2022-09-03

Viruses, DNA – Close Up 1+ Million Times

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by Neil Godfrey

View the beautiful, scientifically accurate molecular visualisations of the ten most important human viruses, magnified one million times . . .

Drew Berry is a cell biologist and biomedical animator who creates beautiful, accurate visualizations of the dramatic cellular and molecular action that is going on inside our bodies. Since 1995 he has led biomedical animation within WEHI, Australia. His has exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum, MoMA, the Royal Institute of Great Britain and the University of Geneva.

WEHI.TV explains discoveries at the frontier of medical research through accurate and entertaining 3D animations. It answers the ever-growing demand for meaningful and engaging information on complex bodily topics.

 

Interview with Dave Berry: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/the-art-show/drew-berry-natalya-hughes-drawing/14032604


2022-04-19

If you run out of time or can’t find the time or need more time … stop worrying:

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by Neil Godfrey

Image from IndiaTimes

Time might not exist, according to physicists and philosophers – but that’s okay ….. (the link is to article in The Conversation by Sam Baron)

….. developments in physics suggest the non-existence of time is an open possibility, and one that we should take seriously.

How can that be, and what would it mean? It’ll take a little while to explain, but don’t worry: even if time doesn’t exist, our lives will go on as usual.

and it gets somewhat philosophical….

…. we know we need a new physical theory to explain the universe, and that this theory might not feature time.

Suppose such a theory turns out to be correct. Would it follow that time does not exist?

It’s complicated, and it depends what we mean by exist.

and then….

There is a way out of the mess.

While physics might eliminate time, it seems to leave causation intact: the sense in which one thing can bring about another.

Perhaps what physics is telling us, then, is that causation and not time is the basic feature of our universe.

So Jesus has already come and if someone says I’m late I can reply on the grounds of a good physics hypothesis that I am not and if someone wants to book me for parking over-time I will tell the judge….

 

 

 


2022-03-07

Paradigm Shifts in Religious Studies (Part 3)

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by Tim Widowfield

In a comment to the previous post, Russell Gmirkin took issue with my explanation of Kuhn’s definition of a paradigm and my conclusion that fields of study outside of natural sciences don’t have Kuhnian paradigms, and hence no “paradigm shifts.”

He quoted from his forthcoming book, as follows:

One may define an academic paradigm as an implicit or explicit theoretical and factual framework that is agreed upon by consensus by a body of professionals within a discipline. (Gmirkin 2022)

As I’ve said before, if you want to propose your own definition of a paradigm, I have no quarrel with it. However, having done so, you will have left the Kuhnian universe of ideas. And once again, I protest not because Kuhn was right in all things, but simply because he had a particular structure in mind, and to appropriate his conclusions based on terminology antithetical to that structure is wrong.

Unright

I apparently must now apologize for calling someone or something wrong, since Mr. Dabrowski has informed me that I am displaying “animus.” Let us say instead that it is unright. Perhaps even double-plus unright.

Gmirkin continues:

Paradigms are typically perpetuated within academic institutions of learning in preparation for professional life within that field. As an axiomatic intellectual framework enforced by revered teachers and respected peers, paradigms tend to be conservatively preserved and are difficult to change except in the face of both deconstruction by new facts that run counter to the accepted paradigm and the construction of a competing paradigm with greater explanatory power (Kuhn 1996) (Gmirkin 2022)

I understand his point. As we discussed in previous posts, anomalies arise when new data arrives that calls the entire prevailing framework into question. The resulting crisis can engender a great deal of backlash. For example, the discovery of X-rays sent shock waves through the scientific community. One might wonder why this should be so, since the prevailing paradigm didn’t exclude the possibility of their existence. Continue reading “Paradigm Shifts in Religious Studies (Part 3)”


2022-02-25

Paradigm Shifts in Religious Studies (Part 2)

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by Tim Widowfield

The previous post generated some interesting discussion. Eventually, I would like to take the time to address the comments in a deliberate, serious manner; however, at the moment I want to take us back around to some fundamental questions.

