in a Cruel World
Complete Book of Human Evolution
Chris Stringer & Peter Andrews
The End of Nature
View from the Center of the Universe
Joel R. Primack & Nancy Ellen Abrams Sept
Before the Dawn
Physics of the Impossible
How to Build a Dinosaur
Jack Horner & James
in a Cruel World The
Evolution of Altruism Nigel Barber
Altruism, what are they? Barber is interested in actions not
philosophies. Altruism: actions that help another individual
some cost to oneself. He uses a biological definition to
altruism across all species. Altruism is most commonly found
regard to offspring and mates and becomes much rarer as it extends
beyond the nuclear family. Altruism is only found in groups
social animals. One of the most disturbing aspects of the
that in-group altruism can easily be turned into out-group aggression.
Altruism must be studied in concert with competition and
aggression. Failures of altruism fairly often occurs in
conjunction with mental illness or failure. Altruism also
when it is given training.
PART 1 ALTRUISM IN MAN AND BEAST
C1 Altruism: Birds Do It, Bees Do It, People Do It
Altruism was a problem for evolutionary until 1960 when it
discovered that altruism can increase the survival rates among close
relatives and offspring. Description of causes of altruistic
behavior in many species. Variance in family altruism between
societies and adopted children.
C2 Evolution and
Reciprocal altruism, kin altruism as a cost/benefit ratio.
For men, what is the probability that your spouse bore your
child, avunculate altruism: males support their sisters
more than their own. Common in societies with a high degree
extramarital sex. Reciprocal altruism in bats and primates.
Group selection in social insects. Guilt and shame,
results of not living up to the altruistic expectations of a group.
Embarrassment with blushing and stammering as positive
implying that you are trustworthy and cannot lie. Organ and
C3 Sterile Casts
of Priests and Nuns
90% of preindustrial societies had some sort of recognized
celibacy. Christian celibacy did not strongly surface until
Ignatious (b. 100 a.d.), Justin Martyr (b. 150 a.d.), Athennagorus (b.
180). Augustine (b. 344) held that the only permissible sex
for reproduction. Jerome (b. 340) and Pope Gregory (b 540)
followed Augustine. Married priests were acceptable and until
large sums of money were being willed to priest's children which caused
the church much economic strain. In 1139 the Lateran Council
nullified all priestly marriages and restricted the priesthood to
single men. The Second Vatican Council in 1962-65 and the
of Bishops in 1971 reaffirmed this stand. Other religions
celibacy include Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, American Indians, Incas,
Babylonians, and Shakers. Between 400 a.d. and 1000 a.d. six
popes were sons of popes and 9 more were sons of bishops and other
priests. Many examples of sexual behavior of clergy.
Convents as depositories for excess women.
PART 2 GROWING UP TO BE GOOD
C4 Why Do People Grow Up to Be Altruists?
capabilities emerge in young children in a natural sequence that
mirrors their brain development. In the same way that
who are not given enough food do not thrive physically, those who are
not given moral training and examples do not thrive morally.
awareness seems to be a critical factor in moral behavior in higher
apes although some species (dogs, wolves) seem to develop moral or
altruistic behavior without self-awareness. Self-awareness
ability to recognize oneself in a mirror) has only been demonstrated in
humans, chimpanzees, and orangutans and possibly in gorillas.
Examples of moral behavior (altruism) in cleaner fish, bats, rats,
Human empathy (altruistic precursor) develops slowly. By 1
infants will point to interesting things. By the age of 2
become self-aware and show signs of embarrassment and pride.
reciprocal altruism occurs, they are more likely to share toys with
children who have shared toys with them than with children who have
hoarded toys. Sharing toys is one thing but sharing food is
harder. Children were given odd numbers of nuts to share, who
would get the extra nut? At age 5, 2/3 kept the odd nut, by
2/3 gave the odd nut to a friend. By 4 or 5 most children
play games with informal rules and by 7 to 10 they will play games with
formal rules. 4 to 6 year olds were given a dull,
job to earn toys for others. Only 5% would perform the task
an unnamed child but 55% would "work" for their friends.
Studies of cheating have found little consistency in terms of how and
where children cheat. Some will cheat on tests but not in the
playground, others the reverse. There is some evidence that
antisocial behavior is inherited but there is a lot of
heredity-environment problems. It has been found that
personalties are less responsive to punishment. Recent
experiments with brain chemicals, dopamine, epinepherin, seratonin,
etc. has shown that many criminals respond much different than "normal"
people. There is some evidence that early experiences with
mothers affects brain function.
Physical rewards (reinforcers) like candy, money, and toys will
immediately engender socially acceptable behavior but when the rewards
cease, the behavior tends to revert and get worse. When
are given social rewards the behavior change may not be as rapid but it
its much more long lasting. The best techniques are parental
examples and what one researcher calls induction. In this the
parent explains in a non-threatening way how socially offensive
behavior hurts the other person and how specific actions could solve
Different societies raise children to be far more altruistic than
others. Non-industrial societies in which children are
responsible for many tasks, like childcare, farm work, subsistence
activities, etc. tend to score much higher on altruistic measures than
in industrial societies where children spend most of their time with
non-relatives or strangers. In America children who help
the house and who live in families where both parents do housework are
more altruistic than homes where only one parent (mainly the mother)
The two ingredients for a crime are a criminal (a person who
lacks empathy towards the victim) and a criminal opportunity (an
environment where the benefits of crime are perceived to exceed its
The Prisoner's Dilemma and other Game Theory approaches to criminal and
moral behavior. The previous chapter was more about social,
psychological, and physiological creation of criminals vs morals, this
chapter is about environments in which crime does or does not thrive.
Techniques for reducing crime: small closed
Pitcairn Island), defensible spaces, (video) survelance, small towns,
reduced poverty, being raised in an uncompetitive environment, and the
likelihood of being found out.
PART 3 THE SOCIAL IMPACT OF KINDNESS
C6 Kindness and Health A capacity for
part of the genetic endowment of humans. However, in order
to develop it must be supported during childhood. The genetic
background: Voles (field mice) are broken into two almost
identical species, prairie vs. mountain. Mountain voles come
together only to mate and females abandon their young after 2 weeks.
Prairie voles are monogamous and stay together during the
breeding season and jointly care for their young, they have "family
values". Oxytocin (females) and vasopressin (males) are
released by the hypothalmus and pituitary gland. They are
received by receptors in the hypothalmus and amygdala which control
social and sexual behavior. Mountain voles have fewer
for oxycotin than prairie voles. When voles brains were
to form additional oxytocin receptors they pair bonded without
copulating. Oxytotin is also found in humans and seems to be
behave in a similar manner. Its production is stimulated by
sexual and non-sexual social contacts.
Touch (massage) has been found to increase weight gain in premature
infants. Parental touch (cuddling) seems to be
more peaceful children and the adults they grow into. Lack of
touch seems to produce more aggression and violent behavior.
Physical contact seems to be required to develop a trusting
relationship in a child. Being raised by a single parent
increase the likelihood of many problems in childhood.
