyed in school was environmental science, and i think that is because you are working with current issues and real problems in the world.

this bio 103 course excites me, in the way that i am going to be taught science in a whole new way, rather, i am going to be learning science in a whole new way.

our discussion of the scientific method really struck me as a true example of the fact why many people tire of science courses or experiments in general. in school, you are taught that if you cannot "accept" or find true your hypothesis at the end of an experiment, then you have done something wrong. the experiment has gone wrong, a step was missed or done incorrectly. i think that science is just really taking observations and repeatedly changing the way you think or see things.

Name: Manuela Ce
Date: 2003-09-05 10:35:39
Link to this Comment: 6347

Well, I guess I had somewhat of a different experience in science classes before this one. Truth was never the objective. It got to be frustrating most of the time. My biology/chemistry teacher would go on endless rants on how the Egyptians must have had atomic bombs... anyway, it was hard to know what to put on the test.
Anyhow, about objectivity in science. Aside from the obvious choices in what to look at, how to interpret it, etc. science is not isolated from politics. Medical reviews are often biased due to economic interests, and science is a powerful political weapon. As pure as statistics claim to be, they can be easily manipulated to suggest a certain result. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not going into conspiracy theories here, I'm simply saying that as with anything else, there are underlying interests that need to be considered when analyzing scientific studies.

relationship btw. science and emotions
Name: elisabeth
Date: 2003-09-05 10:41:08
Link to this Comment: 6348

Does science understand the individual emotions or likes and dislikes that characterize a person? How come one person may cry when they see a film and another won't ? Why is orange one persons favorite color and blue somebody elses?

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum...
Name: Laura Wolf
Date: 2003-09-05 12:56:50
Link to this Comment: 6349

This is the first time I've been really inspired to "think biology" outside of class. I did enjoy science all through middle school, and part-way through high school. But as another student mentioned, I get frustrated with any teacher who thinks they know the truth and that the only way to succeed in life is to memorize the facts they have given us. I read Discover magazine and watch PBS a lot, and I'm really excited to be able to learn about similar things in a classroom now.

I was thinking more about how children use the scientific method to test the world around them, and this is something I wrote after class on Wednesday:
All questions seem to lead to answers, but they are not the "correct" answers. They are information that comes from testing an environment, testing a person, and making observations of what happens, then trying to explain the observations. When I was young and my mom tried to make me eat eggplant, I would say "If it doesn't taste good, it can't be good for me" and she would say "If you don't eat it, you won't be healthy". The reason her answer was probably more accurate than mine is because she has lived for more years and received more information via observation. My statement was less of an observation and more like wishful thinking - a story not based on observation. The conclusion I reached had no scientific method behind it. I was using science though, in the fact that I was testing my mother to see how to get her to NOT make me eat the eggplant. When I observed that arguing didn't work, I think I resorted to pouting. I was gathering observations on how to make my parents cave in on their descion. Now it seems to me that all interactions lead back to science, in some form.
On another note, I found something interesting on the web:¬Found=true

It's an article about the gender gap relating to sexual preferences, but what I found to be interesting was the "researchers say" aspect to it. It seems that each person has their own idea of what the survey meant. (I personally think that men and and women are partially pressured by the mindset of society to answer how they did - I don't think it's necessarily a natural difference, although maybe that's part of it too. But it seems silly to claim that because men reported this, now I know the truth about their natural tendencies.)

Inter-disciplinary life...
Name: Su-Lyn
Date: 2003-09-05 18:22:46
Link to this Comment: 6354

"Does science understand the individual emotions or likes and dislikes that characterize a person? How come one person may cry when they see a film and another won't ? Why is orange one persons favorite color and blue somebody elses?" – Elisabeth Py

Elisabeth – Your questions really got me thinking about where the line between The Natural Sciences and The Social Sciences traditionally lies. Depending on the way they are phrased, I think it's possible to see how territoriality doesn't need to become an issue.
I'm trying to expand on your questions in a way that doesn't assign them to specific fields: they may well be within the jurisdiction of biology, neuroscience, psychology, sociology, or anthropology... The questions doesn't 'belong' to any one category. I'm on a 'consilience' drive right now, an idea that there's an "interlocking of causal explanation across disciplines", which biologist Edward Wilson advocates. So that's my bias.

Science is a summary of observations. So, for that reason, science can't account for every individual difference, apart from blaming it on the concept of variation. But for that same reason, this may not be the case for long. This could also have consequences for Prof. Grobstein's statement that scientists today tend to avoid hypotheses that can't be falsified within a certain time frame. At some point in the future, this limiting time frame will probably change and so will the types of hypotheses admitted into the study of science. A step towards consilience?

"Science is not isolated from politics." – Manuela Ceballos

Manuela – I agree completely with what you said. Like you, it's not the uncertainty of science that worries me, but the certainty with which it is applied in policies, and similarly the certainty with which it is then accepted by the lay public. It may or may not be a deliberate 'doctoring of accounts', but even a little misguided enthusiasm on the part of politicians can wreak havoc. Eugenics ( " The study of hereditary improvement of the human race by controlled selective breeding") comes to mind.

Um... PS?
Name: Su-Lyn
Date: 2003-09-06 16:36:36
Link to this Comment: 6358

Just to tie in my comment on consilience more concretely with what's going on in class... Consider the following expansion on that point as a response to the question about the relationships between the definition of life as the experience of being human, the definition of life as the subject matter of the course, and science.

Our experience of being is constituted by numerous aspects, such as emotion, social organization, ritual, to name just a few. These have fallen under the jurisdiction of different academic disciplines which, at different points in history, have alternatively been considered different camps or necessary parts of a more holistic view of life.

The second definition of life, "the subject matter of the course", would be the view from a biologist's window. It is necessarily limited by the recognition that there are only so many hours in the day... so the biologist, like the psychologist and the anthropologist, asks certain types of questions about certain topics. This understanding of life is a point of view, in that it doesn't capture all the aspects of the experience of living. It is thus a summary of observations, exactly like the more general practice of science.

But the experience of being is also a summary of observations: of those we are capable of making unaided. Scientists and their quest to define life have helped to expand this experience. We were oblivious to genes, viruses and hormones (though not to their effects) before the different branches of science developed. Yet we have also been shown that our experience is not the be all and end all of existence. The concept of evolution drastically changed our views, as have studies that show consciousness is not unique to us, nor the possibility of life to planet Earth.

Science in its current state cannot apply itself to tackling certain questions within our experience of being. Science may be dynamic, but its methods still require that its subject matter be static (i.e. isolated, controlled) if it is to be understood. As the base of knowledge grows, and once the foundation has been laid, the configuration of factors that are considered constant or variable will change, and science can begin to tackle issues that arise at a higher level of organization.

(Um, I'm still not sure I really understand the question, but the fuzziness gives me a little space to wander with my thoughts.)

Science and Truth
Name: Paula Arbo
Date: 2003-09-06 23:30:37
Link to this Comment: 6359

This past week our discussions have primarily focused on how science does not deal with truths and even further, that there is really no such thing as "truth." I guess what has bothered me the most about this "no truths" business is not so much that it is too philosophical for my taste, but I wonder how truly helpful or practical that is. That is not to say, however, that as human beings, we should not be humbled or frustrated by such a realization, but, my question is what comes next? How do we use this realization to further question and be critical of what we know, don't know, want to know etc..., how does realizing that there are no truths (when people are so readily available to "prove" to you that they know of a few) change/problematize/effect/engage us and challenge what we hold to be true about our current political, economic, and social understanding of society or any given subject.

Name: Adina Halp
Date: 2003-09-06 23:37:55
Link to this Comment: 6360

I'm somewhat unconfortable with the idea that science doesn't have all the answers. I understand that knowing everything would make life (as in human life) completely pointless, but for me, thinking that *someone* knows or will some day know what is going on and what life is all about is comforting. Su-Lyn's idea of science as biology, neuroscience, psychology, sociology, and anthropology is helping me to get over this discomfort. Now, instead of thinking that there is one way of "scientific thinking" and that it doesn't work, I am able to think that there are many ways of thinking that *do* work, and it is just *what it is that works* that keeps changing.

Name: Sarah Kim
Date: 2003-09-07 16:50:24
Link to this Comment: 6361

"Eugenics ( " The study of hereditary improvement of the human race by controlled selective breeding") comes to mind."

I found this comment to be very interesting, and it reminded me of a discussion I'd had in another class. When you think of the definition of eugenics, a certain group of people comes to mind: Nazis. An interesting fact that you might not be aware of, is that the Nazis actually took the idea of eugenics from US! Before World War II, the United States had a policy that the state could sterilize people WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT if they were deemed unfit (this included conditions such as epilepsy and being "morally deficient"). So thousands of people in the United States were sterilized, sometimes without even being told their fate, by our government because they'd decided that these people should not be allowed to continue polluting our population with their unfit characteristics. The Nazis actually took this concept from us, and expanded upon it, experimenting with the fastest and most efficient ways to sterilize people. Eventually, they resorted to just killing off the "unfit" people. Anyway, in reading the comments, this came to mind, and I thought you all might find it interesting.

Should Science really tell the Truth?
Date: 2003-09-07 22:54:12
Link to this Comment: 6364

Last weeks discussions on science and whether it is the truth or not really struck me. It kind of bothers me that all of science is not in fact the truth, but it also enlightens me in another way. I realize that in life in general, we can never know what is truth and what is not. We basically have to just believe and understand that there are reasons why something may be truth to one person and false to another. For instance many may question whether or not there is a God? That question can be very hard for many to answer. For those who are religious, that may be a very easy question to answer. But all in all the I feel the truth is what we make of it and what we believe.

me and science
Name: Charlotte
Date: 2003-09-07 23:05:24
Link to this Comment: 6366

I don't believe that there are "science people" and "non-science people" in this world because then we wouldn't be asking the question "Why?" so often. Every "Why" question brings me back to the same question "Why do we need to know this?" and, ultimately brings me to the bigger question, "Why do we even exist?"
Not knowing why life exists is the most frustrating concept to accept and, yet, the most intriguing because it surpasses every little thing that we consider "important" in our realm. We may obsess over big loads of work and grades, but we don't even know why we're alive. I find this fascinating and I also find it fascinating the ways in which we have created reasons for ourselves to live: receiving a good education, being successful, having a loving family, etc. But how can those things matter and how can we get so caught up in our world when we're ants in the universe and don't even understand who we are? I find this concept very disconcerting...

not so science
Name: Enor Wagne
Date: 2003-09-08 02:14:12
Link to this Comment: 6367

From an 'not-very-scientific' English major's point of view: Science is a subject of study that can be seen in two different lights.

On the one hand - science can be taught mechanically, all details stressed as points of interest. The memorization, the gruesome geographical 'anatomy and beyond' maps, the meticulous study of things we cannot actually see like a sodium-potassium pump... While I understand the necessity for learning such things, any sort of interest in them escapes me. As far as I can see it, and if anyone wishes to prove me wrong please do so, these concepts are for 'multiple choice people'. I am not one of them.

I am a paper person. So until I took neurobiology last semester, I had no interest in science whatsoever. Which leads me to the other hand - science can be taught philosophically. The points of interest are instead focused the human position, its place in our culture and world. What a sodium-potassium pump has to do with health, with tommorrow, with mental well being.

We just discussed in class whether a conclusion can ever be true, definitive. Realizing that the answer is 'no' opens a whole new door to science which some students unfortunatly will never be able to walk through. Science can be as analitically inviting as any novel or poem I will read in an English class because it involves opinions, guesses, and presumptions which can never really be confirmed or denied.

Is there more to life?
Name: Talia Libe
Date: 2003-09-08 18:52:14
Link to this Comment: 6379

The question is, is the list that was given in class all the is required in order to have life? Is life more than those stated (highly improbable assembly, bounded, energy dependent, semi-homeostatic, semi-autonomous, reproduces with variation)? The question is in fact quite philosophical. Is an unborn child (a fetus) a life? At what point does it become life? At the point when it fulfills all of the above requirements, when it was first conceived, or at a certain stage of developement? What stage of developement? Is a man alive when the only thing keeping him breathing is a tube in a hospital? Is he alive even though he may not be capable of thought? Is he alive because he fulfills all of the above requirements, or are more requirements needed in order for his life to be considered as valuable as someone elses? The questions go on. Every person will have a different view on the matter. Some people may be influenced by various matters such as religion and relevant life experiences. Some people will look at the question from a purely scientific view, others from a purely moral view. But most people will probably look from a myriad of different angles. So, I know that I have not answered the question. I do that intentionally, because I don't have the answer. I may have a personal answer. But no one person is going to have an answer that applies to everyone. It just isn't possible.

Name: Shafiqah B
Date: 2003-09-09 19:05:55
Link to this Comment: 6398

Today, we did a lab. ooolala. Okay so I was under the misconception that you need goggles and an apron and you know technical crap to participate in a lab. I also thought that labs were about testing, retesting that is, some already proven theory and making sure your results were as close to the "right" answer as possible. Today, I thought omg a bio lab, but this was like those exploration games you play at the park when your five. So, I renamed the ground, I was into the moment and we should do that more often... SO belated thinking about the whole science relating to life issue... exploration is a good thing. sometimes discarding the status quo and being creative is a must!
P.S.- this is an informal arena

Name: Alison Jos
Date: 2003-09-10 10:40:49
Link to this Comment: 6404

After looking over the list given in class, it seemed that the qualifications needed for something to be considered living was pretty accurate. Then, though, I remembered a (possible) exception to the rule from a 9th grade Bio class: fire. If asked whether fire was living, I think few people would answer in the affirmative. Yet, it really does seem to meet every criteria on the checklist. It is certainly dependent on other sources--oxygen is imperative to its "survival." It is bounded, too, in that one can certainly tell what is "inside" the fire and what is not. Fire is semi-homeostatic: it reproduces with variation almost constantly.
Although fire meets these requirements, I'm still not sure I'd call it living . . . maybe the thing to study next is energy, as it seems a more appropriate placement.

The funny list on the board...
Name: Patricia
Date: 2003-09-10 17:22:25
Link to this Comment: 6417

At the end of class today, we placed diffrent animals in diffrent places on the board. At first what I thought was a very random thing to do, waiting patiently for a point. It was to make us think about why we place diffrent values on diffrent animals, plants, or really anything in our surroundings. I noticed that at first we wanted to group the animals accourding to size. Then, after class, a friend of mine commented that she had asked Grobstien to place one of the animals in between an animal she "liked" more and an animal she "liked" less. This made me think the following (which may or may not be connected to what we are talking about.)

Why do we place diffrent values on animals (or anything for that matter?)

For instance, why are we mortified at the idea of killing a bunny, but so comfortable with killing a spider? Do we judge value based on size? We clearly do not because we find ourselves far more "valuable" than whales? Do we value animals based on intelligence? Is it an inate value judgement, or are there diffrent cultures who would kill a bunny and be completely calm around a spider. I wonder what drives us to decide which animals deserves which value. Do we value the creatures that are more in our likeness? Do we value the creatures that have a bigger impact on our eco-system? I don't think any of these are can be proven to be correct, at least within our culture. The closest I can come to any value placement bias we might have is that we respect mammals more than we do insects, which may be because we are mammals. But why do we preffer one mammal over another? So when we are looking at "Life," and the process of studying and grouping life, I just wonder what our biases are. And how that has effected our study of biology. The world around us? How far away our grouping on the board is from a "scientific" grouping?

general thoughts
Name: Maria Scot
Date: 2003-09-10 22:18:09
Link to this Comment: 6422

This is a very very long posting. My computer seems to have developed a personality disorder over the last week and has not been cooperating with my efforts to post comments in this forum so these thoughts are in response not only to today's class, but also to the previous class sessions. I've always found it interesting that people thought that they were qualified to determine what is and is not alive; what does or does not constitute "life". I've always thought that the human mind tends to create a frame of reference--using its own experiences as a guide--through which to interpret anything we might encounter. Our concept of "life" or "living" is derived from our own highly subjective natures. I wonder if humans can ever really be trusted to observe or analyze and come to conclusions about the unfamiliar without attaching value judgments that stem from highly subjective personal values and experiences. I remember growing up that every now and then I would suddenly understand a puzzle or a game that I hadn't been able to before, usually because it involved some abstract concept that was simply over my head at the time. It was always shocking to me how when suddenly it 'clicked' and where previously I had seen no order or overriding principle I would suddenly be able to "connect the dots" and to identify consistent rules by which the players were abiding. As I've gotten older I've realized that those epiphanies occurred at developmental turning points when my ability to identify and comprehend abstract concepts would also have improved. Yet I've always wondered what else I'm missing, what concepts or activities are going on in the world around me that I simply cannot see or cannot identify in the same sense that there were things that I simply couldn't get my mind around as a young child. I suppose what I'm sort of getting at here is that while I feel that we are qualified perhaps to state what is "living" as we understand the concept, I would feel unqualified to state what is NOT living. Perhaps I'm just not able to see it or to comprehend the WAY in which it is living. That said, I'm not trying to suggest that rocks are alive. In terms of diversity: I do think that diversity is fundamental to life. The Earth for example is greater than the sum of it's parts because of the incredibly diverse range of organisms and life-systems that live on it. In terms of diversity among people I think that there is something fundamental within us that desires diversity. I mean, the Stepford Wives was considered a horror-type movie for a reason. In terms of the list of animals on the board today, I truly believe that Dolphins should have ranked above Lions. As soon as dolphins develop opposable thumbs, humanity is going to have serious competition.

General thoughts, etc.
Name: Melissa Ho
Date: 2003-09-11 11:34:38
Link to this Comment: 6436

On discussing the issue of "life", I find that it is exceptionally difficult to approach this word/topic from 1 singular meaning. I am not comfortable with a standard definition. While the list we have discussed in class outlines necessary "mechanics" of life, I have to question whether or not there isn't more to "defining" life.

I liked Patty's question about biases which we create in our own definitions of life. I feel that these biases are inherent as we personally categorize "life" into different levels of "living" via importance. Perhaps that can explain why one is more upset by the death of a human or dog than say an ant. But whats not to say that these standards for living do not vary from person to person.

In addition to these mechanics with which we were presented in class, I feel there is also a certain amount we allocate to the "essence" of something which we deem alive. For humans, this could perhaps be the personality. It is much easier for one to observe and interact with the personality of a cat or human than say an amoeba or insect. While this idea does not hold for all forms of life, I believe it makes them more approachable and recognizable forms than others.

Week 2
Name: Laura Wolf
Date: 2003-09-12 13:24:28
Link to this Comment: 6457

I've been thinking a lot about the meaning of "life" as we've been discussing in links a lot to what I've been thinking for my English class, which is the meaning of literature. Does a comic book count as literature? Or a piece of music? Is there a certain "essense" or style that makes us accept some things as literature and reject others? What about a grocery list - what makes that different from a poem? I think this is very pertinent to our Biology discussion, because it's all about how we see things. It's our interpretation of something that is all around us, that forms how we think of our surroundings. We could classify a piece of fungus as life, but then say that the rock it's growing on is not alive - it doesn't take part in the big picture of "life". The difference that I see between defining pieces of literature and pieces of life is that the human race created literature, or at least it is created through us. Life would be here whether we were here or not - maybe Biology wouldn't be here, or science wouldn't be (if you see science as the human study of life) but the truthful science of how things work would still be working. In my mind, that makes us less worthy of classifying and naming things in biology than in literature - we don't own it, we only control how we interpret it.
In that sense, I think we need to leave things more abstract than we do, with more room for creativity. In English we read an article called "Rhizome vs. Trees"; it basically says that instead of trying to force literature into a tree-like category, with roots, branches and leaves (a begining and end for every part) we need to think of it more as a rhizome formation, a horizontal root with sprouts and growths spurting in all directions, with no one beginning point and no ending (hypothetically) everything is connected, and part of the whole, but you can't ever say Yes, this deffinitely came from this point. So I think Biology could be more open to advancement if we included more stories as possibilities of explanation, instead of using one at a time, understanding exclusively one explanation until it is falsified.

Seeking order & making sense...
Name: Su-Lyn
Date: 2003-09-13 01:27:48
Link to this Comment: 6460

An example of how technology changes our observations and therefore our stories...
      When did abortion and euthanasia become ethical issues? Why not stillbirth and old age? Where does contraception stand? And at the opposite end of the spectrum, what about artificial insemination? Cloning?
      Notice that it's the extremes of life and death that are being negotiated. Thanks to technology, "life" can now start earlier and end later than it would naturally. Our ability to intervene in this process, whether facilitating or interrupting life, requires that we reflect critically on what it is we are meddling with. Values and ethics develop with the technology to interfere in natural processes that we otherwise would probably take for granted.

"Life would be here whether we were here or not - maybe Biology wouldn't be here, or science wouldn't be (if you see science as the human study of life) but the truthful science of how things work would still be working." – Laura

      That's a really interesting idea. I'd like to suggest that science is a human construction and therefore wouldn't exist if we didn't. Science is one approach to the study of life and it has developed from the direct observations that we make. Technology has helped to expand the kinds of data we are able to collect, but the direction of change is grounded in our genetic make-up. It seems that we have developed technology to augment our basic senses, or at least to translate undetectable phenomena into a 'readable' form (e.g. thermal imaging, scans of brain activity).
      The ways in which we seek, classify and synthesize data are further influenced by the way our brain functions. From my limited understanding of neurobiology, if something doesn't make sense or fit the narrative that the brain is constructing from the glimpses of life, then the data is trashed. (That's why dreams are seldom remembered. Those that are remembered either make sense and therefore were salvaged from the floor of the neural editing room, or form mini-narratives – evidence that the brain has been at work – that don't fit into a cohesive whole.)
      This is very revealing of the way in which biology is conducted, seeking order in chaos and unity in diversity. I don't doubt that if some highly intelligent being evolved similar capabilities for abstract thought, then some form of a pursuit of knowledge would develop. But it's too far of a leap for me to imagine how different it would be from science as we know and practice it today.
      I only wonder if this tendency to synthesize is universal, if order exists at every level of organization, both living and inanimate, or whether it exists only in our minds... that, I think, would have the most significant impact on how the 'new science' would unfold. What got me started on this thought was the picture of the Milky Way in class today. Galaxies have highly improbable assemblies. Our brains are similarly organized in highly complex ways, processing information in a way that seeks order. I wonder if the way in which I'm struck by the Milky Way indicates the way in which order recognizes order... is that the most fundamental aesthetic appeal? Are we responding to the beauty of the galaxy because we're responding to the same order that exists within us?
      (Of course these observations are subject to my own assumptions about the way our brains work. Any correction would be greatly appreciated.)

Definition of a Living Thing
Name: Melissa Te
Date: 2003-09-13 10:35:49
Link to this Comment: 6462

I thought our definition of a living thing was pretty extensive, but there's one thing i am not sure about. Isn't a characteristic of a living thing that it is made up of cells? would that be something that should be added to our list of characteristics that make up a living thing? I don't really know much about the whole "cell theory" thing, but I always thought that a living organism was made up of cells.

Name: Julia Wise
Date: 2003-09-13 15:54:31
Link to this Comment: 6464

I still think that you don't neccesarily need a variety of species to constitute life. Going on the theory of evolution, at some point when life was first starting on Earth, there were just a few little microbes or whatnot. Because the first little creepycrawly that we want to say was living made more like itself, and for a while they must have all been of the same species, until enough generations had gone by that there were seperate species. But I think that even if there was only one species at that point, I would still gasp and consider there to be "life" on Earth.

Uberlong post
Name: Brittany
Date: 2003-09-13 18:57:40
Link to this Comment: 6465

I find Maria's point very interesting: "while I feel that we are qualified perhaps to state what is "living" as we understand the concept, I would feel unqualified to state what is NOT living. Perhaps I'm just not able to see it or to comprehend the WAY in which it is living. That said, I'm not trying to suggest that rocks are alive."

My question: How do we really know they aren't? From what we've been discussing in class lately, "life" as we know it is a term completely dependent upon individual perception. It's all semantics. For example, what if---and I know this sounds a little silly, but humor me here---rocks had some sort of sentience that we weren't able to identify with our limited technology? Suppose those little chunks of malachite sitting in the glass cases in Park were studying *us*? It's less a matter of how *advanced* our technology is than in what *area.* Despite our attempts to look at "life" objectively, we're still biased in that we can only view the term from our perspective, i.e. a Sol-stranded collection of energy-dependent, semi-autonomous, bounded, etc. etc. organisms. There could be a whole other level of "life" that remains invisible to us because of our natural biases.

The same thing goes for our methods of organization. In this case, I refer solely to our questionable definition of earthly "life." Because there is no truth in science, we can't ever be sure our classification systems are accurate---even if we accept the premise that we're going about them the "less wrong" way. For example, classification by intelligence was listed on the board this Wednesday as one of our methods of organization. So what's "intelligence"? The ability to do calculus? write literature? fly a plane? build a city? Like "life," "intelligence" is all definition and perception. I know this is an old saw, but consider house cats/dogs: evolved specifically to take advantage of humans who think they're "cuddly." Benefits: free food, free shelter, free medical care, and free love. Now *that's* intelligence. (I know, I know: there are a lot of animals for whom this system doesn't work: ie. stray dogs, cats, starving former housepets living off of garbage cans and kittens in boxes. But consider: the examples of human "intelligence" with regards to lifestyle have a similar, if not worse, failure rate. War? Poverty? Hate crimes? Pollution? At least house cats don't fire-bomb one another).

If we accept the idea that there is no truth, we must also accept the idea that all of our knowledge is in some sense flawed; also that we'll never know everything there is to know about anything. That, in turn, means that we can't ever totally falsify an idea. And that, finally, means that anything we dream up could be valid.

So, in conclusion, that rock sitting over there *could* be alive---just in a very different sense than we know it.