  1. What did Thomas Kuhn mean by paradigm?
  2. Did Kuhn think his paradigmatic structure applied to the social sciences, arts, and humanities?
  3. Can we legitimately apply the concept of Kuhnian paradigm shifts to theology and biblical studies?

A Definition Might Help

Margaret Masterman-Braithwaite

As you probably already know, Kuhn’s magnum opus, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, spawned a great deal of controversy. Undeniably, he unleashed a generation of self-absorbed loud-talkers at parties who used the word incessantly. His detractors almost immediately jumped upon the fact that Kuhn used the word “paradigm” in several different senses of the word. How do we know what he meant by the term paradigm shift if we can’t be certain, from one page to the next, what exactly he meant by paradigm?

In the preface to more recent editions of Structure, Ian Hacking cites “an often-cited but seldom-read essay” by Margaret Masterman — who may be the first person to have counted the 21 ways Kuhn used the word. Having recently read the paper, “The Nature of a Paradigm,” I think Masterman’s criticism came out of sincere respect and the desire to clarify Kuhn’s muddy waters. She rightly notes the sense in which a group of scientists latch onto a paradigm before they can articulate a theory. It starts with some achievement that draws like-minded people together into a social relationship.

[F]or Kuhn, something sociologically describable, and above all, concrete, already exists in actual science, at the early stages, when the theory is not there.

It is worth remarking also that, whatever synonym-patterns Kuhn may get trapped into establishing in the heat of his arguments, he never, in fact, equates ‘paradigm’, in any of its main senses, with ‘scientific theory’. For his metaparadigm* is something far wider than, and ideologically prior to, theory: i.e. a whole Weltanschauung. His sociological paradigm, as we have seen, is also prior to theory, and other than theory, since it is something concrete and observable: i.e. a set of habits. And his construct-paradigm is less than a theory, since it can be something as little theoretic as a single piece of apparatus: i.e. anything which can cause actual puzzle-solving to occur. (Masterman 1977, p. 66-67, emphasis mine)

[*By “metaparadigm,” Masterman is referring to the sense in which Kuhn refers to an all-encompassing way of thinking about the world and not merely to a localized pattern, set of habits, or framework for puzzle-solving.]

While many critics (especially followers of Popper) scoffed at Kuhn’s work and claimed he had simply reworked some well-known and understood ideas, Masterman realized he was onto something important. And she recognized that this new way of looking at scientific progress — not as an accumulation of facts and a slow upward march, but as a kind of punctuated equilibrium — was attracting readers and adherents. Continue reading “Paradigm Shifts in Religious Studies (Part 2)”


2022-02-07

Paradigm Shifts in Religious Studies (Part 1)

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by Tim Widowfield

Thomas Kuhn

I try to reread Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions every couple of years. I get something new out of it with each reading.

Kuhn’s masterpiece is a rare thing: A groundbreaking work that’s easy to read. This short book contains an array of fascinating new ideas along with a structure for understanding the emergence of new paradigms. The term paradigm has become overused and overworked in everyday English. However, when we talk about the emergence of a new explanatory framework in science, history, literature, philosophy, etc., we can’t help but think of the term paradigm shift.

Shift Stages

Kuhn described the process of one paradigm displacing another, older one in successive stages.

    1. Normal Science. What we do every day within the existing framework. Scientists perform experiments, examine the results, and decide how they fit in with the established model. They publish the results and debate about their ramifications. And then they design new experiments. The process repeats. Essentially, Kuhn said what scientists are engaged in is “puzzle-solving.”
    2. Anomalies. From time to time, certain unexpected results occur. Puzzle-solvers are drawn to the anomalies as they endeavor to make them fit within the current paradigm.
    3. Crisis. Once in a great while, certain serious anomalies cannot be accounted for or ignored. They show themselves as evidence that the current model is inadequate. The prevailing paradigm teeters on the brink.
    4. Revolution. A competing paradigm emerges which accounts for the anomalies. New research tends to use the new framework to solve puzzles. The old paradigm fades away, along with its practitioners. Eventually, we return to a state of “normal science” under the new paradigm.

