Louise Rubacky: The Sixth Extinction ☀
Still, for the most part, Kolbert writes kindly of our kind, noting that what humans have done to irrevocably alter Earth and “break evolutionary chains” has been largely unintentional, possibly based on something as mundane as restlessness. But despite a growing understanding of our Godzilla-like footprint everywhere we go, our conglomerate behavior continues in the direction of disaster, not preservation. Perhaps that is partly because humans believe we are Earth’s big brains—entitled to dominate and destined to prevail. Interestingly, there are many “lower” species that, although not endowed with free will or Einsteinian IQs, are wired with networking and cooperative abilities that guide them to do far less damage to the commons—and one another—than humans.
How a solar storm two years ago nearly caused a catastrophe on Earth ☀
Fortunately, the blast site of the CMEs was not directed at Earth. Had this event occurred a week earlier when the point of eruption was Earth-facing, a potentially disastrous outcome would have unfolded.
“I have come away from our recent studies more convinced than ever that Earth and its inhabitants were incredibly fortunate that the 2012 eruption happened when it did,” Baker tells NASA. “If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire.”
A CME double whammy of this potency striking Earth would likely cripple satellite communications and could severely damage the power grid. NASA offers this sobering assessment:
Analysts believe that a direct hit … could cause widespread power blackouts, disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket. Most people wouldn’t even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps.
According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Multi-ton transformers damaged by such a storm might take years to repair.
This won't hurt a bit: the cultural history of pain ☀
Speculation about the degree to which human beings and animals experienced pain has a long history, but “An Earnest Englishwoman” was writing at a very important time in these debates. Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man had been published the year before her letter, and his Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals appeared in 1872. Both Darwin and “An Earnest Englishwoman” were addressing a central question that had intrigued theologians, scientists, philosophers, psychologists and other social commentators for centuries: how can we know how other people feel?
The reason this question was so important was that many people didn’t believe that all human beings (let alone non-human animals) were equally capable of suffering. Scientists and philosophers pointed to the existence of a hierarchy of sentience. Belief in a great “Chain of Being”, according to which everything in the universe was ranked from the highest to the lowest, is a fundamental tenet of western philosophy. One aspect of this Chain of Being involved the perception of sensation. There was a parallel great Chain of Feeling, which placed male Europeans at one end and slaves and animals at the other.
“Now” is not only a cognitive illusion but also a mathematical trick, related to how we define space and time quantitatively. One way of seeing this is to recognize that the notion of “present,” as sandwiched between past and future, is simply a useful hoax. After all, if the present is a moment in time without duration, it can’t exist. What does exist is the recent memory of the immediate past and the expectation of the near future. We link past and future through the conceptual notion of a present, of “now.” But all that we have is the accumulated memory of the past—stored in biological or various recording devices—and the expectation of the future.
There Is No Now (via Alan Bevere) ☀
Saint Darwin ☀
In short, the motivations behind The Origin of Species were moral. The Origin was published during a time when scientific racism was on the rise and Origin was the work that decisively demolished polygenist thinking in favor of “common descent.” All through Darwin’s Notebooks, where he hatched the basic ideas in the Origin, his guiding idea was the genealogical tree, where all of humanity was seen as one, big branching family.
When it comes to the churches attitude and beliefs about Homosexuality I can’t help but wonder if we are in another Copernicus moment.
When Science Changes… ☀
Honeybees abandoning hives and dying due to insecticide use, research finds ☀
The mysterious vanishing of honeybees from hives can be directly linked to insectcide use, according to new research from Harvard University. The scientists showed that exposure to two neonicotinoids, the world’s most widely used class of insecticide, lead to half the colonies studied dying, while none of the untreated colonies saw their bees disappear.
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