Oh, yes, and the Meaning of Life is either forty-two or "Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations," depending on who you ask. ^_____^

For a concise, hilarious overview/tour of the human race's total insignificance, go here:

Life defined?
Name: Nancy
Date: 2003-09-14 11:32:50
Link to this Comment: 6471

I am having a hard time digesting these characteristics of life we have put forth. Perhaps this is a good thing, meaning I am challenging my previous notions as well as our new ideas, but nonetheless I am questioning. First of all, we really have not defined to what level of specificity these characteristics apply. What I mean by that is do we say that all humans match the characteristics, therefore they are alive? This became an important question to me last week, when I first read the list. It seemed that a car fit every characteristic except "reproduces with variation". Then I thought, what if we consider an infertile human. They cannot reproduce with variation, so are they just as alive as a car? Obviously not, but I am a little hesitant to throw out the notion that there is no essense of life. Beyond these qualities, which are of course fallacious to some extent (no true answers, right?), there just has to be something that screams "life" to us. Maybe this is something that humans, despite their fervent search to compartmentalize and catagorize, cannot bottle up and sell as truth. Perhaps we will never be able to understand life. Of course, this sounds very romantic and un-scientific, and i look forward to being proved wrong.

Name: Lindsay
Date: 2003-09-14 16:12:46
Link to this Comment: 6473

I'm not really one to compartmentalize things; I hated putting plant life into different categories in our lab just as I hated the arbitrary divisions of classes in high school. Science, English, Pre-calculus...I just like to let them all run together. Academia often makes science out to be so black-and-white; I'd much prefer to regard it as a huge, wonderful gray area. However, I do understand that humankind has a habit of classifying life and everything about it. I suppose if we did not classify, we could not give things names (or meaningful names anyway) and therefore could have no discourse on any given subject. While we all bring our own ideas to the table, we need to have agreement on some fundamental premises. I think science attempts to provide a system, to give us the ability to do this, so that we can make progress as a species. And I am totally comfortable with the fact that this system is flawed. Funny—this system of improving life could always use some improvement.

Name: Adina
Date: 2003-09-14 22:27:26
Link to this Comment: 6475

Just as we have no other examples of life other than that of life on Earth, we have no other examples of being something other than human. For this reason, I think that many of our classification systems have something to do with how human-like the animals (organisms?) are. We think in human terms and have human priorities. Whether we like an animal usually has to do with its human-like or un-human-like qualities. We might find human-like animals cute and un-human-like animals exotic. We might classify according to color, but we classify according to the colors that we, as humans, see.

No such thing as "life essence"???
Date: 2003-09-14 23:02:40
Link to this Comment: 6476

Similar to the others who have posted, I am having a hard time accepting the idea presented last class--namely, that (and this is a direct quote) "there is no life essence. [Instead}, living things are everything which is part of this 'big thing.'" It seems to me quite dangerous to simply discard the notion that life shares a common essence. If there is no life essence, then how are we to classify life at all? If no essence is needed to qualify something as living, then what was the point of the list made in class a few days ago that was meant to be used as a general guideline for identifying something as living? Saying that life essence is nonexistent is extremely problematic; such a statement suggests that any qualifications made to distinguish between living and non-living things are arbitrary and without support. Having seen the list presented in class a few days ago, which hardly seemed arbitrary or unsupported, tells me that there is indeed a common life essence.

Name: megan will
Date: 2003-09-15 10:16:14
Link to this Comment: 6477

since class on friday, i have actually been thinking of the question of life. teachers always tell you, think about this over the weekend, and students never do. however, this topic actually has me thinking.

as we watched the screen on friday, and the earth got farther and farther away, and we travelled into first the milky way, then began to see other galaxies, the comment was made, we are all made of star dust, and that the sun will eventually explode or burn out. in an earlier class that morning, a teacher had pointed out that we, as humans, are on the road to extinction. not only did these two classes make me,a s a human, feel tiny and miniscle, but it also questions my beliefs.

many of us are raised with certain religious values and beliefs. some of us question these beliefs, some wander from them, and some follow blindly. i guess i would categorize myself in all three.

in bio 103, we are asked to define life and the living for ourselves. its hard not to draw from earlier conceptions of evolutionary processes or religious beliefs. can a biological view, an anthropological view, and a religious view all mesh to form one theory?

life essence
Name: elisabeth
Date: 2003-09-15 10:38:13
Link to this Comment: 6478

I do not fully understand the expression "life essence" (besides knowing it does not exist). According to the Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary:

life : the condition which distinguishes active animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.

essence : the indispensable quality or element identifying a thing or determining its character; fundamental nature or inherent characteristics.

life essence as the potential capacity of fulfilling given capacities or individual traits?

does life essence exist before the actual birth of a plant or human?

Name: Nomi
Date: 2003-09-15 19:38:30
Link to this Comment: 6484

A while ago Talia posed a question about what is required of a life form for it to be considered valuable. Today, we tried to distinguish between values and biases. While both are characteristics of human beings, I think value judgements are more conscious human constructions while biases are really inevitable. The always-relative construction of "value" or "worth" is one we use constantly on ourselves, each other and our wrold. (How useless!) Still, we don't have to judge: if we divide fruits into categories of apple, banana and so forth, we are making no inherent judgement of their values. Sure, we're biased, because we're using our human senses to differentiate among the colors, textures, and shapes of the fruits. Everything we perceive or say is biased in that it consists of a human perspective. There is, of course, no universal perspective to speak of; ants see one world, birds another, humans another, and each of us is biased.

So what of eliminating scientific bias? Well, we can't do that. However, it seems the more we observe and know, the smaller our bias becomes. The worm who sees a tree-top reduces his bias in perceiving that the world consists of more than dirt. For people, I think, technology has been a great reducer of bias -bringing us one level closer to objectivity than would unaided observation alone. Still, it is troubling to me that even though we humans can stand back and gaze at the entire universe (a seeming picture of objectivity), we will still be seeing it through our eyes.
* * *
Looking back on our reconstruction of the "scientific method," it occurs to me that the everyday sequence of make observations -> summarize observations -> repeat also speaks to way in which living organisms, according to old Biology textbooks, "respond to stimuli." The textbooks assert than any living organism must respond to stimuli like cold, shock, water, food and so on. So ... look at this. Say a turtle is basking in the sun. It observes [sunshine] and summarizes its observations [good for basking]. But then it starts to rain! The turtle makes new observations [rainfall, wet] and constructs a new summary [bad for basking]. It then responds to the latest summary of observations by withdrawing into its shell. Alternatively, a white blood cell stays calm as long as it observes no intruders, but when it observes a germ, it attacks. Simlple S-R (stimulus-response) functioning. Is that so very different from the observe -> summarize cycle of science? It's much faster when it's pysiological, but aren't the steps the same? Is science really a human construction? If all babies are scientists from birth, why not all organisms? Is the process of scientific inquiry innate in all life? Certainly, white blood cells do not perform in the name of "science." So ... what's the difference?

I just thought of something: our class definition of the scientific method did not involve acting. It involved only observing and summarizing (or thinking). What we learn through science might not actually change the way we act. Consciousness intervenes between perception and reaction; in simple S-R sequences consciousness might not play a part.

In that case: does the pursuit of science have to be conscious? Because that's the major difference between human inquiry and the reactions of a cell. And, if conscious, must we know we're doing science in order for it to count? Probably not. Babies don't know it.

What is living?
Name: Ramatu Kal
Date: 2003-09-15 20:54:04
Link to this Comment: 6485

I have been pondering upon the discussions we have had in class about life and whether we can tell if something is living or not living. Before the discussion I thought it was obviously easy to tell whether something is living or not. However, the discussion led me to question the meaning of life. And are there any other means of knowing someone is alive besides seeing if their hearts are beating? How do we justify life and its existence?

If you have a question, go and ask a tree
Name: Anna Banan
Date: 2003-09-15 23:12:35
Link to this Comment: 6487

This addresses spirituality, the "essence of life", and acting...

From a Theater Major's standpoint: I think a little differently about the world around me, and am quite pleased that this homepage features quotes by theater heavies Stoppard and Brecht, both of whom occupy an existentialist / Heiddegarian outlook on life. Brecht had an idea of social theater (not unlike Grobstein's social based learning for this class) where the theater is not merely a source of entertainment, but for education, mostly political. The main idea was alienation from the characters so as not to sympathize or be moved by their plight, but to THINK and QUESTION as the familiar suddenly becomes strange. Through keeping an emotional distance from the events onstage, the audience was allowed to "break the illusion of the theatre." He created EPIC theater, which is essentially, thought over emotion: a new kind of spectatorship.
In response to Nomi's question, science is everywhere, it's a part of humanity--life. In Brecht theory, people who allow themselves to be caught up in the emotion of a situation lose the reality of it. The pursuit of life, however, is a conscious thing (except if you're Hamlet), but at moments, it may seem like a character is just simply- existing, and this is okay too, it's something everyone should feel sometime or another. I would say that a comified person can certainly feel the energy from a loved one in the room, even if at that moment he or she is "unconscious."
Daniel Quinn, author of Ishmael, a book about our society as being made up of "Takers" and "Leavers" --With man gone will there be hope for Gorilla? --In response to the spirituality question, he brings up tribal communities. If you were to ask an aboriginal person if he/she considered themselves spiritual, they would be very confused. Plus, any definition of the word spiritual is "probably going to include people you don't want to include." He suggests you feel no more need to express your spirituality as you do your longetivity, or humanity. It's an animist theory. People who view the world as a sacred place and really feel no need for precise theological answers. In many ways, they believe in the interconnectedness of life, the spirits of a place/s. However, the terms 'universal consciousness' and 'soul of the universe' would make an animist conclusion, during the Renaissance, when experience and exploration and observation (3 main acting theories) became a chief new means of gaining knowledge, their theories and answers were "out of the box" and decidely required building on a previous framework of ideas, but experience, observation, and exploration will always be a surer guide to knowledge than authority and reason alone.
A New Way Of Looking At Lab Assignments: Imagine your doing Brecht theory. The next time you go outside Park Science to look at trees and shrubs, which seems like a pretty familiar thing, alienate yourself from the experience. Take on a new kind of spectatorship. Let the familiar become strange and uncannily, an un-at-home-like experience. Your critical attachment will amazingly, provoke you to action.

science, religion and anthro
Name: katie otta
Date: 2003-09-16 16:34:10
Link to this Comment: 6499

Sort of in response to Megan's earlier comments about science, religion and seems to me that the 3 fields are all based on the same basic search for understanding of origins and life (whatever "life" is). Religion, I think, is often considered the least "true" of the three because of its frequent failure to take into account new observations and to continue, despite the observations being made by other fields, to work with the same theory. Anthropology, both physical and cultural, tends to be more willing to take into account these observations; indeed, most people agree that it is a science of sorts. I'm sort of babbling here, but I think that most people probably do combine all 3, and that they have links to one another on a very basic level since they all seek the same thing.

What I learned from class
Name: Flicka
Date: 2003-09-16 17:48:56
Link to this Comment: 6501

I've been thinking a lot over the past week about how I define life and how I categorize organisms. I think the hardest part about this process is that in order to define science, we must define life. And in order to define life, we must define living things. And because our observations are always changing, our beliefs and our definitions are always changing. Therefore it is hard for us to pinpoint the "correct" definition of science and of life because there is none. I thought that this meant that we would never learn anything about what we were trying to define. However, as Professor Grobstein pointed out, the object is not to use what observations we have to find a "right" definition, but to use them to formulate a theory that is "less wrong". We always have to be open to the idea that our theories will be proved wrong, and that over time, as technology changes, our defintions and our beliefs will change as well.

On order...
Name: Manuela
Date: 2003-09-17 00:22:10
Link to this Comment: 6503

Our lab today dealt with categories, how we have found relationships between things in the world around us. This brought us to order in the universe... and whether it existed or rather was a reassuring convention we made up to understand things the only way we knew how. I think that I believe in order, just as long as the universe is endless and eternal. In that case, any number of patterns, relationships and combinations (limited) would necessarily repeat itself at least once in an infinite, limitless, period of time, creating a kind of sequence. So the only condition for order would be time, although I doubt we will be the witnesses of any visible repetition.

evolution vs. creation
Name: Enor Wagne
Date: 2003-09-17 01:55:06
Link to this Comment: 6504

Megan brought up an interesting point in the forum as to where exactly religious beleifs fit into science and life; a question that has plagued people for centuries and been tirelessly debated. For if (most) religious assertations hold truth, then the theory of evolution is faulty. But for devout beleivers in evolution, religous explanations as to the origin of man must seem like mumbo jumbo.

On the first day of class we were asked if conclusions are ever correct (in an end all be all sense) to which we decided 'no' they are never final. It was determined that science is never conclusive because otherwise there would be nothing left to explore and we would still live on a flat earth with no gravity.

Ironically, now that I have come to understand that there is no definite conclusions when it comes to science - this non-conclusiveness brings a possible answer to the age old question of where faith and religion meets science. While evolution is a theory, it is just that. As is religion. While each may have evidentiary support, neither are right or wrong. They each hold a place in our lives - whether or not we feel convinced by their defenses.

Religion and life essence
Name: Julia Wise
Date: 2003-09-17 20:20:39
Link to this Comment: 6521

Religion seems to be coming up in the forum a lot these days, though I don't think anybody's mentioned it in class lately. That's what I keep thinking of when people speak of a "life essence" - something beyond the physical that differentiates what's alive from what's not. Sort of like a soul, isn't it? I don't think most religions consider bacteria to have souls, but maybe some do. Madeline L'Engle included a farandola in a human cell as a sentient character with a soul in A Wind in the Door. I think the existance of any such soul or essence is impossible to prove scientifically - you can either believe it or not, which I guess is the definition of religion.

Evolution vs. Creation
Name: Melissa Te
Date: 2003-09-18 14:03:08
Link to this Comment: 6529

Enor brought up something I'd like to respond to. In speaking about religion, she said, "If (most) religious assertations hold truth, then the theory of evolution is faulty." Keep in mind that what I am about to say is coming from a Jewish point of view.

In the story of creation in Genesis (the first book of the Jewish Bible), G-d is described to have created the universe in six days. However, we cannot say that a "day" as G-d means it, is a "day" as we mean it, meaning 24 hours. After all, the word "day" is stated before the creation of the sun. The time period between day one to day two, or day two to day three, and so forth, could have lasted long enough for something, say evolution, to occur.

Other ways of looking at it are as follows: When G-d created the birds on day five, we may interpret that as "birds" being the dinosaurs, which are most similar to birds than anything else within the last however many hundreds of years. Also, the creation of the sun on day four may have been that it was just a matter of the sky clearing and sun being visible that day on earth.

These are just a few examples of how one can compare science and the story of creation for them to be in agreement. However, these opinions are just an "understanding" of what G-d did. A few hundred years ago, these "understanding" were much different than they are today, and a few hundred years from now I'm sure they will be even more different. As science advances, our understanding of evolution and creation will change.

Life, a human concept ?
Name: Charlotte
Date: 2003-09-18 22:52:54
Link to this Comment: 6531

I believe that it is hard to determine what is alive and what is not when we humans are the ones who created the notion of "life." Life is just a word that makes sense in a human's world to the extent of what we can see (even with the use of technology). Dogs are clearly alive to us because we see them at birth and at death, which is similar to our life pattern. But we are just specks in the univerise after all. So is this notion of "life" just limited to Earth? Well we know that would be a very egocentric thing to believe considering how vast the universe is and how unknown it is to us. Is life more than what we can see even with the use of technology? Is it possible that human beings might not have the capacity to comprehend existence? After all, we are the ones who label everything and try to determine what is and what's not. Maybe we are victims of our limited ability to comprehend.

labs and bias
Name: abby fritz
Date: 2003-09-19 09:56:41
Link to this Comment: 6536

I found the labs these past two weeks to be very challenging. I understand that in order to categorize things that are on "another planet," we would have to separate ourselves as much as possible from the things we think we know to be true, the things we know to be living, and the names that we assign to these living things. One thing that was very difficult for me to get past, however, was the fact that we really just were not on another planet. We were on our own and we were looking at things that we see every day and assign names to every day, using vocabulary that we use every day. Therefore to follow Anna's advice to: "alienate yourself from the experience;take on a new kind of spectatorship; let the familiar become strange and uncannily, an un-at-home-like experience," presents itself to me to be nearly impossible. Surely I agree that it would be ideal, but how likely?
We have talked about our ability, or lack of ability, to separate ourselves from our bias. The only way that that seems possible to me is if we examine whatever it is that we are trying to categorize on a level that deals more with internal structures and makeup. I feel that we could fairly objectively categorize based on humans' DNA or the internal composition of plants, for example. It seems to me that any way we attempt to categorize strictly based on what we see with our eyes and no other tools, we are setting ourseleves up to be sucked back into the world of our bias.

Im alive, now what?
Name: nancy
Date: 2003-09-19 14:49:15
Link to this Comment: 6538

As I begin "poking around" for a web paper topic, I am realizing more and more that the notion of 'life' is something that I, and many others (including many scientists) take as an point of finality. For example, earlier this week I was reading about Mars in Time magazine and the article quoted a scientist as saying that we will "absolutely find new discoveries" on Mars when the next explorer lands. This may even include life, the article noted, as the rover will cover area that looks to have once been covered in water. What the article failed to mention, and what we have not yet discussed in all our fervent efforts to define what is and is not life is what is the point of knowing what is alive and what isn't? Would anything in the world change if we did not say that an ant was living and a mountain was not. And why doesn't anyone talk about the impacts of finding life on other planets? Sure it would be pretty cool to know we were not alone in the universe, but why are we so anxious to find other life? It is because we want to further our understanding of ourselves or just because some scientist wants the glory of having found other life?

Eukaryotic vs. Prokaryotic Cells
Name: Flicka Mic
Date: 2003-09-19 17:19:26
Link to this Comment: 6539

I was really interested in our discussion today about eukaryotic vs. prokaryotic cells. The fact that you must have had a prokaryotic cell to get a eukaryotic cell, but that you could not start with one prokaryotic cell in the beggining makes me wonder about the long, unanswered question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The chicken can't have been made with out an egg, but you can't have just had an egg to begin with. It makes me wonder about the implications of this knowledge to the creation of the earth and to its first organisms.

Life, Nonlife, and Consciousness
Name: Nomi Kaim
Date: 2003-09-20 22:59:22
Link to this Comment: 6549

When Nancy asked,

"...what is the point of knowing what is alive and what isn't? Would anything in the world change if we did not say that an ant was living and a mountain was not?"

my immediate reaction was, of course it matters: we treat "living" things differently from the way we treat "nonliving" things. That is, we treat living things differently because we consider them to be sentient, or conscious.

Well -- not necessarily. There is considerable controversy as to whether or not mosquitoes are conscious, and few would claim that bacteria exhibit "consciousness" as we define it. So, it appears that we treat some living things differently from nonlife -- with more emotion? perhaps with greater respect? -- but only those things we consider to be conscious. For us humans, perhaps, the value of life lies in consciousness (maybe this is what we call the "life essence"?).

Do we then consider all nonlife to be non-conscious and, therefore, somehow less "important" than living things? Not necessarily! Religious people dating back to antiquity have worshipped non-living rocks and mountains, have bowed before idols made of non-living materials, have prayed to gods who lacked even any bodily form. These people do not call their gods living, for living would mean mortal, mortal means death-is-imminent, and this would mean the gods could not exist forever. Gods have to exist forever! But ask any religious person if her god or gods are conscious, are sentient beings, and you'll get an automatic Yes. We wouldn't pray to non-conscious things!

So, it seems to me that "livingness" and "consciousness," as perceived by human beings, are two separate qualities that only sometimes overlap (as in the case of people). This renders the definition of life, the distinction between life and non-life, all the more arbitrary. Also, if "life essence" equals "consciousness," then it might or might not have anything to do with actually being alive!

Life after death
Name: Ramatu Kal
Date: 2003-09-21 00:37:47
Link to this Comment: 6550

Last year in my C-Sem "Meanings of Death" someone posed the question of there being life after death.I Before the discussion I compltely disagreed with there being some form of life after death. However, I began to think maybe I am being pesamistic. Maybe some of us turn into some earthly form after we die. So, my question to everyone else is: Do you think there is truly life after death?

Phrasing driving me crazy
Name: Lindsay Up
Date: 2003-09-21 14:18:55
Link to this Comment: 6551

This problem of determining what is alive/ what is not alive is really bugging me--and maybe it's just the English Nerd in me coming out but isn't "alive" just a word someone came up with to describe what most people generally think of when they hear it? I think the question of "life after death" is interesting but that once again this is a strange choice of words. If we think of life and death as opposites, then of course there can't be life after death, at least not the life we have here as we have been trying to define it in class. There might be something different than we expect once we die...but please let's not call it "life"--that word already has too many definitions attached to it.

Bio 103
Name: Laura Wolf
Date: 2003-09-21 14:26:08
Link to this Comment: 6552

I really like what Nancy had to say about life on other plantes. What is the "point" of looking for life if we can't say for sure what life is? Why does the evidence of water make scientists so much more hopeful about finding life on that planet? Really, who knows what other beings need in terms of energy - maybe it's not water, maybe water is what killed the living things on that planet. There are so many possibilities, and yet it seems that people have their minds closed to only the possibilities which work on earth. The only reason we don't need to look for sunlight anymore is because we found creatures under the water on earth who survive with no sunlight. Why did we need that evidence to open our minds to the possibility of life with no sunlight? Even though it's hard to let go of biases, we can still try to look past them a little by using imagination.

life on other planets
Name: Adina
Date: 2003-09-21 23:24:31
Link to this Comment: 6560

I've been thinking along the same lines as Laura. This is still dependent on the definition of life, but what if we already know of life forms that exist on other planets and we just don't know that they are other life forms because they are nothing like the life forms found on earth? Just how improbable do improbable assemblies have to be? Maybe we aren't simply looking for "life" on other planets, but we are looking for "life like us" (which includes plants, animals, and single-celled organisms).

Life after death
Name: michelle c
Date: 2003-09-22 10:10:44
Link to this Comment: 6565

If there is something after dying on Earth and as Lindsay pleaded it shouldn't be called "life," then what should it be called? I believe there is a heaven and a hell and one is *conscious* is both. I believe there is a realm that the human eye nor science can detect and I believe there is life there. I may be "alive" here but my "life" here is as miniscule as a speck of star dust in the galaxy compared to the eternal Life after death.

Life After Death
Name: La Toiya L
Date: 2003-09-22 19:22:41
Link to this Comment: 6574

In response to Ramatu's question "Do you believe in life after death" I'd personally answer Yes. And that's based on a spiritual perspective. Most people when they hear the expression "life after death" they think of a person who has died existing in some form in another place, most often being heaven. I'd also like to state that I think each persons answer to this question will vary based on what perspective they're looking at it from whether it's spiritual, biological, or religious. Also, before answering the question you'd have to be sure you knew what you meant by "life" For example; I could say my soul is what gives me that "essence" of life. If I die my soul still exists so hence am I still alive? Or should I characterize alive with my soul in conjunction with my physical earthly existance. In conclusion, we have to clarify what we consider what being "alive" means us individually before we answer a question such as the above mentioned. Just becasue I no longer exists in the same form I once did, and just because I can no longer be seen by people should I consider myself dead HEY! so if I truely believe that my soul is what gives me life and if my soul still exists just in a different world not seen by humans, .....then do I ever really die? Using the word "DEAD" we imply that its is OVER! But not for me! Now that question seems far to restrictive for my feelings and perception about "life" and "death" for me to answer without butchering it. (Toiya)

Definitions, categories and order
Name: Su-Lyn
Date: 2003-09-22 20:22:22
Link to this Comment: 6575

In terms of arriving at definitions, I've picked up on a very interesting approach from the past few labs & classes that emphasizes participation in a process rather than the finished product that we look at. Brittany first brought this up last Tuesday in lab in our discussions of order in the natural world. She said (and I hope I've gotten this right) that an ordered entity is defined by the process by which it was assembled, and not the thing in and of itself.

I found this a fascinating idea. Although an organism goes through a series of mutations (random changes) in the history of its species, it arrives at its current state by a logic of natural selection. And as we discussed in class today, our attempts to categorize show that there are forms that are possible and yet do not exist. This is proof that organisms are not randomly and haphazardly thrown together. We could not tell this by looking at the organism at one moment in time because of the dynamic nature of the organism, and therefore the dynamic nature of the act of defining order.

These processes are not random, and if we are to align our definitions and categories accordingly, wouldn't we therefore reduce the degree of arbitrariness that our classification schemes are subject to? If something is created through a process, a product comes out at the other end of the line, but almost without doubt in a variant form... and isn't variation where our categories begin to break down? Would it be beneficial to develop instead a definition by participation in a set of characteristic processes? Perhaps represented in part by Prof. Grobstein's "set of correlated characteristics"... This approach might be helpful in resolving some of our artificially-constructed polarities. Imagine applying this to the 'definition' of gender!

Prof. Grobstein has since applied this approach to defining life, and I remember trying a similar approach on defining science, drawing from Nomi's very insightful point on the necessity (or not) of consciousness in the process of scientific inquiry. That will probably have to wait for another post, haven't worked all that out in my head yet.

Name: Patty
Date: 2003-09-22 20:55:45
Link to this Comment: 6576

I really enjoyed the "clumping" that we discussed in class today. I have been think about what we can do in order to arrive at some explanation for our "clumped" diversity, and I can not arrive at any. It seems as if it would be just as logical if all creatures were increadibly varied. Maybe the clumped variations, in some creatures, has something to do with reproduction, or maybe even the need for community. Although, this does not apply to all living things, and all living things can be placed into appropriate catergories. I believe that clumped diversity is also closely correlated with evolution and Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection. If there was varience of all creatures, those that were less adapt to survive in their particular surroundings would die off, and those that were able to live successfully would continue to reproduce with those closer to its kind. Diffrent living conditions, all over the plant, may help account for the way in which living things are compartmental according to their surroundings, (land or sea, climate, atmosphere, etc.)

