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The Gravity of Life

Whose well-being is threatened by our changing relationship with the myriad organisms that shaped the evolution of our species?

By | June 1, 2011

HARPERCOLLINGS PUBLISHERS, JUNE 2011

My body is crawling with life. Fungi live on my feet. Trillions of bacteria cling to my legs and up among my bits. In this mix live Staphylococcus hominis and aureus, which are found on my skin, and Enterococcus mundtii, the most common denizen of my belly button. But they are just the tip of the “life berg.”

Nearly two hundred species of bacteria have been found residing on human forearms alone. Some are probably bad; some, good; and some, essential. Others may simply be sojourners, pausing en route to some more distant shore. Inside my gut, there might be worms of several different species. There are certainly hundreds of species of microbes in my digestive tract upon which I rely to fully digest my food. There are fungi inhabiting my lungs. There are, I suspect, mites living in the pores of my forehead and yet more fungi in my hair.

All humans on Earth share their bodies with multiple biomes of many other species from which our existence is inextricable. Cataloging and understanding these organisms and how they are evolving as our lifestyles change—as we give up old, dirty ways for new, clean (and in some ways less healthy) ones—is part of what I write about in my new book, The Wild Life of Our Bodies.

Of course, these microscopic creatures are not the only partners in our dance. I also have a tiger in my body, snakes slithering among my neurons, honeybees and thousands of other species ingrained in my being. These ancestral predators and collaborators have all left deep signatures in my genome.

My relationship to the deadly and damaging organisms that influenced the fate of my ancestors, be they bacteria, or bears, is similar to that which exists between land plants and gravity. Plants that grow on land have evolved hormones that help them sense which way is up so they can grow against gravity. They require special structures in and around their cells to keep their flowers, leaves, and stems from surrendering to the planet’s mass. Evolutionarily, gravity killed, or at least disfavored, ancestral or proto-plants that did not adapt to its inescapable presence.

Yet, when NASA scientists grow plants in the microgravity of space, they become crooked and sick. Without gravity, up and down are rendered meaningless, and the plants suffer.

Something similar has happened with my body, and yours, as modern humans have altered our relationships with our evolutionary dance partners. Parasites and predators were the gravity that attended the evolution of our species. They were the forces which directed our history. The fight-or-flight response, for example, which prompts my body to make snap decisions in times of danger, anxiety, or stress, was honed and shaped by the dependable threat of snakes and other predators. My immune system evolved, in part, to cope with the constant presence of worms. Nor is it simply our ancient nemeses that shaped who we are. My taste buds evolved to lead me toward foods that were once rare but extremely valuable (salts, sweets) and away from those that were deadly.

But through technology and “civilization” we have changed the fate of the species that were such an intimate part of our development. We kill off the predators from around our villages. We eradicate the worms from our guts. We scrub some of the bacteria from our hands and faces.

The Wild Life of Our Bodies recounts the stories of the species whose influence persists in and on our bodies and explores the consequences of the evolutionary and ecological changes we have forced them to make. We may be able to grow a plant on the Moon (or near the Moon, at least), but we cannot escape the gravity of life, the forces that shaped us. As high as we jump, we always fall back down into the rest of life—that web of interactions and wild species from which we are made.

Rob Dunn is a writer and biogeographer at North Carolina State University (www.robrdunn.com). His writing explores the stories of the scientists who seek to understand our lives and the lives of the species with which we interact. His first book, Every Living Thing: Man’s Obsessive Quest to Catalog Life, from Nanobacteria to New Monkeys, won the National Outdoor Book Award for Natural History writing. His own science probes the geography of life—most recently of ants, belly-button microbes, and human diseases. Read an excerpt from The Wild Life of Our Bodies, Chapter 9--"We Were Hunted, Which is Why All of Us are Afraid Some of the Time and Some of Us are Afraid All of the Time."

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Avatar of: N K Mishra

N K Mishra

Posts: 1457

June 18, 2011

This article exposes us to a new thinking and awareness.

Avatar of: Megan

Anonymous

June 18, 2011

Very impressive vision!

Avatar of: Abes137

Anonymous

June 18, 2011

Extremely interesting!!!!!

Avatar of: jeenious

Anonymous

June 18, 2011

I love the sciences... relish them... cannot get enough of them.  I have a problem, however, with sweeping generalizations, such as any statement indicating we humans are "shaped by" our evolution, or by organisms in our gut, or by having once lived in trees, and then a drought came and we had to become long-distance runners on grassy plains...

Granted, most current day bilaterians share some characteristics in common, and have some characteristics that are enormously different. Lots of schools of advanced thought and study have gone through at least one stage of "determinism" in their thinking. 

Geographical determinism, human nature determinism (there are at least a dozen conflicting branches of thinking as to what human nature "is," each with its own conclusions as to what kind of society and government and economics is it is "obvious" to each that governance should take into account), racial determinism, deistic determinism, demographic determinism, classical psychological (Freudian) determinism, common sense determinism...

Anyone who understands what is meant by "affirming the consequent" understands the role it plays in hyper-deterministic thinking.  At the simplest level "affirming the consequent" is thinking based upon the logical assertion that, "If my theory is correct, the consequence would be (whatever).  (Whatever IS THE CASE, and that confirms my theory.")  For example, "If a scientific researcher studies hard to prepare himself, works hard at his bench, is honest and patient and objective, he will succeed in coming up with a new world-changing synthesis.  Most bench workers do not come up with any new, world-changing synthesis.  Therefore, most do not
meet all the required criteria."

Evolutionary formalism has value.  It seeks to explain a plethora of circumstantial evidence that has no empirical certainty.  And that is GOOD!  The more data we can obtain in all the data-driven areas of research, the better.  Unless something has changed very, very recently in the accumulation of new data, those data tend more to CHANGE our prior speculations than CONFIRM them. 

Let the work of research go on, as unimpeded as is ethically bearable and as humanly achievable.  Let data be added to data and concept to concept and interpretation to interpretation.  Let science do what science does best.  One thing it does not do best is prove anything by grandiose sweeping generalizations and confirming the consequents of our rationalizations... even our best rationalizations.

