A fantastic provocative talk by Sam Harris on moral progress and science. Thoughts?
Yesterday I attended my third Thishappened, a series of events at the intersection of new technologies, arts, design and innovation. Thishappened was establised by 3 friends Chris O’Shea, Joel Gethin Lewis and Andreas Müller and is held pretty much every three months. The event is free, but really hard to catch, as the tickets fly out in seconds (literally, this time it hit a record 40s before they were gone). The projects and their creators hosted at Thishappened are inspiring each and every time, whether through their creative flair or dedication to a good cause. Currently all the talks are also available online, so for those who can’t make it to the events, you can always catch up on their site as well.
One of the most inspiring things I saw last night was Heartworks, a project created by Glassworks, a London-based award winning post-production company. Approached by the Heart Hospital of London and supervised by its top medical experts who direct a course in peri-operative transoesophageal echocardiography, Glassworks spent the last two years creating a 3D digital human heart in motion that allows students to learn about the heart before putting a scalpel on anyone. Apart from being able to see it from different angles, zoom in and out of it, students can also dissect the heart with a virtual sheet that can literally slice the heart open or provide ultrasound images of the chosen section. Students can also experiment with a mannequin that allows them to learn about the tube insertion procedures that allow for ultrasound imaging diagnostics.
Initially Heartworks was meant to be a small project for the London hospital, but the interest it has received from foreign universities has turned it into a larger scale commercial venture. The success breeds potential not only for students around the world to be able to learn more about the human heart in a better way, but also gives potential for developments of such imagining for other organs be it the brain or other difficult to access areas of the body.
[Image courtesy of Heartworks and Thishappened]
Ok, yes, this is nerdy, but I can’t help but think this is one of the best infographics I’ve seen on evolution. I think besides those who pursue research and progress in natural sciences, those who make it approachable for laymen deserve just as much if not more applause. The sphere above is a family tree representing the evolution of mammals across 166 mln years. The timeline runs from the centre of the sphere outwards so you can track how and where the various groups split and changed. The family tree was creater by Robin Beck, a Mammalian Systematist as the University of NSW. The intricacy of the tree is quite amazing to the point of it being a little difficult to analyse, but for those interested enough, I’m sure it’ll be a joy anyway. The complete image is available as a free PDF download and to get an even better feel of it, you should watch a video by Dr. Paul Willis from ABC TV in Australia.
Now the thing to find out is whether there are such graphs available for other groups of animals and how long it might be before there is one encompassing all species! I think it would be great if someone could put this graph into a more interactive piece of software so as to make it more fun for those who might actually be able to use it in biology classes for their students.
The topic for this post arrived into my head when I was people-watching the French on a beach a couple of weeks ago. I could see the perfect bodies, but then also the imperfections of the behaviour. Why has evolution not equalized and unified the physical beauty in human beings with their intellectual capabilities? After all, beauty is a sign of health and fitness and hence of good genetic predispositions while intelligence could be rated as one of the most important survival qualities. If evolution is preoccupied with the enhancement of the human race for the sake of the survival of the fittest, then shouldn’t beauty and IQ not go hand in hand as we breed? In looking for a partner we obviously seek physical attractiveness, but also don’t want to spend too much time around people who will make us fall asleep at dinner, so how has this not worked itself out over the millennia?
Life is usually easier for the beautiful ones, so there is less incentive to succeed through self-development and hard work. For the less beautiful ones, on the other hand, developing intelligence and gaining knowledge is often the only route to score in life both on a professional and a personal level. Hmm, will the world be full of supreme humans in a few centuries provided we don’t destroy the earth beforehand?
‘A New York Times survey last year showed that 55 percent of Americans believed that “God created us in our present form,” while only 13 percent believed that “we evolved from less-advanced life-forms over millions of years, and God did not directly guide this process.” A similar Gallup poll in 1997 placed those numbers at 44-10; in 1991, the numbers were 47-9.’
In the first place, my stance on evolution is that it is not something you should qualify as a belief or a theory, just as the fact that the earth is round shouldn’t.
For those of you who have read the previous post – this is a new one, just with the same title. I decided that the last one was too much about parental choice in education rather than about the evolution vs. intelligent design issue, which is what I wanted to write about in the first place.
So why is it exactly that evolution’s popularity is so low these days? The fact that most scientists worldwide would agree that it is a scientific fact vital to the understanding of the human history, human behaviour, and the natural environment does not seem to matter very much, even today. The right side of the political spectrum has been infected with the theory of intelligent design, or creationism, which is what intelligent design could easily stand for. In the U.S. the creationists have enough leverage in education to have course books emphasize that evolution is just a theory and to always provide the alternative of intelligent design. Well, fair enough, but we’re talking biology courses here.
So why do people find the idea of evolution so unattractive? Are we humans too great to even think about primates as our ancestors – is it our pride that stands in the way? Or, does the fact that evolution contradicts the bible really matter that much today? I mean how many people out there really believe in all the stories and miracles? Another thing that really strikes me is that evolution is such a recent discovery – you would think that with all the great minds that we had in our past, at least one of them would have thought of this solution to our existence.
Also, before Darwin, being atheist must have been a lot less intellectually satisfying. If all everyone knew was that God created us, then well – I guess the only option was to think ‘this can’t be right, but I can’t really do anything but sit and wait until someone comes up with a better explanation’. And then boom, it happened, but things haven’t changed all that much since. I personally find it a little disturbing that people all over the world don’t embrace evolution more. I think if they did, a lot more problematic issues starting with animal treatment to sexuality would be understood and treated in a different manner.