What does this say about life?


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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47 Responses

  1. Avatar Francis says:

    Evolution takes some strange twists and turns.Report

  2. Avatar Bob says:


    Not really.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    “The parasite, ejected by the host’s immune system, claws its way into Plan B: Sucking out the host’s nutrients safely ensconced in a pouch where the host cannot scrape it away. The parasite ensured the nutrients would be flowing by bathing the host in a hormone bath that also clouded the host’s judgment.”Report

  4. Avatar Steven B says:

    This is a situation where the offspring is not merely an attached growth on the mother–a part of the mother. In this case, independent life begins very early in the development of the offspring.Report

  5. Avatar Bob says:

    “Biological imperatives are the needs of living organisms required to perpetuate their existence: to survive. include the following hierarchy of logical imperatives for a living organism: survival, territorialism, competition, reproduction, quality of life-seeking. Living organisms that do not attempt to follow or do not succeed in satisfying these imperatives are described as maladaptive; those that do are adaptive.”


  6. It says to me that life is seemingly improbable, amazingly adaptive, and ultimately a thing of beauty and incalculable value.

    …And that the particular form of life known as “baby kangaroos” are really really cute.Report

  7. Avatar Will says:

    I think it says that this site is remarkably resistant to open threads. Our sophisticated readership demands substance!Report

  8. I think it says that a lot of really amazing stuff developed in the biosphere during the 99.999% or Earthtime before humans arrived on the scene, and we should probably be better custodians of it.Report

  9. Avatar Bob says:

    From this mornings NYT,

    “On the most recent nationwide science test, about a third of fourth graders and a fifth of high school seniors scored at or above the proficiency level, according to results released Tuesday.”


    Perhaps students would be better prepared if they were not subject to magical thinking that equates normal reproduction as something extraordinary.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Removing wonder and amazement from the minds of our young won’t change the world for the better.Report

      • Avatar Bob says:

        Confusing ordinary with extraordinary won’t help either. In fact, I’d say it’s an impediment.Report

      • Avatar AMW says:

        New topic:

        What does this thread say about Bob?Report

        • Avatar Bob says:

          I await the answers.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            I don’t know him well so far. My initial impressions: salty and crunchy.Report

          • Avatar AMW says:

            Part of me says “Atheist.” But then, a lot of atheists consider life on earth to be extraordinary indeed.Report

            • Avatar Bob says:

              I’ll cop to materialist. But I’d like something better documented than “… a lot of…..”Report

              • Avatar AMW says:

                Touche. Admittedly, all I’ve got is anecdotes. I know that Dawkins stands in wonder of biological life, Sagan did too, and I’m pretty sure Daniel Dennet and Sam Harris have made similar statements. That’s only four atheists. But they’re four very popular atheists who can sell a lot of books and TV specials. Since people tend to consume media with which they already agree, I assume that a large portion of their readers and viewers are/were atheists who agree(d) with them. Hence, I find it reasonable to conclude that “a lot” of atheists find life on earth to be extraordinary.Report

              • Avatar Bob says:

                I’d say all four allow for only natural causation. Further, all four hold that supernatural causation can neither be proved or disproved.Report

              • Avatar AMW says:

                So you equate extraordinary with supernatural?Report

              • I’m actually not sure if Sagan wouldn’t be more properly called pantheist or mystical than atheist.Report

            • This atheist included, AMW.

              I see no reason why understanding that what we see in the video is purely natural and the result of a process of evolution and natural selection should be incompatible with a sense of beauty, awe, and wonder at both the result of that breathtaking process and at the process itself.

              It becomes even more awesome and breathtaking when you realize that you are, yourself, a product of that same process, that you have a tremendous identity of genetics, origins, biology, and vulnerabilities in common with that little joey — it is, in a very real and material sense, your distant cousin.

              I think Bob needs to realize that “extraordinary” can mean “amazing” as well as “out of the ordinary” in casual language. While there is nothing divine in the birth and growth of the cute baby kangaroo, it is nevertheless a remarkable thing to observe. It’s okay to call such a thing “extraordinary,” particularly when your day-to-day life does not involve close examination of the reproductive processes of kangaroos.Report

              • Avatar Bob says:

                I find the reproduction cycle of the kangaroo neither extraordinary or amazing. It’s just sad that some do. Oogedy-boogedy anyone?Report

              • Avatar AMW says:

                Alright, then, out with it. What’s your working definition of extraordinary?Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                Bob – I’m less interested in knowing why you don’t find kangaroo reproduction amazing – (hey, I don’t particularly get the appeal of NASCAR) – and more in finding out why you find people who find it so “sad.”Report

              • Avatar Bob says:

                The “sad” thing goes back to E.D.s comment at the top of the thread. It’s a joke.Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                You’re saying “sad” is a joke, or what ED said was a joke?

                If the latter, you haven’t really answered my question , you’ve just thrown a barb Erik’s way. And I’m not trying to hassle you, I’m just really curious why you think it’s sad.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                There ain’t no such thing as a matter of taste for some.