Name: Maria
Date: 2003-09-22 22:34:44
Link to this Comment: 6577

It seems that as we continue our discussions about what makes something alive that we are coming closer and closer to the conclusion that being 'alive' isn't about an essence that you put in or take out, but rather the sum of smaller bits and pieces that are not by themselves alive, but when put together in a sufficiently complex manner result in something that is. I think people often don't like this conclusion because it seems to take away some of the mystery and awe that has surronded the concept of 'life' and life 'essence' and made it this almost sacred thing. Yet, if you think about all the interactions and complex activities that the ''smaller parts'' of us must undergo in order to result in making us 'alive', it's really just as impressive and just as fascinating as any idea of a 'life essence'. Or at least I think so.

something i was dying to say in class...
Name: J'London H
Date: 2003-09-23 01:37:23
Link to this Comment: 6579

After hearing dicussion in class i have come to realize that maybe our academic endeavors, whether they be science, philosophy or religion are fostered by humanity to serve ourselves. I have come to regard science as something that caters to the logician in each of us, we turn to science for order, for sensibility, for coherent, well reasoned answers to our questions and concerns. While I beleive religion feeds us emotionally, helping us to cope with life, death and the chaos in between. Religion allows us to beleive in the things that science would never permit, like the "God" or "Gods" that we can not see or touch and the ability to beleive that we are MORE than a random assembly of cells. Religion permits us the liberty to believe in the souls and essences and other things so sacred and mysterious they can not be uttered, AND THAT IS SUFFICIENT! As budding academics we are searching for sanity, whether we peer through the microscopes or pour over scriptures.

the story of clumpiness
Name: Adina
Date: 2003-09-23 11:32:29
Link to this Comment: 6582

A lot of what we talk about in class reminds me of the CSem that I took last year. (Maybe that has something to do whith the fact that the professor was none other than Professor Grobstein). The CSem was "Questions, Revision, Intuitions: The Telling and Retelling of Stories". We spent the semester discussing that there was a story behind EVERYTHING.

I think that there is a very valid story behind the clumpiness of life, and that has a lot to do with evolution and reproduction with variation. Because different organisms can evolve from a single organism (or as I learned to phrase it in highschool, they can have a "common ancestor"), the story behind the organism stays the same until these two organisms are "born". For example, I have the same story as my sister, up through the parts about my parents, but when it gets to the part where each of us are born, the stories diverge. It's kind of like those books for grade school kids where you chose what happens next, and that determines the next thing that happens, and so forth. If you chose one option very early on in the book, things will end up a lot different to if you chose another option. There's nowhere that the two stories once again combine. You're on a very different course.

So cats will never be like dogs because they have completely different stories. It's possible that they could evolve some of the same features, but their histories are so different that this would almost definitely be very minimal. The dividing lines will still be there.

Name: Flicka
Date: 2003-09-23 15:34:11
Link to this Comment: 6597

I think a very interesting part of our discussion on Monday was one about consciousness. Are plants and animals conscious? Are we conscious? How do we know? I believe that human consciousness has to do with our understanding that we are conscious and being able to think about it. Plants know that they must have food, water, etc. to survive and so they naturally search for those things. But plants, unlike humans, don't have feelings. They don't have the ability to be sad when someone scolds them or happy when someone praises them, and this differentiates them from us. Plants also are not able to communicate with other plants, and that I believe, is an important attribute of conscious organisms. Animals, on the other hand, do communicate to other animals of their kind and I belive the do have the ability to sense the feelings of other animals. Although we can not always understand animals when they speak, that does not mean that they don't communicate. So, in conclusion, I believe that "consciousness" is the ability to communicate with other organisms and the ability to feel something outside of a natural instinct to survive. I don't know whether this is correct, but I'm interested in what other people have to say on the sunject.

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2003-09-24 01:56:30
Link to this Comment: 6604

If there are no "truths" in science, no sets of definitive answers, then how will there ever be a final and complete definition of what is living? On Monday's class someone made the comment that there is no right or wrong in science. Everyday, variables are changing that will change previous summaries of observations, which may effect the conclusions that were previously established about what makes an organism living. -Elizabeth B.

Life and consciousness... equivalents?
Name: Su-Lyn
Date: 2003-09-24 18:21:18
Link to this Comment: 6619

Flicka, your point on consciousness raises so many interesting questions! I'm personally having a lot of difficulty understanding the concept of consciousness. I honestly can't imagine what life would be like without it, and while I do believe that animals are conscious, I can't imagine plants in the same way. But that's almost definitely bound to the idea of animals being able to express their consciousness in visible ways in response to stimuli (e.g. movement).

However, I'm not sure communication should be a marker of consciousness. One of the most horrific examples is the anaesthetized patient who is fully 'awake' during the operation but cannot move any part of his/her body in order to communicate this. As a result, she is fully 'conscious' of everything that is happening to her and feels every emotion (most noticeably, pain, what I always thought of as the hallmark of a conscious being). I don't know how much of this is regarded as fact or fiction, but certainly in other instances, such as dreams, consciousness (which I tend to imagine as the presence of a thought process) exists independent of the means to express or communicate it. It may even turn out that plants have been expressing their consciousness all along, and we haven't yet developed the means to detect it.

At the same time, I've heard that we have all, at some point in our lives, operated for a period of time 'unconsciously'. Take, for instance, the ten minutes of a drive along a familiar route that passes by without you remembering it. Everybody knows very well the feeling of 'snapping out' of a daydream. Even though your mind may have wandered, your brain is still fully functioning and picks up on stimuli even though you are not aware of it doing so.

To offer better 'scientific evidence', I came across one case study on Nat Geo of a man who had been involved in an accident that, according to him, left him blind on one side. That is, he said that he could see nothing through his right eye. But an experiment showed that even with his 'seeing eye' covered, when he was asked to guess at the pattern that was shone on a wall, he was able to correctly describe the pattern (e.g. star, circle). This might be evidence that your brain is wired in such a way that the response to stimuli is a separate process from the awareness of this response.

Which leads back, of course, to the idea that it is possible for other organisms to be alive but unconscious (as we humans sometimes are), but does not forego the possibility that they may also be conscious, and finally, to the question again of what consciousness is.

Name: su-lyn
Date: 2003-09-24 19:45:44
Link to this Comment: 6620

Another obvious example of unconscious life that just occurred to me: a comatose person. Alive, but probably not conscious. Again, the question of how consciousness arises if not as an equivalent occurrence to life...

Name: Nomi
Date: 2003-09-24 23:02:41
Link to this Comment: 6623

I've always thought of consciousness as the realization or knowledge that one exists, is ALIVE. And maybe, also, an understanding of where one stands in space, an ability to perceive other things outside of oneself. (How would I define this? I don't know!) I'm also interested in whether or not consciousness must include a knowledge of one's own mortality. Many people attribute this (latter) characteristics to human beings only, claiming this is what sets us apart from other species and causes us discontent. But aren't animals conscious? I thought so. Do they know they are going to die? I thought not ... ??

I'll have to think more about this ... .

Name: su-lyn
Date: 2003-09-25 00:51:30
Link to this Comment: 6627

Hmm, interesting point on the death issue...

I've heard some behaviorists say that elephants might be aware of their mortality because of the way they mourn their dead. I'm not certain how we'd understand this or any other expression as a sign of the animal's understanding of mortality though. But the idea of an "elephant graveyard" (not sure again how much is truth or tall tale) is a poignant reflection of the way in which we humans have ritualized such rites of passage.

Hmm... What's the link between culture (rituals and more) and consciousness? Does one grow from the other? Common sense tells me that culture arises (or rather accumulates) from the conscious efforts of human beings. Any thoughts on this?

On culture...
Name: Manuela
Date: 2003-09-26 01:03:05
Link to this Comment: 6634

On Su-Lyn comments about culture and consciousness... and on the one being product of the other... I think that memory, individual as well as collective, plays a major role in the establishment, development and preservation of a culture. If cultural rites arise from the specific needs of a society (i.e. biological/environmental), or the need to explain or give meaning to what surrounds them, what may differentiate us from animals (who have needs and respond to them as well), is historical memory, which is intricately connected to consciousness: of past, self and relationship to others. We talked about biological memory in class, how living things carry a "record of the past" through genes. Well, humans also carry a record of cultural history that is particular to their families, social groups, and then that which is common to "humankind". Fairytales and myths have similar elements everywhere, which shows some sort of collective memory...
I also think that consciousness is heavily tied to language, as is history, and then the connection between language and culture... AAAAH, this is getting to complicated :). See you all soon!

Memory & Culture
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2003-09-26 08:17:31
Link to this Comment: 6635

Individual and collective memory -- that's a great thought! Do animals share a collective memory? Can there be one if they lack the means to communicate something that is in the past? I think this is where Flicka's point about communication really emerges (see earlier post), although we see that it may be more closely tied to culture rather than consciousness, which I see as existing at different levels. And obviously your point above about language too. Can "memory" exist if there isn't the means to express it e.g. past tense :)? Do animals really have a sense of the past?

I imagine that animals do have individual historical memories, even if not collective. They must learn from their experiences if they are to survive. In a way, memory is an adaptation, because animals can in the future respond in a different way to an event, which may allow them to survive & reproduce better. Natural selection, yada yada.

But this begs the question, do plants have memory? Would it be of any use to them? Again, I'm thinking about the way in which plants aren't mobile like animals are, and so limited in their ability to respond (within the lifespan of an individual organism rather than on the level of evolutionary time). I understand that an individual cannot choose to change its genetic make-up, so while natural selection will change the population over time, the individual plant can't really respond to changed situations, so remembering such situations and "learning" what to do is probably quite useless. What adaptive use is memory to a plant?

And on culture, I've heard that some animals do "have" them... don't know what their definition would be though. Just trying to imagine how our cave-dwelling ancestors might have begun. A smear of red paint on the wall to signify that Ug is hungry and wants to go hunting. The hunt is successful and the smear on the wall comes to signify more: hunger and providence. Eventually, the animals in the cave drawings make the transition to other media like wood in the form of totems, maintaining the meanings that have become attached to them. So if culture is a process and can be 'grown', what does it say for what animals might (eventually? by chance?) manage? And yes, culture has adaptive value too.

it's ok to be wrong
Name: michelle c
Date: 2003-09-26 10:28:10
Link to this Comment: 6636

After our lab I began to questioned what makes us so hesitant to admit that we are wrong. I also questioned what it is that makes us try so hard to get it right the first time (ie. correct hypothesis). Are these actions nature or nurture? The school Western systems don't reprimanded wrong answers and false hypotheses... Are we just born with the hidden obsession to be right? In addition, although we may learn that it's ok to be wrong in this class it's actually unapplicable to real-life on-the-job scenarios. In the corporate world, the pay you to be right - the first time. What I like about what we learn and discuss in this classroom is that no one is teling us what is right and wrong, what is truth and what isn't; regardless of what the rest of the Earth's inhabitants may say...

welcome to Bio 103, the center of the universe
Name: nancy
Date: 2003-09-26 13:21:22
Link to this Comment: 6638

I think, today in our discussion of the universe, that we exemplified the true nature of scientific reason. We have learned, in this course, that we are never to take anything as truth, whether it be assumptions about human nature, plant categorizations, or... data about the universe. Of course we are not well-equipped to take as truth "data" about the nature of our galaxy. If we aren't to suppose anything about things we can see, feel, test, and are familiar with, I am not surprised at the number of questions sparked by the data/truth conversation.

On another note, this web paper is proving to be more difficult then it sounds in theory. "Pinning down a topic" is in fact the difficult part. One thing leads to another and to another and to another exempt from any answers or clear-cut straight forwardness!

Center of the Universe
Name: Flicka
Date: 2003-09-26 16:57:35
Link to this Comment: 6640

I was really interested in our discussion today about the center of the universe. I was confused about how everything in space is always moving away from each other (at a speed relative to its initial velocity), until i heard that the explosion which brought about galaxies and planets was an explosion of space. However, if some galaxies are moving away from others, wouldn't they also be moving towards different galaxies? And, if every and any point in the universe is the center of it, then where is the point from which space exploded? Does it exist? It's possible, since i didn't even know space was able to explode in the first place.

Space is kind of a vague word, like time. What do we mean by space? I think of space as having no beginning and no end, but if an explosion of space occurred at one point in time, doesn't that mean that at one point there actually was a beginning and end to space? And the same thing can also be said about time too...When did time begin? We know approximately when time began for the Earth and for humans, but did it exist before that? How would we know? I must stop now, my head is spinning......

Name: Elisabeth
Date: 2003-09-26 20:36:11
Link to this Comment: 6644

Our talk today about the origin of the universe and the movement of the galaxies has left me feeling uncomfortable and almost sad. I think that movement and change are great, but I did not like the data saying that we are all moving away from each other. I think it is super that all points of the universe no matter how small can be at the center. But the space between all the galaxies and stars is so big, it makes me anxious. So much distance and emptiness.

Big bang
Name: Julia Wise
Date: 2003-09-27 21:57:08
Link to this Comment: 6649

Our talk Friday about the Big Bang (or Humungous Space Kablooey, as Calvin & Hobbes used to put it) had my head spinning more than it has in a long time. If I picture it all like a bomb exploding, or maybe one of those scenes of asteroids blowing up in Star Wars, I can visualize the different pieces and how they could all be moving away from each other even though they exploded from the same point.

What has me utterly confused, though, is how every point in the universe can simultaneously be the starting point of the explosion. Our galaxy is moving in a straight line, right? Because it was thrown out by the explosion? So ignoring other bits getting farther from us, if we're moving away from wherever the explosion first took place, how can our galaxy possibly have been the explosion point? Say there's a piece of shrapnel thrown off by a bomb, and it's moving away from the point of explosion. Even if you can't see where that explosion point is, you know it's not on the moving piece of shrapnel, because the shrapnel is going away from the point. So if our galaxy is being flung away from the point, doesn't that mean the point is someplace else?

a lot of things i think i know about the universe
Name: Brittany
Date: 2003-09-28 18:17:17
Link to this Comment: 6651

The discussion on Friday about the nature of the universe was my favorite of our discussions this year. It clarified a lot of the things I thought I knew about the big bang theory. For example, I had always conceptualized the big bang as an explosion of *matter* alone---not space. Picturing *space itself* exploding outwards cleared up a lot of the questions I'd always had about the "every point is origin point" theory.

Thinking more about it, though, something odd occurred to me. The "pushing outward" motion that possessed the universe after the big bang is, like life itself, limited to a certain scale. Let me explain... For galaxies, solar systems, planets, and suns to have formed at all, particles of matter *must* have reversed direction and moved *toward* one another. Our solar system isn't winging apart in an outward direction; as we speak, the planets are orbiting around the sun---sometimes moving (relatively) towards it, sometimes moving away from it. This leads me to hypothesize that the force behind these motions, gravity itself, actually has a size limit. If the universe is accelerating, gravity obviously doesn't affect the various galaxies that are "pushing outward" from one another at increasingly faster velocities. However, gravity does affect smaller masses: so much so that it pulls galaxies together in the first place, and pulls together solar systems within those galaxies.

But then again, pictures from the Hubble seem to refute this theory. National Geographic had a special on galaxies once, and among the photos included was a spectacular layout of two galaxies *colliding*. Because all things in the universe are moving *away* from one another, they couldn't have simply "run into" one another by accident. So it was probably gravity.

It's a little infuriating. At what point does gravity stop being the driving force in the universe and another, stronger, and as-yet-unexplained force take over?

I read a webcomic once that pictured the universe as wrapping in on itself. The universe depicted was infinite, but only so in the sense that if you keep going in one direction you'll end up back where you started. What sort of force might cause that to happen? As the edge of the universe expands, does it "suck" all physical matter after it and somehow spit it out at the other end? The idea that space itself is expanding suggests that the universe isn't even infinite to begin with. A universe that never allowed its occupants to leave yet at the same time *was* limited enough to accommodate "expansion" *could* be explained by a wraparound universe... but then again, it was a webcomic.

My brain is hurting. I think I'm going to bed.

Stuff of the Universe
Name: Shafiqah B
Date: 2003-09-28 20:25:19
Link to this Comment: 6652

Being fully conscious aides in the understanding of biology, i have learned. for instance upon closer inspection a lot of it does not make sense... I am in agreeance with at least some of the "stories" about the universe that exist today, but i also believe in God, and what interests me about science and even philosophy is the brain busting effort people put into disproving the existance of God. not to offend anyone, but just to contribute the overall forum, i have yet to hear a theory that didn't go back to one. The big bang theory and all that is derived from it goes back to a single force, because i don't believe this complex and difficult to assemble place came about randomly. whether from Anaxagoras and his theory of the spontanity of mind creating the world, or from some bang theory.
I would think science would make people awe whoever constructed such a well oiled world, galaxy, universe, space and all
but, that's why i'm an english major i guess....

Human Intelligence
Name: Ramatu
Date: 2003-09-28 22:35:10
Link to this Comment: 6657

For a long time know, I have been pondering over the subject of Human Intelligence. I still am contemplating on whetherintelligence can be hereditary or nurtured by ones the environment. I think that human intelligence can be both biological and affected by the nature at the same time. However, I am not sure what to conclude on this topic. I am interested in knowing what other people think about this topic.

Name: Anna banan
Date: 2003-09-28 23:46:11
Link to this Comment: 6661

Along the same lines of "What life mean?" I would venture to ask "What is it that makes us human? How do we think? What is it about human consciousness that is so radically different from A.I? And why can't we create an artificial mind?"

The problem with A.I. machines is that they cannot simulate common sense. Although wonderfully capable of mathematical logic, there is little room, it seems, in Biology, for representing the world with a handful of equations.
The "Bottom Up" school is a biology based approach to A.I., where machines learn from scratch, the way biological organisms like babies do. The model is based on structures in Biology and physics: DNA, evolution, neurons + neural networks, etc. This approach suggests that the goal is to build a machine that can LEARN-- forget logic and pre-programming.
On the other hand, with Quantum Physics unlocking the keys to the brain, quantum physicist John Hopfield suggests it may just be possible for intelligence to rise from the quantum theory of mindless atoms, therefor an A.I system wouldn't have any sort of programs installed in it, but a complicated organization of spinning atoms....
What's interesting about A.I is the subject of consciousness, because we are not that far away from the day when robots will "feel" an array of emotions. Although there are a million different definitions of consciousness, I think it begs to ask the question, "Are you AWARE of what you are?" The lowest level is the ability of an organism to monitor its body and its environment (like a thermostat); Plants are aware of shifts in nature and react in sophisticated ways; machines with vision are similarly programmed to recognize patterns in their environment; animals (even when sleeping) are constantly scanning for patterns of danger, etc. in nature.
Survival and reproduction are a middle level of consiousness, and the ability to set goals is the highest level of consciousness. Robots that are "self-aware" would set their own goals. Could robots potentially take over the world?
The element of fear detected in this statement is because once machines acquire an intelligence superior to our own, will the 4 billion year old evolutionary process of children superseding parents, threaten us like Hal in "2001?"
In conclusion, there's a book called "Mind Children" by Hans Moravec which explores the possibility of human eternity through the transfer of counsciousness from human bodies to robots, piece by piece via duplication of neural clumps to electronic neurons. In the end, the indestructible robot body of steel houses all the memories and thought patterns of the human, living eternally... Scary huh? If anyone's interested in more of these "visions" read Michio Kaku's book of the same name.

I wonder........
Name: La Toiya L
Date: 2003-09-30 23:54:18
Link to this Comment: 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....

constant movement - lab
Name: Talia Libe
Date: 2003-10-01 19:00:46
Link to this Comment: 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.

Maelstrom of Motion
Name: J'London H
Date: 2003-10-01 20:31:37
Link to this Comment: 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...

To J'London- With Love
Name: Patty
Date: 2003-10-01 20:47:22
Link to this Comment: 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...

fitting the formula
Name: enor
Date: 2003-10-03 02:22:59
Link to this Comment: 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 Kr
Date: 2003-10-03 14:54:47
Link to this Comment: 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?

evolution, baby
Name: Kathryn Mc
Date: 2003-10-03 15:05:05
Link to this Comment: 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
Date: 2003-10-03 18:40:00
Link to this Comment: 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
Date: 2003-10-03 20:31:51
Link to this Comment: 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...

the uncertainty of theories
Name: Julia Wise
Date: 2003-10-04 10:09:40
Link to this Comment: 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?

earth's changing environment
Name: Adina
Date: 2003-10-04 14:50:45
Link to this Comment: 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
Date: 2003-10-04 17:59:32
Link to this Comment: 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 will
Date: 2003-10-05 14:07:25
Link to this Comment: 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
Date: 2003-10-05 17:11:04
Link to this Comment: 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 Up
Date: 2003-10-05 21:22:42
Link to this Comment: 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
Date: 2003-10-05 22:50:18
Link to this Comment: 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.

Creationism vs. Evolution
Name: Flicka
Date: 2003-10-06 13:36:44
Link to this Comment: 6810

I've been thinking a lot the past week about creation vs. evolution and which one I believe. I think the problem for me was that I felt like I had to either believe one or the other, and this was hard because I wanted to know which one was right. However, after today's class, I feel like I have resolved the issue with myself. I realize now that I don't have to believe in one or the other and I don't even have to believe in any of them if I don't wish to. Like somebody said in class (I think it was Brianna but I'm not sure) people look for truth in religion but not necessarily in science. And I believe that. I understand that evolution is just another theory and that it might change as time progresses. But religion is something that we have written down in a Bible and therefore we can not make new observations about it. So, I have come to the conclusion that for me, I beleive that creationism is the way in which man came into being, but I can also accept evolution as a theory based on scientific observations we have now. That way, I don't have to say that one is "true", but i can accept both as being possible theories. Some people may not be able to look at it this way based on how religious or non-religious they are, but it all depends on the person. As long as you're not searching for the "truth", you can believe whatever you want to believe.

A new insight on life
Name: Ramatu Kal
Date: 2003-10-06 17:14:43
Link to this Comment: 6811

I am really enjoying this course. It forces me to think of life and existence in a new way. Although, I have to admit it is at times mind boggling and scary, I have learned that scientists and people in general are not always right in their discoveries and observation; this I can now accept.

Toothless and hairless
Name: Manuela
Date: 2003-10-06 19:54:13
Link to this Comment: 6813

I've been thinking... although I know that evolutionary changes work veeeeery slowly, I was wondering how humans will look in the future due to the environment we have created for ourselves. We don't have to tear flesh, so will our teeth be smaller or will they be there at all? A big function that the hair on our heads and bodies had in the past, to keep us warm, has been replaced by clothes and artificial heat, so how much of that will we keep if any at all? If anything of the sort EVER happens, I guess things such as toothless and hairless will become part of our ideal of beauty!

a clarification
Name: spoon
Date: 2003-10-06 20:40:34
Link to this Comment: 6814

"PS: ... I still find it difficult to think of the here & now as part of a process" - my earlier post

Just to clarify, I didn't mean that I don't think of the present as part of a process, only that it often trips up my train of thought when tackling ideas about evolution, particularly trends in the future, as with that thread on superorganisms. I find it comes more naturally to me to think of individualism as the pinnacle of human achievement, as a trait that will not evolve, and it is only when I force the thought beyond this limited frame of reference that I can begin thinking about humans as parts of a larger entity, how evolution in that respect is still possible (even probable?) in terms of survival of the species.

Name: spoon
Date: 2003-10-06 21:15:55
Link to this Comment: 6815

I found the class discussion about religion a very provocative one - thanks!

One of the most interesting things that strikes me relates centrally to the Bible. It is clear that a lot of people invest a lot into interpreting what the Bible says, to make sense of the observations collected there. One such example would be the reinterpretation of what is meant by "7 days", how long a day is, and so on.
This suggests to me that we view the Bible as a set of observations to be interpreted. I wonder how it would change our discussion in class if we instead held the view that the Bible is itself already an interpretation. What it interprets are the observations that were available to its observers during the time that it was written.

What I'm inclined to do then, personally, is not to attempt to reinterpret what the Bible says to align perfectly with the observations from this (vastly different) day & age, but rather to use what still 'fits' and to incorporate those aspects into a new and on-going story.

I found Prof. Grobstein's quote particularly helpful in this respect: "I don't 'believe' in stories, wherever they come from. I listen to them, learn from them, and make use of them when I find them useful. To 'believe' in a story is, for me, to end the ongoing process of discovery, of 'getting it less wrong', and that's not something I'm inclined to do. I'd rather go on changing/evolving/emerging."

Just for the record, I do believe in God, but my next question relates to what I feel are more grounded matters: Is religion allowed to change? Does it evolve?

Name: Nomi
Date: 2003-10-07 20:24:46
Link to this Comment: 6837

Sure, I think religion is evolving. People are increasingly apt to "interpret" the Bible in non-literal ways so as to better apply it to present times. Some religious people would go so far as to reject or disagree with some notions espoused by the Bible (such as the subservience of women); others are more conservative. Same goes for other religions and religious texts. There are even non-traditional subdivisions of religions that do not believe in any god. I don't think we can define religion by such seemingly-obvious, concrete ideas as "the presence of a god" or "adherance to traditions." Religion, like science and like life, crosses many boundaries; it is very difficult (maybe impossible!) to pin down under a definite set of criteria. There will always be exceptions.

What does unite the group of practices we term "religious"? I don't know! But there is something consistent in all of humanity that causes all people to seek meaning in comparable ways. Similarly, there is something consistent throughout time that allows ancient texts -- such as the Bible -- to remain relevant to us across the ages -- relevant, regardless of how we interpret them. I'm not sure what I'm getting at here. I just think there is something constant, something universal, that unites all human beings and -- maybe -- all life. Is it shared genes? a common ancestor?

P.S. I want to acknowledge that it is difficult for me to judge what I write about religion coming from such a non-religious background. Though educated as to the facts of religion, I never felt compelled to really "believe" in it or even take it seriously. This makes it hard for me to really engage in / be a part of the huge evolution-vs.-creationism dilemma. I really hope I haven't upset anyone by dismissing, misinterpreting or mistating religious ideas. I know these conversations can get complicated.

