Friday, September 25, 2009

Unmissable Ivy League lectures

Here are 100 Ivy League lectures I am told you shouldn't miss. Some of the science and medicine ones (#15-30) do look quite interesting. Anyway, it is free.

Okay, okay, some may be missable. That is not my fault.

Lynn Margulis challenges neo-Darwinists and teaches somewhere now - but she has interesting ideas

And she was once married to Carl Sagan - "consummate egotist" gossip warning.

Here's an intriguing article about origin of life researcher Lynn Margulis in the University of Wisconsin alumni news magazine, "Evolution Revolution" by Eric Goldscheider. We learn, among many other very interesting things,
Symbiogenesis theory flies in the face of an accepted scientific dogma called neo-Darwinism, which holds that adaptations occur exclusively through random mutation, and that as genes mutate in unpredictable ways, their gradual accumulation sometimes results in useful attributes that give the organisms an advantage that eventually translates into evolutionary change.

What tipped Margulis off that new traits could arise in another way was the fact that DNA, thought to reside only in the nucleus, was found in other bodies of the same cell. This realization led to research showing not only how crucial symbiotic relationships can be to the immediate survival of organisms, but also that one of the most significant sources of innovation — indeed, even the origins of new species — occurs when, over time, symbiotic partners fuse to create new organisms.

In other words, complexity at the cell level is not the result of lethal competition from lucky mutants, but rather interactive chemistry that begins as symbiotic relationships between gene sets that together accomplish things that would otherwise have been impossible.
That sounds more plausible to me, though it all but wrecked her career.
Margulis’s observation that constituent parts of the same cell had different genetic histories was largely written off as crank science in 1964 when she started submitting her paper on the topic to academic journals. No one wanted it. After more than a dozen rejections, the Journal of Theoretical Biology published “On the Origin of Mitosing Cells” in 1967, and then something very interesting happened. Requests for reprints started pouring in, more than eight hundred in all. “Nothing like that had ever happened in the Boston University biology department,” Margulis says. Although she was a part-time adjunct professor there at the time, she won a prize for faculty publication of the year. Eventually, a full-time position that lasted twenty-two years followed.

But in spite of, or maybe because of, this modicum of recognition, the scientific establishment viewed her skeptically, if not with outright hostility. Her grant proposals weren’t funded. Margulis tells of being recruited for a distinguished professorship at Duke University, only to have it subverted at the last minute by a whispering campaign.
She ended up at the University of Massachusetts, so at least she had a job.
One thing that mars her theories, in my eye, is is statements like
“Man is the consummate egotist,” Margulis has written. “It may come as a blow to our collective ego, but we are not masters of life perched on the top rung of an evolutionary ladder.” Instead, she likes to say that “beneath our superficial differences, we are all of us walking communities of bacteria.”
. Aw c'mon! I'm always hearing from enviro-fruitcakes and anti-nuclear nutcakes who think humans will soon destroy the planet.

So walking communities of bacteria will destroy the planet? I am sure not getting involved in the squabble over the planet's fate in that case. I can only communicate with creatures that have brains.

A question related to this interesting article will shortly be posted as Contest Question 11 at Uncommon Descent.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mars: The endless kvetch about life on Mars

Here is a NOVA show : Is There Life on Mars?
After four decades of fly-by probes, orbiters, landers, and rovers, the quest for life on Mars is as tantalizing as ever. With unique access to the NASA Phoenix and Mars Exploration Rover missions, NOVA shows scientists and engineers in action, directing the operations of spacecraft millions of miles away, as the robotic explorers drill into rock, claw into soil, analyze samples, and trundle across the rock-strewn landscape in search for signs that Mars once or maybe even still harbors some form of life. NOVA goes behind the scenes of the latest NASA missions to the Red Planet to reveal new clues and challenges on the road to answering this ultimate question: Is there life on Mars? See some of the finest images ever taken of the martian surface—including Phoenix's most famous—on the program's companion website.
If it takes this long to figure out, maybe the answer is, no.