Men seem to be less socially connected than women. Social
is important to health, when men are socially isolated their health is
Perceived fairness in many cases is more important than
or monetary gain for humans and monkeys. Studies of people
rescuing Jews from the Holocaust show that rescuers were more likely to
have had social activists for parents. Parents of adoptive
children spend less for food and support for them than they do for
C8 Conformity as
It seems to be genetically based that humans (other apes?)
join groups and act as a dedicated member of the group. All
takes is some way to recognize other members; for small groups this can
be individual recognition, for larger groups a badge, a cap, a T-shirt
logo, or a uniform. Groups almost always entail a cost, at
minimum, social conformity, perhaps some sort of initiation ritual, up
to hunting societies where successful hunters donate their entire kill
to the group. Conformation to group ideals can be very
extreme cases extending to torturing and possibly killing others on
demand. Obedience to authority is one useful adoption for
living. Another is the division of labor. Division
is found in many species including man. The first and most
division is along sexual lines, in many cases there is a biological
basis for this. Much of this seems to be based on very early
nutrition and hormonal differences, for example ants and bees and a
human condition called adrenogenital syndrome where females are
subjected to too much sex hormone before birth which masculinizes them
reducing their ability to nurture children. Men typically are
able to more accurately hit targets with projectiles and have faster
reaction times than women.
C9 When Altruism Fails People often do
not behave as
altruistically as we would like. Entire philosophies are
the concept of original sin. Barber finds this like arguing
the internal combustion engine does not exist because your car does not
start. He examines some of these failures.
PART 4 KINDNESS AND POLITICS
- The Bad Samaritan: Why do many fail to help when
in trouble? Studies relate this to the diffusion of
responsibility. When only one person is present, it is clear who must
render aid. When many are present, most people wait for
else to take action.
- Child abuse: Except for serious mental illness,
probability of a child being abused goes up with decreasing closeness
to the biological parents.
- Pedophile Priests: Although the proportion of
priests is probably very low, church treatment of young boys by
isolating them from girls almost guarantees that they never become
sexually mature and some studies suggest that up to 40% are homosexual.
- False or abusive doctors
- Road Rage: Social contracts are working
effectively and people have difficulty conforming to the complex rules.
- The Tragedy of the Commons: When social controls
constantly and consistently enforced people under stress will often
attempt to take advantage of ambiguous situations.
C10 Tapping Human Altruism Unpleasant
like warfare, are a problem for students of altruism. Not
they don't understand it, external group aggression is a common
outgrowth of internal group altruism. The problem is how to
the values of altruism to prevent or suppress external aggression.
Rousseau's "noble savage" is a myth. Almost all
hunter-gatherer societies are much more violent than current
civilizations. The amount of violence in the world, counting
the obvious, murder or death by violence, has been steadily, albeit
jerkily, down for all of recorded and archaeological history.
major factor in this is civilization; as societies get larger and
bigger public works projects are built, the sanctions against in-group
violence become greater. The larger the group the less
opportunity there is for external group violence.
The benefits and costs of religion. In most cases religion
attempts to and does increase in-group altruism. Many people
associate with religious organizations because of the benefits they
provide, food, friendship, shelter, etc. In many cases being
part of a religious organization acts to increase one's health.
Unfortunately religion has often been used to exacerbate
Many look at money and economic behavior as a formalization of
C11 Saving the
How can the evolved altruistic tendencies in us be tapped to
address the problems of the world? Barber brings in several
concepts; global pollution, the prisoners dilemma, the tragedy of the
commons, and indigenous populations damaging their environments in an
effort to explain some of the problems facing humanity. I
that he should have dropped the entire chapter. He makes
statements of opinion where facts would have been more appropriate.
He makes comments on environmental and economic problems with
prior support in the book, which is not what I would call a conclusion,
and I don't agree with many of his conclusions in this chapter.
C12 Where Have
All the Villains Gone?
"Original sin has much in common with cutthroat selfishness
competitors." Why was Cain bad when he killed his brother but
Abraham saintly when he was willing to kill his own son? The
simplistic explanation of motivation may have sufficed for the Old
Testament writers but it wouldn't be accepted in a court of law today.
Why are murderers, rapists, gangsters, etc. considered
criminals who rob, kill, etc. to satisfy their own desires
inside traders, tax evaders, and white-collar thieves, etc. who take
far more money from citizens each year than all organized and private
crime each year are often not prosecuted and are usually given much
lighter sentences if they are prosecuted and convicted. Often
individual criminal acts are associated with mental disease and the
individual may not be considered a criminal.
Again, often an act, which would be seen as a crime against in-group
members, is seen as a virtue towards those not in the group.
discussion of the pitfalls of capitalistic societies and differences in
ethical behavior in small groups as opposed to larger, more civilized
An interesting book, especially the first three parts. Part
which presumably was supposed to be a conclusion was forced.
There really wasn't a conclusion, no call-to-arms, just a
of earlier discussions. It's not bad in scientific writing
have a final conclusion. Sometimes more research and study
to be done. A simple summation of the book would have been
preferred to almost sermonizing of the last three chapters.
Return to Top
Complete Book of Human Evolution
Chris Stringer & Peter Andrews
This is sort of a cross between a science book and a coffee table book.
Too many pictures to be a "real" science book but not enough
color spreads to be a coffee table book. They cover many
different topics but only briefly. Just enough to give the
of a topic and then on to the next.
C1 In Search of Our Ancestors This chapter covers a
subjects, living apes, human variation, paeloanthropology, and a brief
description of several major excavation sites.
Interesting little table, Percentage of Difference
in DNA between several ape species:
C2 The Fossil Evidence The largest section of the
describes in more detail the evidence collected in the sites referred
to above. The authors start off with the earliest known
around 55-50 mya. Anthropoids separated from other primate
species around 40-30 mya and hominid apes diverged from monkeys around
20 mya. The most well known is probably Proconsul who lived
20 mya to 16 mya. Early primates were distributed world wide
with global cooling and harsher climates there is little evidence of
hither apes outside of Africa and by 7.5 mya they were extinct
elsewhere. Our ancestors of the genus Homo arose in Africa
2.5 mya and as our ancestors ability to survive in harsh climates
improved they were able to colonize areas outside of Africa by 1.9 mya.
Evidence of man - Homo sapiens - first appears around 1.5 mya
C3 Interpreting The Evidence They look at the
several viewpoints; locomotion, geographical spread, behavior, and art.
Return to Top
End of Nature
Science? Politics? Perhaps science with a message.
somewhat old book, first published in 1989 and then published with a
new introduction in 1999. The message is still pretty much
same but the science is a bit dated.
PART I THE PRESENT
C1 A New Atmosphere The chapter is a
survey of the
evidence (as of the 1980's) of the case for global warming and some of
the political infighting relating to this. It ends with a
description of CFC's and the problem of ozone degradation.
C2 The End of
McKibben lives in the Adirondack mountains of New York state
he enjoys walking in the woods surrounding his home. He
the experience in almost mystical terms, the trees, the water, the
isolated little spots of beauty. Then something jars his
sensibilities, a chainsaw, a truck on a nearby road, an airplane
traveling across the sky. It is not that the trees, water,
spots of beauty are gone, human activities are interfering with his
ability to loose himself in the contemplation and appreciation of
unspoiled nature. The problem is that it is becoming
difficult to find a spot in "nature" that does not display the
influence of man. He would like areas where man has left no
PART II THE NEAR FUTURE
C3 A Promise Broken What are the
effects of global
warming? He lists a number of the possible scenarios possible
seen from the late 1980's. Some seem to be right on, some are
a little far fetched, and several didn't occur to anyone at that time.
Perhaps the main thing to be gained from this is that even
the readily measurable data points will probably not show much
difference (temperature up a few degrees, a little more rain here, a
little less there). It will be the secondary effects that
cause the most human suffering. A few degree rise in ocean
temperature in the Gulf of Mexico will cause much more powerful
hurricanes, a few more frost free days in the spring and fall will
allow harmful insects to breed and expand much further north destroying
more crops and conveying diseases that will kill and sicken more people.
