6 November 2005
All voices of depression and
despair, existential philosophy, capitalism and punk rock – don't they all
come down to this?:
I am alone.
All messages of hope and
inspiration, great artists, transcendental philosophers and mystic poets,
socialism, the world's great religions – all carry the message:
I am part of
something larger than my own mind.
Perhaps E. M. Forster was
thinking kindred thoughts when he wrote the greatest two-word aphorism of
the English language:
5 November 2005
Haldane, born this
day in 1892 was a British scientist in the old style: a scholar and a
thinker, a literate and broadly educated man who could write in an elegant
style about culture and sociology as naturally as biology. Together with R.A.
Fisher and Sewell Wright, he fashioned out of Darwinian evolution and Mendelian
genetics the modern quantitative theory known as neo-Darwinism or population
In 1923, he wrote a
remarkable prophesy, "Daedelus, or Science and the Future", in
which he foretold many of the scientific and economic trends of the 20th
century. Though petroleum was just beginning to be exploited, he looked
ahead to a day when it would be exhausted, and the world would be choosing
between nuclear and solar renewables (he favored solar). "Personally, I
think that four hundred years hence the power question in England may be
solved somewhat as follows: The country will be covered with rows of
metallic windmills working electric motors which in their turn supply
current at a very high voltage to great electric mains..." He goes on
to predict the hydrogen
economy which we now debate as a more imminent possibility: "At
suitable distances, there will be great power stations where during windy
weather the surplus power will be used for the electrolytic decomposition of
water into oxygen and hydrogen. These gasses will be liquefied, and stored
in vast vacuum jacketed reservoirs, probably sunk in the ground."
Here’s a utopian economic
forecast – yet to be realized: "As industries become more and more
closely interwoven, so that a dislocation of any one will paralyse a dozen
others (and that is the position towards which we are rapidly moving), the
ideal of the leaders of industry, under no matter what economic system, will
be directed less and less to the indefinite increase of production in the
intervals between such dislocations, and more and more to stable and regular
production, even at the cost of reduction of profits and output while the
industry is proceeding normally. It is quite possible that capitalism itself
may demand that the control of certain key industries be handed over
completely to the workers in those industries, simply in order to reduce the
number of sporadic strikes in them."
His view of science and
culture: "Now if we want poets to interpret physical science as Milton
and Shelley did (Shelley and Keats were the last English poets who were at
all up-to-date in their chemical knowledge), we must see that our possible
poets are instructed, as their masters were, in science and economics. I am
absolutely convinced that science is vastly more stimulating to the
imagination than are the classics... Not until our poets are once more drawn
from the educated classes (I speak as a scientist), will they appeal to the
average man by showing him the beauty in his own life as Homer and Virgil
appealed to the street urchins who scrawled their verses on the walls of
Pompeii. And if we must educate our poets and artists in science, we must
educate our masters, labour and capital, in art. Personally I believe that
we may have good hopes of both."
Of his own field:
"I have tried to show why I believe that the biologist is the most
romantic figure on earth at the present day. At first sight he seems to be
just a poor little scrubby underpaid man, groping blindly amid the mazes of
the ultra-microscopic, engaging in bitter and lifelong quarrels over the
nephridia of flatworms, waking perhaps one morning to find that someone
whose name he has never heard has demolished by a few crucial experiments
the work which he had hoped would render him immortal. There is real tragedy
in his life, but he knows that he has a responsibility which he dare not
disclaim, and he is urged on, apart from all utilitarian considerations, by
something or someone which he feels to be higher than himself."
4 November 2005
Multiple Sclerosis strikes
young men and women in their prime and gradually takes away their sensation
and control, from the extremities inward. There has never been a cure for
MS, and the treatments for managing the disease are not very satisfactory.
This week, a promising new approach was reported. Though the ultimate cause
of the disease is not known, it has long been understood that our nerves are
protected by electrical insulating material, the myelin sheath. In
MS, the body’s own immune system turns on the myelin sheath, which
gradually loses its ability to protect the nerves.
"The new treatment, which uses a class of molecules called
kynurenines, works by inhibiting the T-cells’ production of inflammatory
molecules and prompting them to produce agents that "mop up" the
molecules," according to a New Scientist
The treatment completely cures the version of MS that can be induced in
laboratory mice. In the next year, we should know whether it is effective in
humans. The research came out of the lab of Lawrence Steinman at Stanford.
Research article here.
3 November 2005
|I draw sweet air
Deeply and long,
As pure as prayer,
As sweet as song.
Where lilies glow
And roses wreath,
Heart-joy I know
Is just to breathe.
|Aye, so I think
By shore or sea,
As deep I drink
This brave machine,
Bare to the buff,
I keep ice-clean,
Breath is enough.
From mountain stream
To covert cool
The world, I deem,
The great, the small,
The smooth, the rough,
I love it all,--
Breath is enough.
~ Robert William
2 November 2005
scientist Rupert Sheldrake has been
adducing scientific evidence for the paranormal for three decades. Many of
his results – particularly in regard to telepathy
– seem empirically compelling, were scientists not so thoroughly convinced
that they were theoretically outrageous. Other ideas about biological fields
are more mystical than scientific.
Sheldrake has become
philosophical about the censorship
in the science community, but continues to find an audience for his results
and his theories apart from peer-reviewed journals.
Is he right about
censorship? Yes. Is he right about telepathy? I wish I
1 November 2005
RECONCILIATION ECOLOGY is
the science of recreating livable habitats for threatened species,
integrated with our cities and suburbs. For many species this can work well,
with benefits for both them and us.
"We still have time to
save most of the world's species. But to do it, we must stop trying to put
an end to civilization and human enterprise. Instead, we need to work on the
overwhelming bulk of the land — the places we humans use. We need to make
them over so that they can support both us and other species. It won't be
simple and it won't happen overnight. But it is practical, it is positive
and it is backed by science."
31 October 2005
SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease;
For Summer has o'erbrimm'd their honey cells.
to Autumn, by John Keats,
born this day in 1795