Rationalizing is good.  It helps in guiding toward new things to try, with the understanding that science cannot prove anything.  It can only disprove. 

To understand that, and accept it, is the highest and best scientific literacy and maturity of thinking... er, that is, in this thinker's thinking.  (: >)   

Avatar of: jeenious

Anonymous

June 18, 2011

This book has all the earmarks of a MUST  READ! 

In reading it, one might well ask oneself, "What does the veritable bio-ecology of the human body bode for the placing of a human (or a colony of humans) on a planet or, long-term, in spaceship, with an ecology different from Earth.

What would be the risks, if we humans were to develop a way to colonize another planet, similar to Earth in temperature and climate, GIVEN what (hopefully Bob Dunn will agree with this extension of his "gravity" metaphor) we might refer to as the constraints of our human "Earth-centric bio-gravity"?

Indeed, as Bob Dunn examines, we humans are not biologically independent islands, suited for being inserted into a sterile environment, or another richly bio-diverse environment, without enormous risk of incompatibilities across a wide spectral band of issues, including but not limited to, those at microscopic scales.

Whether Bob delves into this question or not, the subject and theses of his book, imply that the notion of another "complexly Goldilocks planet" assumes far, far more than mere compatibility of human-breathable atmosphere, Earth-plant soil arability, human-friendly weather (water) cycles.  Let me not seem to imply that the thinking of NASA's brain trust is naive, but a sterile planet would be far more adaptable to the entire inter-dependent complex of human biological orientation than would one with an evolved biodiversity of its own. 

(Thank you, gatekeeper(s) of these comments, for censoring out my prior comment.)   

Avatar of: jeenious

Anonymous

June 18, 2011

Whoops!  My prior comment reappeared.  Well, then, thank you for that.  (:>)

Avatar of: mightythor

mightythor

Posts: 1457

June 18, 2011

My evolutionary past has shaped a compulsion to address some logical confusion in the posting by Jeenious.  His "affirming the consequent" (if "A implies B", then "B implies A") is a common form of logical fallacy.  However, the example he cites is misleading in two respects.  First, it is not an example of what he calls "affirming the consequent".  The example takes the form:  if "A implies B", then "not B implies not A", which is logically correct as written.  However, I would have to say that the example is mis-applied in this context.  The "theory" in this example (the "A" in the above formulation) is the absolute correlation proposed the first sentence.  It could be simplified to "All hard-working scientists are successful".  To test this theory you have to OBSERVE the proposed correlation, by measuring both success and effort.  Finding a successful scientist who is also hard working -- in fact, finding thousands of successful scientists who are hard working -- does not prove the theory.  However, finding a single UNsuccessful scientist who is hard working disproves the theory.  Of course, in the real world, any such theory would be expressed in the form of a probability, which is why biologists are taught statistics instead of logic.

Avatar of: jeenious

Anonymous

June 18, 2011

My thanks to mightythor.  I recognized the problem and awaited correction, and welcome it.  All too often the thesis, at the core of an affirmation of consequent is not stated as such, and the fallacy goes unrecognized.  It would be more easily recognized in a form such as the following:

Thesis:  Most researchers are poorly qualified to do their jobs.
Theoretical rationalization:  Any researcher who studies hard to prepare himself/herself, who works hard at his "bench" (in the field, in armchair...), who is objective, who is patient, and who perseveres, will observe or discover some new information that will provide or lead to a new syntheses in one or more fields.
Evidence:  Few researchers arrive at any new observation or discovery that leads to a new synthesis.
Interpretation of evidence:  If the thesis were true, the thesis would be true.  Therefore, the thesis is true.

There is more than one kind of smarts.

One kind lies in the ability to recognize technical error;

Another kind consists in an ability to see what goes on behind the error;

One individual I have known all my life, is a poor speller, a poor punctuater, a poor first draft writer, yet graduated high school at fifteen (alas, they held him back on grounds it did not seem appropriate to graduate a young child).  He finished pre-med in three years and had to go into the army for a few years before any medical school would admit him.  He was baby-faced and looked even younger than he was.  He became a superlative thoracic surgeon -- evidently becoming capable of attention to detail when the situation struck him as indicating it; and he became a consultant to two branches of the U. S. military on upgrading thoracic practices in combat situations, resulting in a drastic rise in survival of soldiers with thoracic wounds.

That individual has a cousin who literally could memorize a telephone directory, could spot a misspelled word or a comma error almost at a glance.  That cousin for whatever reasons has, at best, made a living and irritated a lot of co-workers.

Anecdotal.  Of course.  Perhaps atypical.  Perhaps not. 

MENSA, to which the first of the two belongs, reports that it has as many members who are service station attendants and house painters as PhDs.

Some look for technical errors.  Some look for deeper significances.  And some -- perhaps including this old klutz -- seek wisdom to discern which is which.

 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

June 18, 2011

This article exposes us to a new thinking and awareness.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

June 18, 2011

Very impressive vision!

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

June 18, 2011

Extremely interesting!!!!!

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

June 18, 2011

I love the sciences... relish them... cannot get enough of them.  I have a problem, however, with sweeping generalizations, such as any statement indicating we humans are "shaped by" our evolution, or by organisms in our gut, or by having once lived in trees, and then a drought came and we had to become long-distance runners on grassy plains...

Granted, most current day bilaterians share some characteristics in common, and have some characteristics that are enormously different. Lots of schools of advanced thought and study have gone through at least one stage of "determinism" in their thinking. 

Geographical determinism, human nature determinism (there are at least a dozen conflicting branches of thinking as to what human nature "is," each with its own conclusions as to what kind of society and government and economics is it is "obvious" to each that governance should take into account), racial determinism, deistic determinism, demographic determinism, classical psychological (Freudian) determinism, common sense determinism...

Anyone who understands what is meant by "affirming the consequent" understands the role it plays in hyper-deterministic thinking.  At the simplest level "affirming the consequent" is thinking based upon the logical assertion that, "If my theory is correct, the consequence would be (whatever).  (Whatever IS THE CASE, and that confirms my theory.")  For example, "If a scientific researcher studies hard to prepare himself, works hard at his bench, is honest and patient and objective, he will succeed in coming up with a new world-changing synthesis.  Most bench workers do not come up with any new, world-changing synthesis.  Therefore, most do not
meet all the required criteria."