C4 The Defiant
What have we done and what are we trying to do to counteract
of these problems. The hindsight of 17 years helps, where he
promise we have failed (he, along with most others failed to predict
the effects of the religious conservative takeover of the US
government), and where he was discouraged we are making good progress
(ozone). The main point is that some efforts are being taken,
some reasonable, some foolish, but hopefully we can find some ways that
will prove useful.
C5 A Path of
This is a very personal chapter. More about his
observations, discussions, and feelings than the rest of the book.
McKibben discusses the difficulties of moving towards a more
nature-oriented culture. Some of it is quite dated, in one
he mentions that the price of oil as he was writing the passage was $18
per barrel. I guess my problem is that I don't want/need to
more about our problems - I want to hear more about solutions.
The book ends with a short appendix and a short index.
Return to Top
View from the Center of the Universe
Joel R. Primack & Nancy Ellen Abrams
Primack is the originator and developer of the Theory of Cold Dark
before recorded history human cultures have had a cosmology, a view of
the universe that placed humanity in the universe, matched their
observations of the universe and man, and could be used as a guide to
living. Different cultures had different views and they
over time but there was always some unifying set of beliefs that seemed
to work. Then came Copernicus, Galileo, and all those other
and we were left alone. We were reduced to a small mob of
puny primates living on a second rate planet circling a third rate star
in the outskirts of a perfectly average if slightly undersized galaxy.
Every time some astronomer pointed a telescope at the sky the
"out there" got bigger and emptier and we seemed to shrink in
importance. Now two people come along and try to tell us that
are right in the middle of everything, and they seem to know what they
are talking about.
PART 1 COSMOLOGICAL REVOLUTION
C1 Wrapping your Mind Around the Universe
is both a consumer and creator of metaphors and is meaningless without
thousands of them." "Cosmology is undergoing a scientific
revolution, producing the first theory of the universe that might
actually be true." The key words, cosmology, scientific revolution,
theory, universe, and true - have meanings beyond those used in
Scientific Cosmology: Anthropologists - the cultures "big picture", how
everything was created and how it fits together; Astronomers
& physicists - a branch of astrophysics concerning the origin
nature of the universe. Both modern day astrophysics and
religious philosophers had/have faith in their ability to discern the
relationship between the cosmos and humans. The authors hypothesize
that one of our problems is that over the last 400 years there has been
a disconnect between the scientific view of the universe and our
cultural need to be connected. They are attempting to provide
view of the universe that is emotionally satisfying and is capable of
being expanded as scientific knowledge expands. Theories:
scientific theories are not just guesses. There are well
evaluated bodies of thought that scientists stake there reputation and
livelihood on. Successful theories are typically not
but are often shown to be special cases of more general theories,
Newtonian physics is now seen as a subset of Relativity, Relativity and
Quantum Mechanics overlap in part and many physicists believe that they
will be subsumed by a more encompassing theory, perhaps superstring
theory. Although theories can be proven wrong there is no way
finally prove them right until humans know Everything, that is until
they become God.
Scientists and mathematicians often seek beauty and elegance in a
theory, this is a false goal. Common sense and intuition are
earthbound and restricted to observations made by us under the forces
most important to our lifestyle. We need to develop myths
metaphors) that can help us understand the current and future
scientific understanding of the universe, all the way from the large
(expanding galaxies) to the small (particle physics), and our human
relationship to the universe.
C2 From the Flat
Earth to the Heavenly Spheres
A cosmology is a lens through which people see an image of
universe. These lenses are partially blocked by filters.
The universe of the ancient Egyptians was greatly influenced
the desert. However ice and snow were never a part of it as
were blocked by the filter of where they lived. The reverse
true for the Norse creation stories. To communicate you need
common understandings but it must be realized that any viewpoint
restricts your view in some way.
The authors briefly discuss the cosmology of Ancient Egypt, the Jews at
the time of the Old Testament, the Ancient Greeks, and the beliefs
following the time of Alexander the Great. Very briefly the
Egyptians believed in many gods, a flat earth over which the sun, moon,
and stars shown down. Most things good arose in the south and
flowed down the country to the south (the Nile). The Jews
(Hebrews) pretty much believed the same thing except they only had one
God and no major river. Their God just created the world in 6
days and that was pretty much it. Many of the details, Adam
Eve and the six days were probably picked up from the Egyptians or
Babylonians. They weren't particularly interested in
The Babylonians were very good astronomers and mathematicians
the practitioners had the unfortunate habit of shading their findings
for money and political gain and gave the whole industry a bad name.
One of the advantages the Hebrews had is that they would
good ideas from others. Praises to Baal, written in Ugaritic
tablets, are almost word for word as praises for God in the Bible.
Many of their most successful ideas were discoveries about
The Ancient Greeks were the first to really advance the theory that the
earth was round and the sun, moon, and stars rotated around it.
They were also the first to study knowledge as being divorced
from theology. The Gods of course did control many things but
could study those things that the Gods did not control on a day to day
basis. Alexander was one of the most well educated man of the
time, Aristotle was his tutor. He founded the city of
and built the greatest library, school, and research institute to that
time. Some of the more notable names were Eratosthenes
the circumference of the earth), Archimedes (mathematician
physicist), Euclid (Geometry), and Ptolemy (a geometrical theory of the
rotation of planetary motion that would last for more than 1,500
years). Unfortunately at about this time Rome was beginning
unravel and there was no more progress made in scientific thought until
the end of the Middle Ages. The cosmology of Ptolemy
the culture from Persia to North Africa and Scandinavia. It
also incorporated into the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic religions.
C3 From the
Center of the Universe to No Place Special
In late Medieval times there was widespread belief that God
placed everyone and everything just exactly where He wanted them
placed. Our task was to determine this exact place and
our proper duties. Kings were supposed to rule the people,
Bishops to rule the church, paupers to serve as examples, etc.
This was shattered, at least for Europeans, by a series of
starting in the 1100's. The Crusades introduced a new culture
the works of the Greeks, in the 1400's new art brought perspective and
the beauty of the human body, the printing press and then Martin Luther
in the 1500's challenged the Church. Then in 1543 Copernicus
changed earth from the center of the universe to a satellite of the
sun. Numerous people, Brahe, Kepler, and Galileo added weight
his argument. Then in 1642 the man who would hammer the final
stake into the heart of the geocentric universe theory was born.
Unfortunately the theories of the 1600's and 1700's only
explained the behavior of the solar system. Not enough was
of the rest of the universe to connect this to humans. From
human perspective we were alone in a vast nothingness - not a very
satisfying concept. We need a cosmology that unifies
knowledge with human understanding. To start we need to
what the current scientific knowledge of the universe says.
PART 2 THE NEW SCIENTIFIC PICTURE OF THE UNIVERSE
C4 What is the Universe Made Of? The Cosmic
"Human beings are made of the rarest material in the
stardust." We are composed of about 10% hydrogen from the Big
Bang and about 90% atoms created in the centers of massive stars.
To confuse the issue, and the authors go into a lot of detail
here, of all the matter and energy in the universe about 0.5% is
hydrogen and helium - primarily in the visible stars, only about 0.01%
of the visible matter is other atoms - all the planets, dust, etc.,
about 4% is invisible atoms - free floating atoms between stars and
galaxies, 25% is cold dark matter and 70% is dark energy.
last two were first suggested in 1933 but dismissed as bizarre.