Stuck in the Paradigm

The power of Kuhn’s revolutionary structure hit home once again as I was reading Varieties of Jesus Mythicism, Did He Even Exist? For example, in the first essay by our friend David Fitzgerald, he writes:

The Historical Jesus question has the potential to be the biggest paradigm shift in the study of Christian origins. And the importance of Jesus Mythicism goes far beyond the Historical Jesus question itself. For instance, it highlights all the uniquely problematic elements plaguing biblical studies historically and currently, such as the pervasive bias affecting biblical studies—a remarkable condition different from any other field of history. (“Why Mythicism Matters,” Varieties, p. 37)

Here Fitzgerald hints at the reason we’re stuck in the current paradigm: namely, the insuperable barriers that prevent the people most qualified to tackle the question of Jesus’ historicity from even taking the notion seriously. If your entire worldview holds that the salvation of humankind depends on Jesus of Nazareth, then the very question is preposterous. Even for a non-Christian, if your job requires you to stay within the guardrails of biblical studies, the subject has to remain in the category of “not worthy of discussion.”

In the preface, Robert Price invokes Kuhn’s name, saying:

In fact, as Thomas S. Kuhn explains in his great book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, advances in science proceed at least as much by new paradigms for construing data as by the discovery of new data. New models, theories, and paradigms are suggestions for making new and better sense of the data we already had. These new notions must prove themselves by running the gauntlet of collegial criticism. (“New Testament Minimalism,” Varieties, p. 15, emphasis mine)

At first, I’m inclined to agree with his assessment, but something feels “off” here. According to Kuhn, the discovery of new data that doesn’t fit within the current paradigm eventually weakens trust in the prevailing model. Yes, Kuhn presents several examples of existing paradigms that gradually lost adherents to some new way of assembling and explaining the existing data. However, the actual shift to a radically different pattern of thought requires a set of anomalies that bedevil the old paradigm — anomalies that the new paradigm easily explains or, better yet, confidently predicts.

To understand better what Kuhn meant by an anomaly, consider the following: Continue reading “Paradigm Shifts in Religious Studies (Part 1)”


2021-10-28

Indigenous India-Australia Ties

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by Neil Godfrey

Australia and India were once connected via land, both part of Gondwanaland, a supercontinent that existed until about 180 million years ago. There is some evidence of ancient links between Australia and India – a 1999 study asserts a maternal genetic connection between the two countries, and a 2013 study of Indigenous Australian DNA suggests there might have been migration from India about 4000 years ago. Even disbelievers cannot fail to notice some pockets of similarity, such as the resemblance between India’s Gond art and Indigenous dot painting, or that dingoes look uncannily like Indian street dogs. — Aarti Betigeri

 

From Gond Pradhans and their Art
Indian pariah dog

See also

and

Curnoe, Darren. “An Ancient Australian Connection to India?” The Conversation, March 10, 2016. http://theconversation.com/an-ancient-australian-connection-to-india-55935.

H/T https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/australias-nation-changing-indian-community/13605904 — interview with Aarti Betigeri.


Betigeri, Aarti. “New Wave: Australia’s Nation-Changing Indian Community’.” Australian Foreign Affairs AFA13, (October 2021). https://www.australianforeignaffairs.com/afa-front.



2021-06-15

Australian Aborigines: “Complex Hunter-Gatherers, Not Simple farmers”

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by Neil Godfrey

I enjoyed reading Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu — drawing on Australia’s early explorer diaries to portray Australia’s Aborigines as living in “villages” of huts and practising agriculture and aquaculture — but with some caveats. I found myself constantly adjusting what he was depicting with what I already knew to be true so that I came away not with a totally new understanding but a revised one. I could not accept on the basis of the argument he presented that Aborigines practised democracy or that they lived as settled farmers. I have heard and seen too much from “primary sources” to dismiss the notion that they were also hunters and gatherers. Besides, I found myself wondering, why is it so important to stress agriculture as an indicator of civilizational advance? Sure, agriculture was important in our tradition, but is it really a universal marker of progress? Progress towards what? I have been fascinated with the Aboriginal concepts of the Dreaming or the Dreamtime. Even in Dark Emu one reads little reminders that technologies practised by Aborigines were performed with a cultic or Dreamtime mythological association or impulse.

