The War on Error

Books of February 2012

These are the books read in February.

  • Andrew B. Kipnis: “Producing Guanxi: Sentiment, Self, and Subculture in a North China Village” (1997)
    • Except for some excellent examples of real life guanxi production, sadly not all that enlightening as I hoped it would be. Then again the real life examples may well be enough to ask for.
  • Kathleen McMillan, Jonathan Weyers: “How to Write Dissertations and Projects” (2007) [in Swedish translation]
    • A good summary of the most important things to remember, especially the somewhat short sections on scientific research and scientific conduct.
  • Richard Dawkins: “The Greatest Show on Earth: the Evidence for Evolution” (2009)
    • If someone has to read just one book on science in a lifetime, this is the book to read. Dawkins goes back to the beginning and produces the plain evidence for evolutionary theory, including magnificent examples and combating many misunderstandings and critical questions. A great book to read both if you have no clue about evolution but are open minded to understand it, and if you – like me – find it interesting and want to learn a lot more, both about what we know and why we know it.

Evolution for dummies (eller för de som helt enkelt inte tänkt så mycket på det)

Väldigt ofta stöter jag på dem som inte riktigt litar eller känner sig säkra på evolutionsteori, inte för att de egentligen är emot den eller så utan för att de helt enkelt aldrig tänkt så mycket på det, eller för att de hört att det är något skumt med den.

Faktum är att evolutionsteorin är allmänt accepterad av näst intill alla vetenskapsmän i världen, och den utgör grunden för nästan all modern biologi. Evolution används vid forskning om virus, vaccinering, genmanipulering, och hundratals andra stora områden. Det är en av de mest säkerställda idéerna inom modern historia, som blivit allt säkrare konstant under nästan tvåhundra år. Samtidigt har den ständigt överlevt alla försök att motbevisa den.

Trots detta är det många som har dålig koll på vad den faktiskt går ut på, och utöver de religiösa motståndarna så finns det en stor procent av befolkningen som inte tycker att de kan lita på biologerna i frågan. Det är helt okej – man ska inte blint följa auktoritetsfigurer. Vad man däremot ska göra är att själv analysera fakta, och se om det stämmer eller inte. Läs på. Det finns en del fantastiska böcker på området som tar upp, steg för steg, hur vi vet att evolution har skett under miljarder år och fortsätter att se. Mitt guldexempel på detta är Richard Dawkins ”Så gick det till” (originaltitel ”The Greatest Show on Earth”), vilken med vackra bilder och tydligt diskussion tar upp bevisen för evolution, samt tar upp specifika argument mot evolution och berättar varför de inte håller.

Och som jag sade – följ inte blint auktoritetsfigurer. När du läser en bok om evolution – oavsett om den är skriven av någon för (exempelvis Dawkins) eller någon mot (exempelvis Michael Behe) – kolla upp det du inte litar på. Dawkins har fullt med källor i sina böcker, så kolla upp dem eller gör en googlesökning. Kolla runt, finn sanningen. Det är det bästa du kan göra.

Idag upptäckte jag genom Skepchick en bra filmserie på YouTube, där evolution tas upp på ett lättsamt sätt för den som har dålig koll. Kolla!

Det här handlar trots allt om något så grundläggande som var allt liv på jorden, inklusive du och jag, kom ifrån. Det förtjänar tio minuter av din tid.