P.P.S. About something Lindsay said a while back ... yes, I think studying evolution does affect our present-day decisions. For instance, knowing the natural process of extinction certainly influenced our attitude toward currently-disappearing species. Understanding how old, and how durable, our planet is has diminished our fears that we "all-powerful humans" are going to destroy the Earth in the imminent future. Among other things, the study of the past assures us that we are not as powerful -- or as deadly -- a force as we think (at least, not in the long run).

On the other hand, I understand the need to deal with present issues and conflicts rather than devote all of one's resources to the past ... this is where the sciences of the past (evolution, paleo-anthropology, geology) and the sciences of the present (medicine, social work, psychology) inevitably clash. However, note that even medicine and psychology depend on past discoveries to function in the present. Everyone knows the immediate past, at least, is important. The question then becomes: how far back can you dig and still have your findings be relevant to the here and now? Perhaps the answer is: infinitely.

Name: Sarah Kim
Date: 2003-10-08 00:40:45
Link to this Comment: 6840

A girl made the comment in class the other day that she'd rather think of herself as being created by a higher being than by having evolved from a smelly monkey. I thought yeah, that does kind of make sense, being created by a higher being makes it sound as if you're special, instead of just a step up from a monkey. So maybe part of the reason that creationism has survived for so long is because people DO want to believe that of themselves. Perhaps people have a certain narcissism within themselves that pushes them to believe that they're special and were created by a higher being, rather than that they came from some smelly monkeys. I'm not trying to offend anybody or anything, I'm just saying maybe that's part of the reason why it's such an enduring story in our history. It reflects on society as a whole, past and present, that maybe we're just a little...well, full of ourselves!

Name: Brittany
Date: 2003-10-08 23:48:36
Link to this Comment: 6854

Forgive me for straying into the realm of physics, but this is interesting:

It's about quarks. They're supposedly these little things that make up the subatomic particles. They come in two flavors: Up and Down. Two Ups and a Down make a proton, apparently. How, I wonder, do these little things dictate the charge of atoms? What exactly *are* they? How do they make neutrons, and do they make electrons? If not, what are electrons made out of? Oh yes, and there are antiquarks. Is this a different flavor, or something else altogether?

It's rather frustrating to me that these things occur in two different types. I believe that, if you go small enough, eventually we're all composed of the same type of particle, just in different arrangements. The fact that quarks are *not* that particle frustrates me because it means that the basal "thing" is still out there.

What, then, IS the basis of all matter? Will we ever find it, learn how to manipulate it? Could we really turn Professor Grobstein into an elephant or a rock if we knew how to manipulate these particles?

...and how big of an explosion could we make if we managed to split one? Because that's probably what we'd try to do...

Name: Julia Wise
Date: 2003-10-09 15:48:02
Link to this Comment: 6865

In response to Manuela's message on how we were evolving to become weaker, balder, and more toothless - Hey, can you think of any other species that shaves? Human beauty standards seem to want to keep hair confined to the places we had it when we were all nine years old, which isn't quite what evolution seems to have had in mind for adults. So yeah, fragility seems to be the way we're steering ourselves as a species, rather toughness...

There was a pretty interesting conversation in my C-Sem about sexual selection and how it's changed evolution. It's funny to think about what traits we're breeding into the species by our choices, too, not just how the environment is acting on us.

shaving (hee heee...)
Name: spoon
Date: 2003-10-09 18:16:55
Link to this Comment: 6868

Julia's point on shaving and the evolution of a hairless human race is an interesting one... I'm trying to research a paper on Lamarckian vs Darwinian evolution right now, and there's a point that this discussion brings to mind. This is completely tangential so I apologize, but it's a silly kind of thought and it's almost fall break.

Let's take to the extreme the assertion that beauty demands hairlessness, and imagine that hairlessness is an important trait for attracting mates. When we talk about future populations being hairless as a result of this desire for beauty, it reflects a Lamarckian school of thought, whereby the organism can affect what its offspring look like by desire or use/disuse (in this case, the shaving/'disuse' of hair). Darwinians, on the other hand, would understand the evolution of hairlessness as a result of the genes that cause this phenomena being reproduced with greater success, with no causal input from the individual.

Shaving is a way for 'hairy' people to get around their 'obstructive' genes by allowing them to change the expression of this beauty trait. So these genes are, all things being equal, being reproduced with the same success as hairlessness genes. When you think about it this way, what shaving is actually doing is ensuring that the population doesn't become hairless.

So the fact that beauty standards are unattainable says a lot about the point of them. :/

Name: Shafiqah B
Date: 2003-10-09 20:33:13
Link to this Comment: 6870

Okay, so was everybody like um completely amazed when we discussed actual science on wednesday. i myself looked up from an extremely engrossing crossword puzzle, to find Professor Grobstein discussing atoms and elements and my favorite thing; the periodic table. well, favorite thing as far as science goes. i loved it, isotopes and protons isn't it incredible that there is so much diversity in the world that it took about 50,000 years for the human race to pull it together in a single chart, and there may be more out there too! imagine about a hundred elements making up the whole world. whooooa.... one three hour lab per week about 88*3 bucks ( according to Professor Cookson), one crossword a day, free in the metro newspaper, but learning that i have gold in my body PRICELESS!!

Name: Maria
Date: 2003-10-09 22:39:22
Link to this Comment: 6873

I guess one of the strange issues about human evolution is that in all other species the better situated and adapted an organism is the more it reproduces. This isn't the case with humans. Those who have education, health care, who are financially stable and who are 'best equipped'to have thier offspring flourish (please don't think I mean that those who have education are at any level INHERANTLY better, just that their situation is better in terms of keeping a kid healthy and giving them the education etc to do well) often have fewer children. Being a responsible person now for many people includes only having as many kids as you can care for. I mean, in terms of sending out offspring who will thrive and flourish it would make more sense for doctors and lawyers and bankers in America to have more kids than a destitute HIV positive woman in Sub-Saharan Africa, but it seems like the opposite is what occurs. I mean, when my ancestor people came over from Ireland back in the day they all had like 10 kids apiece but as each generation was able to get a better education and to have more "successful" lives in terms of employment and quality of life, the number of offspring they had dropped. Okay, that isn't a great example becasue each generation also became less devoutly Catholic which probably had quite an effect...but still, the principle holds true..

Against Nature
Name: spoon
Date: 2003-10-10 08:05:45
Link to this Comment: 6875

Maria, an article that may interest you, and anyone interested by the idea of altruism and other behaviors that don't appear to help the individual:

Pinker, Steven. (Oct 1997). "Against Nature". Discover v18 n10 p92(4).

The full text is available online from Tripod - search Discover under Journal Title. Good, short article, might generate one of those "Eureka" moments.

Name: Justine
Date: 2003-10-10 08:10:13
Link to this Comment: 6876

I just find it interesting that everything is made up of the same things. I guess I always realized this but if differences just come about because of structural organization is it possible that if we could figure out how to control the organziation we can create life? Does the creation of life only come from the organization of certain molecules and atoms? I know we discussed life essence and how it really does not exist but it just seems weird to me that if you stack enought objects you'll get a dog and that there is nothing that makes it a dog. I think its weird that you can just as well have a dog as to not?:

imposed hierarchy
Name: Katy McMah
Date: 2003-10-10 16:15:35
Link to this Comment: 6879

I'd like to post in response to Maria's comment, which got me thinking about species being "better" than other species. Isn't strange that we consider ourselves such an improvement on apes and the like because we walk and talk? We go around acting like we have evolved beyond them, forgetting too that they went through their own evolutionary processes to arrive at where they are. If anything we are so much more poorly adapted to our environment because we have had to manufacture all of these other things (not just cars, heating, and air conditioning but even just basic houses and clothing) in order to survive. Of course, if we considered these things extensions of ourselves, we really aren't so poorly adapted after all...

Name: Nomi
Date: 2003-10-13 17:22:48
Link to this Comment: 6894

Katy McMahon's comment started me thinking about human toughness vs. vulnerability. How evolutionarily "fit" are we?

When I was a child, my mother explained to me that people had to perform more frequent and thorough hygeine than other animals because our bodies had forgotten how to clean themselves. Long ago, people had discovered how to bathe and groom themselves -- and so their bodies' natural self-cleaning mechanisms had given way to conscious, social hygeine. I remember feeling extremely irritated with these human ancestors because of whose prissy perfectionism I was now obligated to bathe and brush my teeth every day, whether or not I cared to. If only those people hadn't been so hygeing-conscious -- I could be rolling around and drinking muddy water along with my dog.

I think my mom has a point in that human beings' development of techniques for bathing, brushing teeth, purifying water and food, and removing waste products probably corresponded with a decrease in the strength of their bodies' natural immune systems. Following the flow of evolution, this may have occurred because imunologically-deficient offspring who would normally have died survived, in conditions of increased sanitation, and produced similarly deficient offspring. Or, aspects of the immune system that were no longer in use -- no longer needed, due to increaed hygeine -- may ceased to replicate or become vestigial though new generations. (I don't know how this would work, but I know it does work -- somehow. Body parts that are not used eventually stop functioning. Hence, the human vomeronasal organ -- the "sixth sense organ" -- is, at best, pretty darn weak.)

But however it came about, my feeling is this: We human beings are environmental wimps! I agree with Katy that gorillas are much more suited to live in the natural world than we are. So are all other living things! No living creature, other than a human, depends on heat or air conditioning or cars or computers -- not to mention beautifully purified food and water and daily bathing resources! No other life form requires such a narrow temperature range in which to live, depends so heavily, for its health, upon both fire and ice. Only human beings could stick themselves out in the wild -- with some "basic" human inventions, no less -- and call it "Survivor." Other organisms call it "Life."

It is true that other organisms don't always survive the "Life" game. The very nature of evolution depends on some of them dying. Human beings have, in a way, "outsmarted" or "evaded" the game of life by developing methods of hygeine and medicine that raise our survival rate far above what earth's processes of evolution meant for it to be. Hence the glories of overpopulation and diminishing resources ... but I digress. My point is, we human beings may be surviving in greater percentages than chimps (and we may not -- I'm not sure), but if you took away all of our wonderful human inventions, we'd be dead in a second. All of us! We simply couldn't survive on raw, dirty food. Our bodies can't handle that anymore.

In my anthropology class we discussed the use of tools as (possibly) unique to primates. Humans use the most tools; we depend on them for everything! It occurs to me, though, that while tools allow people to accomplish more, at the same time they gradually, over time, diminish our bodies' natural capabilities. For example, primitive man stopped cracking nuts open with his teeth when he discovered how to smash them with rocks. Brilliant! Now he could open more nuts faster, and could get those thick-shelled speciments that were formerly inacessible. Now that they could get more food in less time, our ancestors could focus on developing other tools ... but their descendents' teeth, having never had to crack nuts, were not as strong. And the teeth of their descendents' descendents were even weaker ... and so on. Now, we have to brush our teeth and can't bite into hard objects without fearing major dental work. We have to fill in our molars with shiny white sealant. What of "nature's" sealant? It is not good enough for us anymore.

And so the story continues ... until today. By protecting ourselves and making life easier and more convenient, we are, essentially, grinding down the tougher fibers of our beings.

So, what's going to happen when we take one of our hairless descendents and stick him back out in the snow?

"better" species
Name: megan will
Date: 2003-10-18 21:53:56
Link to this Comment: 6916

Considering that humans are on an extinction tract and the fact that there is little variation in humans as a species in whole, i dont really understand either why we consider ourselves to be better adapted. If we were left out in the world how it was truly evolved before man-made changes, who would survive better, a modern ape or a modern man? Humans exist in the world which we have created, the buildings, cars, food, etc. Apes, as well as other animals, exist in the world which they have been given, the trees, ground, foraging for food. We are only better adapted to the world as we have changed it, not to its original form.

general thoughts
Name: Maria
Date: 2003-10-22 23:54:50
Link to this Comment: 6962

It seems that there continues to be some discomfort with the idea that there is NO such thing as life essence and it occurred to me as I sat in class on Monday that perhaps that is where much of the diffculty comes from in reconciling creationism and evolution. Evolution tells the stroy of how we developed slowly over billions of years from little prokaryotic dots into the creatures that we now are while creationsism is grounded in the belief that our existence is purposeful and intentional. Is it not a bit dangerous though, to confuse our personal and subjective experience of feeling that there is some higher power, that there is some "greater scheme of things" in which we have been placed with the less intentional process of evlution that allowed us to be beings that felt things like "intuition" or "religeous devotion" that those are maybe simply emotional/cognitive functions that we have becasue our minds are such complex things capable of abstract thought and emotions such as "conviction" and "piety" etc? In terms of rearranging atoms to create a dog and how far fetched it seems to be able to put one seems to me that perhaps we just arn't able to concieve of all the tiny complex interaction that go on at an atomic and then cellular level that we don't think of as being the cause of a tail wagging, but which in fact are. That if we don't think of a dog's tail wagging as simply that but rather as the visible culmination of bunches and bunches of smaller things doing thier jobs then it seems less absurd to think that it is, perhaps, possible.

Name: Nomi
Date: 2003-10-23 12:22:21
Link to this Comment: 6972

I was thinking of something -- about this difficult "life essence" concept. If we see or sense that it is there, I think it's fair game to say it exists, for us, as human beings (Functionalism!). The trouble, of course, is how to pinpoint it exactly. Where is it located?

We discussed how the properties of molecules are determined by the arrangements of bonds between atoms -- what kinds of atoms are bound together, in what way, and in what position. Similarly, the properties of cells are determined by the positioning of molecules; of tissues, by the interactions between non-randomly placed cells -- and so on. In other words, the bonds between these materials create new properties that cannot be found ANYWHERE in the atoms -- or molecules or cells -- alone.

What if we viewed the "life essence" as a result of these bonds, connections, interactions? We cannot pinpoint it, just as we cannot pinpoint what makes Na+ and Cl- form table salt when they combine! We know the combining process is key, we know WHAT it does -- changes a substance -- but we can't say HOW it does it.

Have you ever had the experience of meeting a person who seemed to be your "soulmate," who brought out aspects and characteristics of you you never knew you had? Then, later, you realize you do the same for that person. Or maybe a wonderful teacher has clued you in to regions of your mind you never knew you had, patterns of thinking you never knew you were capable of. Do these parts of you exist before your interaction with another brings them out? Well, if you can't use or perceive of these qualities before the interaction, isn't it as though they don't exist? Is a kindness only manifested by the kindness of another, for example, any different from a hydrogen atom that only takes on certain qualities when it interacts with another atom? In both cases, the new qualities arise only out of interacting with some other entity.

In these cases, we can pinpoint the CAUSES of the new qualities (interactions), although we still cannot locate a tangible SOURCE (by source I mean a physical location). But many real things -- states of mind, occurrences like ESP! -- cannot be pinpointed in a tangible way. I say we should not dismiss the notion of "life essence," but rather entertain the possibility that it arises from the combining of pieces, that the whole is always more than the sum of its parts (from Gestaldt psychology), and that whatever it is that completes the whole -- whatever "essence" -- cannot be located in physical space.

Name: Sarah
Date: 2003-10-23 16:10:16
Link to this Comment: 6975

I found Nomi's comments to be very interesting. I think there's definitely some validity to the concept that maybe the parts together as a whole are more than just the parts separately. I mean, I think that it's even relevant to some of what we were discussing in lab on Tuesday. If you cut out your heart and preserved it in a jar with the appropriate chemicals, it would still beat. But that doesn't mean your heart is ALIVE. You could cut off any part of your body, and it might still function with the proper nutrients or whatever, but it won't REALLY be alive. What makes a person alive is all these parts together, which creates something MORE than just the sum of the parts. Because each of the parts affects every other part, and these interactions are limitless. So yeah...that's about it.

Name: Brittany
Date: 2003-10-23 21:52:30
Link to this Comment: 6979

Interesting, how we return to the same topics over and over again... well, here's my shpeal.

Basically, whether we like it or not, "life" *is* an essential essence. I don't mean it's some sort of liquid, like in that movie "The Dark Crystal," that you can distill, drop into a couple of molecules, and voila!---but a few random molecules are not alive. A few random molecules in a distinct pattern *are.* It's not the molecueles that make the life, it's the pattern they're in, or rather, the level of organization they occupy.

It follows that life itself is just a level of organization, and because a level can't be defined physically, it has to be defined some other way. "Essence" is as good as any. You can take the molecules in a dog, dump them on the ground, and they won't make a dog. You have to infuse them with a complex organization---give them *order*. And for your experiment to work, your order must adhere to the laws of evolution, the "rules" of the periodic table, the laws of genetics, and the exterior environment. Otherwise you just have a bunch of random carbon, oxygen, and water molecules lying in a heap on the ground. Life is an essence; we just call that essence "order."

I guess my main point is that life, while not some sort of magic liquid, could be construed as an "essence" in that it's intangible. Life is order, not matter; the how, not the what.

the barking dog
Name: enor
Date: 2003-10-23 23:49:58
Link to this Comment: 6984

Monday in class we discussed the potential for a scientist to be able to produce a barking dog simply by collecting and organizing the molecules/atoms necessary to compose it. I can't help feel that this concept is reminiscent of the continent theory - that at one point there existed only one continent on the planet earth consisting of all of today's known continents - unbeleivable. Someone commented that they could conceive of a dog being formed without barking - a dead dog, essentially. Although this notion sounds physically possible, I still can't help but feel that there is a reason that dogs exist in nature rather than as human products and that structuring them chemically would only yeild a human product that did not work in terms of the same components as a dog in nature.
Wednesday we spoke of two identical molecules which were actually different because of their arrangement. In terms of their components - they were identical. I think this idea is the same one which should be applied to the barkink dog theory. I think that this issue raises the doubt or question that the two supposed "identical" molecules are not infact in some way, identical. That in terms of components - the dog would be the same - however - the fact that it doesn't occur naturally or in organisms render such an arangement of atoms simply just a product.

Name: Katy McMah
Date: 2003-10-24 12:32:14
Link to this Comment: 6991

I would like to talk about scale and how that pertains to life. I think it's really interesting how we experience life from one vantage point as humans and Earthlings. I think there is a lot of narcissism not only in terms of how the universe relates to us as we look out into it, but also in terms of what we think of as other potential beings in other places. I am very intrigued by the concept of multiple universes as well as the possiblity that our universe is a small, tiny unit of something much much larger. Did anyone see _Men In Black_? Do you remember the galaxy that the cat wore around its neck or the end of the movie when the camera panned out to view a bunch of aliens playing with marbles, one of which contained our own universe? We can't comprehend the scale of our own universe let alone what might exist beyond it. How can we know how "special" we are when we don't even know for sure what we are a part of?

Levels of organization
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2003-10-24 16:55:03
Link to this Comment: 6993

Brittany, life as level of organization -- that's a great thought. I agree with the way you've decided to expand the meaning of 'organization', beyond the physical arrangement of parts. Life arises from a different form of interaction between individual, specialized cells subjugated to a 'collective' end. Would consciousness constitute a higher level of organization? Maybe it arises not from within individuals (i.e. not from parts, such as the brain) but from an interaction of members of a society. Consciousness finds its beginning in an aggregation but is realized in individuals.

What's the relationship between different levels of organization? Presumably they don't replace so much as build on top of one another. Given the assumption above, organisms must exist for societies to exist, for consciousness to arise. And yet, maybe the idea of 'levels' is an inaccurate conception, suggesting a linear progression that every new entity must pass through, as up a ladder. Consciousness is not inevitable, either as an end or even an intermediate step to something 'higher'.

Name: Brittany
Date: 2003-10-25 16:15:17
Link to this Comment: 6997

Su-Lyn, that's a really fascinating idea---that consciousness requires more than one individual to exist. I've never thought about it before, but now that I do, I think I agree. After all, isn't consciousness itself the recognition that you are separate from your surroundings? Or more importantly, separate from the group of similar entities that surrounds you? "I think, therefore I am" has no meaning if there's no recognition of the "I." In that light, consciousness would fundamentally require social interaction. You need to be able to confirm the existence of others if you are to confirm your own existence.

On the notion that different "levels" of organization lead first to life, then to consciousness... it sounds plausible, but I'm more inclined to agree with your second point on the subject: that this type of "mind" evolution isn't linear. Evolution itself isn't linear. Organisms adapt to their surroudings, but the movement isn't ever in a progressive direction. Your point made me realize something about my first post. There *may* be levels of organization that govern life, but they're not levels in any quantitative, chronological form. For example, life probably isn't a system where level "A" is life, level "B" is eukaryotic life, level "C" is multicellular life, and level "D" is consciousness. The word "level" suggests some sort of biological one-upmanship, that one "level" is better than the next. That's probably not true. Thus, maybe the word "type" would be a suitable replacement for "level," both in my earlier post and this one.

Even if we can't evaluate the levels/types, though, you've got a point about how different "types" might build up to create consciousness. Like putting a puzzle together, when disparate types of organization combine, they can birth an entirely new type. For example, put puzzle piece A (single celled life), piece B (multicellularism), piece C (primate bipedalism) and piece D (social organization) together, and you get piece E: consciousness. It's not linear progression; it's creation of a mosaic.

What really interests me is what will happen when we conjoin piece E to another puzzle piece. What's the next part of the puzzle? Will it ever be completed? *Can* it ever be completed? (and if it does, will it mean that evolution has stopped altogether)?

Life Essence
Name: Ramatu Kal
Date: 2003-10-25 17:38:11
Link to this Comment: 6998

This whole thing abut "Life Essence" is troubling to me. How can we say there is no essence to life? How is that scientifically proven? It seems to me that a days, with science being so unpredicable, it is hard to tell what is truth and what is not.

barking dog
Name: Adina
Date: 2003-10-26 19:27:43
Link to this Comment: 7001

Why is it that we could imagine a dead dog being formed and not a barking dog? In my view, evolution helped to combine many characteristics that caused dogs to be able to bark. It was some time during this process that this thing that we call "life essence" came into existance, but maybe if someone had put all these atoms together in their exact positions with all of those protein chains and things in exactly the right places, dogs would still exist and they would still bark, even if they had not evolved at all. Barking seems like kind of an arbitrary function when the environment is not taken into account, so maybe if we take all these dog atoms and change the structure of the dog, instead of making a dog that barks or a dog that is dead, we could make a dog that sings.

Magic Mosaic!
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2003-10-26 21:20:04
Link to this Comment: 7002

Brittany, "mosaic" - magic word! This is somewhat dorky and forgive my Photoshop skills, but the image (sorta) helps:

Imagine pieces A through E (the series that you suggested in your post) in a theoretical 'space' that includes all possible types of organization. The circular form should help us get away from the idea of hierarchy/ linearity/ predetermination. By putting the origin (A) in the center, we can imagine the evolution of forms of life more as a process of exploration rather than purpose. Each of the pieces can develop in an indefinite number of ways, as indicated by the dotted lines. This space itself, rather than being finite, is always expanding (an idea inspired by the Big Bang Theory of the universe). The major implication of this diagram, if it is actually applicable for our purposes, is that the series we are familiar with is not inevitable. It is not the only possible outcome of all the interactions around us and even before us.

Problems: can we ever know where A lies, or is it an infinitely receding point? Could multiple theoretical spaces exist, as with the idea of parallel universes? Can we use the mapping of the universe as an analogy in mapping different forms of organization? Are they even distinguishable - one being an application of the other on a different scale?

barking dogs
Name: Julia
Date: 2003-10-26 22:27:50
Link to this Comment: 7004

The problem with making a Frankenstein-dog out of single molecules seems to be that we don't have any way to keep stuff in living condition long enough to put it all together. A jigsaw puzzle is hard to put together, but the pieces aren't deteriorating as we work. A dog, though, would not only be harder to assemble, but would have do be done much more quickly so the bits wouldn't always be, um, rotting. Maybe you assemble the liver, but how would you keep it working while you were working on lungs, ears, etc?
Forgive this utterly pointless statement.

Name: abby
Date: 2003-10-27 10:31:04
Link to this Comment: 7005

We talked about molecules and their tendency break apart and reform. Water molecules are constantly falling apart into two parts, H+ and OH-, and reconnecting to form water again. I was trying to think of this in terms of our idea of putting a living organism together (like our dog that may or may not bark!) by means of organizing molecules exactly so that we create a dog for ourselves. How much more complicated this new information that Professor Grobstein has given us makes our imaginary attempts at "building" a dog! It would be hard enough to organize the I don't know HOW many molecules to make a dog. But, then add in the instability of all of those molecules and we have quite a mess! It just makes me realize more and more how complicated living organisms are. The instability of the molecules within us somehow creates a stable, functioning, complex organism.

su-lyn's picture
Name: Flicka
Date: 2003-10-27 13:04:56
Link to this Comment: 7008

I found it interesting what Su-lyn and Brittany said about the different stages of life in evolution. I don't think evolution will ever stop until our time on earth as living things ceases. We measure our evolution by the amount of time that we know to have been in existence, so as long as humans still live, we will keep evolving and changing. There are also many differnet possilities that humans have not explored in terms of genetic combinations, so there is always room for exploration. But if evolution is a process of exploration, doesn't that mean that our creation could have a purpose but our evolution could not? And if that's true, could creationism and evolution actually live in harmony?

On another point, the comment by Brittany about consciousness involving more than one person.....It's a really interesting idea and I've been thinking a lot about it lately. I think that the ability to be conscious is something that we just have, like the "life essence" we were talking about before. It's not something you can describe, it's just there. However, the ability to be *aware* of our consciousness requires more than one person. In order to be aware of what you're thinking or what you're doing, you need someone else to *make* you aware of it. The only way humanity has a knowledge of the unconscious and the conscious is because interactions with other people have made their thoughts about the subject conscious.
But then, does that mean that animals are aware of their consciousness? It's true that animals have the "life essence" we've been dicussing and they do have other animals to associate and communicate with, but do they have the ability to be *aware* of their consciousness? hmmmmm....