Evolutionary formalism has value.  It seeks to explain a plethora of circumstantial evidence that has no empirical certainty.  And that is GOOD!  The more data we can obtain in all the data-driven areas of research, the better.  Unless something has changed very, very recently in the accumulation of new data, those data tend more to CHANGE our prior speculations than CONFIRM them. 

Let the work of research go on, as unimpeded as is ethically bearable and as humanly achievable.  Let data be added to data and concept to concept and interpretation to interpretation.  Let science do what science does best.  One thing it does not do best is prove anything by grandiose sweeping generalizations and confirming the consequents of our rationalizations... even our best rationalizations.

Rationalizing is good.  It helps in guiding toward new things to try, with the understanding that science cannot prove anything.  It can only disprove. 

To understand that, and accept it, is the highest and best scientific literacy and maturity of thinking... er, that is, in this thinker's thinking.  (: >)   

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

June 18, 2011

This book has all the earmarks of a MUST  READ! 

In reading it, one might well ask oneself, "What does the veritable bio-ecology of the human body bode for the placing of a human (or a colony of humans) on a planet or, long-term, in spaceship, with an ecology different from Earth.

What would be the risks, if we humans were to develop a way to colonize another planet, similar to Earth in temperature and climate, GIVEN what (hopefully Bob Dunn will agree with this extension of his "gravity" metaphor) we might refer to as the constraints of our human "Earth-centric bio-gravity"?

Indeed, as Bob Dunn examines, we humans are not biologically independent islands, suited for being inserted into a sterile environment, or another richly bio-diverse environment, without enormous risk of incompatibilities across a wide spectral band of issues, including but not limited to, those at microscopic scales.

Whether Bob delves into this question or not, the subject and theses of his book, imply that the notion of another "complexly Goldilocks planet" assumes far, far more than mere compatibility of human-breathable atmosphere, Earth-plant soil arability, human-friendly weather (water) cycles.  Let me not seem to imply that the thinking of NASA's brain trust is naive, but a sterile planet would be far more adaptable to the entire inter-dependent complex of human biological orientation than would one with an evolved biodiversity of its own. 

(Thank you, gatekeeper(s) of these comments, for censoring out my prior comment.)   

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

June 18, 2011

Whoops!  My prior comment reappeared.  Well, then, thank you for that.  (:>)

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

June 18, 2011

My evolutionary past has shaped a compulsion to address some logical confusion in the posting by Jeenious.  His "affirming the consequent" (if "A implies B", then "B implies A") is a common form of logical fallacy.  However, the example he cites is misleading in two respects.  First, it is not an example of what he calls "affirming the consequent".  The example takes the form:  if "A implies B", then "not B implies not A", which is logically correct as written.  However, I would have to say that the example is mis-applied in this context.  The "theory" in this example (the "A" in the above formulation) is the absolute correlation proposed the first sentence.  It could be simplified to "All hard-working scientists are successful".  To test this theory you have to OBSERVE the proposed correlation, by measuring both success and effort.  Finding a successful scientist who is also hard working -- in fact, finding thousands of successful scientists who are hard working -- does not prove the theory.  However, finding a single UNsuccessful scientist who is hard working disproves the theory.  Of course, in the real world, any such theory would be expressed in the form of a probability, which is why biologists are taught statistics instead of logic.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

June 18, 2011

My thanks to mightythor.  I recognized the problem and awaited correction, and welcome it.  All too often the thesis, at the core of an affirmation of consequent is not stated as such, and the fallacy goes unrecognized.  It would be more easily recognized in a form such as the following:

Thesis:  Most researchers are poorly qualified to do their jobs.
Theoretical rationalization:  Any researcher who studies hard to prepare himself/herself, who works hard at his "bench" (in the field, in armchair...), who is objective, who is patient, and who perseveres, will observe or discover some new information that will provide or lead to a new syntheses in one or more fields.
Evidence:  Few researchers arrive at any new observation or discovery that leads to a new synthesis.
Interpretation of evidence:  If the thesis were true, the thesis would be true.  Therefore, the thesis is true.

There is more than one kind of smarts.

One kind lies in the ability to recognize technical error;

Another kind consists in an ability to see what goes on behind the error;

One individual I have known all my life, is a poor speller, a poor punctuater, a poor first draft writer, yet graduated high school at fifteen (alas, they held him back on grounds it did not seem appropriate to graduate a young child).  He finished pre-med in three years and had to go into the army for a few years before any medical school would admit him.  He was baby-faced and looked even younger than he was.  He became a superlative thoracic surgeon -- evidently becoming capable of attention to detail when the situation struck him as indicating it; and he became a consultant to two branches of the U. S. military on upgrading thoracic practices in combat situations, resulting in a drastic rise in survival of soldiers with thoracic wounds.

That individual has a cousin who literally could memorize a telephone directory, could spot a misspelled word or a comma error almost at a glance.  That cousin for whatever reasons has, at best, made a living and irritated a lot of co-workers.

Anecdotal.  Of course.  Perhaps atypical.  Perhaps not. 

MENSA, to which the first of the two belongs, reports that it has as many members who are service station attendants and house painters as PhDs.

Some look for technical errors.  Some look for deeper significances.  And some -- perhaps including this old klutz -- seek wisdom to discern which is which.

 

Avatar of: jeenious

Anonymous

June 18, 2011

Statistics is (or are) one of (two of?) the most valuable tools of science, in the hands of one who is optimally objective.  But let us wonder what is optimal, as to objectivity.  All the data, in all the computers and in all the libraries and in all the lab notes and field notes in all the world, in all of history, are but noise, sans interpretation, sans some empirically untestable standards of just what we would deem to be sound ethics and sound reason, and sans logic.  Were these things not so, all of science would come unraveled by pulling upon a single thread too industriously -- though it would take many books to explain all the details of how and why.