Hints started showing up in the 1970's that the theory might
something worth considering and by the 1980's every other explanation
had failed. It wasn't until 1998 that the first real evidence
the "Double Dark" (as the authors call it) theory was
They present a graphic describing their concept. It
pyramid resembling the Great Seal of the United States. They
it the Cosmic Density Pyramid and it serves four purposes. 1.
gives an understandable graphic of the latest scientific data on the
relative proportions of the universe and displays where humans can be
found. 2. It emphasizes the distinction in reality
between the visible and the invisible. 3. It is a
that potentially shows the composition of the universe but also how it
changes over time. 4. It reveals that we are living
might be called "the midpoint of time." For the past 400
have lost our place in the universe. With this new concept we
have rediscovered our place in the new concept of the universe.
C5 What is the Center of the Universe? The Cosmic
Spheres of Time
"When we look out into space, we look back in time."
not that the universe is expanding, it is more that space is expanding
and the universe is being drug along. The speed of the light
strikes the earth after being emitted during the Big Bang, and all
later events, is always constant, but the wavelength reflects the
amount of expansion that space has undergone since the light
originated. Thus the Red Shift. The Ancient
many others) regarded time as cyclical. The Hebrews broke
this tradition with the Bible reporting only one creation and measuring
time from this date. By this reckoning the earth is just over
6000 years old. In about 1800 geologists started guessing
was 100's of millions years old. Darwin found new evidence in
evolution for a similar age. The discovery of radioactive
has pushed this figure back to around 4.5 billion years.
is estimated that it will be about 6 billion years until the sun
expands enough to engulf the earth, we are living at about the midpoint
of the lifespan of the earth. The current estimate is that
universe is about 14 billion years old.
The authors have created two symbols to illustrate the relationship
between space and time. The first, their Cosmic Spheres of
can be viewed as an onion, with us at the center. Each
shell represents an earlier age of the universe. Their second
symbol is called the Lightcone of Past and Future. It
two (or more) funnels (cones) touching at their tips with time a vector
moving upward from the bottom. It illustrates how light
(information) from objects at a distance from us in time and space can
be received on earth. They end the chapter with a description
the events that happened following the Big Bang. They
the events at numerous times between a millionth of a second after the
Big Bank until the current time.
C6 What Size Is the Universe? The Cosmic
Uroboros "The size of a human being is at the
center of all possible sizes in the universe." They use as a
basic unit of length the centimeter, just a little less than half an
inch. To express size range they use exponential notation,
for example humans are in the size range of 102
That is between 100 and 999 cm which in the American system
would be between 3 ft and 30 ft., at the lower end of the range
definitely within it. Mountains would be in the
range and body cells in the 10-3 range.
Ranges are usually spoken of as differing by an order of
magnitude when the exponent of the value differs by a single value,
therefore 10² differs from 10³ by one order of
magnitude, 10² differs from
105 by 3 orders of magnitude. In
mathematics the exponents can become either infinitely large or
infinitely small but in physical reality the minimum size is called the
Plank length which is about 10-33 cm.
The largest size we can
measure (see in a telescope) is about 1028 cm.,
which is about 60
orders of magnitude difference. 1060
is extremely large but
not too large to comprehend.
The authors present another symbol, that of the serpent eating its tail
- the Uroboros, to represent the different sizes possible in the
universe. They mark it of in divisions of 5 orders of
and include pictures representing the structures found at each level.
They go on to describe the types of relationships that are
important at the various levels. They point out why one has
very careful with models, an example of the problems one
to imagine what would happen if we were to drop three animals from a
great height, a mouse, a human, and an elephant. The mouse
land lightly and run off, the human would break many of his bones but
possibly might survive, the elephant would splash. Gravity is
same for all three but air resistance would slow the mouse greatly, the
human (especially a small one) somewhat, but very little for the
There are two "Mental Muddles" that we are prone to fall into.
The first is scale confusion. The properties we
one size scale may not even be observable at a scale several orders of
magnitude different. As they say, "Complexity itself
new kinds of behavior every few powers of ten, all around the Cosmic
Uroborus." The second is scale chauvinism. This is
assumption that the observations that we make at our level of scale
(10² cm) are valid for other levels of scale. This
commonly found among physicists, they have a history of trying to apply
their theories and methods to other sciences because they have been so
successful in theirs. This works to a limited extent for
chemistry, very little in biology and not at all in medicine of the
social sciences. New processes emerge as one progresses up
scale ladder. One of the problems with the philosophies of
previous 400 years is that mankind was seen as insignificant in the
greater universe. "Everything in the universe is significant
some scales, insignificant on others."
C7 Where Do We
Come From? The Cosmic
Las Vegas This is easily the most confusing
(irrelevant?) chapter in the book. They discuss events that
may have occurred in the first 10-32 of a second with temperatures of
1030°C, beyond the bounds of scientific knowledge but possible
according to the "Double Dark" theory, and how these may have accounted
for some of the features we can see in the universe. They
speculate how multiple universes may occur and the relationship of this
to aspects to the Kabbalah.
C8 Are We Alone?
Possibility of Alien Wisdom Why is Earth an unusually suitable planet for life?
The go on to describe the chemical and biological steps involved in the
creation of complex living organisms. The complexity required to
maintain a living organism requires that it be of at least a minimum
size. This minimum size increases greatly if the organism is to
actively influence its environment. Intelligence requires even
larger sizes. However if nerve cells are to signal information
from one part of an organism to another, the organism cannot be too
large as the nervous system could not work efficiently. The
larger whales and dinosaurs push this limit. They discuss the
possibilities of extraterrestrial life and SETI.
- Many suns have very large planets that circle very close, so called "hot Jupiters". Our sun does not.
- Our sun has a massive planet that orbits at a large distance
(Jupiter) and it protects the inner planets from being hit by comets.
Jupiter's orbit is very circular and it has forced the rest of
the planets to be circular also.
- Earth's orbital distance from the sun is in the "habital zone",
to cold for water to completely evaporate but not so cold that it
remains perpetually frozen. It has remained in this zone for 4.5
- Earth's crust is thin enough and contains enough water that plate tectonics are possible.
- Earth's moon stabilizes Earth's rotation and climate, it is
unusually large compared to the size of the other planet/moon pairs in
the solar system.
- Our sun is located in the "Galactic Habitable Zone", far enough
from the galactic center so that supernovas have not destroyed life
with radiation but not so far out that there is not enough heavy
elements to create rocky planets.
PART 3 THE MEANINGFUL UNIVERSE
C9 Think Cosmically, Act Globally They discuss the
probable future of the Milky Way Galaxy, ours, over the next 100
billion or so years. Will humanity be around to share this
future? People today are using the concepts of a Newtonian
universe or in many cases a medieval earth-centered universe while
exploiting technologies based on relativity, quantum mechanics, etc.
"The major threats to human
survival today - world environmental degradation, extinction of
species, climate destabilization, nuclear war, terrorists with weapons
of mass destruction - result from unrestrained use of such new
technologies without a cosmology that makes sense of the nature and
scale of their power. They have an interesting graphic, it
is entitled, "American on average consume their weight in resources
every day." It shows a woman standing with bands across her body.
The lower band from her feet to her lower hips is composed of
sand and gravel, she has a wide belt low on her hips that represents
cement and clay, a narrow top of the belt that represents iron
ore, from her waist to just below her shoulders is coal and oil, her
shoulders and face represent the weight of food, her forehead
represents lumber and paper, and the very top of her head represents
inorganic chemicals for a total weight of 160 pounds per day.
The authors suggest that many people don't take the threats to humans
survival seriously is because their cosmology doesn't prepare them to
consider anything outside of their normal scale of perception, they are
not use to thinking outside of narrow time frames (the next raise, the
next quarterly bottom line, the next election) or narrow geographical
areas. When our numbers and power are increasing exponentially
this is no longer acceptable. They make their point by discussing
the reaction to the supernova which appeared in 1054. Western
writers didn't mention it because it did not fit with their cosmology
which was based on eternally unchanging crystal spheres. Chinese
and other astronomers documented it because they were working under a
Humans think in metaphors, affection is warmth, time is money, etc.