Designer Babies
Name: J'London H
Date: 2003-10-27 15:43:23
Link to this Comment: 7010

People in the world are fucked up!
We have sickle cell anemia, are depressed, ridiculed if we are not deemed by society to be attractive, diabetic, schizophrenic, socially inept and the list could continue infinitely. If i had the chance to offer my offspring a better chance at life, a healthier life, a happier life, i would do it in a heart beat. I don't even think that this would create an issue with people percieving children not as "people" but as "commodities". In my opinion children already are commodities, ELLE listed "a baby" as this seasons "IT" accessory. Parents already are trying to create the perfect child, interviewing for elite preschools before the child has been conceived, sending children to ballet, french and music lessons at the age of three. I believe that we all want quality children for the sake of our own pride and joy, and being able to alter his or her DNA structure is simply a preventitive measure for the childs own good.

The only problem i see arising form this practice would be the cost. I am sure it would be extremely expensive, meaning that only the very wealthy could have perfect children. People with less money would only be able to pay to get some things corrected like harmful diseases. There by creating classes of people the PERFECT one, the nearly perfect ones, the not so perfect ones... sort of like some people would be Birkin Bags while others would be plastic bags from the grocery store. Some of us would be BURBERRY and others a moomoo from walmart. And i guess we could throw out the notion of "all men being created equal" because that would not be the case... and so we would be able to assert that some people deserve certain rights while others are not entitled to them because they are less perfect human beings. And it would be scietifically true...

Wait, never mind, this is getting a bit to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World... and we all know how that ended. This is also reminiscent of Hitler's goal to create a perfect race... and that was anarchy...
SCRATCH THAT... rrrrrrrr... I hate it when i contradict myself...

Designer Babies
Name: Natalya Kr
Date: 2003-10-27 16:26:07
Link to this Comment: 7012

It's really interesting that human beings have the potential to alter DNA. It poses certain ethical questions, but I don't think anyone would deny the ethics or correcting genetic diseases. I wonder if altering DNA could even correct chronic depression. That would be novel. On the other hand, if we could correct everyone's "shortcomings", even those termed diseases, such as depression, or alcoholism, what would become of art? So much of artistic expression seems to be generated by troubled souls - people who have suffered - and not only that, artists tend to believe they experience the world in a way that is fundamentally different from other people, would genetic modifications, even having to do with diseases, tend to make us all more similar?

Designer Genes
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2003-10-27 16:33:05
Link to this Comment: 7013

J'London, you raise some really great points, and I think the contradictions point to some crucial issues that we're facing in deciding what to do with the power that science has given us. It hasn't changed what we want, only what we can now do, which puts us in a dangerous place. If there's one reason I'd welcome designer babies, it's the chance to start the human race again, this time with a gene for self-restraint.

On Bones, HIV, and the power? of science
Name: Anna K
Date: 2003-10-28 00:47:28
Link to this Comment: 7021

Speaking of the power of science...this weekend my boyfriend got triple teamed by Princeton rugby players during a playoff game and was sent to the ICU. The X-rays showed that he broke both his ulna and radius, as well as several bones in the wrist. Due to the shattering of the bone, the Orthopedic surgeon not only had to insert Titanium plates to fill the gaps, but because of the length of the gap the surgeon had to actually use bone from another source to fill it in. The surgeon said bone could be obtained from three places: 1, the hip (a small chunk would be extracted), 2. From cadavars, 3. Genetically engineered. It was no surprise that using the genetically engineered bone was the most expensive of the choices, but what was most intriguing was the risk associated with using bone from a cadaver. In some cases, there was a risk of HIV and bacterial infections. Why is this? How is it that 1., hospitals cannot check to see if HIV is in the cadaver, and 2., the virus is able to penetrate and thrive in the bone? It seems silly to me that with all the technology we have, we can genetically engineer bone for bone graphs, but we have no way of knowing if HIV has infected a bone from a cadaver before using it in a living human....

Name: Patricia P
Date: 2003-10-28 16:40:01
Link to this Comment: 7032

Natalya Krimgold makes an excellent point. In fact, even without relating our shortcommings to ones that relate to depression or serious diseases, is anyone just simply afraid of a lack of diversity? I feel that from the many people I have met in my life, it has been the things about themselves that they considered to be their worst traits, that have built the most defining strengths about them. People truely are made stronger by having their own individual weaknesses. It is what helps us to be compassionate, moved by others, and open minded about alternative lifestyles. Although I do not have a terminal illness or any defining physical characteristic that I wish I could get rid of, I do feel confident in saying that at the end of a persons life, they would not feel as if their life would have had more value without those things. It very well may have had less. I would not wish to be genetically thinner, smarter, or have any other "designer gene" only because I do not believe that those things can bring you a better quality of life. Anyone who reflects on the skeletons in their closet, or the things about themselves that they are part ashamed of and part proud of would have to agree. I think the most similar we become, the more we all lose out. Our greatest oppositions serve as the best reasons for introspective thinking and strengthening of our own beliefs and traits. The world would lose so much more than art if we genetically improved ourselves.

Thought Police
Name: Natalya Kr
Date: 2003-10-28 19:19:43
Link to this Comment: 7033

Reflecting on our lab today makes me marvel at how mechanical we humans really are. For our reaction time experiment, my group tested to see if reaction times were quicker if the stimulus was closer to the brain - and they were! Our hypothesis was that it would take less time for the nerve signal from the stimulus to travel back to the brain if the stimulus was physically closer. It is remarkable to me that with relatively unsophisticated technology, we could observe differences in the time it took our brains to realize we had been touched. We would normally think of this processs as happening instantaneously. I was also amazed when Professor Grobstein told us that thinking burns calories. I wonder if it burns more if you're thinking harder. It's so strange that the mysterious processes of thought and emotion could be quantified in time and space - in chemical reactions. I wonder if you could chemically construct a thought or belief the same way you could hypothetically take Professor Grobstein's atoms and turn him into a dog. Could you make a pill or something that would give people the same thought or implant knowledge in their memories?

Re: HIV and the bones
Name: Stefanie
Date: 2003-10-28 23:02:00
Link to this Comment: 7034

I never quite know what to say here in the forum, but as far as Anna's comment goes isn't it true that a person may not present with the virus for up to six months following exposure? Therefore, if John or Jane Doe had an encounter or exposure to the virus and then promptly kicked the bucket two days later it wouldn't be possible to ask he or she if they had had such an encounter. Questioning is an important method in discerning whether somone is at risk. Despite our advanced technology, a battery of questions is the most effective method in this case.

In addition, the virus load would be too small for even our "advanced" technology to locate the virus in its earlier stages. It would be like searching for a needle in a haystack. I also don't think that the technology for engineering the bone, and for locating the virus are really comparable either. But I could be totally off base about it...

Name: Patty
Date: 2003-10-29 13:18:15
Link to this Comment: 7036

I was wondering if there are genes for race? I'm sure there are genes that are associated with certain traits of people of diffrent races. Would people change there race if they could? That would be fascinating. That would be as amazing as finding life on a million other planets.

race & genetics
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2003-10-29 17:39:48
Link to this Comment: 7043

There isn't 'a gene for' Chineseness just as there isn't a gene for aggression or a gene for self-restraint (re: the tongue-in-cheek statement I made earlier). Individuals genes don't correspond with individual traits. It is the way genes interact with each other and the way the environment triggers them that affects expression.

Although if I remember correctly, there was an interesting article that Prof. Grobstein mentioned early in the semester about racial differences becoming genetically significant. The article here.

Chemincal Thoughts...
Name: J'London H
Date: 2003-10-29 22:19:30
Link to this Comment: 7044

I really am hesitant to believe that a thought could be chemically constructed. We are taught in religion class that God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. The key word for describing His nature in the context of chemical thought is "OMNISCIENT", God is all knowing and yet he does not physically exist. Many of us beleive in "God", in his existence and also in the fact that he has power. He created the world with his WORDS, "let there be light" and logically speaking he had to have thought those words before he spoke them. But he isn't made of chemicals... we can't see his body let alone consider the possibility of deconstructing him and reconstructing in the shape of an elephant.
Furthermore, consider the axiom "I think therefore I am". This symbolizes to me some sort of life essence. Our thoughts define us. Thinking is the essence of life. Maybe our thinking is the life essence.
In conclusion, the only way one could potentially construct a thought is to have evidence that the thought ever existed in the first place. I have never been able to "hold a thought" to capture and recreate is as vividly, linking the mapping the and associating the same things together TWICE. If we humans can not "hold that thought" what makes you think that a scientist can bottle it?

Chemical Thoughts
Name: Adina
Date: 2003-10-31 12:54:01
Link to this Comment: 7071

In the hypothetical situation that we could create thinking individuals out of atoms, we wouldn't actually be placing thoughts in people's heads. We would simply be giving people the *ability* to think.

Chemical X
Name: Katy McMah
Date: 2003-10-31 14:36:09
Link to this Comment: 7072

This is in response to J'London's comments about thoughts being chemically constructed. My experience taking mood stabilizers shows me that medication has a profound chemical effect on my thoughts and emotions. I think anyone who uses drugs (legal or illegal), lusts after chocolate, binges, has PMS, or a variety of other things can say that it is quitely likely that our thoughts are chemically constructed because they can be chemically altered. I think that we have to remember that our minds do not exist independently of our bodies. Just as stress, for example, can affect the health of our bodies, food and anything else we consume affects our minds. Food and drugs are chemicals that react with chemicals already present in us to produce thoughts and things. I don't think that negates God, if that is what one believes in, because if God is omnipresent, then God is in all of those chemicals to begin with.

engineering thoughts
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2003-11-01 00:07:12
Link to this Comment: 7073

"We wouldn't actually be placing thoughts in people's heads. We would simply be giving people the *ability* to think." - Adina.

Hear, hear! I don't agree with the mechanical way in which consciousness is being prescribed, with the idea that thoughts can be engineered. While there is probably a set of reactions that take place in our body whenever we process a thought and its associated emotions, etc., I doubt that inducing those same reactions will produce that same thought. It's the same objection to the assertion that genes correspond with traits in a simplistic one-to-one relationship.

Eliminating Diversity?!
Name: Nomi
Date: 2003-11-01 15:31:35
Link to this Comment: 7074

I agree with Patty's concern over scientifically reducing and, finally, eliminating diversity. This raises interesting questions about the nature, and value, of pain relative to creativity and individuality. If we assume, as many do, that individuality is simply the flip-side of the coin of negative emotions -- that pain and uniqueness are woven together inextricably, the one affecting the other -- then it seems reasonable to worry that genetically eliminating all sources of "unpleasantness" will also destroy uniqueness. If you add to that the fact that certain features -- such as thinness, fairness of complexion, large eyes, and so on -- exist as "ideals" for most people (and certainly all the people rich enough to afford genetic modifications in their kids, themselves, or whatever), it really does appear we could end up with a bunch of carbon-copies living together. How inexplicably dull!

Also about pain -- many argue joy would not exist without it. We human beings need the contrast to feel anything at all -- all emotions are based on comparisons to other emotions. If we destroy the bad things, then, we'll also kill our ability to feel good. Ultimately (if human beings are around long enough, which is doubtful), we could end up as robots, with no emotions whatsoever. Without this ability to feel emotions, humans would wind up a very different sort of organism altogether -- more like trees.

And that's only emotions. What if sensations and thoughts also depend upon our minds' and bodies' comparing them to other sensations and thoughts? If we eliminate the bad ones here, will we eventually lose our ability to think and feel sensations, too? In this case, we humans would be less than trees. Mindless, Emotionless, we would also lack the basic ability to respond to sensory stimuli -- and even trees have that. All life is diverse and experiences diverse physical and psychical conditions. All of life responds to varying external and internal environments. And if those environments did not vary? If we got rid of our differences, and squashed this diversity of experience, what would we have left? Would it even be accurrate to call us alive?

All this is very extreme, and at the rate people move -- what with all the technical difficulties of interfering with the collosal complexity of the genome -- it won't happen for quite awhile. It may not happen at all, if our species dies off or gets diverted by something else. However, this does indicate the direction in which we are headed, and it's scary: though we'd all (probably) jump to free a person from cancer or lupus or mental illness, what about non-life threatening conditions like allergies -- where, oh where, to we draw the line?

Another strange thing I thought of is that by manipulating the genome, the science of medicine will be going in the OPPOSITE direction from where it has always gone before: toward sameness, rather than toward diversity. All of medicine's efforts to keep the sick and dying alive, to cure the formerly "incurable," has allowed many people to live (and pass on their genes) who would have otherwise died. If the normal process of natural selection had its way, without the intervention of medicine, many of those whom human technology has saved would have died, have been "selected out." Natural selection tends toward decreased variation, preserving only those "well-adapted" to life in their environments. Since medicine can "adapt" those who are naturally "poorly adapted," we have among us people with severe physical and mental illnesses who create art, teach us new things, increase our diversity of experience. Medicine has extended the array of human diversity, of human experience! But now -- in seeking to ELIMINATE the sources of our pain, rather than just TREAT them (as in the past) -- medicine threatens to destroy the variation that defines us. Our intentions, of course, revolve around pain, not diversity. But it's strange that our ways of dealing with pain can affect diversity from both directions.

Name: Adina
Date: 2003-11-02 11:32:20
Link to this Comment: 7075

In response to Su-Lyn's comment, I'm not saying that there is one biological mechanism that produces thought, and I am also not saying that different people do not react differently from each other in different situations. Any study of psychology will show that environment and experience have a huge impact on how a person will feel in/react to a given situation. There is also much variation in personality, but there is no saying that the nature part of the nature vs nurture debate is not biological. I'm just saying that the biological processes that cause thoughts occur in the body. Even experience, which greatly influences thoughts, is stored in the conscious or unconscious memory. The mechanism responsible for memory is in the brain.

the think switch
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2003-11-02 14:57:13
Link to this Comment: 7078

Hmm, my earlier comment may not have made it clear that I was actually agreeing with you. I also think that the biological mechanisms that enable thought do not dictate thought. My gripe is not about your point, but about the notion that floats around in the forum (and that you countered) that biology is deterministic.

Name: Natalya Kr
Date: 2003-11-02 16:24:13
Link to this Comment: 7079

It occurred to me, (forgive me if this is obvious), that a hypothesis is really the same as a thesis for a paper. It's an idea that you posit and then you have to investigate the material further to see if it's true. Also, like a hypothesis, a thesis isn't really good unless there's a possibility that it's not true. A blanket statement is meaningless, the more room there is for opposition and controversy, the better the thesis, really.

Name: su-lyn
Date: 2003-11-02 17:04:44
Link to this Comment: 7080

Except in a paper, you're out to support your thesis. As Prof Grobstein pointed out quite energetically in our first lab, that's a crucifiable crime if committed with a hypothesis.

Actually, aren't a hypothesis and a thesis different stages in what is essentially the same process? Argument, or rhetoric, I think. Hence also 'antithesis'. This is really not something I'm familiar enough with to comment on, but it would be interesting to see how the scientific process is broken down. Surely it's not all about the hypothesis.

Hairless Humans
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2003-11-03 00:08:23
Link to this Comment: 7084

An article from The Scientist on "The Hirsute, the Hairless and the Human". Reminded me of someone's comment about hairless humans in the forums before break.

Steroids and Osteoporosis
Name: Anna Banan
Date: 2003-11-04 01:42:45
Link to this Comment: 7100

This is in response to the two articles listed on this web site which were quite interesting...
1. Icelandic Company Says it has found Osteoporosis Gene
2. How a New Steroid Was Decoded

To summarize the Steroid article, basically a "designer" steroid, or performance enhancing drug was just discovered from a dirty syringe given to officials by an undisclosed track coach. Using previously taken urine samples from WICKED famous athletes, they found this steroid THG (tetrahydrogestrinone (someone please figure out what that stick and ball structure looks like) in the pee of Marion Jones, Regina Jacobs, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and others.
I have always thought athletes like Michael Jordan and Joe Montana and Marion Jones were just not.....human? They seem to posess superhero powers, and really, be freaks of nature, not in a bad way, but just in a mutated sense. I feel cheated to think that their abilities are not real and authentic, but aided by some drug. If one thinks about cloning, and picking out specific genes in people to isolate and perhaps inject or whatever they do to give that gene to another person--it's wild to think that there might be a predisposition to super height, or super quickness, or super jumping ability.

In reference to the Osteoporosis article, duh, there might be a predisposition to brittle bones if you have a certain gene, and guess what the perscribed prevention is if you have it? Diet and excercise, just another reason to follow the blood type diet to prevent stuff like that.

Steroids and Osteoporosis
Name: Anna Banan
Date: 2003-11-04 01:45:28
Link to this Comment: 7101

This is in response to the two articles listed on this web site which were quite interesting...
1. Icelandic Company Says it has found Osteoporosis Gene
2. How a New Steroid Was Decoded

To summarize the Steroid article, basically a "designer" steroid, or performance enhancing drug was just discovered from a dirty syringe given to officials by an undisclosed track coach. Using previously taken urine samples from WICKED famous athletes, they found this steroid THG (tetrahydrogestrinone (someone please figure out what that stick and ball structure looks like) in the pee of Marion Jones, Regina Jacobs, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and others.
I have always thought athletes like Michael Jordan and Joe Montana and Marion Jones were just not.....human? They seem to posess superhero powers, and really, be freaks of nature, not in a bad way, but just in a mutated sense. I feel cheated to think that their abilities are not real and authentic, but aided by some drug. If one thinks about cloning, and picking out specific genes in people to isolate and perhaps inject or whatever they do to give that gene to another person--it's wild to think that there might be a predisposition to super height, or super quickness, or super jumping ability.

In reference to the Osteoporosis article, duh, there might be a predisposition to brittle bones if you have a certain gene, and guess what the perscribed prevention is if you have it? Diet and excercise, just another reason to follow the blood type diet to prevent stuff like that.

Lost Idols and Ordered Stars
Name: Nomi
Date: 2003-11-04 17:03:03
Link to this Comment: 7114

Anna's reaction to the steroid article reminded me of the betrayal I used to feel each time I discovered a favorite, idealized actress or singer or teacher or friend was actually FALLIBLE, imperfect. It seems perfection as we see it just is not a quality of life, and nor is "super" anything. Nonliving things can be perfect (or extremely close to it); for instance, a gaseous planet can be pefectly spherical, and so can a proton (as opposed to an orange, which is never exact). Or perhaps we simply cannot see the imperfections on these scales, and see them only in living things, which are within our typical size range?!

Even so, I think life just IS imperfect (and this more than anything I HATE to accept), and I think that imperfection is due to, as well as the source of, life's variation and diversity. Eyeballs, for example, are generally spherical, but if everybody's eyes where perfect spheres, there would go that piece of variation -- eyeball shape! Of course this has more of the same implications regarding the genetic "fine-tuning" of human traits.

I know I've completely strayed from what Anna said about feeling deceived by steroid-using body-builders. Well, I think part of understanding biology is that even with the seemingly amazing things that go on, there can be no "magic"; there must be valid biological explanations behind them. Living systems follow very precise rules, so if it's too good to be true, it isn't: if a biological phenomenon (such as outrageous muscles and performanace) seems to transcend ordinary, natural biological processes, it's probably getting some help.

The thing about being alive is it's so darn limiting! You can only grow a certain amount, change a certain amount, control a certain amount.

New topic: I've been wondering and wondering about what super-ordered entity out there might be decomposing to an extent even greater than that at which highly-ordered living beings are put together. Perhaps I misunderstood the question, but I thought life is THE most structured, orderly thing we know of. If the second law of thermodynamics states that matter always moves from a state of greater to lesser order, I'm stumped; certainly, there are things more MASSIVE than living systems, but what has greater ORDER than life?

I'm tempted to pick stars, though they don't fit the criteria. They contain the most and the original energy of the universe, and, as the saying goes, we are all made of stardust. Being so massive and numerous, stars definitely have energy to spare for us little living things! Still, are stars highly ordered, highly improbably assemblies? No, I don't think so! Stars are made of things like rock and dirt and gas, which are all fairly probable mixtures. Life is the most ordered, the most improbable --isn't it?! I really can't imagine what the answer might be to this one!

Name: alison jos
Date: 2003-11-05 10:37:20
Link to this Comment: 7119

At the beginning of last class, Prof. Grobstein made it very clear that there is no one gene that causes depression, no one gene that causes osteoporosis, and so on. Instead, such maladies are the result of a predisposition to, say, osteoporosis, compounded with environmental factors. My question, then, concerns a body's "predisposition" to something. Where is this predisposition manifested,if not in one gene? Are there a series of genes which, when exposed to environmental factors, chemically react to induce osteoporosis? If somebody is predisposed to a certain condition, but is never exposedn to certain outside factors, will the condition still manifest itself in one's body? Basically, I feel like it's easy to say that somebody is more "predisposed" to something than another person might be--but what, exactly, is meant when it is said that somebody has a biological predisposition??

Name: Maria Scot
Date: 2003-11-06 08:50:36
Link to this Comment: 7139

Did talking about the sun going out in roughly 10 billion year make anyone else feel sort of irrationally depressed? I know I won't be here when it happens, but still, it's an alarming idea, isn't it? THe sun, which makes life possible to begin with, will eventaully be the thing that kills us (or whatever happens to be on earth at the time.) I also thought that using the comparison to the water wheel made it much easier to understand exactly what Professor Grobstein was talking about regarding the "cuplet" of things moving from a highly improbable organization and things that are moving to a highly improbable organization. It's such an interesting concept, and it sounds so abstract when you first hear it but when you really look at it you find that it's true, that it makes sense.

Name: Natalya Kr
Date: 2003-11-06 14:30:34
Link to this Comment: 7140

I've been thinking about this idea that in order for something to become ordered something else necessarily is becoming more disordered. You could relate it to human technology today. Cars, for example, are pretty highly organized machines, but they create disorder in the form of ozone-eating polution. (Is this an appropriate analogy?) Even the new battery- powered ones might likely have some other negative repreccussion. So, as, I think someone brought up in class, does this make progress inevitable? Why do we even keep trying?

As Americans improve their quality of life more people around the globe (and even in America) are plunging into poverty, political chaos, and suffering. Can anything be done? Or would any solution only pose greater problems?

Name: Melissa H.
Date: 2003-11-06 16:50:58
Link to this Comment: 7141

"At the beginning of last class, Prof. Grobstein made it very clear that there is no one gene that causes depression, no one gene that causes osteoporosis, and so on. Instead, such maladies are the result of a predisposition to, say, osteoporosis, compounded with environmental factors"
-- Allison

Something which has been of interest to me recently is eugenics, more specially Richard Dawkins concept of a "selfish gene." Dawkins proposes that the gene, the basis of heredity, is a fundamental entity of selectivity. Only the "strong" genes, which serve their own self-interest, replicate themselves from generation to generation. Environmental variables play a key role-- as no genetic traits are "fixed" or immutable.

My questions revolve around the magnitude to which these factors can impact a gene. Also, if self-determination is a fundamental aspect of Dawkins "gene", why do such maladies exist? Is it to strengthen mankind, leaving , excuse the cliche, only the strong to survive?

Date: 2003-11-06 21:30:48
Link to this Comment: 7145

Nomi's comment: "I've been wondering and wondering about what super-ordered entity out there might be decomposing to an extent even greater than that at which highly-ordered living beings are put together."

That's an interesting point, Nomi, and I've been wondering the same. It seems contradictory to say that for every "creation" of order there must be an equal or greater "destruction" of order. But wouldn't "destruction" of order imply some greater "order" that was there to be deconstructed? My question is, how did that "order" get there in the first place if the second law of thermodynamics states that *it* couldn't develop without its *own* reciprocal move towards "disorder?" If there has *always* been a net movement towards disorder, how did order develop in the first place?

Additionally, the second law of thermodynamics fails to explain *why* this must be so. For example, *why* is Life's counterpart "move towards disorder" the sun? I know life depends on the sun, but why choose *that* particular entity as Life's partner in the thermodynamic tango? It implies a relationship between the two that may not actually exist. I'd like to see biologists/physicists *prove* that the reason Life can develop order is that the sun is devolving into disorder...

Name: Brittany.
Date: 2003-11-06 21:31:26
Link to this Comment: 7146

Doi. That last post was Brittany, by the way.

Why doesn't sugar fall out of the sky?
Name: Laura Wolf
Date: 2003-11-07 14:37:29
Link to this Comment: 7150

I've been neglecting to post in the forum for the past few weeks (I'm sorry!) so I'm going to try and make up for it from now on. The biggest reason is that I've been having trouble sorting my ideas into words - although I've been forgetting to post in the forum I have been thinking A LOT about our lectures and finding connections between everything we discuss and my other classes, it's almost overwhelming!

Seeing the sun as a large, improbable entity which is giving itself away piece by piece to allow the earth to become more complex and improbable is actually a lot more comforting to me than the thought of our sun as a gigantic yellow ball of energry. I find it hard to imagine "energy" as some abstract thing that magically makes life. But to think of the actual light and heat being physically used in plants and other molecules (and letting off APT) is much easier to imagine because there's evidence, it's actually tangible. I know other people thought it was disturbing that the sun will die out in 10 billion years, but to me that is more realistic than not knowing how we fit in the least we know the universe will continue when our solar system and planet and all our cultures have passed.

So I've been thinking - what is the point of culture? What is the point of helping out other humans if we all share the same fate? I guess the discovery I've come to is that the more we learn about science, the more I see spirituality as a realistic possibility of how to explain the world and life. I know there are a lot of religious stories that might not fit with scientific stories, but maybe they're just on oposing levels such that both are integral to how we see everything. I don't have any specific religion but I consider myself very spiritual, and hearing that the sun is slowly falling apart so that life can begin sounds very religious to me - whether or not the sun has a "personality" or a "face", could it still be a deity to some people? Is that where religion comes from - the amazment of science?

Things I noticed about diffusion and tendency to move towards a more probable state - I can see how this is true of water and other substances, and it feels to me that it's also true of people's lives. Without organization or structure in the day people tend to do nothing all day, letting their brain cells slowly fall apart. But if you're learning or thinking the movement towards improbability is accelerated, and the brain activity is more complex and less probable - I feel like it's a metaphore for anything - it's more improbable to have lots of knowledge, because of all the many circumstances necessary to create that knowledge. It's the same as culture and art, and music - these are all extremely improbable assemblies and without maintaining them they could all potentially move towards a more probable state....I think...

