On the Most Beautiful Species

Sunrise, sunsets, rock formations, the star-filled sky, a brilliant moon, a blooming meadow is a valley surrounded by mountains, and much more … Natural beauty is all around us.

Beauty within the living world is easy to find – rainforests, coral reefs, grasslands, deserts, marshes, under the water’s surface, in a cave, around the house, in the soil, many more places – let alone in the microscopic world.

Because beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, some find their ultimate beauty in flowers ranging from exotic orchids to a wide variety of houseplants. Others find the ultimate biological beauty in the wild animals of Africa, in the colorful fishes in the warm ocean waters, or in our domestic pets. Bloggers as Bulldog, Cathy, Cindy, Nia, Robin, Suzanne, and many more wonderfully capture this beauty.

Yet, at least to me, the most beautiful species is hidden among us – masked in selfishness, horror, ego, and deceit – thus I present three reasons supporting my surprise nomination of the most beautiful biological species – Homo sapiens – humans.

Do you think the markings on every peregrine falcon are exactly the same?

Variation within a species is an important aspect of evolutionary success. Look at the spectrum of variations with some external human traits as skin color, hair color, – let alone ranges of straight to curly plus the hairstyle of individual choice – Add eye color, height, body shape, lips, then toss in personalities and abilities – there’s something for everybody, thus humans display beauty in so many ways!

Most, if not all, organisms have variations. the beautiful cheetahs don’t have many variations, thus one of the reasons they are in biological trouble. One may think all the leaves on a certain type of tree are the some, but they aren’t. One may think all the spots on the underbelly of a specific bird are the same and in the exact same pattern, position, and number – but they probably aren’t. Variation within a species is important, and the range within humans is extraordinary.

The second aspect of the most beautiful species is the human brain, which allows a great range of communication, individuality, creativity, problem solving, culture, learning, and more. While we can easily criticize the choice many make from the result of having the most complex neural masses in the biological community, humans demonstrates the greatest range of creativity – and much of it relates to human ability to problem solve.

Think about the questions and decisions one encounters every day. Consider all the material items we contact every minute of every day in every year – and all these manufactured products have a story centered around problem solving.

Think about all the ways we communicate – facial expressions, mathematical, written, visual, musical, and oral – let alone in so many languages. Look at all the styles in the visual arts – after all, the visual arts are communicating, thus touching us in different ways.

The arts with all its styles and media are a story in itself. The painting world alone is huge. Toss in music, literature, pottery, sculptures, jewelry, photography, and many others – no wonder I proclaim the arts as the ultimate expression of human creativity.

In order to accomplish what we can, humans must be capable of learning – and the capacity for the human brain to learn is overwhelming – then alone the ability to apply the learning to a problem solving and/or creative situation. Human learning is a story in itself, yet as a species, I wonder if there are limits to learning besides the self-imposed and the impaired.

Although some human behavior is instinctive, human learn behaviors (good and bad), and have the ability to learn new ones (good and bad) – and each of us are a collection of behaviors that gives us our own individuality. Thus, one of the challenges of being human is the ability to deal with so many personalities.

There is no question that today’s world has it share of human-created issues that are based in culture – but culture is the last reason for humans being the most beautiful biological species. Culture is a set of shared, learned behaviors, and beliefs that are passed on from one generation to the next. (Thanks BSCS) (A culture post from the aFa archives)  There are many aspects to culture: dress, dance, food, language, art, religion, behaviors, holidays – well, only to name a few.

While leading a training session in Boston years ago, I encountered a participant who embraced her heritage with her clothes. The colors, the patterns, and the design were so stunning, each day I looked forward in anticipation to seeing her attire. What beauty! Whether from someone sharing photos from their travels or daily surroundings, I see similar beauty through images on blogs as with the lady in Boston.

Given the variations within the humans species, the human brain, and human culture, there is no doubt that humans are the most beautiful species on this planet. Yes, it depends how one defines beauty – let alone their perspective. Yes, variation within a species is common throughout the biological world. Yes, other organisms communicate, problem solve, and have societies – but no other organism does it to the level of humans … and yes, we have a tendency to deny our own good because of the negatives in today’s world.

On an Undeniable Review

UndeniableBillNyeIn February 2014, Bill Nye debated Ken Ham (President, Answers in Genesis, AIG) about evolution-creation at AIG’s Creation Museum on Cincinnati’s Kentucky-side of the river. This book, Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, is a result of Nye’s preparation for and participation in the debate.

Although Nye initially trained and worked as a mechanical engineer, the general public got to know him as The Science Guy through his television shows in the early 1990s.

Bill Nye is noted for a fast-paced, engaging style to explain scientific topics in laymen’s terms to the masses – and that style is what readers get in this book. His wit, sense of humor, knowledge, and ability to stay at the layman level is his brand. Those familiar with him may even hear his voice while reading.

The chapters a short – actually rather bite-sized with most chapters being less than 10 pages. Nye intertwines stories and analogies amid the chapter’s main premise while using historical and present-day applications.

Typically, each chapter focuses on a specific topic; and Nye covers a wide range of topics, such as evolution, natural selection, punctuated equilibrium, biodiversity, fossils, thermodynamics, convergence, competition, extinction, gene flow, genetic bottlenecks, homologous structures, selection, mutations, and population isolation. Given these topics and his simplistic approach, Nye explains the natural process of evolution.

Although Nye frequently mentions claims made by Ham about evolution, he does not address faith … but to his defense, faith is not the intent of this book. Those desiring more about the interchange between science and religion will be disappointed.

Given that’s the science-religion interchange is not his intent, I don’t like the “Science of Creation” portion of the book’s title … but that’s me because of my level of understanding about the interchange. On the other hand, the “Undeniable” portion of the title is very appropriate – even for the pun lovers who see UndeNEYable.

Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation is Bill Nye’s latest effort in bringing science to the masses. Given the debate about appropriate subjects in public school science classes doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, I applaud Nye’s efforts because the majority of the public is poorly informed.

One for the bookshelves? Maybe, depending on the reader’s background … but definitely not for those with a firm understanding of evolution and its subtopics. Yes, it covers the basics, thus Undeniable is a primer … a good place to start … but it lacks the depth and breathe that others may desire because Undeniable is not a book for extensive study of evolution.

Bottom line – the reader must decide if this is a good book for them … but for the vast majority of people, Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation by Bill Nye is a good read.

On Perception

Look at the images below. Which image do you see first in each of four images in the gallery below? (To help, there is a question below each image.)

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Look at them again. Can you see the other?

Perception: The recognition and interpretation of sensory information mainly on memory

Perception: The nerve processes of recognition and interpretation

Perception: The insight, intuition, or knowledge gained by perceiving

Perception: The capacity for such insight

Watch the video below.

As humans we encounter many things each day as our senses are constantly processing data. For example, the bottom of our feet can simultaneously distinguish contact with a sock, the inside of the shoe, the surface on which one is standing or moving.

Our senses allow us to experience the world around us. Take a moment to think of all the things you perceive on a daily basis.

Perception is about our sensory experience of the world around us and involves both the recognition of environmental stimuli and actions in response to these stimuli.

Perceptions include the organization, identification and interpretation of sensory information in order to represent and understand the environment.

What the short video below.

All perception involves signals in the nervous system, which in turn result from physical stimulation of the sense organs.

Perception depends on complex functions of the nervous system, but subjectively seems mostly effortless because this processing happens outside conscious awareness.

Perception is influenced by past experiences, the situation, the expectation, and the intensity of the perception.

Watch the last video for the final test.

What do you think?

On a Tribute to the Cosmos Giant

Image from the Center for Inquiry

Image from the Center for Inquiry

Friday afternoon I stumbled across an interesting tidbit – that is, this weekend is Carl Sagan Day – marked by the his birthday (November 9) – thus, this unplanned post.

We can put many tags on Dr. Sagan – take your pick – scientist, astronomer, author, philosopher, cosmologist, astrophysicist, professor, television personality, and others. To me, and no matter the role, there are two facts that stand above others: he was a tireless promoter of science, plus he stood in awe of universe.

The article that sparked this post was this small collection of his inspirational quotes. To celebrate this day, I’ve taken two of the quotes from the article, plus two others, and then supported them in my style of adding videos … or maybe I simply needed an excuse to display one of my all-time favorites.

Enjoy … which was your favorite? Do you know my favorite?

I am a collection of water, calcium and organic molecules called Carl Sagan. You are a collection of almost identical molecules with a different collective label. But is that all? Is there nothing in here but molecules? Some people find this idea somehow demeaning to human dignity. For myself, I find it elevating that our universe permits the evolution of molecular machines as intricate and subtle as we.

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What distinguishes our species is thought. The cerebral cortex is in a way a liberation. We need no longer be trapped in the genetically inherited behavior patterns of lizards and baboons: territoriality and aggression and dominance hierarchies. We are each of us largely responsible for what gets put in to our brains. For what as adults we wind up caring for and knowing about. No longer at the mercy of the reptile brain, we can change ourselves. Think of the possibilities.

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A blade of grass is a commonplace on Earth; it would be a miracle on Mars. Our descendants on Mars will know the value of a patch of green. And if a blade of grass is priceless, what is the value of a human being?

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

On Clarifying Science

Did you know …. 

Science is not an opinion.

Science is not democratic.

Science is not an ideology.

Science is not a theology.

Science is not a belief system.

Science is not a theory.

Science is not a political view.

Science is not a trend.

But ….

Science is a human endeavor.

Science is a way of knowing.

Science is impersonal.

Science is limited to the human perspective.

Science is a methodology.

Science involves verifying.

Science finds patterns and connections.

Science is a search for explanations of what we observe in nature.

Think about it – Disagreement around scientific topics is common in our lives. Whether it be evolution, climate change, vaccines deforestation, energy resources, or environmental standards (to name a few), a sizable number of people reject aspects of science for a variety of reasons – especially political, theological, and/or other ideological views … all reasons that are not science.

On Exploring the Final Frontier

My Exploring series ends with a salute to what some call the final frontier.

Star Trek fans know these abbreviated words:

Space: The final frontier
To explore strange new worlds
To seek out new life and new civilizations
To boldly go where no man has gone before

The universe is a big place. Think about Earth as that pale blue dot in our solar system – which is only a speck in the Milky Way galaxy – which is a very small portion in a changing and expanding universe.

Long-time readers here realize my fondness for the programs studying deep space. Not only have I used those images as my headers, but I find deep space to be mesmerizing, invigorating, awe-inspiring, majestic, and more.

Watch this video, and then, tell us what thoughts come to your mind when you see images from deep space.

On Exploring the Sun

Happy 2014! My regular posting schedule returns next week.

After exploring light and nature, the next logical thought is that big, glowing object in our daytime sky.

Humans once thought Earth as the center of the universe … that is everything revolved around our pale blue dot in the dark sky. Although some still believe that, most of us have bought into the fact that our sun is the center point of our solar system.

In some ways, the sun starts our day, then ends our day … although we don’t set the clock that way. It’s the foundation of biological life on our planet, and has served as a source of inspiration from some.

The sun puts on quite a show. Thanks to the dedicated personal at NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, we are able to observe the sun’s beauty through different wavelengths. Also, thanks to Jim who made me aware of this video.

What are your thoughts about the sun and/or the video?