We need new metaphors that reflect a new cosmology. They
suggest a few, gravity is like wealth; if it spins out too far no one
has enough, if it spins out the right amount then people have enough to
invest and live well, if it doesn't spin out enough then it all goes
into a black hole and disappears from human use. Another example
is scale and politics. Small groups of people do well in certain
situations for example 5 to 15 seem to work well in many cases - sports
teams, juries, a government cabinet or nuclear families. There
seems to be another limit at about 150 where all people have personal
relationships or an extended family. This can be a good working
group for a tribe or a small company, a small semi-independent group of
military. Larger organizations like huge corporations, states,
nations, armies work nothing like families. We need to find
metaphors that relate to different size groups. The authors don't
have any definitive answers but they propose some possible routes to
find answers and questions that need to be asked. They quote
Deuteronomy 30:19-20; "I have set
before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life
, so that you and your descendants may live . . ." We make
choices that will allow our descendants can continue to live on earth
for thousands and millions of years in the future in a manner that be
C10 Taking Our
Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos We can all say, "I am what the expanding universe is doing here and now." We need a new cosmology that will help us realize that we are central to the universe.
The statement,"I am only human" is basically a self depreciating
statement that absolves us from responsibility. I am not in
charge so blame it on somebody else. We need a statement of power
that allows/forces us to take responsibility. They present seven
reasons why humans are the whole point of the universe.
The authors explicitly reject the basis of existentialism, they believe
that we (and all life) are important to the universe. We can either
accept that and go on to greater things or reject it and quite possibly
end intelligent life on earth in the near future. One of our
problems is that ancient peoples always had a spot in their cosmologies
for the gods. They lived in the sky, on a mountain top, more
recently the realm of the spiritual was above and surrounding the final
crystal sphere. With a Newtonian universe there was no place for
the spiritual and many religious believers could not accept this so
they rejected science. The authors see the spiritual as the
understanding of the relationships between the various levels in the
- We are made of the rarest material in the universe: stardust.
- We live at the center of our Cosmic Spheres of Time.
- We live at the midpoint of time which is the best time to observe the universe.
- We live at the middle of all possible sizes.
- We live in a universe that may be a unique bubble of spacetime in the eternal meta-universe.
- We live at more or less the midpoint in the life of our planet.
- We live at a turning point for our species, we can prepare for an almost infinite future or we can destroy it.
Until we find our symbolic place in the universe we will always feel
that we are outside and looking at a universe in which we have no part.
We must understand that our physical ancestry stretches back 14
billion years, our biological ancestry stretches back 2 to 3 billion
years, our ancestry as humans stretches back 6 million years, and that
cultural ancestry stretches back 150 thousand years. Saint
Augustine enunciated the Christian doctrine: "The deliberate sin
of the first man is the cause of original sin."
Whether you believe that or not, failing to protect our species
and destroying the promise of the only intelligent life that may exist
would surely be a final sin.
We need, collectively, to become the kind of people capable of
using science to uphold a globally inclusive, long lived civilization.
They present four simple elements that can promote the human species' success:
They conclude with 72 pages of detailed notes and an index of 11 pages
of very fine print. This is the most impressive book that I have
read in quite a while.
- Accept the new universe.
- Commit to a meaningful, not an existential, view of the universe.
- Open your mind and heart to a long time-horizon both behind us and before us.
- Make choices that support the long-term future now.
Return to Top
Before the Dawn
C1 Genetics & Genesis
The historical evidence for human history is quite rich for a few
hundred years but it rapidly diminishes the farther back we go.
Now with the discoveries about the human genome we are able to
apply a vast new body of evidence to this study. As an example of
how these discoveries can add to our knowledge of the past is a genetic
study of the human louse. A researcher received a note that one
of his children's classmates had lice. The note included the fact
that the human louse cannot be separated from a person for more than 24
hours before it dies. There are two varieties of lice, head lice
hold onto human hair and body lice that hold onto clothes. By
examining the genetic distance between these two varieties one can get
an estimate of when they diverged and thus determine when humans first
started wearing clothes. Using samples of lice from all over the
world it turns out that humans started wearing clothes about
72kya ± 2000-4000 years. There are several themes by
which DNA information has add to the knowledge about human history:
About 50kya the human population of Africa had shrunk to perhaps
about 5000 people. A small group of perhaps 150 who had been
living in the NE corner of Africa crossed over to the southern tip of
Saudi Arabia. This was dangerous as there was an existing
population of Homo neanderthalensis living in Europe and the Near East
and a population of Homo erectus living in East Asia. During an
earlier warm period from 125kya to 90kya a group of modern humans seems
to have emigrated out of Africa to settle around Israel but they seem
to have died out about 80kya to 70kya when the climate turned cold and
neanderthals were driven south. The cultures of neanderthal and
erectus had remained fairly constant for perhaps 150ky and about 50kya
there are the first indications of a new culture and the end of
neanderthal remains with modern human remains being found for the first
time in Europe and the Near East.
- There is a clear continuity between the ape world of 5 mya and the human world that emerged from it.
- A principal force in the shaping of human evolution has been the nature of human society.
- The human physical form was attained first, followed by continued evolution of human behavior.
- Most of human prehistory occurred in, and was shaped by, the last ice age.
- The adaptations for three principal social institutions, warfare, religion and trade, had evolved by 50kya.
- The ancestral people had a major limitation to overcome: they were too aggressive to live in settled communities.
- Human evolution did not halt in the distant past but has continued to the present day.
- People probably once spoke a single language from which all contemporary languages are derived.
- The human genome contains excellent records of the recent past, providing a parallel history to the written record.
C3 First Words Most
abilities of humans can be found in other animals, not speech.
Many animals have simple calls and several varieties of apes and
monkeys have a number of vocalizations which are used for different
purposes but there is truly a quantum difference between human speech
and ape vocalization. There are suggestions that perhaps language
developed from the duplication of genes that were used for some other
higher process, perhaps navigation, but there is no evidence to support
any serious theorizing. The origin of language has not been a
popular subject in linguistics partially because it is such a complex
topic. A pidgin is a very simple language created when two groups
of speakers with different languages come together, pidgins have
limited vocabulary and minimal grammar. Creoles are the languages
of their children. They spontaneously develop the pidgin into a
fully fledged language with a uniform grammar. When children are
raised without exposure to language they never become fluent.
Deaf children raised without a special education will
spontaneously develop a sign language which is fully as complex as
spoken language. Many archaeologists believe that art, complex
tools, and language all arose together about 55-45kya. The FOXP2
gene has recently come to the attention of geneticists. It has
many effects in the areas of the fetal brain that are important in
language. There is only a single unit (out of 715 units) between
this gene in mice and the higher apes and monkeys. This
represents a single change in 65 million years. There are two
changes between humans and chimps and they diverged approximately 5mya.
It is estimated that the final unit change in the FOXP2 gene
happened within he last 200,000 years. Presumably this is the
time when the ability to use language appeared in humans.
C4 Eden Somewhere
between 100kya and 50kya ancestral humans arose. Around
50kya Africa developed a very dry climate and the population was
reduced to about 5000 people. The clearest lines of descent are
currently the Y chromosome for men and mitochondrial DNA for women.