Name: megan
Date: 2003-11-09 17:19:41
Link to this Comment: 7161

If no gene can cause things such as osteoporosis, why are certain groups of people more subceptible to different things? For example, Asians and African Americans are more likely to have osteoporosis. If its not hereditary, or coming from a gene, then why is it more common in some than in others? I guess it goes back to the age old controversy over whether or n ot there is biological race. Also, why are people with parents who had cancer more likely to have cancer, if its not in their genes? Is it an adaptive quality that their family line just does not have?

race and heredity
Name: Julia Wise
Date: 2003-11-10 10:31:20
Link to this Comment: 7175

I think you can say there's no one gene for stuff like lactose intolerance, sickle cell anemia and such, but that doesn't mean it's not hereditary. When people first spread out over the world we got isolated into little clumps, so it makes sense that people from the same clumps would've shared traits. If you have kids with someone who has the same facial structure, skin color, etc (i.e. race) it makes sense that you might also share the same predisposition for sickle cell anemia because your ancestors came from the same clump, and your kids will have the same traits.
(It always seemed a little sketchy to me that in Star Trek, where society was so altruistic and advanced, all the people had clearly defined races/nationalities. Surely by then we'll have started mixing a little more?)

Name: Brittany
Date: 2003-11-11 18:53:53
Link to this Comment: 7212

I want to lodge a rational disagreement with the idea that there is no specific gene for a specific order, such as (for example) sickle-cell anemia. Sure, there's no gene that will automatically jump up and slice red blood cells into little half-moons, but the gene produces a protein that does just that. So isn't the gene the origin of the disorder? How is this gene's defect *not* specifically linked to sickle-cell?

To steal an example from my recent debate tournament... imagine there's a box with a button. If you press this button, somewhere, someone you don't know will die. The argument is that pressing the button is the same as shooting the person in the head. The fact that you don't know him and his death can't be traced back to you is irrelevant. His death is still *your* responsibility.

It seems that genes work in the same way---only with genes, the proteins that produce disorders like sickle-cell create an easily-identifiable trail back to the defective gene. My point is, there *is* a specific gene (or at the very least, specific part of a gene) that causes disorders like sickle-cell. The fact that the gene wasn't created to cause sickle-cell is irrelevant; if it's shaped a certain way, it inevitably leads to the disorder. Thus, it's ultimately responsible for slicing those red blood cells into little half-moons. So it uses proteins as its medium to do this; so what? Saying it's the protein, and not the gene, that's responsible for the disorder is like saying it's the gun, not the criminal, that's responsible for the murder.

Genes vs. Proteins, and Diversity vs. Homogeneity
Name: nomi kaim
Date: 2003-11-11 20:07:35
Link to this Comment: 7214

Britanny, you have a very good point there. Disorders like sickle-cell ARE, ultimately, genetic, even if triggered by the environment. But remember that any disorder will be caused by not one genes but a whole series or sequence of genes interacting with each other. If one of the genes in this sequence is changed or absent, the sickle cell disorder (or any other disorder) will not manifest itself as such. For this reason, it is incorrect to refer to the "sickle cell genes." The "sickle cell gene combination" would be a bit closer....

Another thing I think you may be doing with your criminal/gene vs. gun/protein analogy is tying ethics too closely to pure, raw biology. Not that ethics are not useful in the study of science -- they often are -- but in this case, I think the analogy doesn't quite fit. The reason is that two people may have the exact same gene combination (let's say theyr'e identical twins) that codes for the sickle-cell-producing proteins, yet only one of them gets sickle cell anemia. Environmental factors -- originating outside of the body, then transferring their influence into the body and mind -- alter the proteins that are actually produced in one twin and allow that guy to get off scott free. Great! Now, the twin with the sickle cell disease is the only one people are worried about, because the other guy, predisposition or no predisposition, doesn't have the proteins for sickness and is going along just fine. It's the equivalent of us pardoning the criminal whose gun malfunctioned (environment interfered with normal functioning of gun when trigger pressed) which would be morally ridiculous ... a criminal is a criminal is a criminal! However, this genetic problem is not moral in that way, and it's the PROTEINS we care about more than the genes themselves because it is the PROTEINS that manifest themselves as the illness. What matters, as far as I'm concerned, is whether or not someone actually GETS sick -- and genetic predisposition is only one thing we can use to try to predict, and prevent, this. In other words, it isn't always necessary to get to the very "bottom" of the source of something -- sometimes, the most directly-linked and obvious cause is actually the most important.

Along the same lines, I think your "box-with-a-button" analogy is also too simple. Though parallels exist, of course, with genetics, it is NOT a specific gene that codes for a disorder, and the series of genes that does code for it can be taken in many combinations, all of which result in different proteins and different physiological manfestations. There is not, ever, just one "button," and that is why a simple trace-back from protein up to gene doesn't always work.

Okay ... this is so long already! But I was just thinking about life and the double-movement-struggle towards diversity and towards homogeneity. The way I see it (as of this evening) is this: the process of pure biological evolution tends toward SAMENESS. Natural selection intends to, eventually, destroy all who do not fit the perfect standard for their particular community, environment, and time. In fact, if only one environment existed on earth, only one species(not that this is possible with life!), the force of natural selection really WOULD cut out all diversity, eventually -- because it is true that, in a given environment and among a given species, there is ONE SPECIFIC TYPE SPECIMEN that is more "fit" or adapted to its conditions than any other! Well! Fortunatley for us, this will never happen. It will never happen because of the second great force, environment, which tends toward DIVERSITY. Environment includes physical location and ecology; it includes the chemical and physiological environments that cause genes to randomly mutate; it includes the cellular environment that causes gametes to recombine. The variations initiated by biological environments -- recombination, mutation, forms of "imperfectification," if you will -- are then supported and perpetuated by the ecological environments to which they are best suited. ...So natural selection's movement toward homogeneity is bound to fail because of the changing nature of living being's environments. This is all very long-winded, but I guess what I've just realized (dawn breaks on marble head!) is that life is NOT the only thing that is diverse, and, in fact, in order to BE and remain diverse, living things depend upon the great diversity of their environments. (Not that living things don't also change their environments ... it's a two-way road!) If you stuck us all in a place without any variety, it is a matter of course that we, too, would eventually become homogenous.

Name: Brittany a
Date: 2003-11-11 20:31:40
Link to this Comment: 7216

Naha, I can be combative too...

Good points, Nomi, but the reason I brought up sickle-cell anemia as an example is precisely that it is *not* a "gene combination." It's the single misfire of a single protein on a single gene (or gene pair, as they come in pairs, and the gene does require dominance to create the disorder). But there's only one gene that can cause sickle-cell; environmental factors can't. See, the protein that sickles the sickle-cell is actually a *part* of the RBC itself---it's not something you can inject into the blood to temporarily stave off the problem. You can't catch the disorder, or cure it; you can only inherit it. There's no way that one individual in a pair of identical twins could have it and the other could not. The same goes for Down syndrome. It can only be caused by an extra chromosome 21. Nothing else---not environmental factors, not outside agents---can cause it. These disorders, and others, *are* "boxes with buttons." Sure, not *all* disorders function this way. But sickle-cell, Down syndrome, and several others (especially sex-linked disorders!) definitely do. I guess my point is that, while in some cases you're right and you *can't* specifically link a gene to a disorder, in other cases, the relationship is crystal-clear, cause-and-effect, a single bullet from a single gun.

I also have to disagree with your discussion of the biological trend towards sameness. A single environment will never reduce its occupants to a single species. Life just can't exist that way---organisms feed off one another, utilize one another, form symbiotic relationships with one another. And say earth *did* have only one environment; that environment would still have "niches" that different organisms could fill. Look at the Sahara. You can't get a more homogenous environment than that, right? And yet the Sahara supports a wide variety of organisms, all exploiting different aspects of the Sahara's harsh environment. Diversity is as inherent to environment as it is to life. Even in an environment that *appears* to be the same throughout, organisms adapt to different aspects of that environment in their quest for survival.

Science matters ... how?
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2003-11-12 09:06:48
Link to this Comment: 7223

Don't wish to interrupt interesting discussion of how to think about genes, trust it will continue, but the New York Times Science Times yesterday seems to me quite relevant to our class conversations in a broader sense. Have a look at it? And I'd be interested in your reactions to the following reaction of my own ...


It is appropriate, desirable, and indeed necessary to periodically examine the role that various institutions play in the broader human cultures of which they are a part ... and science in no exception. From this perspective, Science Times of 11 November 2003, and the lead article "Does Science Matter?" by William J. Broad and James Glanz, is very much to be welcomed.

At the same time, it is important to discriminate betweent those aspects of an institution that make it valuably unique in a culture and those that simply reflect the cultural commonalities that exert similar pressures on all cultural institutions. Science is far from the only institution asked by the culture "to resolve social ills". We ask that similarly of other quite different institutions - medical, political, economic, and religious - and it is not clear to me that the performance of science in this particular regard is dramatically any worse (or better) than any other institution in our culture. In this regard, I worry that Broad and Glanz (and the Science Times issue as a whole) might mislead readers by posing a set of benchmarks that might well be used for evaluating our culture as a whole but are not the appropriate ones for answering the specific question "Does Science Matter"?

The distinctive role that science has played in our culture, and can if it is valued continue to play, is not to resolve social (or individual) ills but rather to be the embodiment of permanent skepticism, of a persistant doubt about the validity of any given set of understandings reached by whatever means (including those of science itself). It is the insistence on doubting existing understandings, not the wish to eliminate humans ills nor to find "answers", that has always animated science and has always been the source of its power and successes.

Is that persistant skepticism, the perpetual unsettling of existing understandings, good for the culture of which science is a part? For humanity? That remains, of course, to be seen. The by-products of science have certainly contributed to alleviating some social ills but have also exacerbated or brought into being others. At the same time, a strong argument can be made that, on balance, human culture (like life itself) depends fundamentally on conceiving solutions to potential challenges before those challenges come into being. Doing so is what science is, distinctively, all about.

From this perspective, the fact that "two-thirds of the population believe that alternatives to Darwin's theory of evolution should be taught in public schools" is not an indication that science doesn't "matter" but rather an indication that it does. On a widespread basis, people are being provided with the products of skepticism, with alternative stories that haven't occured to them before and that are potentially relevant to future challenges. And I would argue that this is today occurring with unusual effectiveness in an array of areas of unprecedented scope, ranging from cosmological issues, to issues of the nature of human life, consciousness, and personal responsbility, to explorations of the place and meaning of humanity in the universe.

The key question, from my perspective, is not "Does Science Matter?" in terms of the standards we apply to all institutions in our culture but rather does science matter in terms of the distinctive role that it has to play in our culture? The answer, it seems to me, is demonstrably yes, and it is becoming even more yes as the decades and centuries go on. The remaining question, one that follows importantly from this, is whether our culture wants science to matter in the distinctive way it can and does. Here, I think, there is some grounds for concern, as evidenced by the recent shift in funding patterns from mostly public to mostly private and commercial support of research. I fear this reflects a misguided view of why science matters, one to which the Science Times issue could, however unintentionally, contribute. I hope not, because I suspect strongly that the future of humanity depends on our enthusiam for supporting the kinds of anticipations of change that will not occur without an institution committed to permanent skepticism.

Saharan diversity
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2003-11-15 15:17:04
Link to this Comment: 7263

Nomi, I disagree with your point that there is "ONE SPECIFIC TYPE SPECIMEN that is more 'fit' or adapted to its conditions than any other". If we were talking about a comically simplified organism (say, a stick man) inhabiting a comically simplified environment, then the single-adaptive-peak might be a reasonable claim. But because each environment imposes a variety of pressures on each organism (in our Sahara example, high day time temperatures, freezing night time temperatures, locomotion over soft sand, etc.), adaptations are always a result of compromise. Because of this element of compromise, there exist multiple forms and multiple 'lifestyles' that work equally well. That is what accounts for the diversity that Brittany points out.

Allow me to bring up the example from my evolution class. A very simplified environment was modelled for plants that only required the organism to be adept at tackling one biological problem, with the solution resulting from the combination of only two factors. In our case, we might model an animal dealing with the high temperatures of the Sahara through different combinations of body size and body shape. In this environment, a few forms emerged as 'peaks' on what is known as the adaptive landscape (with peaks and valleys corresponding to fitness). These peaks were very 'high', very differentiated from the rest of the landscape i.e. no similar forms came quite as close to getting the job done.

But when the simulation was re-run such that the organism now had to tackle three different biological tasks (as above, high temperatures, freezing temperatures, locomotion), a different landscape emerged. There were far more peaks now, but at the same time they had been reduced to bumps in the landscape, such that the next best alternatives (of which there were many) might not really be so bad after all. As a result of the need to be 'decent' at all tasks, the organism cannot be perfectly fit at only one task. This forces compromise and, thus, diversity.

Name: nancy
Date: 2003-11-16 18:10:03
Link to this Comment: 7271

This talk about genes for diseases such as sickle cell is interesting, and it leads me to wondering about genetic expression in other traits, and how we, as a society, seem to be moving towards a scientific explanations for things we don't tolerate well. The obvious example I am thinking of is homosexuality. There is constant talk of finding the "gay gene", as if finding a gene for something that is hard for society to digest will make people feel better. I think it would be interesting to locate such a gene, but the motives seem to be to use genetics to explain the behavior. Another example is obesity. The media overly valorizes thinness, and everyone knows the benefits of a healthy diet and exercise, yet the percentage of americans who can be classified as obese is constantly on the rise? My fear is that if we find a gene for an unhealthy condidtion such as obesity, people will feel as though they shoudlnt work to prevent it since it is genetically predispositioned.

Name: Nomi
Date: 2003-11-16 19:42:50
Link to this Comment: 7272

Thanks to Brittany and Su-Lyn for clarifying some issues for me ... I agree. I must say I was really "mid-thought" when I wrote that last forum. To tell you the truth, it's actually quite a relief to find that I'm wrong (at least in some sense). I had myself scared there for a minute! -- trying to concvince myself -- almost fatalistic.

I thought Nancy had a very good point. She raises a difficult balance that people must strike between ACCEPTING something and becoming RECONCILED to it. We need, of course, to accept homosexuality and obesity, as well as any other characteristics, and to stop judging them. Judging does nothing. It's never a matter of "fault!" I think people are correct in looking for "the gene" behind these characteristics if they do so in an attempt to erase the concept of fault. On the other hand, fault should not exist in the first place, and there is really no need to "explain" or "justify" what simply IS.

...That is not to say there is a huge, essential difference between being homosexual and being obese. There is! Homosexuality doesn't hurt anybody (unless involved with some sort of abusive relationship, but that can happen anywhere). As such, homosexuality is not what we term "pathological" -- that it, it exists in the normal range, and we don't have to do anything about it! Obesity, on the other hand, is very dangerous, and so is pathological and SHOULD be changed, if possible. We should not become reconciled to being fat just because we might be able to explain it genetically! What I really want to say is, it's hard to strike this mental balance, to fight both ends of the blame-vs.-change battle. On the one hand, we don't want people to blame homosexuals, or the obese, for their conditions. On the other hand, we want the obsese to try to lose weight -- and to have them understand that their condition, unlike homosexuality, is physically dangerous. I believe it is a matter of erasing what is "morally objectionable" -- a useless social judgement to make, really -- and focusing on what is "personally or socially harmful." (So there go religious ideals -- out the window!)

I also want, before class tomorrow, to give my answer to the question about why cells have lower-limits for size. I think that, just as with upper limits, it is a practical, spatial reason. In this case, however, I think it has to do not with surface area but with molecular complexity. The smallest atom must still take up a certain amount of space. In order to perform the complex biological tasks for which they are responsible, the molecules within cells must contain a certain minimum number of atoms. Along the same lines, the proteins composed of these molecules must be a certain minimum size to hold up to their complex, varied jobs. Same goes for the lipids and carbohydrates, not to mention the highly complex cell organelles themselves. If, for example, a protein must perform 200 little separate tasks, then it needs to have, say 200 amino acids, each of which has 10 or so atoms -- my numbers may be way off (I'm sure!), but the point stands. Cells have so much they need to do! It's just way too much to accomplish using any fewer of the building blocks, atoms, in any fewer assemblies.

I believe nature tends towards the most efficient (hence, bubbles are round to maximize volume for a given surface area). Though cell functioning may seem unbelievably complex, it is really as simple as is materially possible, considering what the cell must accomplish!

Okay, enough for now!

Name: Nomi
Date: 2003-11-16 19:44:31
Link to this Comment: 7274



Wait, don't answer that ... !

;) Nomi

Name: adina
Date: 2003-11-16 20:54:40
Link to this Comment: 7276

I agree with Nancy that, "if we find a gene for an unhealthy condition such as obesity, people will feel as if they shouldn't work to prevent it since it is genetically predispositioned," but I also think that if we do find a major contributing factor to obesity, it will be easier to treat severe cases of it medically.

Name: Melissa Ho
Date: 2003-11-16 21:59:53
Link to this Comment: 7278

"it leads me to wondering about genetic expression in other traits, and how we, as a society, seem to be moving towards a scientific explanations for things we don't tolerate well..."

This concept of genetic "predisposition" has been plaguing my thoughts recently. First, in response to Nancy, it leads me to wonder if these "explanations" presented to society are simply nothing more than an "myth" for our own understanding. This might be somewhat odd, but following the reasoning that for generations culture have used "creation myths" and other myths of sorts to explain the "unexplainable", it leads me to wonder this might just be a way to pacificy society with a short-term, easily accessible reasoning.

Is it possible to chalk up all that which we do not understand or tolerate as simply "the way it is"?

The explanation for predispositions is often sorted into one of two schools-- environment or genetic. Which is valid? Could it be that genetic issues are simply heredity and other the result of environmental factors? Here the example of identical twins seperated at birth becomes an interesting issue. While environment is often viewed as a formative force in the development of a child's personality and traits, many examples of identical twins, raised in opposite environments, show that despite differences in childhood and lifestyle, certain characteristics and preferences are identical. This, in its simplicity, is an example of the primordial argument of nature vs. nurture. It leaves me wondering if identity is really environmental or genetic.

[to see more about example of seperate identical twins go to following link:]

Name: Manuela C.
Date: 2003-11-17 02:42:33
Link to this Comment: 7283

I think another factor that may come to play in the nature vs. nurture debate is will, personality, soul, whatever you may want to call it. It is a little frightening to think that who you are and what you are depends on things that you cannot control... like your genes or your environment, and that between one or the other, there lies nothing that leaves room for something our society values so highly: individual expression. Are we not responsible for our own actions because we are responding to biological predispositions or because we cannot help but reflect our upbringing? How does this affect the debate?
I don't know... just some random thoughts :)

Name: Natalya Kr
Date: 2003-11-17 09:53:28
Link to this Comment: 7285

The roles that genes and human will play in human attributes and behavior is a controversial and emotional issue. None of us would like to believe that all of our attributes and abilities are predetermined in the womb because we are aware of our failings and we would like to believe that we can improve upon them over time. It is obvious that our lives and environment and experience have so effect on our genes otherwise identical twins would behave in exactly the same way and really look completely identical. At the same time we sort of have to face up to the fact that our genes do determine, to a large extent, who we are, and we are limited by them.

Name: Talia Libe
Date: 2003-11-17 16:47:16
Link to this Comment: 7294

People are always saying that science is objective, as opposed to social sciences and history, which are almost certainly, invariably subjective in one way or another. However, I see science to be very subjective. For example, with all of the talk lately about finding genes for things such as being gay and being obese. Though it is possible that the study that goes into it is unbiased, just the questions of what we research and what we don't is a matter of bias. Why do people care whether or not there is a gay gene? Because it will help people to understand what the do not understand - psychologically and socially. I also wonder sometimes, how much of the "facts" discovered are tweeked so that they represent what the scientist wanted to believe? This is a huge problem in Sociology, for example, when trying to make sense of sociological findings. I think the problem holds true, also, for science.
In the end - the only thing that it completely unbiased fact is the universal language of mathematics, a language I will never comprehend.

Name: Katie Otta
Date: 2003-11-17 18:33:56
Link to this Comment: 7295

I was thinking about what we were talking about in class today - the idea that there is most likely a gene that codes for obesity, and also about the idea that genes are not THE determining factor in most cases. I think that obesity is a good example of the role environment plays in the way people are. If there is a gene related to obesity, it most likely codes for fat retention, not for a dangerously high weight. We don't live in the environment we evolved in - we live in one full of refined sugars, desk jobs, cars, and high-fat snack foods. A gene that may have been adventageous several hundred years ago could result in life-threatening conditons today. I guess this sort of plays into Talia's point about objectivity. A gene that codes for fat retention would be a good thing in the environment humans used to live in, and would be considered a bad thing today.

science and social biases
Name: Flicka
Date: 2003-11-18 00:18:47
Link to this Comment: 7302

I was thinking about Talia was saying about how science is never really objective, and I agree. I think scientists try to focus more on the summary of observations they gather rather than on their social biases, but they are always there. To some extent, there is, as Nancy said, a feeling that science needs to explain socially unacceptable subjects such as homosexuallity. However, I think what makes a good scientist is someone who can distance themselves from these biases as much as poosible.

And to comment on what Manuela and Natalya were discussing:
I don't think a person can blame the way they act on their genes. Genes can affect things such as your physical appearance. However, I think that the behaviour of a person depends mostly on the way they were raised, their past experiences, and other outside factors. Genes don't determine who you are as a person; they determine how you look physically. This all goes back, of course, to the nature vs. nurture debate. But if a homosexual gene was found, it would change the conception that social behaviour is not a cultural adaptation, but rather a bilogical inevitability for some people. And I think that is the major implication of this possibility. . .

Nature and Nurture
Name: Patty
Date: 2003-11-18 20:41:28
Link to this Comment: 7319

I know that this is a very popular additive to any discussion that brings up nature VS nurture, but I just found it important to say it again: We are clearly dealing with Nature AND Nurture. People may be predisposed to become or suffer with any number of things. People are also often in control of the onset, extent, severity, and overall effect that these "things" have on their life. It's so stressful to have two rational for one occurrence (i.e. obesity, homosexuality, etc.) that are both equally important to the discussion. We have SOME say over our lives, but not complete. Some things "just are the way they are," but never entirely independent of environmental factors. Accepting a stance that satisfies both the nature and nurture arguments and does not force them to oppose each other is a quicker way to find solutions that suit our lives.

As far as the argument of Nature Vs Nurture, which may always come up when trying to assign genes to very specific human issues, I find myself compelled to quote Jitendra N. Mohanty, a phenomenological rationalist philosopher. What he describes about diffrent world noemata, (or what can be applied in this case as diffrent ways of looking at the same problem within any relm of undersanding, is this:

" In the first place, there is no opposition between diversity and unity. Unity is being worked out rather than being a preexisting metaphysical entity. The process is gentle and tolerant rather than violent and imperious."

I feel this also need apply to haw we look at the role of science in relation to the role of all other ways of rationalising the world. It is not a factual approach, but just another explanation to be tolerantly and gently campared and contrasted with the religious and the cultural and so on.

Name: Christina
Date: 2003-11-19 23:45:24
Link to this Comment: 7342

I don't think it's fair to say that scientists and researchers today simply "blame" everything on genetics. With new technology, they have been able to gather that genetics DO in fact play a very large role in determining many of a person's traits (both internal and external). Therefore, it is legitimate to form hypotheses that revolve around genetics as the "cause" of something. However, I feel like everyone is assuming that genetic factors and environmental factors are mutually exclusive in determining things such as homosexuality and obesity. I think it's often a combination of both. People with a "certain gene" may be more likely to become obese or live a homosexual lifestyle, but I think the environment in which these people live has to foster that as well. For example, there are significantly more obese people in the United States than say, Japan, due to the clear differences in diets. People in this country eat too much "fast food" and too many snacks that are very high in fat.

Name: maria
Date: 2003-11-20 15:49:32
Link to this Comment: 7347

In an exciting linguistic development during this week's lab a new world was created: alloquat. Apperantly it can also be spelled with a "c"...which is the Native American spelling. But I also thought it was an interesting lab from the scientific standpoint. Unlike many labs, where the whole process was so complex that by the time the lab was finished I had forgoten what I was trying to do, I actually had a sense of purpose throughout the entire lab this time. Though I must say that I felt quite bad for the Lysed yeast. It seems to have gotten roughed up quite a bit.

Nature and Nurture
Name: Natalya Kr
Date: 2003-11-20 17:51:31
Link to this Comment: 7348

Something that occurred to me in considering the Nature vs. Nuture and Nature AND Nurture arguments is that it is all about the extent of our personal control over our lives. This may seem obvious, but there are many situations in which the control we exercise over what happens to us in life is ambiguous. In the context of an audition, for example, one has no direct control over whether or not one is picked for the part/solo, but one does exercise control over how much one practices one's craft and to a certain extent, how focused one is in the audition. So who is really in control, the auditionar or the evaluator, and to what extent? Similarly, which genetics, there are genetic obstacles that people overcome in miraculous ways. I can't remember exactly who it is, but there is this world-class African-American female sprinter who was in a wheel-chair until she was twelve. Our genes may control our destiny to some extent, but to what extent can we master our gene and/or genetic defects, and control our own destiny, or conversely, to what extent can we lose control, despite our genetic advantages?

Behavior and Genetics
Name: Natalya Kr
Date: 2003-11-20 17:56:49
Link to this Comment: 7349

In response to Flicka's comment that genes influence only our physical appearance and not the way we act, I profoundly disagree. Behavioral patterns like depression, mental illness, and even eating patterns are extremely heritable on a genetic basis. There is a great deal of behavior and psychology that is beyond one's direct control and often not related to one's experiences or advantages at all, but most probably, by genetically influenced if not predetermined neurobiology.