Song of the day: Baba Brinkman – Darwin’s Acid

Baba Brinkman – Darwin’s Acid

In 1859 Darwin spilled the first splashes
Of his universal acid, and the effects were like magic
Burning human arrogance into ashes
In exactly the same way that Copernican math did
No, the stars don’t shine just to improve the view from earth
No, we’re not the centre of the universe
No, we weren’t created in the image of Jupiter
No, we’re not so special, and yes, the truth hurts
But that’s how evolution works – once it’s been applied
The acid burns into the superstitious side
Of the human mind, and fills it with light
It even dissolves the original sin of pride
The pride that says: “I’m a special creation
And my creator has given me dominion over nature
And he has the power to replenish his creatures
So if species go extinct, he can recreate them later
And if he doesn’t, well that’s just part of his plan”
Ah, but Darwin’s acid is hard to withstand
It plucks the arrogance deep from within the hearts of man
And teaches us never to build our houses on sand
But instead to try to understand why we’re here
One species among millions in this biosphere
Each with millions of ancestors, whose fighting spirits
Combined to give us this great survival gear
These minds, these limbs, these incredible tools
Perfected by millennia of competitive use
And yes, these attention-seeking genitals too
Without them, these living forms could never improve
It’s such an elegant view, full of breadth and grandeur
And yet, some people react with depression and anger
Like: “It’s so unsympathetic, so viciously random!
What’s the point of compassion, or ethical standards?
If this is just a game that organisms are trapped in
Genetically adapting to environmental factors
Then there’s no responsibility for individual actions!
Where’s the governing dynamic?!?”
Well, once again Darwin gives us some answers
He says yes, everything from violence to violets to viruses
Consists of organisms adapting to environments
If you’re alive, it’s because your ancestors were the best survivalists
They were the finalists in the genetic Olympic Games
Every one of your ancestors lived to reproductive age
And they were all better than their competitors at getting laid
Otherwise, you wouldn’t be sitting here today
There’s something inspirational in this vision of Darwin’s
And it goes like this: organisms – like us – are not isolated
Organisms are part of an environmental mix
So your decisions affect evolution – it isn’t directionless
Now, before you dismiss me as a mad environmentalist
Just try to imagine how natural selection applies
To countries that have industrialized
Companies live and companies die
And when customers buy based on a company’s green plan
That affects the economy, just ask Alan Greenspan
Cultural evolution is ours to reinvent
Wait, can we affect current events? Yes We Can
And when we choose who to sleep with and reproduce
Our sexual choices affect the gene pool
So it’s simple, all we need to do is refuse
To sleep with mean people, and things will improve
Especially women – on you the pressure is greater
‘Cause men will always do what it takes to get into your favour
That’s just in our nature, so if selfish behaviour
Was a sexual graveyard, the effects would be major!
In each of these cases, our intentional efforts
Can play the part of environmental pressures
I can say: “This is a space where a peaceful existence
Will never be threatened by needless aggression”
I can say: “This is an ecosystem where people listen
Where justice increases over egotism
This is a space where religions achieve co-existence
And racism decreases with each coalition”
This is my vision of Darwinism, and how we all factor in
Each of us is a part of the environment; we pass through it
And change it, and affect the way that others adapt to it
And after we get to look back and see how we impacted it
And maybe have a laugh if our sense of humour is still alive
And what did Charles Darwin do? Darwin threw some light
On the origin of mankind, and he left us with skewered pride
But he taught us that, yes, there’s grandeur in this view of life

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one, and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful, and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
Charles Darwin, Origin of Species

Dream #18: Theory

I had a giant web of lines, which when put together correctly formed what looked like DNA strings. I first formed them all in a multilayer DNA string, and then differentiated them to make hundreds of strings, all looking the same. Someone came up to me and yelled at me for ”destroying the proof”. She said that the point of the web and the DNA string it formed, was to show the strength of a well-grounded theory like that of evolution. She said that  while multiple, relatively weak strings can easily be picked apart, no one can destroy one, strong evidence that has been formed and put together by multiple smaller evidences over time.

I realised that I was a god-like creature, created by man to help them fully understand the evidence for evolution.

Nationalism och jag

Jag har tänkt väldigt mycket på nationalism. Jag har aldrig varit särskilt nationalistisk, trots att jag ändrat mig lite flera gånger. Jag har alltid haft svårt att se poängen. Jag har svårt att se på ett land som stående över de andra, och jag har svårt att hylla det över andra länder. Jag har svårt att se hur detta skiljer sig från ren rasism, rent och skärt ”vi är bättre än er”. Jag tror att nationalism i grunden är en rot till ondska.

Jag mår dåligt av någonting som att det var nationaldag igår. Jag tycker inte om tanken på att hälsa flaggan, och jag har slutat att göra det det senaste året eller så när vi haft exempelvis scoutträffar. Det handlar inte om att ogilla Sverige, för jag älskar Sverige, men jag vill inte se på Sverige som ett land över andra.