Y chromosome dates to about 59kya and mitochondrial DNA dates
about 150kya although both are only approximate. Adam must have
been one of Eve's GGGGG...grandsons! He ends the chapter with
some speculations on linguistic and cultural possibilities of this
C5 Exodus Most
believe that early African humans left either by way of the Sinai
Desert into Israel or across the southernmost point of the Red
Sea called the Gate of Grief. Wade comes down firmly on the
southern route because of DNA evidence. The most likely route is
then along the coast of Saudi Arabia, across the coast to India, down
the coastline of southern Asia, past Indonesia, to Australia, New
Guinea, and Tasmania. At this time the oceans were much lower and
almost all of these areas were reachable along the coast. There
was on gap of about 20 miles before reaching Australia about 40kya.
When modern humans reached India they seem to have also expanded
north into the Pakistan, Iran/Iraq area and then to Turkey. They
probably reached the middle east by 46kya, into Europe around Bulgaria
about 41kya, Italy and Germany by 38kya, and into France and Spain by
36kya. They would have had confrontations with neanderthals all
during this period and out competed them with the final result that the
neanderthals became extinct about 30kya. One consistent theme is
that the members of this early human population were
probably very violent, more violent than any groups today with the
exception of certain small isolated populations that may have split off
quite early. There is much less information on the fate of Homo erectus
who seems to have left Africa much earlier and lived on in the far east
until neanderthal times. Two interesting bits of information.
On the Indonesian island of Flores there was recently discovered
remains which some believe were descended from erectus who seem to have
gone extinct about 13kya. There are also two different strains of
body louse, they seem to have split from each other around 1.8mya when
only H erectus existed. They could have remained with Homo
erectus and only recently joined Homo sapiens when erectus and
neanderthal became extinct.
C6 Stasis Wade
follows the genetic traces left as humans spread across Europe and from
Asia northward and into the Americas. He also discusses the data
the indicates that dogs were domesticated in East Asia about 15kya.
C7 Settlement He
suggests that in the 30k years that humans spent outside of Africa that
they had gradually been loosing some of their extreme violence which
allowed them to form larger bands and by about 15kya a culture known as
the Natufians living in the area of Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria
began settling down and living in farming communities. They
survived from about 15kya until 11.5kya. He stresses the
personality and cultural changes it takes to convert a hunter-gatherer
people to a settled people. Some of the other changes that
occurred were the domestication of cereal grains, sheep, goats, cattle,
etc. Another internal change was lactose tolerance. Each of
these changes increased the competiveness of people living in
communities over those living as hunter-gatherers.
C8 Sociality This
chapter covers the many elements of socialization that have converted
humans to the type of culture that we now have from the behaviors of
apes and common patterns in our earlier behavior.
Chimp society is male dominated and quite violent. Bonobo, the
nearest relative of the chimp, is female dominated and highly
conciliatory. Since humans split from that line before they split
from one another, we should have genes for both. In fact we do
show tenancies of both, we also have many traits that are not found in
either. Most tribal societies produced very efficient warriors.
Although most of the battles were small scale hit-and-run affairs
there were casualties. Several studies show that around 30% of
the deaths of adult men were due to violence in battle. This is
much higher than in modern armies. The current furor over mad-cow
disease, which is caused by eating the brains of cows infected with
bovine prions, is nothing when compared with the risk of eating human
brains infected with human prions. In doing research on mad-cow
disease it was discovered that almost all human groups are partially
protected by some genetic factor. This factor differs between
human groups and it shows that in the recent past all human groups have
engaged in cannibalism. Other factors he discusses are altruistic
behavior, how religion can increase survivability, the privatization of
sex, and the survival value of living in a large group.
C9 Race Wade follows
Darwin's lead in describing the differences in appearance due to race
as being cause by mate selection. He also presents evidence that
shows that although there are racial differences these do not show what
the "racists" believed (differences in goodness, intelligence, etc.).
Some of these differences are in physical appearance (obvious)
but also in susceptibility to disease, the response to drugs, and
performance in certain sports. It would seem that most of the
current racial differences arose around 12kya to 10kya.
C10 Language Language
has been extremely well studied and where written language existed it
is easy to follow the patterns of language change for about 5000 years.
However for languages with no writing and no living speakers the
task becomes much more difficult. Linguists are still looking for
the linguistic "genes" and they haven't been found yet. He goes
through a fair amount of the history but there is obviously a great
deal of controversy in this area.
C11 History Most of
the book refers to events that happened between 100kya and 5kya but
genetics can supply information on what might be called the
"hidden" history of the last several thousand years. Genetic
surveys through out the lands of the former Mongol empire show that 8%
or 16 million men are are direct descendants of Genghis Khan. The
next highest total is descendants of the founder of the Manchu dynasty
in China. His Y chromosome is carried by 1.6 million men.
Both men and their sons maintained large harems displacing
thousands of men who otherwise would have become fathers. Another
interesting result is the study of English surnames. Prior to
around 1300 AD most English did not have surnames. They were
primarily assigned to make record keeping easier. They were
primarily assigned on simple things like occupation, butcher, baker,
smith, etc. There would be no reason to assume that people
bearing these names today would be related. A study showed that
many of the groups of people with the same name actually are related
and can be traced to ancestors assigned names about this time. He
gives other examples based on Icelanders, Jewish history, especially
Ashkenazi Jews, and the secret family of Thomas Jefferson and Sally
C12 Evolution A
review and summation chapter. Many people do not like what they
hear about human evolution but to retreat from the truth is
counterproductive. As E. O. Wilson said, "The human mind evolved
to believe in the gods. It did not evolve to believe in biology."
They present several examples of evolution in the recent human
He speculates a bit on possible evolutionary effects on the human race but this is a little premature in my opinion.
- Malaria: Two variants of the G6PD gene, one in Africa
originated between 4kya and 12kya and one in the Mediterranean
originated between 2kya and 7kya.
- Smallpox?: CCR5-delta-32 originated about 1300 years ago in
northern Europe. It reduces the ability of both the smallpox
virus and the AIDS virus to enter a white blood cell.
- Increase fertility: A large segment of chromosome 17 became inverted around 10kya in Europe and seems to increase fertility.
- Smell: The sense of smell is very important for a foraging
species. When humans started growing their own food smell became
less important. Most mammals have about 1000 genes related to
smell. About 60% of these genes are inactive in modern humans and
this process is continuing.
- Detoxifying poisons: We are loosing genes that control the
detoxification of natural plant poisons. This seems to go along
with the loss of smell. The problem is that many of these
processes metabolize medicinal drugs. This causes much of the
variability in the response to drugs.
- Lactose tolerance: This change occurred some 6kya among northern Europeans and somewhat later in Africa and the Near East.
- Intellegence: Because of restrictions of occupations among
northern European Jews they were restricted to symbolic manipulation
(banking, accounting, etc.) they developed a greater ability to
manipulate symbols (controversial). A gene called ASPM was first
developed around 37kya and then modified 6kya which determines the
number of neurons formed in the cerebral cortex in the early embryo.
- Aggression: Over 1000 years ago the Vikings were the most
feared warriors of Europe. Now the modern day Scandinavians are
among the most peaceable of peoples. There is no direct evidence
but the facts are not in yet.
- Parental behavior: Prairie voles have what is called the
vasopressin receptor gene. It is variable in length. Males
with the longer version are devoted fathers, those with the shorter
version abandon the females shortly after mating. Human males
possess the same gene but its effects remain unclear.
He concludes the book with 15 pages of notes, 2 pages of illustration credits, and an 11 page index.