Just one tiny problem would be the "reliability" problem, which might be explained thusly:

If no standard other than empirical data alone, were applied to the issue of what is ethical in science, then the only requirement of a researcher would be to fudge his findings only to the extent that he/she could be assured he/she would not get caught and exposed for cheating.  While it could be argued that fudging one's statistics would be unwise because of the risk of getting caught, or because evolution has steered the human mind into adapting by developing a phenomenon referred to as a conscience, there is no course in statistics which allows us to calculate what would be wrong with fudging one's statistics just enough to get an article published in a peer reviewed journal, or to "justify" a claim that a particular
pharmaceutical product actually effects a cure or treatment for a pathology of some kind, knowing that if other researchers should be unable to duplicate the result that is statistically common.

Neither statistics, nor logic of the rigorous variety nor any informal or socially preferred variety, nor personal integrity based upon any rational model, can provide good science if based only upon what may explain -- or pretend in hindsight to explain -- why a researchers should not cheat when he is virtually certain there will be no unhappy consequence.

Don't get me wrong.  Statistics is a wonderful, valuable tool in the toolbox of a scientist.  But any tool of science is subject to interpretation of what it should do, how it should do it, and what are the limits of the results it provides even in the best of hands. 

Sorry if this strays from the WONDERFUL book these comments subtend to; but, hey, you opened the Pandora's box called statistics, inspiring me to respond.

Avatar of: agelbert

agelbert

Posts: 50

June 18, 2011

Jeenious,
Thank you for your thoughts. Your insight is sorely needed in the Procrustean bed that passes for scientific objectivity in many scientists.
Rob Dunn's book is a wonderful wake up call to all those out there who continue to insist that mankind, with his vaunted and celebrated self awareness, is somehow separate from the oneness of the ecosphere. Scientists and technocrats everywhere cannot stand the idea of mankind being a cog in a giant ecospherical wheel. That would require a type of ethics that considers the deleterious effects of mankind's obsessive tool making (mining, industry, nuclear power plants and bombs, etc.) on the biosphere as whole, not simply whether humans are affected in the next 20 years or so (until the grant money runs out).

For those reading this who will immediately accuse me of wanting to go back to the caves or the trees, don't bother. I am calling for increased responsibility that our technical and scientific community has NOT shown for at least 150 years in regard to all the biota on this planet.
If a life form, such as ours, uses self awareness and advanced toolmaking skills in such a way as to inadvertently (or deliberately) deteriorate the web of life on our planet while clinging to some illogical view of being separate from all other life forms, then homo sapiens (sapiens - really?)  is merely commiting slow suicide and self awareness may be a fatal mutation in our species.
At any rate, the bacteria that live on our remains long after we are gone won't care. We can be as arrogant and illogical as we want. We can inflict disease and torure on helpless "mammalian models" to our heart's content and claim it is all for the good of scientific research. It's all starting to blow back on us and many innocent life forms as well.

If the most intelligent people on the planet (the scientific community) don't start attacking industry, war and pollution as planet killers, mankind is fated to be an evolutionary anomaly.
Nature always rejects pathological mutations.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

June 18, 2011

Statistics is (or are) one of (two of?) the most valuable tools of science, in the hands of one who is optimally objective.  But let us wonder what is optimal, as to objectivity.  All the data, in all the computers and in all the libraries and in all the lab notes and field notes in all the world, in all of history, are but noise, sans interpretation, sans some empirically untestable standards of just what we would deem to be sound ethics and sound reason, and sans logic.  Were these things not so, all of science would come unraveled by pulling upon a single thread too industriously -- though it would take many books to explain all the details of how and why.

Just one tiny problem would be the "reliability" problem, which might be explained thusly:

If no standard other than empirical data alone, were applied to the issue of what is ethical in science, then the only requirement of a researcher would be to fudge his findings only to the extent that he/she could be assured he/she would not get caught and exposed for cheating.  While it could be argued that fudging one's statistics would be unwise because of the risk of getting caught, or because evolution has steered the human mind into adapting by developing a phenomenon referred to as a conscience, there is no course in statistics which allows us to calculate what would be wrong with fudging one's statistics just enough to get an article published in a peer reviewed journal, or to "justify" a claim that a particular
pharmaceutical product actually effects a cure or treatment for a pathology of some kind, knowing that if other researchers should be unable to duplicate the result that is statistically common.

Neither statistics, nor logic of the rigorous variety nor any informal or socially preferred variety, nor personal integrity based upon any rational model, can provide good science if based only upon what may explain -- or pretend in hindsight to explain -- why a researchers should not cheat when he is virtually certain there will be no unhappy consequence.

Don't get me wrong.  Statistics is a wonderful, valuable tool in the toolbox of a scientist.  But any tool of science is subject to interpretation of what it should do, how it should do it, and what are the limits of the results it provides even in the best of hands. 

Sorry if this strays from the WONDERFUL book these comments subtend to; but, hey, you opened the Pandora's box called statistics, inspiring me to respond.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

June 18, 2011

Jeenious,
Thank you for your thoughts. Your insight is sorely needed in the Procrustean bed that passes for scientific objectivity in many scientists.
Rob Dunn's book is a wonderful wake up call to all those out there who continue to insist that mankind, with his vaunted and celebrated self awareness, is somehow separate from the oneness of the ecosphere. Scientists and technocrats everywhere cannot stand the idea of mankind being a cog in a giant ecospherical wheel. That would require a type of ethics that considers the deleterious effects of mankind's obsessive tool making (mining, industry, nuclear power plants and bombs, etc.) on the biosphere as whole, not simply whether humans are affected in the next 20 years or so (until the grant money runs out).

For those reading this who will immediately accuse me of wanting to go back to the caves or the trees, don't bother. I am calling for increased responsibility that our technical and scientific community has NOT shown for at least 150 years in regard to all the biota on this planet.
If a life form, such as ours, uses self awareness and advanced toolmaking skills in such a way as to inadvertently (or deliberately) deteriorate the web of life on our planet while clinging to some illogical view of being separate from all other life forms, then homo sapiens (sapiens - really?)  is merely commiting slow suicide and self awareness may be a fatal mutation in our species.
At any rate, the bacteria that live on our remains long after we are gone won't care. We can be as arrogant and illogical as we want. We can inflict disease and torure on helpless "mammalian models" to our heart's content and claim it is all for the good of scientific research. It's all starting to blow back on us and many innocent life forms as well.

