Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How Is That Possible?

One, of potentially many, things in nature that our understanding of how "things came to be" has yet to comprehend is the case of giraffes. The beautiful, sleek and eloquent creature. By the way, did you know that the word ‘creature’ comes from the Latin word creatura[1], or more correctly, crĕātūra which in English is defined as;

I. a creature, thing created (late Lat.), Tert. Apol. 30; Prud. Ham. 508: omnes creaturae tuae, Vulg. Tob. 8, 7 .--

II. The creation: Deus caelorum et Dominus totius creaturae, Vulg. Jud. 9, 17 : Dei, id. Apoc. 3, 14 al.[2]

You may ask, “How is the giraffe any different then any other animal? Didn’t it evolve like all the rest?” Perhaps it did, however if we take a closer look at the giraffe that may not seem to be possible.

Have you ever thought about how long a giraffe’s neck is? I imagine that you have. Nearly every child that sees a giraffe is amazed at how long of a neck it has! That's a LONG away to the top! Have you ever given thought to how the giraffe takes a drink of water and what happens when it does? Well, as the giraffe bends over to reach the water on the ground, amount of pressure that the blood in its body is under would become much more than what is needed to make the blood go against gravity all the way up to its head when it stands upright. This would be somewhat comparable to when you would "stand on your head" as a child. Remember how that would begin to feel after a short time? "All your blood rushing to your head is not good for you!" (at least that's what my mother warned me about). You could actually feel the pressure increasing inside your head and if you did not remedy the posture, you could pass out.

So one of two things has to happen to keep the structures of the head from being damaged; either the blood pressure must rapidly be decreased as the animal drinks, or the animal must lose consciousness and fall to the ground. Now the former will significantly decrease survival chances while the later will allow the animal to drink and therefore, increase survival chances.

What does occur within the giraffe’s head to deal with this problem is really quite interesting. There is an organ and chamber that acts as a local blood pressure regulation mechanism. It appears to operate somewhat the reverse of the water regulator most houses have installed when they are built. The water reaches your house by rather low pressure. We need much higher pressures to make use of it within the structure of the building. The giraffe’s blood pressure is dealt with in the opposite way, taking the higher pressure and decreasing it significantly to be of benefit. Sounds easy to understand how that could be right?

Then my next question should be easy to answer, “How did that ‘happen’ to be?”. Without the higher blood pressure the long neck is not compatible with survival yet with the higher pressure and without the regulation mechanisms survival would not be possible either. How likely is it that both developed at the exact same time simply by chance? Humm, maybe it’s not so easy after all!

As the old saying goes, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

[1] "creature." Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary. MICRA, Inc. 28 May. 2009. <Dictionary.com> http://dictionary.classic.reference.com/browse/creature accessed Thursday, May 28, 2009.

[2] "crĕātūra" Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary. Tufts University < perseus.tufts.edu> http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0059%3Aentry%3D%2311509 accessed Thursday, May 28, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

Nature vs Homo sapiens

We Homo sapiens seem to believe we are omniscient or at least have that capability (see my posting from 2/02/2009 entitled Science and Egotism). Here, I present 2 newly published papers which support a different perspective. One that sees Homo sapiens as fallible and incapable of comprehending even our natural environment here on earth, not to mention the wonders and vastness of our universe.

Just saw this one referenced at the publisher's website, Mary Liebert Inc

Journal of Medicinal Food

Hepatoprotective Effects of an Anthocyanin Fraction from Purple-Fleshed Sweet Potato Against Acetaminophen-Induced Liver Damage in Mice[1]

And here from ScienceDirect.com, along the same vein as the above;

Journal of Free Radical Biology & Medicine

Assessment of wound-site redox environment and the significance of Rac2 in cutaneous healing[2]

[2] Ojha, Navdeep, Sashwati Roy, Guanglong He, Sabyasachi Biswas, and Murugesan Velayutham.''Assessment of wound-site redox environment and the significance of Rac2 in cutaneous healing.''Free Radical Biology and Medicine44 (2008): 682-691.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Humbling Perspective?

Just another quick posting. I do think we need to have "our" perspective in life pointed out to us from time to time. Wired Science posted some great pictures to help keep things in perspective. This French astrophotographer captured the only know images of the space shuttle and the Hubble telescope as they crossed the sun (took all of .8 seconds). Don't forget, the space shuttle is only a few hundred miles from earth while the sun is a few million (around 93 million, if I recall correctly). Things closer to you look MUCH BIGGER than those farther away. He points out - "Length of Atlantis : 35m" this is just under 115 feet, speed of Atlantis was "7 km/s (25000 km/h)" that's around 4.3 mi/s or 15,534 mi/h, and "length of Hubble : 13m" which is just over 42.5 feet;


Picture credits: French astrophotographer Thierry Legault; Web site: www.astrophoto.fr; Taken: May 12 & 13, 2009; Accessed: May 18, 2009 8:55 AM CDT

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Very interesting post published 17th April 2009 on The Scientist Magazine's blog touches on the application of issues I've raised in my previous posts here. Some of those who have left comments on that article have suggest that the biocentrism concept is "egocentric".