Return to Top
Physics of the Impossible
Preface One of the author's
memories is one of his grade school teachers pointing out that the
coasts of Africa and South America seem to fit together - she said that
some scientists have speculated that once they were both parts of some
vast continent - but then she said that was silly, no force could
possibly push two gigantic continents apart. Later on they
studied dinosaurs and learned that they had all died out and again some
scientistists had again speculated that a giant meteor had killed them
all, again that was just science fiction. We now know better.
With better understanding of the science behind these events we
can describe just how they took place. We are learning more all
of the time.
Other impossibilities: perpetual motion, age of the earth to be greater
than 20 - 40 my, Goddard's Folly, H. G. Well's "atom bomb" in 1914.
Kaku divides "impossibilities" into 3 categories. The first,
Class I Impossibilities are impossible today but do not violate the
known laws of physics. They may be possible later on this century
or perhaps the next in modified form. The second, Class II
Impossibilities, are at the very edge of our understanding of physics.
If they are possible at all they will probably not become
possible for thousands if not millions of years. The third, Class
III Impossibilities, violate the known laws of physics. If they
were to become possible it would be only throuth a fundamental shift in
our understanding of physics.
Part 1: Class I Impossibilities Arthur C. Clark's Three Laws:
I When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that
something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he
states that something is impossibly, he is very probably wrong.
II The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
III Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
These impossibilities include: Force Fields, Invisibility, Phasers and
Death Stars, Teleportation, Telepathy, Psychokinesis, Robots,
Extraterrestrials and UFOs, Starships, Antimatter and Anti-universes.
He considers it possible that we may have teleportation of fairly small
objects, perhaps organic molecules, virus' or even a living cell to be
a Class I but teleportation of a living human is probably a Class II.
He classifies civilizations into 4 categories. We are currently
residing in a Type 0 civilization (we use dead plants - oil and coal to
fuel our machines). Type I civilizations can harness the power of
their planet and utilize much of the sunlight that strikes their
planet. Type II civilization can utilize the entire power of
their sun. A Type III civilization can utilize the power of an
entire galaxy. We are beginning to transition to a Type I
civilization. We are beginning to harvest the power of the sun,
we have a communications system, the internet, that is beginning to
connect the entire planet, our economic system is going global and
English is becoming the language of international transaction.
Part 2: Class II Impossibilities The author only sees
three of these impossibilities, faster than light travel, time travel,
and parallel universes. For faster than light travel he sees two
possible approaches, they are stretching space in front of you and
contracting space behind you and ripping space by means of a wormhole.
For stretching space it appears that one would need to use
negative energy - since we still don't know what this it probably won't
happen for a long time. For creating wormholes it would appear
that we need the energy contained in black holes. This would
probably take an advanced Type II or a Type III civilization.
Time travel would seem to involve the event horizons surrounding black
holes. Again this would probably require a Type II or Type III
Parallel universes is a moderatly hot topic in theoretical physics
today. Theory seems to suggest that such a thing is possible but
there doesn't seem to be any liklihood of serious progress for a long,
long time. If it does become possible it would probably be with a
new physics and a Type III civilization.
Part 3: Class III Impossibilities
Kaku sees two types of Class III Impossibilities. The first
is perpetual motion machines. These are probably either truly
impossible or will require a totally new understanding of physics.
The possibilities seemingly revolve around dark energy or quantum
energy. Again, if possible they would require a Type III
Currently he sees no possiblility that precognition will ever become
possible. My only comment is that perhaps we can get successive
approximations to this. The history of science is a study in how
we can predict future events. One of the first major
advances of the proto-science of astronomy / astrology was the ability
to predict the movements of the moon and stars and the seasons.
One of our current major efforts is an attempt to predict the
weather. Another is efforts to predict global warming. Not
perfect, but we are gaining on it.
The book contains an epilogue which attemps to put it all together.
There are 12 pages of notes, 2 pages of bibliography, and an 11
Return to Top
How to Build a Dinosaur
Horner & James Gorman
Subtitle: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever
Introduction What if we
wanted to pick a time in earth's history, run it over and over again
and see what happens? Unfortunately you couldn't do that because
you couldn't guarantee that humans or any other species would be here a
second time. To conduct an experiment with evolution you need a
whole planet to play with. But maybe we could start with an
animal, say perhaps the chicken, because eggs are easy to work with,
and reverse engineer evolution and see if we could work backwards to
see if we could come up with a dinosaur. Horner likes giving
lectures. He prepares a series of slides and then just describes
each one and the links to the other slides. His dream lecture is
to create a dinosaur like creature using chickens, perhaps the size of
a turkey or emu if he could find handlers, and lead it on stage and
then ask, "Can anyone here tell me what this is?" That simple
question with the follow-up questions would be the entire lecture.
We are now beginning to develop the tools that may someday make
this lecture possible. He would focus on two features, the arm
(wing) bones and the tail bones. The arm bones of a chicken start
very similar to the arm bones in a human fetus, why do the buds at the
end lengthen, fuse together, and end up as a wing instead of forming an
arm? The tail at the end of the spine is growing like many other
animals but then it stops growing. Why? If we could change
these two processes we could end up with a creature that looked very
much like a small carnivore very much like a species of velociraptor
like theropod called a Saurornitholestes.
C1 Hell Creek Time, Space, and Digging to the Past
To get to Hell Creek, you drive east from Bozeman, and back in
time. Take I 90 for 150 miles until you get to Billings.
Then take 87 north to 200 east to Winnett, population 200.
The road continues east for 75 miles, through the Missouri
Breaks. When you get to the Musselshell River and Garfield county
you begin seeing exposed rocks. These are the rocks of the Hell
Creed formation and they are about 65 million years old. In many
places you can notice a thin black line on top of a lighter group of
rocks. This line is coal and it marks the start of the Fort Union
Formation, sometimes called Z-coal. This coal formed just after
the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. The Cretaceous rocks
beneath this thin black line contain some of the best fossils of
dinosaurs of this time.
Quick note on how local events effect even paleontologists. Mary
Schweitzer, who discovered red blood cells and blood vessels in the
fossil of a T rex, was married to the brother of the leader of the
Freeman sect who had set up their headquarters in the area. The
area is extreme in other areas, the temperatures often get to 120 in
the summer and blizzards at -40 in the winter. Water is very
A brief description of the evolution of life on Earth. How the
nomenclature used by biologists have changed. We no longer look
for a specific ancestor. We now look for shared characteristics
of groups and how these characteristics change over time. The new
characteristics are termed derived characteristics and the groups are
called clades. A diagram of this is called a cladogram
(cladistics for the overall process). Very briefly, mammals and
dinosaurs both appeared about the same time more than 245 million years
ago. Following a mass extinction about 245 mya the dinosaurs
became dominant. They remained dominant until they were mostly
killed about 65 mya when the mammals became dominant. By that
time Antarctica, Australia, and South America were separated but the
rest of the continents were still connected. One of the biggest
questions surrounding this time is what was happening to the great mass
of life on earth both before, during, and after the meteor crash.
Unfortunately the Hell Creek Formation doesn't give us any
information on the period after the meteor.
The mammals were poised and ready to take over from the dinosaurs and
take over they did, rapidly expanding into many new niches that were
opened up. He quickly goes over the rise of large mammals, the
first hominids, the first modern humans to reach the Americas, and the
history of the Americas following their discovery by the Europeans.
The first European-American fossil collectors arrived in the West
in about the early 1850's. The first T rex fossil was discovered
in the Hell Creek Formation in 1908. The expedition he describes
occurred in 2000 found five individuals. The most important, in
which they found more than 50% of the skeleton they named Bob, or B rex
after the name of the person who first spotted the first bone.