If the most intelligent people on the planet (the scientific community) don't start attacking industry, war and pollution as planet killers, mankind is fated to be an evolutionary anomaly.
Nature always rejects pathological mutations.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

June 18, 2011

This article exposes us to a new thinking and awareness.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

June 18, 2011

Very impressive vision!

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

June 18, 2011

Extremely interesting!!!!!

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

June 18, 2011

I love the sciences... relish them... cannot get enough of them.  I have a problem, however, with sweeping generalizations, such as any statement indicating we humans are "shaped by" our evolution, or by organisms in our gut, or by having once lived in trees, and then a drought came and we had to become long-distance runners on grassy plains...

Granted, most current day bilaterians share some characteristics in common, and have some characteristics that are enormously different. Lots of schools of advanced thought and study have gone through at least one stage of "determinism" in their thinking. 

Geographical determinism, human nature determinism (there are at least a dozen conflicting branches of thinking as to what human nature "is," each with its own conclusions as to what kind of society and government and economics is it is "obvious" to each that governance should take into account), racial determinism, deistic determinism, demographic determinism, classical psychological (Freudian) determinism, common sense determinism...

Anyone who understands what is meant by "affirming the consequent" understands the role it plays in hyper-deterministic thinking.  At the simplest level "affirming the consequent" is thinking based upon the logical assertion that, "If my theory is correct, the consequence would be (whatever).  (Whatever IS THE CASE, and that confirms my theory.")  For example, "If a scientific researcher studies hard to prepare himself, works hard at his bench, is honest and patient and objective, he will succeed in coming up with a new world-changing synthesis.  Most bench workers do not come up with any new, world-changing synthesis.  Therefore, most do not
meet all the required criteria."

Evolutionary formalism has value.  It seeks to explain a plethora of circumstantial evidence that has no empirical certainty.  And that is GOOD!  The more data we can obtain in all the data-driven areas of research, the better.  Unless something has changed very, very recently in the accumulation of new data, those data tend more to CHANGE our prior speculations than CONFIRM them. 

Let the work of research go on, as unimpeded as is ethically bearable and as humanly achievable.  Let data be added to data and concept to concept and interpretation to interpretation.  Let science do what science does best.  One thing it does not do best is prove anything by grandiose sweeping generalizations and confirming the consequents of our rationalizations... even our best rationalizations.

Rationalizing is good.  It helps in guiding toward new things to try, with the understanding that science cannot prove anything.  It can only disprove. 

To understand that, and accept it, is the highest and best scientific literacy and maturity of thinking... er, that is, in this thinker's thinking.  (: >)   

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

June 18, 2011

This book has all the earmarks of a MUST  READ! 

In reading it, one might well ask oneself, "What does the veritable bio-ecology of the human body bode for the placing of a human (or a colony of humans) on a planet or, long-term, in spaceship, with an ecology different from Earth.

What would be the risks, if we humans were to develop a way to colonize another planet, similar to Earth in temperature and climate, GIVEN what (hopefully Bob Dunn will agree with this extension of his "gravity" metaphor) we might refer to as the constraints of our human "Earth-centric bio-gravity"?

Indeed, as Bob Dunn examines, we humans are not biologically independent islands, suited for being inserted into a sterile environment, or another richly bio-diverse environment, without enormous risk of incompatibilities across a wide spectral band of issues, including but not limited to, those at microscopic scales.

Whether Bob delves into this question or not, the subject and theses of his book, imply that the notion of another "complexly Goldilocks planet" assumes far, far more than mere compatibility of human-breathable atmosphere, Earth-plant soil arability, human-friendly weather (water) cycles.  Let me not seem to imply that the thinking of NASA's brain trust is naive, but a sterile planet would be far more adaptable to the entire inter-dependent complex of human biological orientation than would one with an evolved biodiversity of its own. 

(Thank you, gatekeeper(s) of these comments, for censoring out my prior comment.)   

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June 18, 2011

Whoops!  My prior comment reappeared.  Well, then, thank you for that.  (:>)

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June 18, 2011

My evolutionary past has shaped a compulsion to address some logical confusion in the posting by Jeenious.  His "affirming the consequent" (if "A implies B", then "B implies A") is a common form of logical fallacy.  However, the example he cites is misleading in two respects.  First, it is not an example of what he calls "affirming the consequent".  The example takes the form:  if "A implies B", then "not B implies not A", which is logically correct as written.  However, I would have to say that the example is mis-applied in this context.  The "theory" in this example (the "A" in the above formulation) is the absolute correlation proposed the first sentence.  It could be simplified to "All hard-working scientists are successful".  To test this theory you have to OBSERVE the proposed correlation, by measuring both success and effort.  Finding a successful scientist who is also hard working -- in fact, finding thousands of successful scientists who are hard working -- does not prove the theory.  However, finding a single UNsuccessful scientist who is hard working disproves the theory.  Of course, in the real world, any such theory would be expressed in the form of a probability, which is why biologists are taught statistics instead of logic.

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June 18, 2011

My thanks to mightythor.  I recognized the problem and awaited correction, and welcome it.  All too often the thesis, at the core of an affirmation of consequent is not stated as such, and the fallacy goes unrecognized.  It would be more easily recognized in a form such as the following:

Thesis:  Most researchers are poorly qualified to do their jobs.
Theoretical rationalization:  Any researcher who studies hard to prepare himself/herself, who works hard at his "bench" (in the field, in armchair...), who is objective, who is patient, and who perseveres, will observe or discover some new information that will provide or lead to a new syntheses in one or more fields.
Evidence:  Few researchers arrive at any new observation or discovery that leads to a new synthesis.
Interpretation of evidence:  If the thesis were true, the thesis would be true.  Therefore, the thesis is true.