However if one analyzes what their comments are saying, their egotism quickly emerges. That same 'brand of egotism' I wrote about in my Science and Egotism post back in February. In a nutshell, they say, if WE can not make sense of something, it can not be true. Some even take this to a further extreme; 'If science can not test it, it can not be so.' This argument is often seen in the wording; "You can not prove it, so you can not say that!" This argument only means that what is being said, is outside the realm of science. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines the scientific method this way;

"principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses" (accessed 05/03/2009)

Inherent within this definition is the limitation that what is to be tested must be falsifiable. This clearly identifies limits as to what is, and is not, within the realm of science.

I encourage you to read the post and judge for yourself. I, for one, am willing to admit that human intelligence and understanding, as well, has it's limits (inherent within our anatomy) that prevents us from a complete "understanding of everything."

How biology is central to constructing a more complete and unified theory of the Universe.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Just a Quick Note

Today's issue of Science Magazine released on line contained a very interesting article, related to sleep and learning. It found that when we sleep, or at least when fruit flies sleep, activity in the brain actually destroys nerve connections! Now don't go overboard here, this is a necessary step in our ability to retain memories. You see, the amount of information our brains receive every day is enormous. Most of this information is 'junk'. As an example, do you remember what the close you were wearing yesterday felt like against your skin? Of course not! That information is deemed 'unnecessary' by the brain. This article may very well have found the mechanism as to what occurs for our brains to do it's 'daily house cleaning' as we sleep.

This activity makes room for the much more important information to be retained for storage into long term memory. How the brain decides which connection to destroy and which to leave is still unknown.

Just thought this was interesting in light of my last few postings!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Is It Finite or Infinite?

It seems, to me at least, that today's society takes too many things for granted! The most frequent appears to be that more is always better'. Of this I am most certainly not convinced. This brings up the question in the title of the post; 'Is it finite or infinite?' Let's look at this from the aspect of 'knowledge'.

If knowledge is truly finite, it then follows that there is a limit to its realm. With this limit, we should be able to establish some sort of unit of knowledge by which it may be measured. What that unit actually is, would take some pretty deep thinking to establish. We do know that a 'memory' (neurophysiologically speaking how a memory is stored) is established by a network of nerve cells (called neurons) forming new connections within the brain. For argument's sake, let assume that our arbitrary unit of knowledge is measured in units we will refer to as a 'neuro'. So for 'one fact' to be remembered (thereby becoming part of our knowledge) it will require one neuro.

Our neuro will, of course, require the space occupied by those nerve cells that make it up. We should then be able to calculate out how much storage space it will take if a person is to 'know everything'. I suspect that some readers will already know where this post is headed, but I will continue!

Scientists have already establish that the average human brain weight is between 1200 g - 1500 g. It contains, an “Average number of neurons in the brain = 100 billion” 1. So our ability to know or remember pieces of knowledge is most definitely finite. I'm not so convinced that knowledge is finite, are you?

1 Eric H. Chudler, Ph.D.;Brain Facts and Figures; <http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/facts.html#brain> Accessed March 09, 2009

Monday, February 2, 2009

Science and Egotism

I guess it really shouldn't any longer however; the advances made these days always seem to amaze me. Advances in science and technology can be fascinating and wonderful things! They have brought about some pretty incredible ways of diagnosis and treatment in medicine. They have been the impetus behind many of the modern-day conveniences which we now enjoy. And of course they have most recently provided a nearly exponential expansion in our database of knowledge.

It seems to me however that this expansion in our knowledge has also served to expand our egotism and self-aggrandizement. Why would I say this? I'll offer up some observations I have made over the past few years;

I have heard countless times, in defense of why one thing or another is done differently now than in the past, "Well, we know better today!" I'm always tempted to follow this up with the question; "How do we know 'better' today?" We certainly know more today however, if one thing experience has taught me ‘more’ does not always equal ‘better’! How can we be so assured that what we know today is better than what we knew yesterday? How can we be assured that what we know today won't be changed or reversed by what we know tomorrow? It's really unclear to me what instrument, scale or gauge is being used to measure this.

Throughout my 13 years in the world of academia I have been exposed to those of my colleagues who act as if (and even those who will outright tell you) "You can't possibly know as much as I do on the subject!" Yet some of the same colleagues are blissfully unaware of some of the more recent discoveries or information available on their own subject. I have also seen those who are of the opinion that if they cannot understand it, being an "expert" in a certain field, it cannot be correct or true. Is this anything other than pure unadulterated egotism? Fortunately they seem to be the exception and not the rule.

There's something about society that seems to cause it to belief or at least act like the species referred to as Homo sapiens is the "ultimate". With some information appearing to go as far as suggesting evolution can no longer improve upon itself. This of course would be in direct opposition with the theory of evolution itself.

Certainly we have an enormously more amount of information today than we have in years past. The bulk of this information is available to so many more people through the Internet than it ever has been. I think it is more imperative now, at least more apparent now than ever, that we comprehend the subtle yet significant difference between knowing and understanding.

I always make it a point on my first day of class to ask the the question, "If a person or a group of people could possibly know everything there is to know but does not understand what to do with that knowledge, what good is the knowledge possessed?"

For now I'll leave you with that and one other question. Even if the technology necessary were available today, could a human being actually "know" everything that there is to know?

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