The Loom

Archives for September, 2004

A Puzzle for the Autumnal Equinox

Every now and then you come across a scientific hypothesis that is so elegant and powerful in its ability to explain that it just feels right. Yet that doesn’t automatically make it right. Even when an elegant hypothesis gets support from experiments, it’s not time to declare victory. This is especially true in biology, where…

The Long Road from Genes to God

I am sure that in 50 years, we are going to know a lot more about how the mind works. The fusion of psychology and genetics will tell us about how our personality is influenced by our genes, and they’ll also show exactly how the environment plays a hand as well. The preliminary evidence is…

Babies with Grown-up Brains

The soft spot on a baby’s head may be able to tell us when our ancestors first began to speak. We have tremendously huge brains–six times bigger than the typical brain of a mammal our size. Obviously, that big size brings some fabulous benefits–consciousness, reasoning, and so on. But it has forced a drastic reorganization…

Deep Time In a Bird’s Beak

Evolution works on different scales. In a single day, HIV’s genetic code changes as it adapts to our ever-adapting immune system. Over the course of decades, the virus can make a successful leap from one species to another (from chimpanzees to humans, for example). Over a few thousand years, humans have adapted to agriculture–an adult…

A Blog-Free Week

See you September 13.

Getting Closer To Life’s Dawn

Today scientists took another step towards creating the sort of simple life forms that may have been the first inhabitants of Earth. I wrote a feature for the June issue of Discover about this group, led by Jack Szostak at Harvard Medical School. Szostak and his colleagues suspect that life started out not with DNA,…

The Unwritten Self

"A world without memory is a world of the present," Alan Lightman wrote in Einstein’s Dreams. "The past exists only in books, in documents. In order to know himself, each person carries his own Book of Life, which is filled with the history of his life…Without his Book of Life, a person is a snapshot,…