There is more than one kind of smarts.

One kind lies in the ability to recognize technical error;

Another kind consists in an ability to see what goes on behind the error;

One individual I have known all my life, is a poor speller, a poor punctuater, a poor first draft writer, yet graduated high school at fifteen (alas, they held him back on grounds it did not seem appropriate to graduate a young child).  He finished pre-med in three years and had to go into the army for a few years before any medical school would admit him.  He was baby-faced and looked even younger than he was.  He became a superlative thoracic surgeon -- evidently becoming capable of attention to detail when the situation struck him as indicating it; and he became a consultant to two branches of the U. S. military on upgrading thoracic practices in combat situations, resulting in a drastic rise in survival of soldiers with thoracic wounds.

That individual has a cousin who literally could memorize a telephone directory, could spot a misspelled word or a comma error almost at a glance.  That cousin for whatever reasons has, at best, made a living and irritated a lot of co-workers.

Anecdotal.  Of course.  Perhaps atypical.  Perhaps not. 

MENSA, to which the first of the two belongs, reports that it has as many members who are service station attendants and house painters as PhDs.

Some look for technical errors.  Some look for deeper significances.  And some -- perhaps including this old klutz -- seek wisdom to discern which is which.

 

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June 18, 2011

Statistics is (or are) one of (two of?) the most valuable tools of science, in the hands of one who is optimally objective.  But let us wonder what is optimal, as to objectivity.  All the data, in all the computers and in all the libraries and in all the lab notes and field notes in all the world, in all of history, are but noise, sans interpretation, sans some empirically untestable standards of just what we would deem to be sound ethics and sound reason, and sans logic.  Were these things not so, all of science would come unraveled by pulling upon a single thread too industriously -- though it would take many books to explain all the details of how and why.

Just one tiny problem would be the "reliability" problem, which might be explained thusly:

If no standard other than empirical data alone, were applied to the issue of what is ethical in science, then the only requirement of a researcher would be to fudge his findings only to the extent that he/she could be assured he/she would not get caught and exposed for cheating.  While it could be argued that fudging one's statistics would be unwise because of the risk of getting caught, or because evolution has steered the human mind into adapting by developing a phenomenon referred to as a conscience, there is no course in statistics which allows us to calculate what would be wrong with fudging one's statistics just enough to get an article published in a peer reviewed journal, or to "justify" a claim that a particular
pharmaceutical product actually effects a cure or treatment for a pathology of some kind, knowing that if other researchers should be unable to duplicate the result that is statistically common.

Neither statistics, nor logic of the rigorous variety nor any informal or socially preferred variety, nor personal integrity based upon any rational model, can provide good science if based only upon what may explain -- or pretend in hindsight to explain -- why a researchers should not cheat when he is virtually certain there will be no unhappy consequence.

Don't get me wrong.  Statistics is a wonderful, valuable tool in the toolbox of a scientist.  But any tool of science is subject to interpretation of what it should do, how it should do it, and what are the limits of the results it provides even in the best of hands. 

Sorry if this strays from the WONDERFUL book these comments subtend to; but, hey, you opened the Pandora's box called statistics, inspiring me to respond.

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June 18, 2011

Jeenious,
Thank you for your thoughts. Your insight is sorely needed in the Procrustean bed that passes for scientific objectivity in many scientists.
Rob Dunn's book is a wonderful wake up call to all those out there who continue to insist that mankind, with his vaunted and celebrated self awareness, is somehow separate from the oneness of the ecosphere. Scientists and technocrats everywhere cannot stand the idea of mankind being a cog in a giant ecospherical wheel. That would require a type of ethics that considers the deleterious effects of mankind's obsessive tool making (mining, industry, nuclear power plants and bombs, etc.) on the biosphere as whole, not simply whether humans are affected in the next 20 years or so (until the grant money runs out).

For those reading this who will immediately accuse me of wanting to go back to the caves or the trees, don't bother. I am calling for increased responsibility that our technical and scientific community has NOT shown for at least 150 years in regard to all the biota on this planet.
If a life form, such as ours, uses self awareness and advanced toolmaking skills in such a way as to inadvertently (or deliberately) deteriorate the web of life on our planet while clinging to some illogical view of being separate from all other life forms, then homo sapiens (sapiens - really?)  is merely commiting slow suicide and self awareness may be a fatal mutation in our species.
At any rate, the bacteria that live on our remains long after we are gone won't care. We can be as arrogant and illogical as we want. We can inflict disease and torure on helpless "mammalian models" to our heart's content and claim it is all for the good of scientific research. It's all starting to blow back on us and many innocent life forms as well.

If the most intelligent people on the planet (the scientific community) don't start attacking industry, war and pollution as planet killers, mankind is fated to be an evolutionary anomaly.
Nature always rejects pathological mutations.

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June 19, 2011

Humans spend so much effort trying to save certain organisms while eradicating others- to our own detriment and to perpetuate the anti-bacterial, internal cleansing and pharma industries in our false economy.  And we wonder why there are increasing immune pathologies in our medically and hygenically superior society...

