Archive for July, 2007

DodoWe have an endangered species list identifying organisms that are about to wink out of existence like the dodo and the passenger pigeon. Some of these should are listed because they are emotionally important to humans – like the bald eagle and the koala bear. Some folks bemoan the protection of the snail darter and the northern spotted owl when it interferes with an economic activity.

These lists are of limited value because they include only the organisms we know exist. The organisms we know of represent only a tiny fraction of those in the world, and hence only a tiny few of those in danger of extinction, so putting a few on a list from those few we know might make us feel better, but it is really myopic.

There is a good case for preserving biodiversity in all ecologies, as each organism fills an important place in the system. Arguments are made that minor players in an area (such as low populations of a specific creature) are not important because they don’t seriously effect the balance of the ecology. On a day to day basis, these organisms seem insignificant – the proportion of the photosynthesis, grazing, predation, parasitism, etc. in the ecology is just not significant enough to make a difference.

Recent research in the Census of Marine Microbes, part of the project Census of Marine Life, done by Mitchell Sogin at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, shows that in each sample of the microscopic life from a submarine ecology station there are always a few dominant microbe species in each sample but thousands more species that are present, but rare. Each ecological sampling point or station has an entirely new suite of rare microbes. (more…)

Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

Consilience brings together information from different disciplines to generate a far greater knowledge than the sum of the parts. Edward O. Wilson‘s bestseller explains just how that occurs. For those of us who have already come to that conclusion, the book starts kind of slow. He carefully and thoughtfully builds the case for a unity of knowledge, that for folks who already understand, is plodding. He does this so the rest of the world can follow the case he builds. The source of the data is meticulously laid out in the work itself and in extensive final notes.

For those who don’t see his point, or had not thought about consilience and its multiplicative effect on knowledge, he hammers the point home that information without context is not very useful, and putting it in the context of the total knowledge of the human race is how it gets value. If you do not yet see how science and art, or biology and chemistry are cut from the same cloth, this book will change your life.

Wilson’s underlying goal with Consilience is to prove and sell the world view that the Human Race is a race for survival: That humans are consuming the world’s resources at a rate which will shortly cause cataclysmic destruction. Our numbers and wastefulness are destroying the ecology in which humans have evolved. The gains of consilience can permit the dramatic adjustments our footprint on the earth so that it will remain habitable. (more…)

The Wave of The FutureIn the early nineties The Boston Computer Museum and a magazine called The High Tech Times sold a derivative print of Hokusai‘s The Great Wave off Kanagawa called The Wave of the Future. The image begins at the left with the original Great Wave, and is color pixellated through the center, and another wave in wireframe is added to the right. An original Great Wave print hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, and in Claude Monet‘s house in Giverny, France. An original Wave of the Future print hangs opposite a print of the original in the staircase of my home. It appears that the full size digital rendition is out of print and unavailable from any source except a few copies in private hands. I was unable to find any indication of the artist’s identity or other information about this work.

great WaveThe image contrasts the size and power of the wave with the skill and courage of the fishermen and with the strength of Mount Fuji in the background. The revised image continues this contrast of strength versus skill, in taking at first the woodblock print technology representing a natural scene, then pixelation as a computer monitor with very low resolution would produce, followed by a coarse wireframe model of a new larger wave than the original. Wireframe modelling is the underlying basis for 3d modeling as used in Pixar movies. The strength and power of the natural world is represented by the skill of the art of Kokausi, followed by the revised technological representations of his work – at first crudely and coarsely done, then refining to something that reflects or virtualizes nature. The Wave of the Future tends to bit pop art – adding color noise in the pixelation, and using a coarse wire frame in the added wave, but it made the point then, and can be seen with an additional perspective now. (more…)