Like, how long would it take to figure out if there is life on Earth? Clue: Bacteria live at high altitudes and latitudes that few even notice. Here on the level ground we kill zillions of life forms every time we wash our hands or sterilize a piece of equipment. And no one cares because there are plenty more where they came from.

If a planet has life, you will know, pretty quickly.

My favourite sci-fi writer, Rob Sawyer, writes to say ...


The TV series FLASHFORWARD, based on my novel of the same name, premieres in the
United States (on ABC) and Canada (on CTV's A channels) on Thursday, September 24, 2009, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific (7:00 p.m. Central).

UK viewers: watch for it on Five this fall.
I remember interviewing Rob about the novel some years ago. Maybe I was a bit "forward," but ... I couldn't quite contain myself.

I interrupted to ask, "Okay, I have listened to your story and I agree that it is interesting, that people could see where they will be in twenty-five years. But surely in twenty-five years, some - perhaps many - people will just plain die. So what do they see?"

As it turns out, nothing. And that is exactly what happens to his lead character. Who sets out to change his fate ... which many sages say no man can do, however god-like. That goes back to the Epic of Gilgamesh . And I will spoil no more for you. Watch the show.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cosmology: Science's leader in things that don't make sense?

Of New Scientist's (02 September 2009 ) list of "13 more things that don't make sense" by Michael Brooks, here, a surprising number relate to cosmology - 7 of 13.

They are, in order of make-senselessness,

1. Axis of evil: Radiation left from the big bang is still glowing in the sky – in a mysterious and controversial pattern

2. Dark flow: Something unseeable and far bigger than anything in the known universe is hauling a group of galaxies towards it at inexplicable speed

4. Fly-by anomalies: Space probes using Earth's gravity to get a slingshot speed boost are moving faster than they should. Call in dark matter

8. Antimatter mystery: The big bang should have created matter and antimatter in equal amounts – so why didn't the universe disappear in a puff of self-annihilation?

9. The lithium problem: The universe only contains a third as much lithium as it's supposed to

10. MAGIC results: High-energy radiation from a gamma-ray burst reached Earth 4 minutes later than the lower-energy rays. That's not how Einstein said it would be

12. Noise from the edge of the universe

New Scientist is a fun read, but based on its treatment of subjects I know a bit about, like non-materialist neuroscience, I wouldn't take it too seriously. Still, these anomalies really are anomalies - at least. Maybe harbingers of big discoveries to come?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

New podcasts on fine tuning of the universe

Two interesting ones here, from the Discovery Institute:

Cosmological Fine Tuning and the Multiverse Model

On this episode of ID the Future, Casey Luskin interviews Dr. Scott Chambers, who discusses his current research and his interest in the debate over evolution, which began in college and continues through this day.

Dr. Chambers explains how the evidence for intelligent design from the fine-tuning of the universe and the fundamental constants of physics "smacks of design," and he addresses the multiverse hypothesis.
Click here to listen.

Also, Is the earth uniquely situated for scientific observation? Do we live on a privileged planet?

On this episode of ID The Future we have a short clip about the book The Privileged Planet. In the book, authors Jay Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez suggest that earth was designed for scientific discovery. They introduce a new idea that more than just being rare in the universe, the earth is ideally located for scientific observation.

Go here to listen.

Here are some other stories on the controversy over whether the universe is fine tuned or whether there are many universes:

Gravity doesn't make sense? Hold on to that thought!

Multiverse: Getting comfortable with a zillion of everything that is unique?

Can the laws of physics evolve?

Like clouds in our coffee, all these other universes

Major media, imagining themselves sober, think there are many universes, not just double vision

The Big Bang exploded; seriously, is there room for reasonable skepticism about the Big Bang?

Could God live in an infinite sea of universes? It depends.

Will the cosmic multiverse landscape ensure the triumph of intelligent design?

Now, remind me again why we need multiverse theory in the first place?

Multiverse theory: Replacing the big fix with the sure thing?

(Note: If you follow me at Twitter, you will get regular notice of new Colliding Universes posts, usually when I have posted five or so stories.)