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June 19, 2011

Thank you, agelbert and bodymind.  We (assuming you, too, live in the U.S.) live in a market-driven nation in an increasingly market-driven world.  If you have not read Fareed Zakaria's book, and heard his interviews on Charlie Rose's show, I urge you to do so.  In it, he speaks of arrogance in a not-critical way, but in a descriptive way.  While some readers of your comments and mine may not be "ready" to recognize and accept what this has to do with science, and scientific arrogance, as well as political and economic arrogance, more and more U. S. citizens are, possibly for the first time ever, seeing a crack in the veneering of our national and intellectual narcissism.  Hopefully that crack will not take on the proportions of a major collapse of our political, economic and social over-optimism any time soon.  Let us hope the current employment crisis, and the current collapse of a housing bubble that could have been forseen (had we not been so intoxicated by our own national sense of self-importance that we were unable to see through our rose-colored lenses, that it was inevitable.  Surely many in the scientific "community" are aware that funding for science research threatens to be as disruptive in "the West" as the housing bubble, individual freedoms, and -- sadly -- what role the U. S. has played (partly sincere and partly as a rationale for expansion of U.S. corporations into becoming no longer "American" but global monstrosities (what Robert Gilpin so aptly refers to in his Global Political Economy as multi-national global corporations.  As Zakaria points out, and VIVIDLY, is that China and India and a few other countries HAVE been paying attention to what has been happening in the U. S. and HAVE been learning from us, BUT have learned not only from our successes but, also, from our APPROACHING (if we do not begin to be objective and stop being guided primarily by COMMERCIAL motives, and commercial buying of influence over the policies of the U. S. internally and internationally.  So, what has this to do with science, and scientific FREEDOM?  Everything!  Through corruption -- largely corruption at the topmost levels of accumulation of wealth and power in the U. S. -- the influence on what laws, and regulatory protections of the citizen/taxpayers, and international relations, and military actions... have become increasingly influenced and steered toward what is best for the wealthiest and most powerful few.  And SCIENCE is in line to become, along with every other tool of human learning and problem-solving, a tool primarily controlled in the interest of
securing to the most powerful still more power.  And, as long as only the common citizen suffers the consequences, there will be no incentive for the powerful to change.  Indeed, if the ecology were to become so toxified, and species so decimated, that one must filter the air in one's home, and enjoy food raised under
conditions protected from exploitation of everything that can be bent to increasing the wealth and power of a few... those few can AFFORD such luxuries.  You and I may not.  But if democratic thinking and democratic orientation of solutions to prevent these trends is ever to become possible, it will occur through a wider grasp of the real issues on part of scientist and lay persons in all democratic parts of the world.  There is little room any longer for quarreling over things that do not conduce to gaining understanding of what lies ahead (unless we change).  Scientists and lay people -- who are not among the wealthiest and most powerful -- must seek awareness of our mutual need to join forces, think realistically about how we have allowed ourselves to be influenced NOT by science, NOT by objectivity, but by commercialized control of the rhetoric (advertising, political polemics, and propaganda aimed at hawking FOR whatever will benefit the wealthiest and most powerful institutions and individuals, and AGAINST such things as laws, regulations and enforcement which would protect the common citizens against exploitation of themselves and the very ecology of Earth).  You are SO RIGHT in predicting that you will be villified for even suggesting that the very ecology of the earth is being exploited by the richest and most powerful to THEIR gain, and problems ahead NOT addressed on basis of what is sustainable.  There are those who would spend millions to muzzle such "dangerous" thoughts and words.  Scientist, layman, we are in this quagmire together, and the smartest thing we can do is begin to work together to save what is worth saving of this planet from being nothing more than something to be exploited for monetary profit.  And, lest this seem to have nothing to do with Rob's book, we real individuals, and the real "wildlife" of which we are a part, and which is an indispensible part of us, needs to be seen for what it is, and protected from over-exploitation, by our best objective thinking, and Earth preserving effort.  GREAT  BOOK,  ROB!    

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

June 19, 2011

We humans are in short supply of discernment, especially of the wisdom variety that makes both the micro (or analytical, intellectual) and the macro (or Joseph Campbell interpreted mythical or intuitive) work well together. One is never really a good substitute for both.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

June 19, 2011

Humans spend so much effort trying to save certain organisms while eradicating others- to our own detriment and to perpetuate the anti-bacterial, internal cleansing and pharma industries in our false economy.  And we wonder why there are increasing immune pathologies in our medically and hygenically superior society...

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

June 19, 2011

Thank you, agelbert and bodymind.  We (assuming you, too, live in the U.S.) live in a market-driven nation in an increasingly market-driven world.  If you have not read Fareed Zakaria's book, and heard his interviews on Charlie Rose's show, I urge you to do so.  In it, he speaks of arrogance in a not-critical way, but in a descriptive way.  While some readers of your comments and mine may not be "ready" to recognize and accept what this has to do with science, and scientific arrogance, as well as political and economic arrogance, more and more U. S. citizens are, possibly for the first time ever, seeing a crack in the veneering of our national and intellectual narcissism.  Hopefully that crack will not take on the proportions of a major collapse of our political, economic and social over-optimism any time soon.  Let us hope the current employment crisis, and the current collapse of a housing bubble that could have been forseen (had we not been so intoxicated by our own national sense of self-importance that we were unable to see through our rose-colored lenses, that it was inevitable.  Surely many in the scientific "community" are aware that funding for science research threatens to be as disruptive in "the West" as the housing bubble, individual freedoms, and -- sadly -- what role the U. S. has played (partly sincere and partly as a rationale for expansion of U.S. corporations into becoming no longer "American" but global monstrosities (what Robert Gilpin so aptly refers to in his Global Political Economy as multi-national global corporations.  As Zakaria points out, and VIVIDLY, is that China and India and a few other countries HAVE been paying attention to what has been happening in the U. S. and HAVE been learning from us, BUT have learned not only from our successes but, also, from our APPROACHING (if we do not begin to be objective and stop being guided primarily by COMMERCIAL motives, and commercial buying of influence over the policies of the U. S. internally and internationally.  So, what has this to do with science, and scientific FREEDOM?  Everything!  Through corruption -- largely corruption at the topmost levels of accumulation of wealth and power in the U. S. -- the influence on what laws, and regulatory protections of the citizen/taxpayers, and international relations, and military actions... have become increasingly influenced and steered toward what is best for the wealthiest and most powerful few.  And SCIENCE is in line to become, along with every other tool of human learning and problem-solving, a tool primarily controlled in the interest of
securing to the most powerful still more power.  And, as long as only the common citizen suffers the consequences, there will be no incentive for the powerful to change.  Indeed, if the ecology were to become so toxified, and species so decimated, that one must filter the air in one's home, and enjoy food raised under
conditions protected from exploitation of everything that can be bent to increasing the wealth and power of a few... those few can AFFORD such luxuries.  You and I may not.  But if democratic thinking and democratic orientation of solutions to prevent these trends is ever to become possible, it will occur through a wider grasp of the real issues on part of scientist and lay persons in all democratic parts of the world.  There is little room any longer for quarreling over things that do not conduce to gaining understanding of what lies ahead (unless we change).  Scientists and lay people -- who are not among the wealthiest and most powerful -- must seek awareness of our mutual need to join forces, think realistically about how we have allowed ourselves to be influenced NOT by science, NOT by objectivity, but by commercialized control of the rhetoric (advertising, political polemics, and propaganda aimed at hawking FOR whatever will benefit the wealthiest and most powerful institutions and individuals, and AGAINST such things as laws, regulations and enforcement which would protect the common citizens against exploitation of themselves and the very ecology of Earth).  You are SO RIGHT in predicting that you will be villified for even suggesting that the very ecology of the earth is being exploited by the richest and most powerful to THEIR gain, and problems ahead NOT addressed on basis of what is sustainable.  There are those who would spend millions to muzzle such "dangerous" thoughts and words.  Scientist, layman, we are in this quagmire together, and the smartest thing we can do is begin to work together to save what is worth saving of this planet from being nothing more than something to be exploited for monetary profit.  And, lest this seem to have nothing to do with Rob's book, we real individuals, and the real "wildlife" of which we are a part, and which is an indispensible part of us, needs to be seen for what it is, and protected from over-exploitation, by our best objective thinking, and Earth preserving effort.  GREAT  BOOK,  ROB!    

