The Loom

Archives for October, 2003

Gross to you, gross to me

Last week a region of the brain called the insula was in the news. As I described in my post, scientists found that physical pain and social rejection both activate the insula in much the same way. The insula returns now for a disgusting encore that gives a glimpse at how we get inside other…

Reading on the Radar

Books have been bubbling up from the comments cauldron. Jim Harrison has asked what I think of Simon Conway Morris’s Life’s Solution. Web Webster says Cosmos was his first favorite science book and asks for suggestions. Humboldt and Feyerband make an appearance too. It’s ironic that two forms of reading that are competing furiously these…

Smart Wings of the Jurassic

Evolution is nature’s great R&D division. Through mutation, natural selection, and other processes, life can find new solutions for the challenge of staying alive. It’s possible to see a simplified version of this problem solving at work in the lab. The genetic molecule RNA, for example, can evolve into shapes that allow it to do…

Multi-Dimensional Mangling

Loyal denizens of the blogosphere will forgive me if I begin this post by sketching out the details of the recent Gregg Easterbrook affair for those who haven’t kept up with the details. Easterbook, a senior editor at the New Republic, started up a blog recently where he cranked out postings at a feverish pace…

Stalking the Perfect Tree

When Charles Darwin was thrashing out his theory of evolution, he would doodle sometimes in his notebooks. To explain how new species came into existence, he wrote down letters on a page and then connected them with branches. In the process, he created a simple tree. Across the top of the page, he wrote, “I…

After years at a slow burn, the controversy over Terri Schiavo has hit the national news. Schiavo lost consciousness in 1990 after a cardiac arrest, and her husband recently won a lawsuit to have her feeding tube removed, over the objection of her family. Then on Tuesday, Governor Jeb Bush ordered that her tube be…

One gene, many fish

The Great Lakes of East Africa swarm with fish–particulary with one kind of fish known as cichlids. In Lake Victoria alone you can find over 500 species. These species come in different colors and make their living in many different ways–sucking out eyeballs of other cichlids, scraping algae off of rocks, and so on. What’s…

From Genes to Words

Science is so specialized these days that it’s hard for scientists to look up beyond the very narrow confines of their own work. Biologists who study cartilage don’t have much to say to biologists who study retinas. Astronomers who study globular clusters probably can’t tell you what’s new with planetary disks. But sometimes scientists from…

Soul Made Flesh: A Preview

My book Soul Made Flesh will be coming out in January, but in the meantime, I’ve posted an excerpt on my web site. You can read it online or print out a pdf.

10% Myth, 1% Fact?

In the comments to my post yesterday about Nanoarchaeum equitans, an ancient parasite, the discussion took an interesting turn. Web Webster wrote: “So in a way, N. equitans is both ‘smarter’ in that it uses more of its total capabilities (versus humans and the old ‘10% of the brain thing’) and ‘more efficient’ in the…