Den som känner mig vet dessutom hur otroligt mycket jag tycker om Norden. Det är ett område med fantastisk natur, med rik och fascinerande historia och kultur, och jag älskar den typnordiska personligheten i sitt lugn. Kanske helt enkelt för att jag själv stämmer in så bra på den, och att jag är van vid den, men faktum återstår – jag skulle inte vilja bo permanent på någon annan stans. Jag är dessutom glad över att vara svensk, eftersom Sverige enligt min uppfattning har en av de mer humana politiska inställningarna, med pascifism och socialism som grundideal. Jag ska inte heller hymla med att jag inte skulle stå ut att bo i ett mer religiöst land, och Sverige är ett av de mest sekulära länderna i världen.

Jag tror starkt på jorden som en enhet i denna globaliserade tidsålder. Vi är bara år ifrån att kolonisera rymden, och det är inte en omöjlighet att vi inom en framtid kommer att vara i kontakt med andra civilisationer. Är det inte dags att börja se jorden som en enhet, och sluta upp med den nationalistiska andan?

Min fråga återstår: varför är nationalism en bra sak? Jag känner redan till de rent evolutionärbiologiska argumenten för flockar, men i vår moderna tid är inte denna typ av socialdarwinism legitim. Jag ser gärna svar i kommentarerna.

Google Ngram Viewer

Google Ngram Viewer is a statistical tool for tracking the occurrence of words in books throughout history. Strongly recommended for anyone who likes things.

Quote of the Day X

”I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

-Albert Einstein

Dream #14: Dino attacks and humans regenerate heads

In a dinousaur (velociraptor) attack, someone (I don’t know who) got his head bit of. Then the dinosaur ran away laughing. My mother, Karin and I were standing chocked as we saw the head jumping back on to his head again, and him turning back to life. Karin and I ran away to explore the phenomenon closer, slowly realising that humans through evolution has learned to have their heads returned to them if they’re decapitated. We ran back to mom and asked her where the man with the head was. She answered that she had burnt his body as she didn’t think he had survived, even when he yelled at her to stop.

Charles Darwin

A short essay on Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution.

The Life of Charles Darwin

One of the most well-known names in the science of today is Charles Darwin, often called the Father of Modern Biology. He is the author of “On the Origin of Species” (1859), and the accredited discoverer of the Theory of Evolution, which during the second half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century grew to become accepted as the origin of species, opposing Creationism, the theory that God would have created all living beings as they are today and always will be, and that we weren’t developed stage to stage in millions of years. He was not as many believe the first pioneer on the topic, however; he was merely the man who came with good evidence for the theory which could lead to its acceptance in scientific circuits.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin was born in 1809 as the son of Robert Darwin, and named after his uncle, a doctor who died after accidentally cutting himself during an autopsy. Robert first planned his son to follow in his uncle’s footsteps and become a doctor too, but Darwin refused when he realised he couldn’t stand seeing the pain in a patient during an operation – this was long before the invention of anesthesia.
After studying at Cambridge, Darwin decided to go with Captain Robert FitzRoy on a journey on the ship HMS Beagle, on which he investigated the life of animals on different islands in South America. This was where he first started developing his theory of evolution through natural selection that would contradict Creationism and change mankind’s view on biology.

The Theory of Evolution and Natural Selection

According to Darwin’s theory of evolution, the species of our world were not created as they are today, as believed earlier, but descend from common ancestors that can be very different from the descendants. Through generations, these evolve through what he called natural selection, allowing them to adjust to the environment in order to survive and reproduce. For example, the human of today received her fifth finger, the thumb, through evolution, to be able to use tools which we today need for our every-day life.

The basic of the Theory of Natural Selection reads as follows:

· The prime goal for every species is to survive and reproduce, passing on its DNA, which is unique for the species, unto its next generation.

· This results in too many organisms, and decreasing nourishment available. Thus, the competition between the individual organisms increases, and the weakest will not survive.

· The organisms that died are not random, but a chosen collection of the weakest; or in better words the ones that were not suited for the environment, while the organisms suited survived. Herbert Spencer called this by the well known phrase “survival of the fittest”, inspired after reading Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species.

As a result, only those suited for the environment live on. After many generations of evolution, those left are better suited. This can take a very long time, and the weaker species as well as unnecessary limbs of organisms, functions, etcetera, can linger for thousands of years before being removed. For example, the human appendix, a part of our digestive system, is theorized not to be used for anything anymore. It is therefore believed that it is only a matter of time before we are no longer born with an appendix. The same goes for our little toe, which we no longer need to use for balance. It is not unlikely that we by time only have four toes per foot.