                It’s all a matter of morality.

                Materialists (the smarter ones, anyway) know better than to appropriate moral language but this leaves them with emotionally disapproving language. Maybe some societally disapproving phrases.Report

              • Avatar Bob says:

                RTod, I was riffing off E.D.s comment. Nothing more, nothing less.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      A couple of questions:

      Are proficiency scores on a vector pointing up?

      Is the “subjecting students to magical thinking” vector pointed up?Report

      • The thing about proficiency scores is that they’re relatively meaningless unless they’re anchored to some truly objective standard and longitudinal, which is pretty much impossible with science, considering we thought cancer was caused by a virus only thirty-five some-odd years ago.

        Also, scoring exceptionally high on these sorts of standardized indications of intelligence usually means spending a lot of time at the margins, which is unproductive by its very nature. America still leads the world in scientific discovery, and even if that is only because of a relative handful of people, I’m not particularly troubled by lagging average or median test scores.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Some cancers are related to virii. Epstein-Barr and Human Papilloma Virus are two. One of the most fascinating aspects of our search for the cause of AIDS led us to a working treatment for childhood leukemia.

          But to your larger point: you’re quite right. There are no “objective” standards for “proficiency”. To return to the cancer analogy, the immune system is in constant flux: the T Cells put up Wanted Posters on their exterior walls, fragments of defeated opponents, informing the platoons of leukocytes on the enemy-du-jour.

          The problem with Tests is this: every test is a simplified version of reality. It might well be we could test a lawyer on his mastery of the California Legal Code, but this will never do when it comes to the hard sciences, where today’s axiom is tomorrow’s in-joke.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            At the end of the day, they’re all parasites.Report

          • Avatar Bob says:

            If it’s possible to test a lawyer on his mastery of the CA Code why it impossible to test a high school students mastery of a subject?

            After all, and this is total speculation, I’d guess the the CA Code changes more frequently than high school biology or math.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Simply put, because the tests we construct are irrelevant. We stuff these poor children full of facts and equations and dates, with absolutely no application.

              A bit of Dickens to illustrate:

              ‘We don’t want to know anything about that, here. You mustn’t tell us about that, here. Your father breaks horses, does he?’

              ‘If you please, sir, when they can get any to break, they do break horses in the ring, sir.’

              ‘You mustn’t tell us about the ring, here. Very well, then Describe your father as a horsebreaker. He doctors sick horses, I dare say?’

              ‘Oh yes, sir.’

              ‘Very well, then. He is a veterinary surgeon, a farrier and horsebreaker. Give me your definition of a horse.’

              (Sissy Jupe thrown into the greatest alarm by this demand.)

              ‘Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!’ said Mr. Gradgrind, for the general behoof of all the little pitchers. ‘Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals! Some boy’s definition of a horse. Bitzer, yours.’

              The square finger, moving here and there, lighted suddenly on Bitzer, perhaps because he chanced to sit in the same ray of sunlight which, darting in at one of the bare windows of the intensely whitewashed room, irradiated Sissy.

              ‘Bitzer,’ said Thomas Gradgrind. ‘Your definition of a horse.’

              ‘Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.’ Thus (and much more) Bitzer.

              ‘Now girl number twenty,’ said Mr. Gradgrind. ‘You know what a horse is.’Report

              • Avatar Bob says:

                I agree, generally, in questioning the validity of standardized tests. I apologize for introducing the subject into the thread.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Count me in as as fan of Magical Thinking. Nothing happens unless someone first dreams it. It seems to me, as the father of three grown kids, that we learn more at play than we ever did in the classroom.

                Were I to reform education, I’d encourage kids to do more dreaming. There’s a lovely stage in a child’s life where he’s constantly asking questions, drawing pictures, building little things. It’s about that time when we put this inquisitive little creature into school, where he is told to shut up and sit in his chair. He’s taught he can’t draw, can’t do math, can’t, can’t can’t. By the time he reaches adolescence, he’s completely turned off to Learning. Who does well in this situation? The stultified, driven children of Tiger Mothers, doomed to repeat this abusive cycle with their own children.

                My youngest came home from school, deeply angered. “I’m learning nothing!” he shouted. We home schooled him, I got him a copy of Mathematica and Statistica and the most powerful Mac then available. He sprang out of the gate, leaving me feeling rather like a little donkey who’d sired a racehorse.

                It’s the education system itself which needs Testing. If we are to pass on this society to our children, it will not be via some modified Confucian system meant to crush the creativity out of their souls.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

                I couldn’t agree more, Blaise. Beautifully put.Report

          • I think the immune system serves as a useful model for what our education system should be, which is highly specialized yet highly plastic.Report

      • Avatar Bob says:

        I consulted my 8 Ball on question two. The answer, “Signs point to yes.”Report

  10. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    “Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object whih we are capable of concieving, namely, the production of higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.”Report