One of the bones, a femur, was so big it had to be broken in two
to get it out. This skeleton is probably the most throughly
investigated T. rex, ever.
C2 It's A Girl A Pregnancy Test For T. Rex
Schweitzer took some of the samples from the femur of B rex back to her
new job, Asst. Prof. at North Carolina State University. When she
got there she opened her samples, turned one over and realized that she
was looking at the bones of a pregnant female T. Rex. It was
coated with medullary bone, which in birds is produced to store calcium
which is used in creating eggshells. This was the first discovery
of medullary bone in dinosaurs.
Before she got her PhD, a friend of hers in a vet lab was helping her
making thin sections for display slides. Her friend displayed
some of the slides they had produced at a veterinary conference.
One of the audience members if she had a slide with samples of
the oldest dinosaur they had studied. He said yes, it was from B
rex and they showed it. After the talk another audience member
came up to the podium and said, "Do you realize you've got red blood
cells in that dinosaur bone?" This terrified her as the last
thing most graduate students want to do is to announce a new and
obviously controversial finding as many others will be out trying to
prove her wrong. She used this in her dissertation and they tried
to prove her wrong, not successfully yet.
The final finding that Mary
Schweitzer made that he reports is the finding of flexible, transparent
vessels from B rex that look and act like blood vessels containing red
blood cells. They appear to be made of collagen. This is
also a major first discovery.
C3 Molecules Are Fossils Too Biological Secrets in Ancient Bones When Michael Crichton's novel Jurassic Park
was published in 1990 its science was state of the art. Since
then many species have been cloned and the DNA of many species has been
sequenced and published. Kary Mullis and the Taq polymerase
enzyme reaction. The discovery of ancient DNA. DNA has been
retrieved from mammoths frozen in permafrost and quite likely from
Neanderthals tens of thousands of years old. The report of DNA
from an 80 million year old dinosaur bone is probably false. The
cost for sequencing a complete human genome has gone from $3 billion
for the Human Genome Project, to $2 million several years ago. In
2008 a company has advertised a complete sequence for $350,000, and
numerous people are expecting costs of less than $1,000 in a few years.
In 1965 Philip Abelson found amino acids in 150 myo fossils. In
1974 proteins were found in 70 myo mollusk shells. Since then
other techniques have made it possible to find many other biological
materials. In 1999 Mary Schweitzer for evidence of hemoglobin and
red blood cells. After all this time archaeologists are slowly
changing their field methods to better collect this data.
Collagen and osteocalcin are two of the molecules that have been
worked with. A description of the difficulties of finding organic
chemicals in fossils and of the mobile lab acquired by North Carolina
State University and used at the fossil sites in Montana.
C4 Dinosaurs Among Us Chickens and Other Cousins of T. Rex
Have you ever seen a dinosaur? We all have, they are just
called birds. Perhaps they should be called dinosaur kids as they
have done quite a bit of evolving ever since they separated from the
rest of the dinosaurs about 175 - 200 mya. Their first known
ancestor is the Archaeopteryx which lived about 150 mya.
For many years few people believed that they were related until Dave
Ostrom of Yale discovered a dinosaur which he named Deinonychus which
he believed was a quick, fierce animal that hunted in packs and was
probably warm blooded. In the mid-1990's many new dinosaur
fossils were discovered in China. Several of these were roughly
bird sized and had feathers. One was named Sinosauropteryx or
Archaeopterys from China. It was approximately chicken size and
other were up to three feet long. Modern birds first appeared
about 55 mya and the galliform birds which include chickens arose
around 45 mya with the modern chicken first appearing about 5,000 ya as
a result of human selection. In the chicken we have a direct line
back to one of the major branches of dinosaurs.
C5 Where Babies Come From Ancestors in the Egg
The chicken genome (or at least the red jungle fowl -Gallus
gallus- was published in 2004. Based on this it has been
determined that the last common ancestor of chickens and humans lived
about 310 mya. Needless to say this is a big separation and there
are many differences. As a relevant aside, Aristotle was the
first recorded human to perform experiments and scientific observations
of chicken embryology.
Horner discuses many topics related to genetics and embryology and how
these might influence our ideas about the evolution of birds from early
dinosaurs. He picks two features of chickens (birds) and bases
most of his discussion on them. The features are the development
of feathers and the changing of the five fingers/toes into the three
related portions of the bird wing. One of the fascinating
elements of his discussion is that it doesn't seem to be as much the
creation of new genes that controls new species formation as it is the
actions of proteins that change when already existing genes are turned
on or turned off.
Feathers seem to have originated from scales, they elongated, then grew
fringed edges, and finally produced hooked and grooved barbules on the
ends of the fringes. Perhaps they originated as a temperature
regulating device which grew more and more efficient. Then they
may have been used for increased gliding length and only afterwords
were they used for powered flight on some of the smaller members of the
vast bird family.
The first four-limbed animals had various numbers of digits on their
limbs. One early variety had 7 digits on the rear legs and 8 on
its front legs. Somewhere along the line all those that did not
have 5 digits on both front and hind legs died out and tetrapods
standardized on this. Since then some species have lost a few
digits or they have become vestigial. The five digit buds can be
seen in birds but growth stops for them and the three remaining digits
form part of the developing wing.
C6 Wag The Bird The Shrinking Backbone
Hans Larsson of McGill University in Montreal is the human
subject of the final two chapters. He is one of the leaders in
merging the sciences of paleontology and molecular biology using
experimental embryology. Paleontology has always been a
descriptive science. His approach offers a way of using
embryology experiments using the methods of molecular biology to gain
the power of the experimental method to paleontology. His
technique is to use another of the features of birds that distinguishes
them from most other animals; the tail. There are a few animals
that do not have tails, humans being one. In addition to being of
academic or intellectual interest, the backbone from which the tail is
a continuance, has always been a problem area in humans. If we
knew more about the formation of tails we might gain knowledge about
problems with the human backbone, spina bifida is one such problem.
Embryonic birds, using the chicken as an example, start out with a full
complement of 18 beginnings or buds (anlagen) of tail vertebrae.
Of these, five begin to develop normally, but then development
comes to a halt. These five stop growing and the remaining 13
merge into the pygostyle. Similar developments occur in the
African clawed frog and the salmon but these are enough different and
far enough separated evolutionally to make it obvious that it is
parallel evolution and not linked. Larsson is attempting to grow
a tail on a chicken embryo by manipulating the chemical signals.
This has never been attempted or even seriously studied before so
he is forced to develop new methods and work his way around problems
that no one has ever run into before.
C7 Reverse Evolution Experimenting With Extinction
This chapter deals more with the scientific, moral, and religious
issues of the attempt to grow a dinosaur. Without going into all
the arguments Horner believes that it is a perfectly valid thing to
attempt. The current project that he envisions is to grow a
tailed, front clawed (and possibly toothed) Chickenosaurus
from a chicken embryo. The goal of the first project would be to
do this strictly with the manipulation of growth controlling chemicals.
There would be no need to manipulate genes. The creation of
new species which would be self-propagating and which would breed true
is a completely different goal. The implications of this
follow-on project are much different. The first project is
strictly a scientific experiment with no further implications.
The second or follow-on project would need to be examined much
more closely and the decision to proceed would have to be made by our
society as a whole.
Again he repeats his dream of walking onto a stage to make a presentation. He is leading a Chickenosaurus and he asks the question to the audience, "Can anyone here tell me what this is?"
The book ends with the comparison of two skeletons, one is a Saurornitholestes, a small theropod from the Cretaceous and his proposed Chickenosaurus. It has a 10 page bibliography and a 16 page index.
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