Science & Society

High-wire Act

High-wire Act

Mar 20 2007 | comment(s)

If Richard Dawkins had been smacked around the head with the double-slit experiment at an age when his skull was soft enough for him to feel the pain, he wouldn't be suffused with such luminous certainty about how the world works.

Evolution, the fundamental theory of biology, is tough for some folk to swallow. But that’s because a bunch of old bearded guys wrote something different a long time ago – and because the intuitions of an animal that lives for 70 years can’t handle what complex systems can get up to in 4.5 billion.

But unlike quantum theory, evolution has nothing mind-warpingly weird about it. So the nature of the real world seems obvious to an evolutionary biologist.

You sometimes hear that blind people have disadvantages. Don't say it to Geerat Vermeij. He got into graduate school at Yale after proving to the faculty he could identify shells through their shape and feel - using samples at random from their collection.

Vermeij, now 60, contracted a rare childhood form of glaucoma and has been blind since age 3. He discovered his love of shells attending school in New Jersey at age 9, where his family had moved because they liked that state's policies on educating the blind more than their native Holland.

"I thought of them as beautiful works of art," he said.

Now Vermeij is best known for his work highlighting the impact of competition among species in evolution.

Drinking a specially-made cocoa beverage daily may have the potential to reverse impairments in the functioning of blood vessels, according to a first-of-its-kind study published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology. The cocoa used in the study was rich in flavanols, naturally-occurring compounds abundant in freshly harvested cocoa prior to their destruction during the typical processing and manufacture of cocoa and chocolate products.

These results suggest this flavanol-rich cocoa could have important implications for cardiovascular health since reduced endothelial function is recognized as an early stage in blood vessel diseases such as atherosclerosis.

Ever since the logical positivists in the early 20th century, there has been a debate over whether science has made metaphysics obsolete. Is science all we need to describe and understand the ultimate meaning of reality? Even those who consider themselves philosophers of science can't agree on the answer to this question.

Based on the comments to me first post I realized that many of you may be unfamilar with podcasting. First of all, you don't need an iPod™ or even an mp3 player. Podcasts are basically audio or video recordings that are placed on the internet so that others can listen to them later. Most podcasters try to put out their shows on a regular basis and their listeners can subscribe via RSS feeds, so that they get each episode when it is available. So podcasting is based on the same RSS feed system that makes monitoring multiple blogs easy. In fact, if you are using a RSS aggregator to read this blog, you can also use it to get most podcasts.

It is the most common thing to hear people to refer to philosophy as uesless. There is even a joke about it. What's the difference between a pizza and a philosopher? A pizza can feed a family of four. Apparently the joke would suggest that society seems to have no need for philsophy, and perhaps you might hear this answer for why: most of the questions philosophy asks can't be proven one way or the other anyway, so why even bother?  But we are quickly approaching an age where we are acquring the technological means to answer that biggest question of all, which we have been putting off for so many years of human history. What is consciousness?

I base my beliefs and any predictions of off two assumptions:

I discovered the Scientific Blogging site while preparing the next episode of my Books and Ideas Podcast , which is going to be a discussion of Dr. Lee M. Silver 's excellent book Challenging Nature . Therefore, I must admit that I am more of a podcaster than blogger.

New research has examined the usefulness of bone marrow stem cells for treating male infertility, with promising results. The related report by Lue et al, “Fate of bone marrow stem cells transplanted into the testis: potential implication for men with testicular failure,” appears in the March issue of The American Journal of Pathology.

When a couple experiences infertility, the man is just as likely as the woman to be the cause. Male infertility may arise from failed proliferation and differentiation of the germ cells (precursors of sperm) or from dysfunction of the supporting cells. New research is looking to stem cells as a means of replacing nonfunctioning cells, whether germ cells or supporting cells.

Researchers, directed by Dr. Ronald S.

String theory is a leading candidate for a "theory of everything", but there is not a scrap of experimental evidence for it and no obvious way of getting any, either now or in the foreseeable future.

Daniel Holz, one of the guys at Cosmic Variance, raises interesting questions about art and science, arising from a talk he attended by Felice Frankel, a photographer who produces stunning scientific images.

He was surprised and disappointed, he says, by her insistence that she is not an artist and her photos are not to be considered art. He quotes her as saying: "This is why I am not an artist: I am deeply committed to maintaining the integrity of the science."