Avatar of: Bodymind

Anonymous

June 19, 2011

Humans spend so much effort trying to save certain organisms while eradicating others- to our own detriment and to perpetuate the anti-bacterial, internal cleansing and pharma industries in our false economy.  And we wonder why there are increasing immune pathologies in our medically and hygenically superior society...

Avatar of: jeenious

Anonymous

June 19, 2011

Thank you, agelbert and bodymind.  We (assuming you, too, live in the U.S.) live in a market-driven nation in an increasingly market-driven world.  If you have not read Fareed Zakaria's book, and heard his interviews on Charlie Rose's show, I urge you to do so.  In it, he speaks of arrogance in a not-critical way, but in a descriptive way.  While some readers of your comments and mine may not be "ready" to recognize and accept what this has to do with science, and scientific arrogance, as well as political and economic arrogance, more and more U. S. citizens are, possibly for the first time ever, seeing a crack in the veneering of our national and intellectual narcissism.  Hopefully that crack will not take on the proportions of a major collapse of our political, economic and social over-optimism any time soon.  Let us hope the current employment crisis, and the current collapse of a housing bubble that could have been forseen (had we not been so intoxicated by our own national sense of self-importance that we were unable to see through our rose-colored lenses, that it was inevitable.  Surely many in the scientific "community" are aware that funding for science research threatens to be as disruptive in "the West" as the housing bubble, individual freedoms, and -- sadly -- what role the U. S. has played (partly sincere and partly as a rationale for expansion of U.S. corporations into becoming no longer "American" but global monstrosities (what Robert Gilpin so aptly refers to in his Global Political Economy as multi-national global corporations.  As Zakaria points out, and VIVIDLY, is that China and India and a few other countries HAVE been paying attention to what has been happening in the U. S. and HAVE been learning from us, BUT have learned not only from our successes but, also, from our APPROACHING (if we do not begin to be objective and stop being guided primarily by COMMERCIAL motives, and commercial buying of influence over the policies of the U. S. internally and internationally.  So, what has this to do with science, and scientific FREEDOM?  Everything!  Through corruption -- largely corruption at the topmost levels of accumulation of wealth and power in the U. S. -- the influence on what laws, and regulatory protections of the citizen/taxpayers, and international relations, and military actions... have become increasingly influenced and steered toward what is best for the wealthiest and most powerful few.  And SCIENCE is in line to become, along with every other tool of human learning and problem-solving, a tool primarily controlled in the interest of
securing to the most powerful still more power.  And, as long as only the common citizen suffers the consequences, there will be no incentive for the powerful to change.  Indeed, if the ecology were to become so toxified, and species so decimated, that one must filter the air in one's home, and enjoy food raised under
conditions protected from exploitation of everything that can be bent to increasing the wealth and power of a few... those few can AFFORD such luxuries.  You and I may not.  But if democratic thinking and democratic orientation of solutions to prevent these trends is ever to become possible, it will occur through a wider grasp of the real issues on part of scientist and lay persons in all democratic parts of the world.  There is little room any longer for quarreling over things that do not conduce to gaining understanding of what lies ahead (unless we change).  Scientists and lay people -- who are not among the wealthiest and most powerful -- must seek awareness of our mutual need to join forces, think realistically about how we have allowed ourselves to be influenced NOT by science, NOT by objectivity, but by commercialized control of the rhetoric (advertising, political polemics, and propaganda aimed at hawking FOR whatever will benefit the wealthiest and most powerful institutions and individuals, and AGAINST such things as laws, regulations and enforcement which would protect the common citizens against exploitation of themselves and the very ecology of Earth).  You are SO RIGHT in predicting that you will be villified for even suggesting that the very ecology of the earth is being exploited by the richest and most powerful to THEIR gain, and problems ahead NOT addressed on basis of what is sustainable.  There are those who would spend millions to muzzle such "dangerous" thoughts and words.  Scientist, layman, we are in this quagmire together, and the smartest thing we can do is begin to work together to save what is worth saving of this planet from being nothing more than something to be exploited for monetary profit.  And, lest this seem to have nothing to do with Rob's book, we real individuals, and the real "wildlife" of which we are a part, and which is an indispensible part of us, needs to be seen for what it is, and protected from over-exploitation, by our best objective thinking, and Earth preserving effort.  GREAT  BOOK,  ROB!    

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

June 19, 2011

We humans are in short supply of discernment, especially of the wisdom variety that makes both the micro (or analytical, intellectual) and the macro (or Joseph Campbell interpreted mythical or intuitive) work well together. One is never really a good substitute for both.

Avatar of: Guest

Anonymous

June 19, 2011

We humans are in short supply of discernment, especially of the wisdom variety that makes both the micro (or analytical, intellectual) and the macro (or Joseph Campbell interpreted mythical or intuitive) work well together. One is never really a good substitute for both.

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