Behavior and Genetics
Name: Natalya Kr
Date: 2003-11-20 17:57:00
Link to this Comment: 7350

In response to Flicka's comment that genes influence only our physical appearance and not the way we act, I profoundly disagree. Behavioral patterns like depression, mental illness, and even eating patterns are extremely heritable on a genetic basis. There is a great deal of behavior and psychology that is beyond one's direct control and often not related to one's experiences or advantages at all, but most probably, by genetically influenced if not predetermined neurobiology.

Nature/Nurture, Free Will/Predetermination
Name: Nomi
Date: 2003-11-20 20:16:33
Link to this Comment: 7353

"Something that occurred to me in considering the Nature vs. Nuture and Nature AND Nurture arguments is that it is all about the extent of our personal control over our lives." - Natalya

Gosh, I agree that this whole Nature and Nurture, Free Will / Responsibility and Predetermination discussion is really complicated! I have always wondered, for example, what role the SELF plays in the Nature-Nurture debate. Are we a part of Nature because we are, at bottom, genetically constructed beings? Or do we constitute a piece of the Nurture, of our environment, because our feelings and actions inevitably influence our later feelings and actions? Is it reasonable to assume the Self can even be placed in this dichotomy? Is the line between nature and nurture that clear, or does Self constitute the foggy middle ground?

Another big question -- one I won't even pretend to answer here, much as I'm tempted! -- is that theme of responsibility. It's all very well to say, as the therapists do, that there is no FAULT: fault, after all, leads to feelings of guilt, which are destructive and ineffective in the healing or "recovery" process ... and I agree with this. I argued before that blame and fault are mostly useless, and I still think they are.

BUT ... on the other hand, if we dismiss fault, what happens to control, to responsibility? If I kill someone, I should take responsibility for it and not do it again! Without free will, there can be no responsibility; without responsibility, there can be no control, no positive change. We might speculate about it, but if we really did not believe in free will, society would go AMOK! I believe in free will!

But, I concede, free will and fault must go hand-in-hand.

Okay, back to functionalism! There are no right answers, no truths, no clear divisions, even. So what is most useful to humanity? Clearly (to me), we should take responsibility for our actions but not dwell on fault or other things that induce too much guilt.

And nature / nurture? Just tell me, where do I (myself) fit in?

Nature/Nuture Stuff
Name: Sarah
Date: 2003-11-20 20:56:02
Link to this Comment: 7354

Okay, so in reading some of your guys' comments, I noticed that the idea of control and blame came up. My first web paper was Why Stress Affects Everybody Differently, and one of the main reasons it does is because of the individual person's personality traits. A very important trait in determining a person's level of stress is locus of control/chance. This is basically whether the person thinks they can control the situation or not. People who have a belief that they can influence their internal states and behavior and influence their environment and bring about desired outcomes are much less susceptible to stress than those who simply give up and think that they have no control over the situation.

I think this is relevant because I think that in recent years, there's been a tendency to well...blame things on genes. I'm not saying that there aren't strong genetic links in certain cases, I know that there is some VERY strong evidence for certain genetic links. What I'm saying is that while it may be in PART genes, it's ALSO partly the nurture side of the debate. And to neglect the nurture side, and say that "oh it's all genetic" is a very bad mistake to make. By blaming it all on genes, the person's locus of control is completely skewed. This might even lead to a lot more stress in that person's life. I just think that recently people have been putting more than deserved emphasis on genetics, and this could prove to be detrimental in the future.

Also, like, for example, there are biological differences in the brains of people who have depression and people who don't. But I saw a commercial once where they said basically, "Depression isn't your fault. This is a biological disease. You can't be blamed for it; it's purely genetic." And though I do know that there ARE strong genetic links with depression, I think this may lead to an overdependence on pills. People might just think, "Oh my brain's biology isn't quite right, so I'll just take a pill to fix it." But that's assuming that depression is due to the biological differences in the brains of people with depression, not that the biological differences are due to depression! Another factor to consider is that maybe depression runs in families because the living environment predisposes them to depression! Overall, I guess I just think that recently people have been overemphasizing the role of "nature" in the nature/nurture debate.

one more time
Name: enor
Date: 2003-11-21 02:27:51
Link to this Comment: 7358

I was just reading Nomi's posting concerning 'fault' and 'responibility'. In response to her question about biological predisposition and where free will comes in to play, I have decided to bring up once again the tiresome argument about serial killers. It is a statistical fact that most or many serial killers have damaged frontal lobes in their brains. Psychological studies have shown that damaged frontal lobes tend to lead to aggression and poor judgement (the possibility of their not knowing right from wrong or not caring about the difference is a valid issue also). This damage may be caused naturally (predisposition), or by abuse, or by other circumstances. Should we excuse the behavior of serial killers if their have an unstoppable biological urge to kill? I think no for a few reasons - first of all, not all people with damaged frontal lobes kill - second - not all serial killers have damaged frontal lobes. But this debate does raise some interesting issues about anatomy/ biology and responsibility.

I have another question too. If someone commits a crime then loses conciousness, say from amnesia, and then they live their lives as a new person (I know this sounds like the plot from A Long Kiss Goodnight) should they be held accountable for a crime they have no recollection of doing?

This issue might be cutting too close to neurobiology, but I still maintain that responibility and biology are relateable aswell, even if it does involve the brain.

Date: 2003-11-21 02:35:40
Link to this Comment: 7359

how do we access the "does science matter?" article? I am the only one who couldn't access it? It said I needed to pay 2.95? huh

Name: Julia
Date: 2003-11-21 10:48:13
Link to this Comment: 7361

Enor - I'd like to think the purpose of the justice system is to improve society, not to punish. When I was little and hit my sister, my mom put me in timeout in hopes I wouldn't do stuff like that anymore, rather than because I was somehow criminal and needed to be punished. (I don't know that this mindset is actually present in the justice system, but I'd like to think it is.)
So maybe people who commit crimes and then have amnesia, or who commit crimes and have frontal lobe damage, should still be punished to a reasonable extent as a warning to them and other people. I mean, even if you're biologically predispositioned to cancer, obesity, or serial killing, you should do your best to prevent those things. You should wear sunblock, eat your broccoli, not kill people, etc.

nature vs. nuture
Name: Megan
Date: 2003-11-23 20:57:17
Link to this Comment: 7377

If we regard genes simply as coding for proteins, doesnt that kind of flush the whole idea of nature vs. nuture down the tube? Biological predisposition, or "human nature" now seems dubious to me. I thought that theorists kind of came to a conclusion that it was a combo of nature and nuture that determines how people turn out, whether it is psychology or sexual preference or a multitude of other things. Example, people say things like, oh he got his mean streak from his dad's side of the family, which seems like it is genetic. Obviously there is no gene for meaness, so it must be nuture?

Name: Justine
Date: 2003-11-23 21:16:17
Link to this Comment: 7378

I don't know about all this stuff. I guess in my opinion at least I fine nurture to have a little more weight. I think that even though a certain part of the body may have certain methods of performing certain activities it all really depends on the individuals. For example one might say that one type of a creature behaves in such a fashion because of how its body works, chemically and anatomically but that does not necessarily in my opinion explain the variety that exists in different species. I find that there are 2 conflicting messages in dealing with biology and what this class discusses. First biology is based on diversity or so I think we stated in class. Second we also say that there are certain fundamental things associated with certain species types of people whatever. So does that mean that diversity only derives from a fluke a that creature's/ object's genetic make up? Does diversity only come about because of some mistake or can it be influenced by how that certain creature grows up?

Name: Justine
Date: 2003-11-23 21:26:32
Link to this Comment: 7379

Sorry another quick thought. Genes = protein coat. Alright then, I'll go with it but why then is there such a focus on genetics and research. I know this is probably simplifying the issue but if as a society we focus on fixing genetic dilemas by changing someone's genes does that essential mean we are changing the coat of a protein. If it were that easy doesn't seem like we would be able to fix the problem then? So, I guess what I'm suggesting is that the reason why we don't know is because there are other things that make a person who they are. This could be on the biological level as well as the spiritual level. Also, does that mean if you happen to have a thicker protein coat or a longer one your hair will be brown or that you may have some sort of genetic problem? What I don't understand is why everything has to be simiplified into one thing. If we like diversity so much then why when there's a problem does it mean that there has to be one solution even though the problem in itself may multiple orgins and we as a society can't be ok with that.

Name: su-lyn
Date: 2003-11-24 10:42:15
Link to this Comment: 7384

Prof. Grobstein, in response to your thoughts on the New York Times article:

"The distinctive role that science has played in our culture... is to be the embodiment of permanent skepticism, of a persistant doubt about the validity of any given set of understandings reached by whatever means (including those of science itself). It is the insistence on doubting existing understandings, not the wish to eliminate humans ills nor to find 'answers'..." -- Prof. Grobstein

This is a stirring appraisal of science and one that I would very much like to believe. But I'm beginning to have my doubts. In my conversations with others about the natural sciences and the social sciences, I have represented the views that you express in class - about the noble skepticism of science - as those of the scientific community at large. Now I sense my own naivety in having done so.

The tale that Broad and Glanz weave is a misguided one, so you say, but my question is this: you and what army? Are all scientists as given to reflection about what it is they are trying to achieve? Would every scientist agree that it is Broad and Glanz who are misguided?

I feel there is a strong dichotomy between the doers and the thinkers, and it the thinking minority that allows science to remain, in large part, unaccountable for what it has brought about. This pretense of "we realize what we're doing" is veiling the general inattention to such matters. John Marburger (W's science advisor) in an interview with SEED this summer said: "Cloning is not a science issue... It is completely an ethics issue, one hundred percent." It is for the philosophers of science and bioethicists to play that role, he seems to say, *not us real scientists*.

Finally, if science is truly about this greatly exulted skepticism, how can science make claims (as Reagan's science advisor, George Keyworth II, does in the article) to knowing that no God exists? Spontaneous generation was once dismissed as religious rubbish, and yet science eventually returned to it to explain the origins of life. Darwinists have dismissed Lamarck's ideas by postulating evolution as a result of purely random changes, yet now evidence is beginning to show that mutations do occur in non-random ways. So how does science preclude any existence of God?

Name: Katie
Date: 2003-11-24 20:48:17
Link to this Comment: 7387

This is completely off topic, friend found this while she was poking around online, and I thought it was sort of interesting (I also immediately thought about the earlier debate we had on evolution and religion). I don't really agree with anything presented or the basic ideas behind the projects, but it was sort of neat to see what other people's concept of "science" is.

The Concept of Everything
Name: Nomi
Date: 2003-11-25 12:33:42
Link to this Comment: 7394

"Spontaneous generation was once dismissed as religious rubbish, and yet science eventually returned to it to explain the origins of life. Darwinists have dismissed Lamarck's ideas by postulating evolution as a result of purely random changes, yet now evidence is beginning to show that mutations do occur in non-random ways. So how does science preclude any existence of God?" -- Su-Lyn

I agree. In fact, this makes me think of a private suspicion I have always held that EVERYTHING exists somewhere. A somewhat overwhelming thought, I know. But endless space is certainly, if you think about it, big enough to harbor everything. With all the different environments out there, things that can't possibly exist in an earth environment will surely fit right in someplace else. The laws of probability dictate, it seems to me, that if you could search an endless space forever you would encounter everything. Spontaneous generation ... Lamarkian evolution ... and God. At its most basic, it is purely mathematical ... and that's not counting a tendency scientists have noticed for things to occur in greater abundance and more rapidly once similar things have occurred already (like that story about the monkeys who learned to separate rice from sand by floating it -- another monkey across the ocean picked right up on it!).

I want to laugh at myself as I write "law" and "tendency" because, of course, according to my theory, there will be plenty of places where such "laws" and "tendencies" do not hold. In fact, there will be places where even my theory of everything does not hold! But this is an uncertainty I will have to live with. I believe the astronomers and physicists who try to find the "universal laws" of space and matter are fooling themselves: nothing is universal; there will always be exceptions, derivations from known rules. The concept of everything, the thought that nothing is always, is very difficult to accept. Certainly, it is way beyond our puny human grasp to imagine EVERYTHING! But I believe in this.

If everything exists somewhere in some state, it follows that there should be no absolute truths but also no absolute untruths. No absolute lies! When Prof. Grobstein talks about our "getting it less wrong," I think he needs to realize that, just as one is never absolutely right in science or in life, nor is one ever absolutely wrong. *

*I'm speaking in the universal sense, of course, which is fun but not very practical. Practically -- as it applies to use human beings -- there ARE rights and wrongs, things that can exist and things that cannot. But all of these things are relative in the greater scheme.

Also wanted to say that I agree science has put too much weight on genetics recently, but since traits are probably a combination of so many influencing factors, what you find really all depends on what you can -- or want to -- see. Little personal anecdote: My mother used to believe strongly in the effects of nurture in raising children (deluded herself, as she now puts it). Then she adopted two foreign infants -- who grew up so absurdly different from her biological children in the same household that she threw her faith into genetics! Whatever makes sense ... !

Is exercise good for the body?
Name: Ramatu Kal
Date: 2003-11-30 23:28:29
Link to this Comment: 7411

Often people say what may be seem good to you at one time can be bad for you in the end. This reminded me of a conversation I was having with my friend about the need for exercise in our daily lives. My friend disagreed saying "exercise can not be good for the body, becuase it puts stress on the joints, which causes them to weaken." Now, I am not sure if this is true or not, but what my friend said made me think about science and whether it tells the truth or not. Lately there has been so muvch news about Americans being overweightand therefore exercised is now being reinforced, but my queastion id if (in the case of my friends) exercise is not really "good" for the body, then why is everyone making such a big deal about it.

Name: Julia
Date: 2003-12-01 11:01:03
Link to this Comment: 7413

Su-lyn, I think you're right that most scientists don't really reflect the ideals we're learning here. Staying objective has got to be one of the hardest things for people to do over long periods of time, since it means changing the way you think about things constantly. I don't think I know anyone who manages to do it all the time.

Transcending Science and God
Date: 2003-12-03 22:42:14
Link to this Comment: 7454

Contra Nomi!

The question of science and the existence of God continually plagues me. Personally, I do not believe in "A God"--that is, that we are one nation under GOD, and that some sort of Judeo-Christian God shines down upon Americans. I think it's rubbish, but the question of religion (NOT FAITH) is something I believe science should play a vital role in "unpacking" so to speak.

First of all, I never understood why the ancient Greek and Norse Gods (which certainly preclude Christianity) have, over time, been demoted to the category of "Mythology." What caused Zeus to take a backseat to the Christian "God?" How can someone say that their God (which, might I remind you, is an intangible being, with no more substance than a shadow) is the "right God." To me, it is utterly ridiculous
that people can posess so much faith in nothing more than an antique story of creation. Why not put the power of your destiny into your own hands, make YOU the center of your being, worship yourself! At least it's something you can feel and touch. I understand that God speaks to people through prayer, He touches you in a way that only you know and understand--but to base your life around the teachings of a book, to make decisions based on ancient scripture that dictates what is right and wrong (remember, sodomy= sin, foreplay= sin, abortion=sin) is utterly ignorant.

I think the role science plays is multifaceted: firstly, people need to know that with time comes change, and in order to meet that change you must adapt. So, why not take the good from what religion has to offer: a sense of place amongst the world and in the community, and read the Bible for its scholarly merit, use the Golden Rule, apply it to your life not because it is "God's word" but dammit, because YOU SHOULD TREAT OTHERS AS YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE TREATED. Why not think of yourself as You, not a Christian, or a Jew, or a Catholic.

I do not see the merit of organized religion today. People are killing in the name of religion! We violently try to prove a point to others that war is done in the name of saving people from evil. We shove "saving yourself" down the throats of people, brainwashing them into believing that if they for a second think or act for themselves, or have the brazen idea to make themselves master of their destiny--they are trespassing against Him. This is extremism at its best. Science has a DUTY to try to uncover the mystery of life, where we came from, how the world was created, and I believe, to try and shed light on whether or not Noah's Ark, or the parting of the seas ever happened, or if it is even plausible (I have already answered that question for myself). In ancient times, and still today, organized religion and the existence of God has its roots in the act of storytelling. What does it give to humans that is so damn necessary? An explanation for our existence, and will to believe that there is a higher power OTHER than man that controls our actions, moving us toward an ultimate destiny. I cannot help but wonder if there is no God, what it might do to humanity. Would people start looting and raping and killing eachother because the threat of the Divine Hand no longer exists? Would it rhender life meaningless? Or, would people do what they have continued to do in the face of the conflict between science and God: keep the faith and believe with even more certainty that He exists. If anything, you have nothing to lose, it's all about faith, but faith is different than religious extremism.

With what is going on in the world today, especially in America, the issue of religion is like an open wound. If you dare speak agaist the existence of Him, you are an athiest, a feminist, a left wing nutso who has no morals. This treatment is abominable--people have lost their voices. My boyfriend's mother (a fundamentalist Christian who hates me) told me that when I meditate and do yoga, I not only open up my mind to the good in the world, but to Satan and all the evil that exists. Therefor, I shouldn't open up my mind to that extent for fear of being overcome by evil. This is the same woman who described me as "nothing but a boarding school brat cocooned into a left wing dyke." This, mind you, is coming from a woman who considers herself a Christian.....yeah...what was that part about "dyke?"

It is science's duty to see that the separation of Church and State is CLEARLY DRAWN, to illuminate the relevancy and "proof" of biblical stories, and to show that the space of the world is a mystical place-- it allows for the possibility of anything. I believe that in the space of the theater, humans can communicate through a gestural telepathy of sorts simply through the molecules, atoms, brain waves, and energy exerted through the channel of communicato. Certainly, if I can throw my energy onto another person, then energy in space (from wherever, or whomever) can be exerted on me. It takes a special understanding and the desire to see and feel the connection though, and this is something science will never be able to fully explain.

Name: annannanna
Date: 2003-12-03 22:56:48
Link to this Comment: 7455

The Zen Master said

"There is no answer; seek it lovingly."

Name: Brittany
Date: 2003-12-04 00:59:12
Link to this Comment: 7458

To Anna: I'm sorry religion has made you so bitter... understandably though, considering the abuse you've put up with from your boyfriend's mom. Jeez. Kudos for putting up with that.

I don't think Nomi was supporting the "existence" of God in a religious sense, or at least, in a sense you need to contradict so vehemently. She was simply saying that if the universe is infinite, and if all of those sci-fi writers are right and parallel universes *do* exist, and those universes *do* represent the breadth of reality, then somewhere, on some alternate universe, in some remote nook or cranny of the dimensional plane, a God (or Gods) do(es) exist.

Perhaps, on this alternate plane, people are not so violent in support of their faith. We can only hope so.

For more on this idea, in a format that's bearable, I highly recommend to you any of Roger Zelazny's work... his fiction (yes, I do read sci-fi/fantasy) explores the idea of parallel, slightly-differing universes, in a fun way. He's also very irreverent, which you might also enjoy. ^_^

Additionally, as others (Nomi and Su-Lyn, I believe?) have pointed out, a lot of the evidence coming out right now *does* suggest a deeper "order" to the chaos we've always placed at the beginning of the universe. This may indicate a "God," per se---however, it's not as if this "order" is stamped with "Made in Heaven, copyright Jesus Christ." It's just suspiciously ordered chaos.

Name: Nomi
Date: 2003-12-04 14:06:21
Link to this Comment: 7462

I hope Brittany has cleared things up for us a bit. I know she has for me. Thanks, Brittany.

I don't claim to understand religion. I suppose I ought to preface my thoughts about god or gods with that. My hope, in my last posting, was not to make any kind of definitive statement about god but rather to assert the uselessness of "not believing" in something, as "nonexistence" can never be proven and may not even BE. It's just as useless as -- as sure to curtail exploration as -- believing, something Prof. Grobstein has talked about.

More later, but I apologize for stirring up negative emotions. It's fine to think of me as ignorant and fumbling -- I am, in this area -- but the confrontational aspect was not intentional, so I hope no one takes it as such.

Now I'm off to think about sheep ...

Exercise: right or wrong?
Name: Nomi
Date: 2003-12-04 14:23:23
Link to this Comment: 7463


I wanted to briefly respond to your ponderings ...

All of life is a cost-benefit analysis, a balancing act, an exercise in getting the lesser of two "evils" / sources of harm. Sure, exercise wears down your joints. But the dangers of joint wear -- arthritis, perhaps a broken bone -- are much less extreme (and far less lethal) than the dangers associated with not exercising at all -- heart disease, diabetes, and so on. So, yes, it is good to exercise, "good" taken as the relative term that it is.

If you think about it, for goodness' sakes, life wears down your joints --simply by living, moving, resting, BEING. The beating heart tires itself out, speeds itself along toward the day when it will inevitably stop beating. Birth is lethal; there is no greater guarantee of death than life. In this world, we have so many things to fear, so many forms of sickness decay and breakdown. What's more, when you're in "perfect" health -- when you are most absolutely alive -- you have the most to lose; you can move in no other direction than that of death. Such is life! LIFE is about getting it less bad, less wrong (as Prof. Grobstein says); you can never do the "right" thing. That's why I always say, You have to choose your worries. There are just too many available!

In short: exercising is a less harmful or "less wrong" choice than not exercising (I think, as of right now).

Okay ... so it wasn't so brief!

Name: Flicka
Date: 2003-12-04 15:58:38
Link to this Comment: 7466

I agree with Nomi. Exercise is ultimately very useful for the body. Sure, it can put stress on your joints if you run or do track, but so can cracking your knuckles. Any form of exercising (running, walking, bicycling) is beneficial to the body. It burns off calories and fat, and it also builds up stamina. In addition, it helps the circulation of blood in the heart, and can reduce the risk of heart problems later in life.

Let's clear things up a bit
Name: Anna Anna
Date: 2003-12-04 17:45:43
Link to this Comment: 7468

To articulte: I didn't mean to come off as so vehement in my assertions, which, unfortunately, kind of made me lose sight of what I was actually saying.

I absolutely agreed with Nomi (no, I do not think you are a fumbling bumbling person), I cannot see how one wouldn't allow for parallel universes or spheres of understanding.

I meant to make it more of a point that fanatacism, or extremism at any level--especially with regard to the question of religion and God's existence, is a very dangerous thing, and I see that happening in the world right now. The boyfriend's mom comment was just to show that even the most religiously pious of people can be mean and cruel and seem to have no firm grounding in how one interacts with others in the world *who do not share their same belief system*

I think it is part of the wonderous nature of science to not disprove or prove the *existence* of God, but more so, to add some sort of *factual* grounding from which people can spring from in understanding and interpreting stories within themselves.

I think people have had maybe *a little too much faith* in stories and in repressing the part of your mind that desires to explore the nature of evil, terror, and chaos of the world--they have consciously formed a sort of *alternate reality*. This is kind of a wonderful thing to think about, it means people have the imagination and the ability to fantasize to the entent of *a constant and unwavering* belief in the spectacle of the past. However, *loosing* yourself to be blinded by the *story* causes an abandonment of rationality, and an internal conflict between your conscious and unconscious, (which, if not exersised) can result in mental disorders, hysteria, and phobia of *the unknown.* Our developmental processes have their grounding in being able to explore the *sublime* (not become l, ost inside its deths) and take from it a mystical awareness.

In turn, I feel like people have *lost* themselves in a psychic modality that is quite different our surroundings. This loss of self into the world of myth and image is certainly a *plane of understanding* but it is also important to maintain a Brechtian point of view of the spectacle. Separation is necessary in order to maintain a rational understanding, to be able to see past *what the text of the story dictates* to delve into the language of symbols and reconnect with the self's individuality, and it's projected involvements in the *external* world.

I hope this cleared things up a bit....

Dear Fabulous Anna
Name: Patricia P
Date: 2003-12-04 18:56:12
Link to this Comment: 7470

I sympathize and agree. I have struggled with a very close friend of mine who is very Christian, while I am very much a believer of this life. She finds that discouraging and utterly wrong. I find her views to be offensive to intellectual diversity and just anti-people and pro-Christians. I figure God would be bigger than that. We go back and forth. And the road is long. And we love each other very much. It all applies to science and biology in the way that it applies to humanity. How do we all co-exist with these core beliefs that are the antithesis of one another. I agree with your beliefs on life, and I also applaud people for hanging to whatever branch of hope gives them purpose to life. But no one has the right to beat anyone over the head with their own beliefs. It's just counter-intuitive. I don't want an institution to tell me I am allowed to ask questions as long as I return to one answer. It's very poetic but disappointing to someone really in search of answers. And yet there is great purpose to what (I also feel) is exquisite and valuable mythology. I applaud people's use of religion to exalt themselves and their purpose on this earth. I question the way in which we have stuck with doctrines that seem far behind our growth as emotional and intellectual beings. As Anna quoted from the Zen Master, which I can't agree with more, "There is no answer. Seek it lovingly." Outward expressions of beliefs, as I have done with my close friend are devastating, and can also be excellent avenues of growth in both individuals' faith. I would not have traded the gut wrenching arguments for anything. And that is why I chose to further them in this forum. It is necessary for people to come clean about what we believe about life. Through that stress and honesty, we evolve, in whichever direction. Although you seemed passionate, Anna, I believe you have every right to be. Missionaries are passionate too. We're all after the same thing. We care. And we may not put together pamphlets or have an organized church, but we just as good odds at being right. And it only helps to share it with people searching. No one needs proof or support. That is not what this is ever about. We all have much to offer. Anyone who feels that they have more to offer than another person needs to be more honest with themselves.

