Link tags: biology
Fermented Code: Modelling the Microbial Through Miso - Serpentine Galleries
Y’know, I started reading this great piece by Claire L. Evans thinking about its connections to systems thinking, but I ended up thinking more about prototyping. And microbes.
Have I reached the Douglas Adams Inflection point (or is modern tech just a bit rubbish)? – Terence Eden’s Blog
This chimes with something I’ve been pondering: we anticipate big breakthoughs in software—AI!, blockchain!, metaverse! chatbots!—but in reality the field is relatively stagnant. Meanwhile in areas like biology, there’s been unexpected advances. Or maybe, as Terence indicates, it’s all about the hype.
Bones, Bones: How to Articulate a Whale
I found this to be thoroughly engrossing. An articulate composition, you might say.
I couldn’t help thinking of J.G. Ballard’s short story, The Drowned Giant.
What is a woman? - Prospect Magazine
An excellent thoughtful piece from Angela Saini (as always):
Popular opinion, “common sense” and the closely related priors of scientific enquiry have never been reliable guides when it comes to decoding human difference. After all, European biologists once thought it was obvious that colour-coded races were different species or breeds that had evolved separately on each continent. It was obvious to taxonomist Carl Linnaeus that monster-like and feral races of humans surely existed somewhere in the world. More recently, neuroscientists were happily insisting that women were innately less intelligent than men because they had smaller brains. A few neuroscientists still do.
History shows that many supposed “facts” about human nature were actually always cultural constructions. Race is one. Gender is another. Now, some researchers believe that sex—generally seen as determined by anatomy, including chromosomes, hormones and genitalia—may to some extent be constructed, too. Binary categories of male and female, they say, certainly don’t fully encompass all the natural variation and complexity that we see in our species.
The Botanist Who Defied Stalin - Issue 99: Universality - Nautilus
Lysenko vs. Vavilov feels like the 20th century version of Edison vs. Tesla.
Blackout in the Brain Lab - Issue 98: Mind - Nautilus
Black Mirror meets Henrietta Lacks in this short story by Erik Hoel who I had not heard of until today, when I came across his name here and also in a completely unrelated blog post by Peter Watts about the nature of dreams.
Beyond Smart Rocks
Claire L. Evans on computational slime molds and other forms of unconvential computing that look beyond silicon:
In moments of technological frustration, it helps to remember that a computer is basically a rock. That is its fundamental witchcraft, or ours: for all its processing power, the device that runs your life is just a complex arrangement of minerals animated by electricity and language. Smart rocks.
The World Ocean is as close as you can get to outer space without leaving Earth. It’s an entirely different universe, nothing like the life we have on land.
Ariel Waldman: The colorful critter world of microbes in Antarctica | TED Talk
Ariel gave a TED talk and it’s mind-blowingly good!
Strangest of All: Anthology of Astrobiological Science Fiction [PDF]
Eight sci-fi stories gathered together by the European Astrobiology Institute. This free book is also available as .mobi and .epub.
Life Under The Ice
Here’s the latest wonderful project from Ariel—explore microscopic specimens from Antarctica:
The collected Antarctic microbes were found living within glaciers, under the sea ice, next to frozen lakes, and in subglacial ponds.
The Deep Sea
After showing us the size of space, here’s a fascinating intereactive visualisation of the ocean depths.
The Octopus: An Alien Among Us | Literary Hub
An excerpt from the book Rethinking Consciousness by Michael S. A. Graziano, which looks like an interesting companion piece to Peter Godfrey-Smith’s excellent Other Minds.
Also, can I just say how nice this reading experience is—the typography, the arresting image …I like it.
Tellart | Design Nonfiction
An online documentary series featuring interviews with smart people about the changing role of design.
As technology becomes more complex and opaque, how will we as designers understand its potential, do hands-on work, translate it into forms people can understand and use, and lead meaningful conversations with manufacturers and policymakers about its downstream implications? We are entering a new technology landscape shaped by artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and synthetic biology.
So far there’s Kevin Slavin, Molly Wright Steenson, and Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, with more to come from the likes of Matt Jones, Anab Jain, Dan Hill, and many, many more.
Is the universe pro-life? The Fermi paradox can help explain — Quartz
Living things are just a better way for nature to dissipate energy and increase the universe’s entropy.
No anthropocentric exceptionalism here; just the laws of thermodynamics.
According to the inevitable life theory, biological systems spontaneously emerge because they more efficiently disperse, or “dissipate” energy, thereby increasing the entropy of the surroundings. In other words, life is thermodynamically favorable.
As a consequence of this fact, something that seems almost magical happens, but there is nothing supernatural about it. When an inanimate system of particles, like a group of atoms, is bombarded with flowing energy (such as concentrated currents of electricity or heat), that system will often self-organize into a more complex configuration—specifically an arrangement that allows the system to more efficiently dissipate the incoming energy, converting it into entropy.
The Ecological Impact of Browser Diversity | CSS-Tricks
This is a terrific spot-on piece by Rachel. I firmly believe that healthy competition and diversity in the browser market is vital for the health of the web (which is why I’m always saddened and frustrated to hear web developers wish for a single monocultural rendering engine).
Orion Magazine | State of the Species
A great piece from Charles C. Mann from five years ago, where you can see the genesis of The Wizard And The Prophet.
For hundreds of thousands of years, our species had been restricted to East Africa (and, possibly, a similar area in the south). Now, abruptly, new-model Homo sapiens were racing across the continents like so many imported fire ants. The difference between humans and fire ants is that fire ants specialize in disturbed habitats. Humans, too, specialize in disturbed habitats—but we do the disturbing.
Was There a Civilization On Earth Before Humans? - The Atlantic
So, could researchers find clear evidence that an ancient species built a relatively short-lived industrial civilization long before our own? Perhaps, for example, some early mammal rose briefly to civilization building during the Paleocene epoch about 60 million years ago. There are fossils, of course. But the fraction of life that gets fossilized is always minuscule and varies a lot depending on time and habitat. It would be easy, therefore, to miss an industrial civilization that only lasted 100,000 years—which would be 500 times longer than our industrial civilization has made it so far.
Cooking with Ursula K. Le Guin
Recipes inspired by The Left Hand Of Darkness.
I mostly stuck to Le Guin’s world-building rules for Winter, which were “no large meat-animals … and no mammalian products, milk, butter or cheese; the only high-protein, high-carbohydrate foods are the various kinds of eggs, fish, nuts and Hainish grains.” I did, however, add some hot-climate items found in Manhattan’s Chinatown for their space-age looks and good flavors (dragonfruit, pomelo, galangal, chilis, and kaffir limes).
Serve with hot beer.