Name: Maria S-W
Date: 2003-12-06 11:04:07
Link to this Comment: 7477

For some reason our discussion this week of cells and how they work made me think of the conversation we had in class earlier this year about whether of not we could make a dog if we simply put all of the atoms in the correct order. it seems to make so much more sense now when you realize that "putting together" atoms in the correct order is not like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Rather it would mean arranging them to form little ribosomes or the membranes within a chloroplasts. It would mean creating all of these small parts that somehow KNOW how to interact with other that eventually ends up with a dog who wags it's tail becasue little cells made up of atoms are doing thier job.
I thought it was also interesting that nerve cells don't reproduce. It would seem that those of all cells would be the ones that would NEED to be able to heal. I wondered if it was just that the nervous system was such a fine-tuned thing that perhaps it didn't reproduce its cells becasue it had to be arranged in a specific order and reproducing created too many opportunities to mess it up, and it was less problematic to just not let it reproduce at all. Can cells distinguish well enough to ONLY reproduce when injured and the rest of the time remain reproductivly inactive? It seems like everything else they do is so organized and well exectued that if it were adventageous they would have somed mechanism.
In terms of the brief discussion that took place on Friday regarding cancer, someone asked why some cancers tend to develop at certain ages, and I thought it was a good question. Why does it seem that Hodgkins tends to hit teens more than, say, breast cancer? Why does it seem that young women with breast cancer seem to develop more severe cases than some older women? When I think of cancer as just cells dividing out of control (which is obviously not a complete description)it seems so strange that they should go awry at different times. That they malfunction in specific ways that isn't just unique to one person. THe melanoma that one person has is often quite similar to the melanoma of another person etc.
My last question was whether we are really just sort of destined to be wiped out by some virus at some point.It seems like they are much better at figuring out how to survive than we are. The more you learn about them the more you think that it's just a matter of time until something takes out a huge portion of the population. AIDS, for example is already doing a pretty thorough job of infecting huge number of people. And imagine if it were able to move from one person to another like the common cold (not AIDS specifically, but just a deadly virus)? I mean...eventaully, isn't there a decent chance that there will be SOMETHING that that just me being fatalistic or does anyone else out there find it rather anxiety provoking, not as worrisome as getting ALS or Guaine Beret (I spelled that wrong...), but still it is a scary thought.

Name: Melissa
Date: 2003-12-07 22:03:13
Link to this Comment: 7480

"I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals Himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings."
- Albert Einstein

The topics of religion and science are difficult ones to merge-- if at all possible as one debunks the beliefs of the other. Interestingly, I find that many times one does not attempt to validify their own argument of creation, but instead strives at undermining the other by claiming to reveal that their motives for belief are illusory and fallacious.

I find it diffocult to say that it is science's duty to clearly differentiate between the science necessarily more true than religion? To a degree, both are relatively subjective and offer understanding to those ascertaining to either belief. Understanding and truth, I believe, can be found in both science and religion. Each one lends itself to certain "explanations" more readily than the others.
Perhaps it is best to be agnostic with regards to both science and religion.

Name: Ramatu Kal
Date: 2003-12-08 02:15:01
Link to this Comment: 7481

Science to me is an eel-like subject: slippery, difficult to grasp, and almost impossible to get straight.

Back to the Exercise Thing
Name: stefanie
Date: 2003-12-08 02:17:21
Link to this Comment: 7482

after reading the posts re: exercise and whether that is a positive life choice or not, of course it is. exercise, or rather physical exertion, is a key aspect of human existence. there was a time in our "history" when food was not prepackaged and at our fingertips, and when the primary form of transportation was by foot. exercise is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and i might argue that the development of certain diseases/disorders/illnesses etc... are the product of societal opposition, or maybe more appropriately society's lack of focus on exercise as a way to maintain a healthy lifestyle. fad diets and supplements have taken the spotlight away from a good jog, ride on a bike, or weight lifting.

religion and science
Name: enor
Date: 2003-12-08 02:18:30
Link to this Comment: 7483

Whoa!!! What happened in the forum in the past two days? I thought I had stumbled into some angry Csem conversation -
jk - anyways, I just thought that I would completely agree with Melissa with regards to her comments on the benefits of being agnostic. The way I see it is that we are all just human - can we really make assertions on what is or is not? Personally, I feel that human boundaries (mental, spiritual, and physical) are too restrictive to allow room for judgment any further than an opinion. These boundaries force us to confront our own inadequacy as a capable evaluator of anything beyond our own lives, if that. On that note, I agree with what Fabulous Anna had to say about people's tendency to verbally vomit with their convictions to any ear, willing or not willing to listen. As tiny citizens of a much greater universe, each catering and basing opinions through our own experiences, a tolerance should be reached through this reality. Perhaps some people feel their ideas are more urgent than others for fear of coming to terms with their own worldly insignificance.

On religion plus
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2003-12-08 09:43:13
Link to this Comment: 7484

Interesting conversation. Some perhaps relevant contributions:

Reflections ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2003-12-08 09:56:53
Link to this Comment: 7485

Many thanks for everyone's participation in our work together, a social process "in which the observations and tentative summaries are shared among individuals, so that each can benefit from the ongoing inquiries of others". For your final forum entry, how about going back to your thoughts at the beginning of the semester about science and life and reflect on what has (or has not) changed in your thinking over the semester.

Name: Julia
Date: 2003-12-11 12:03:08
Link to this Comment: 7506

At the beginning of this year, I was just starting to think about science as something besides "that subject I'm required to take."
I'm now sort of struggling with a couple of subjects I don't know what to do with. I feel like not taking any more science would be copping out, especially now that I've finally had a science class that wasn't dismally boring. So do I stop taking science and math courses because I'm not great at them and I'd rather do other stuff, or keep at them to make myself somehow better-rounded? Gaaaa!
I guess I have changed at least a little, because a year ago I would've been perfectly happy to chuck science and never give it a second thought. I suspect that what interested me most about this class, the discussions about race and the patterns between big things and small things and such, was more philosophy/social science than anything else.
So, final conclusion: Julia's even more confused now than she was at the beginning of the course, which is maybe a good thing.

Name: Melissa H.
Date: 2003-12-11 12:46:42
Link to this Comment: 7507

Proving something "less wrong". Having taken numerous science classes, I have never presented with science with such a mantra. By applying this to the study of biology, the steady, piecemeal progress or "bigger picture" starts to become clearer.

Biology, like many other sciences, breaks life down to the small levels. Processes of revisions to thought and understanding are fundamental to the reconstruction and syntheses of these procceses. Each time something is "rebuilt" or reformed, it configuration becomes more lucid.

The implications from "getting it less wrong" are the underlying ties to the progress of understand and "seeking" the truth. The constant cycle of revision propells thought and initates new perspectives, understandings, and tangential findings in the progress. While the finding "truth" is a dubious task, hopefully it will never be accomplished, as the desire to achieve it fuels this cycle.

From this semester, the implications to "keep looking" have given a new perspective to the concept of life, as well the applications in other disciplines.

thoughts on science
Name: Christina!
Date: 2003-12-12 02:01:33
Link to this Comment: 7512

Wow. I can't believe the semester is over. I really enjoyed this class, and my perspective on biology and science in general has changed a lot since the first day. I went to a high school in New York City where there was an emphasis on math and science. Coincidentally, there was also an emphasis on "right answers." Whether it was a biology, chemistry, or physics exam, or even a lab report, I felt like our grade was contingent upon the "accuracy" of every word and step we used. Hence, learning science meant a lot of memorization and regurgitation of facts and formulas. Looking back, I didn't really think for myself in my biology, chem, and physics classes. Don't get me wrong, other than that I got a great education there, but this class has taught me that there really aren't too many "right" answers. Proving something doesn't necessarily mean proving it "right"; it means proving it "less wrong." I can't agree more with Julia. I never realized how similar Bio and Philosophy were until this semester! I have also become a much more critical "science reader". Before, I would read the NYT "Science Times" or some other science related article and pretty much believe everything that was said. Now, I have come to terms with the subjectivity of science, and know that what they say isn't 100 per cent accurate. Even if data was collected carefully, different people always try to represent it in a way that will best support what they seek to show. Finally, as cheesy as this may sound, I learned that it's ok to be wrong. Wait...not just that it's OK to be wrong, but that we should be wrong at least once a week (I think that's what was said on the first day of class...)! It is through the process of "being wrong" that we open ourselves up to new ideas and thought processes and learn to think more critically. If we were "always right", just think how narrow minded we would actually be. And this truly represents what science is all about: revision, and notions in the making (not facts, formulas and right answers!!).

Back to religion
Name: Christina
Date: 2003-12-12 02:40:35
Link to this Comment: 7513

Patty and Anna,

I agree with much of what you were saying regarding religion. I am Catholic, and come from a very Catholic family. I don't agree with a lot of aspects of the religion. I find it in general to be very hypocritical. Sadly, I even find some of the most "devout" Catholics to be very hypocritical in their lifestyle and actions. Nevertheless, I think many people need religion in their lives as a source of support (i.e., somewhere to turn when all faith has been lost). I was reading some of the links Prof Grobstein put up, and this one almost brought tears to my eyes:

(read the post about the woman who was suffering from cancer). It was through religion, and specifically, Catholicism, that this woman was able to come to terms with her terminal illness. With the amount of suffering present in today's world, I think religion has become more significant than ever. I have a feeling that someone is going to say that as science and society progresses, there *may* be increasing proof that God doesn't exist. In other words, that as the years go by, there will be less of a "need" for religion because ppl will become dubious about it and the existence of God. However, I think the "existence of God" belief is just one of those things that has been around for so long and is so established and engrained in society that people would be VERY hesitant to even question it. I think most people would also fear that it's not their place or "immoral" to question something so sacred.

Name: Justine
Date: 2003-12-12 09:49:42
Link to this Comment: 7514

Religion and science. I wonder why so many people find them to be like oil and water. I come from a family where religion was highly valued so I guess you can say that I'm biased with that I can also say thatmy parents instilled in me a sort of fairness in attitude when it comes to this. I guess what I'm saying is that they said inorder to perhaps find the truth and begin to answer some of the unanswerable questions maybe there needs to be a merger of the two ideas. It seems to be that relgion alone can't (well unless you're a fundamentalist) every question and the same thing with science perhaps if we merged the two and called then 'relgience' that answers could be found instead of fighting over who says what and whats right. I don't know I'm spinning my wheels.

Name: Justine
Date: 2003-12-12 10:08:56
Link to this Comment: 7515

Religion was I guess you could argue on of the founding things of society. I mean in like ancient times groups of human beings pulled together to become a group for various reasons and one of those reasons happens to be religion. I don't know if the fact that religion becomes more right or wrong but I think how the world used to be in the fact that people were forced to worship one thing or another which is why I think now that because that outside force driving people to do one thing or another in terms of religion has changed. I think we will go one debating this issue probably forver. Does that sound depressing yes possibly but I also think as the years progress whether one of the two is right our attitudes on the significance of wheter religion or science is right will be less significant. I think as a society we've moved out of the time were the two are completely seperate. Maybe part of the reason why people are so upset now is because there is no clear cut line on what is what because there has been a blending of the two. I guess humans need the distinction as much as we like the whole "seperate but equal" idea I guess i'm saying is that we need a clear cut decision. I guess that's still the problem with diversity maybe. Well what I mean is that diversity is based upon individual things that are different in some method what is interesting that sometimes one is not superior to another but instead the outcome of being diverse and its interaction with other things proves to be more useful and helpful. In in some cases the whole is greater than the sum of the parts...So, what does this mean in relation in relgion and science and I guess diversity? Not really sure but maybe instead of worrying about who said what we should wonder how/why that was said and possibly what is the significance of that statement on the surrounding thought

Name: Ramatu Kal
Date: 2003-12-12 23:09:44
Link to this Comment: 7519

I learned alot from this class about society and what we consider to be the truth. There really is no truth, and I feel like we all sort of know that, but we try to convinvce ourselves that truth does exists. I have to admit, I was afraid to admit it to myself, but this class has helped me to accept that everything and everyone is not perfect in society.
Thank you all for helping me expand my intellectuality.

Name: Abby
Date: 2003-12-12 23:55:44
Link to this Comment: 7520

Wow, this semester flew! This has been the most unique class I have ever taken and I am so glad to have taken it.
I have long struggled with the whole theory of evolution because I had attended Christian schools up until Bryn Mawr. There, I was pretty much told that evolution is wrong and that it is something that we can study, but not without first making it clear that it is not something that we as Christians really "believe" in. Admittedly, I turned into a person who took the declaration and ran, and when faced with a debate on evolution, I would often shut down because I just did not feel there was anything for me to debate. But since I have been here, I have been forced to give my beliefs and thoughts closer examinations so that I might be able to support my opinions. This class has supported me in my ventures to be able to support my ideas and to come to a better understanding of how we have come to be where we are today. Our discussions about evolution and religion I found to be extremely helpful; I find now something that I just would not have thought of in high school; that is, that I can be a Christian and still see the logic in the idea that we have evolved. I am still not really convinced that we come from monkeys (and I know that no one was trying to convince me that we have), but I see how we as humans can have easily evolved so as to adjust to our environments. I can "believe" in the stories of creation AND evolution. In my mind, I see God creating both humans and monkeys, as one would read in the Bible, and I can understand how both species can have evolved over time to where they are today, and I can see how they will continue to evolve with our changing world. I think that these ideas have been the most forward-thinking for me as far as my growth this semester. The whole idea of getting things less wrong is a helpful way to approach learning. So often we get caught up with being right. We want to be right and to prove to other people that they are wrong and it puts a huge damper on the learning process. Getting it less wrong is the way to go! ;-)

Name: Maria S-W
Date: 2003-12-14 21:29:13
Link to this Comment: 7528

I hate when things end. It always feels sad. Except for Calculus, the end of calc wasn't sad at all. But the end of this class is very sad indeed. I've enjoyed it very much, and it seems sort of incredible to me that when I saw "Bio 103" in the course catalog at the start of the semester that I had no idea what this class would be like. I personally was thrilled that it was unlike traditional science courses. Instead of trying to tell us every single development that has occured in science since the start of time, I feel as if I now understand at a more fundamental level what science is and what it is trying to do. Thank god that was the case, I'm not sure I could have stood another semester of reciting the diffrences between plant and animal cells on command. Just to weigh in on the issue of evolution versus science, one thing that never really came up in class is that Christianity isn't the only religeon out there that provides a story for creation. I think that acting as though the choice between evolution and creationism is "either/or" is incorrect as 1) it can be both (as discussed at length in class) but also that there are endless other stories out there to account for our existence (basically, if you can find a culture that existed before the spread of Christianity, you can find another story) and maybe if we all knew a bit more about all the other stories we would be less of conflicted about accepting the idea that more than one story can be correct. I never felt terribly conflicted about creationism versus evolution (probably because I never put much stock in creationism, in all honesty) because I saw it as one of thousands of stories that groups have made up to account for us being here. I loved this class, I loved what it was about, I really liked the sheep lab. See you all around!

end of course
Name: Laura Wolf
Date: 2003-12-15 15:48:35
Link to this Comment: 7534

I agree with Abby in that the semester has FLOWN by and this has been the most unique class I've ever taken. I'm actually sad it's over. I've had to think about religion, diversity in people and races, the mortality of our sun, my own existence, the relative size of the earth compared to the sheer amount of space that surrounds it... all these things have been frustrating and hard to keep up with, but have all found their way into my thoughts every day this semester.
I can't acutally picture myself not having taken this course. Science now finds its way into a lot of my papers for other classes, even though I never enjoyed high school science classes. I did feel that inside of me was a scientific mind because I loved reading Discover Magazine and watching PBS science specials and everything... I just couldn't connect it all into my life, or intergrate those interesting stories into my own understanding of how things work. But looking at science from this new view - that everything is another story and we are trying to get them less wrong - makes all of science seem so much more approachable and flexible. It makes me realize the reality of forming a hypothesis, testing it, making new observations, testing them again...
Science seems less like a list of chemicals and more like a way to explain anything. And with so many dificult problems in life, I think any new tool that helps people sort through their existence is a helpful thing. This is how science has helped me to apreciate religion and science at the same time. I find it strange that my relgion never helped me to understand science.
I will always remember this course, and there are many individual lessons that I will remember very clearly, like changing molecules of a rock to an elephant...understanding the depth of the shocking similarities between everything we see around us... but the lesson that had the most profound impact on me was when we started at a lily pad and our view got bigger, and bigger, until we were seeing the entire earth dissapear into space, and then only the light from stars and galaxies were visible.
Altogether I am changed by this course and I am happy about this change. I wish I could start from the beginning again and realize all these changes as they happened, but now in this new place of understanding I feel I can't go back, and that I have to use what I know of science now for other areas of life.
Thank you for providing this insight into science for all students who, because of our majors, might not have ever taken a science class. It was really a wonderful experience...

End of the Semester
Name: Natalya Kr
Date: 2003-12-15 19:50:32
Link to this Comment: 7536

Can't believe the semester's basically over, and there's still so much work left to do. This class has changed the way I look at science. It's easy to forget that scientist are only operating on the basis of available observations, and most scientific theories can never be determined with certainty. What was more important to realize, is that certainty may not be the point at all - instead, exploring, and uncertainty may be. Well, thanks to you, Professor Grobstein, for the innovative approach to the subject matter, and thanks to my classmates for contributing so much of your insight to the forum and class discussion. Ciao.

Name: alison
Date: 2003-12-16 17:38:56
Link to this Comment: 7545

who knew that science didn't have to be approached with the expectation of finding cold, hard, unchanging facts? by far the most imortant thing i've taken from this class is the fact that science is an always continuing, always unfolding journey of trying to get things "less wrong." i'll never look at science again as a subject of facts and figures, but rather as a subject that is always evolving and changing--for me, this is a big discovery.

Name: Adina
Date: 2003-12-18 19:33:08
Link to this Comment: 7554

At the beginning of the semester, I was uncomfortable with the idea of science not having all of the answers, but I liked the idea of science being a combination of biology, neuroscience, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Now, I like the idea of having lots of different answers for everything, but I also like the way that all of these different answers work together. Not only do biology, nueroscience, psychology, etc. seem to have different "stories," but these stories seem to interweave and make up the bigger picture. In the same way, the different components of biology seem to be different interwoven stories. It is a combination of concepts like physics, chemistry, and the theory of evolution.

One of the things we focused on in class was size. In biology, little things are all components that together make up bigger things that together make up even bigger things and so on. In the same way, biology is just one story that works together with other stories to make the big picture and helps us to get things "less wrong."

final thoughts
Name: megan will
Date: 2003-12-18 20:54:41
Link to this Comment: 7555

This biology class has really changed my outlook on science. The topics that are really interesting, like religion vs. evolution, nature vs. nurture, genes, all the "taboo" or controversial topics that we never broached on in high school, we got to discuss in this class. Our labs were actually stimulating.

As far as personal thoughts, I now realize that science doesnt have all the answers or all the truths. Experiments aren't done to be right, they are done to find all the wrong answers. Dialogue about science doesnt always have to be so boring. And science does apply to our everyday lives.

Name: Nomi
Date: 2003-12-19 11:47:58
Link to this Comment: 7558

I think the main thing I've learned (aside from how much thinking you can do when you set aside the piles of facts) is that the principles of life and of our universe seem to apply on so many different levels. Maybe, in some way, on ALL levels!

It all started with comparing science to life itself. Both involve making and testing observations, formulating new stories. Life is a scientific process!

And then we have clumpiness and the tendency towards it -- which occurs with atoms and universes and, of course, life (cells, organisms, societies), in between.

The trend toward increasing complexity -- this goes hand-in-hand with clumpiness, and applies to molecles, cells, organisms, societies, the universe. In fact, if hydrogen was one of the first atoms (was it?) and

we know it's also the simplest, helium, too -- this may have at one point applied to the formation of atoms, as well!

Ditto for the trend toward increasing diversity -- which goes hand-in-hand with the others.

The trend towards increasing boundedness goes right along with the trend toward increasing specialization; both occur in life and in non-living matter of all sizes.

If you ask me, all this is bloody amazing. I carried it with me to my other classes: we dicussed architecture in c-sem, and I thought, "Here we go, the tendency toward increased boundedness and compartmentalization." In anthropology, we learned about the rise of hominids, and I thought, "Aha! Increased brain complexity;" we came to the rise of city-states, and it was, "Oh, yes, increased clumpiness and specialization."

I alway knew life was governed by laws. What I didn't know was that non-life was governed by some of the same laws. That the only thing distinguishing life from non-life, perhaps, was the speed at which changes took place -- because of enzymes.

That we are not so different from the rest of the universe, after all. That no exceptions need by made for us just because we are living.

I hope I remember this always. It puts every aspect of my life into a new and more logical context. I know we learned about uncertainty and about the inevitability of change, but I do not feel unsettled. What has struck me most is this overarching pattern.

overview of what I learned
Name: Flicka
Date: 2003-12-19 14:28:16
Link to this Comment: 7560

Before I took this science course, I was sure that biology was just a bunch of facts that one was expected to learn in school. However, what I learned from this course is that there are no truths in science. Science is just a way to constantly explore new ideas and new theories. It is also a way for people to keep learning about the world we live in. I really enjoyed this philosohpical approach to biology because it made me question the things I took to be "true" and "real".

Before I took this class, I never gave much thought to the evolution vs. creationism debate, but we discussed it at length in class and it was very intense. But I think it's important for people to question what they believe is true, because everybody has a different opinion and you can learn a lot from others by listening to their opinions. Therefore, I enjoyed listening to what other people had to say on the subject, and trying to come to my own conclusion.

Also, I realized that life is much more complicated than I ever imagined. I find it amazing that so many different cells in the body need to perform complex functions in order for us to live. I also find it fascinating that although each cell or group of cells performs its own task, it does so without a director or leader. This makes me think that cells are more advanced than humans since we need a person in charge to establish order.

Another thing I learned this semester was about diversity. I learned that not only is diversity beneficial to organisms, it is essential. The whole discussion we had about reporduction with variance and genetic expression made me value our differences as people and as a race.

Throughout the course, not only did I learn about biology and science, I learned about how to get things "less wrong" and how to search for a way to summarize observations in the most accurate way without labeling it as a "truth". I realized that while science is not truth, scientists will continue exploring the universe to see what new observations they can make. And that while we will never come to the "truth", we can conclude certain aspects of life which are useful to us to study. That, I think, was the most valuable lesson I learned from this course.

Seeking balance
Name: su-lyn
Date: 2003-12-30 03:47:11
Link to this Comment: 7581

What makes me cringe, looking back, is my rant against the inefficacy of the social sciences in achieving any sort of "progress" that is worth comparing to the natural sciences. These were thoughts that I'd come across the summer before this course and I reproduced them a little too eagerly and unreflectively.

"Science" (capital S) initially led me to question the 'use value' of anthropology (my major). Following my attempts to seek some sort of answer through readings and discussions with a very patient major advisor, I have come to appreciate the different goals that the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities pursue, and therefore the nullity of my statement from before. By way of contrast, this science class pushed me to a clearer picture of what anthropology is about. The contribution of the social sciences is moral in nature, rather than technical (I think I'm quoting Geertz), although this is still an awkward simplification. At any rate, it points out that progress is a misleading concept in assessing the impact of the social sciences.

The class also unsettled some of my misconceptions about science, most memorable of which was Prof. Grobstein's insistence on getting it "less wrong". Looking to learn more about the conduct of science and its relationship with "we, the people", I recently started reading Science in Public: Communication, Culture, and Credibility (Gregory & Miller, 1998). It's very interesting to see how Prof. Grobstein's efforts fit into a larger effort to communicate with the public - all fodder for an anthropology student with a new appreciation of science, and hopefully the means to a more sophisticated discussion of 'traditional academic lines', 'interdisciplinary research', etc.

Date: 2004-11-10 17:32:50
Link to this Comment: 11492

Proportion having a recessive fenotype in F3
Name: H
Date: 2005-01-20 05:03:46
Link to this Comment: 12130


I am not in your course, but I am wondering why I cannot see my simple mathematical conclusions anywhere when I read about genetics. Maybe the professor have the answer(?)

Generation F1:

AA and bb can combine into four possibilities in their offspring: Ab, Ab, Ab, and Ab. That is, all offspring are Ab and the dominant characteristic (let's say brown eyes) therefore becomes the fenotype in all.

Generation F2:

If these individuals that constitute generation F1 (all Ab) now combine into a new generation, the possibilities are as follows:

Ab and Ab combine:

bA (or maybe you would call this Ab - it is the same, anyway)

Now, we can see that 25% are the expected to show the recessive characteristic in their fenotype (let's say blue eyes).

Generation F3

So far, everything has been very basic. Now, when generation F2 combine to create generation F3, the following 12 couple (mom and dad) combinations occur, giving the following 48 offspring combinations:

AA and Ab combine: AA, Ab, AA, Ab
AA and bA combine: Ab, AA, Ab, AA
AA and bb combine: Ab, Ab, Ab, Ab
Ab and AA combine: AA, AA, bA, bA
Ab and bA combine: Ab, AA, bb, bA (1 is bb)
Ab and bb combine: Ab, Ab, bb, bb (2 are bb)
bA and AA combine: bA, bA, AA, AA
bA and Ab combine: bA, bb, Ab, Ab (1 is bb)
bA and bb combine: bb, bb, Ab, Ab (2 are bb)
bb and AA combine: bA, bA, bA, bA
bb and Ab combine: bA, bb, bA, bb (2 are bb)
bb and bA combine: bb, bA, bb, bA (2 are bb)

The result is that 10 out of 48 are bb, or show a recessive fenotype (let's say blue eyes) in this generation F3.

Now my questions:

1) How come I don't see this 10 out of 48 (or 5 out of 24), or 0,208333, or 10:38 (or 5:19) ratio mentioned anywhere?

2) I derived the formula for figuring out the expected proportion of individuals having a recessive fenotype for any generation. Why don't I see such a formula somewhere. It would be convenient to find it on the Internet?

Best regards,

Never mind
Name: H
Date: 2005-01-20 07:02:13
Link to this Comment: 12131

Never mind my above questions... My mistake was that I did not combine each F3 individual with itself, which I should because in a population larger than just a few, it would combine with another individual having the same genotype.

Name: Kyle Ortag
Date: 2005-03-12 19:48:22
Link to this Comment: 13462

Amino Acids,
Peptide Bond,
Exocrine Gland,
Endocrine Gland,
Thyroid Gland,
Parathyroid Gland,
Human Growth Hormone...
Please Help Me With These Words!!!! BYE-BYE....

| Serendip Forums | About Serendip | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 11:57:19 CDT