Now a new volume has been released that I think will restore some balance to Dark Emu‘s image of the First Australians. Others have commended Pascoe for popularizing views of Aborigines that have long been known among specialists and experts. It would be a mistake, however, to replace the hunter-gatherer view with a settler-farmer construct. So we now have Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe’s Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate. I have only begun to read it but already a couple of sections can be quoted:

Pascoe contradicts the false belief, perhaps held by some, that all Aboriginal people were naked all of the time. Some Aboriginal people sewed animal skins into cloaks (page 89).

He criticises the uninformed view that classical Aboriginal society consisted of constantly nomadic people who simply lived off nature’s bounty, were not ecological agents, did not stay in one place for more than a few days and did not store resources (for example, page 12).

And he gives considerable attention to the storage of foods (pages 105—14), this being a useful corrective to ignorance of Aboriginal storage methods.

(Sutton, p. 5)

And in particular:

Pascoe’s message is built on a simple distinction between what he calls ‘mere’ hunter-gatherers, on the one hand, and farmers; or between ‘mere’ hunting and gathering on one hand and ‘agriculture’ on the other. We consider that the evidence, in fact, reveals a positioning of the Aboriginal people of 1788 somewhere between these two extremes: they were complex hunter-gatherers, not simple farmers. The Old People in 1788 had developed ways of managing and benefiting from their landscape that went beyond just hunting and just gathering but did not involve gardening or farming. They were ecological agents who worked with the environment, rather than, usually, against it. They frequently used slow-burning fires to make their landscapes more liveable. However, they did not cut down bush to clear the land, plough and hoe the soil in preparation for planting, or then sow stored seed or tubers or rootstock in gardens or in fields.

(p. 7)

For the Andrew Bolts who have savaged Dark Emu as “a hoax” whose purpose is supposedly to accuse white settlers of ignorant and cruel treatment of the first inhabitants here, I further note that Sutton and Walshe share Pascoe’s assessment that white occupation is more accurately described as a “conquest” of the land and not at all “the first settlement”.


Sutton, Peter, and Keryn Walshe. Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers?: The Dark Emu Debate. Melbourne University Press, 2021.

Pascoe, Bruce. Dark Emu. Black Seeds : Agriculture Or Accident? Broome, Western Australia: Magabala Books, 2014.



2021-05-16

Elephants and Dugongs — Who’d Have Thought?

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by Neil Godfrey

Roger Short

Extract from a 2011 interview with Professor Roger Short….

Roger Short: Here in Melbourne, in the department of zoology, I had a very good PhD student, Ann Gaeth. I said, ‘Ann, I’ve got these amazing early elephant embryos. Your PhD project is to serially section them. No one’s ever serially sectioned an elephant embryo ever, and goodness knows what you’ll find.’ Ann goes away and sections them and comes up to my office and said,’Roger, can you come and have a look? The kidneys look most peculiar.’ I said, ‘I don’t know anything about the embryology of the kidney. I’ll get my wife Marilyn to come and have a look.’

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From DownToEarth

We looked down the microscope and there we saw these amazing structures in the kidney, which are called nephrostomes, which are little tubules penetrating the whole surface of the kidney and ending up in little glomeruli, so that it was a way of bailing out the peritoneal cavity and siphoning that fluid directly into the kidney, and elephants had got them, and no other mammal has nephrostomes in its kidney. Marilyn said, ‘Those structures are nephrostomes. They are a way of bailing out fluid from the peritoneal cavity and they’re only found in aquatic animals. The elephant must be aquatic.’ I thought, ‘God! Hey, the trunk is a snorkel! Wouldn’t that be fantastic?’

We then thought, well, let’s have a look at the trunk. I had dissected one or two young elephant foetuses and I had noticed something strange, that the lungs were stuck to the chest wall. And I hadn’t paid too much attention to it. Then I looked up an American veterinary review and it said that it’s amazing that every single elephant that has died in captivity has had pleurisy because the lungs are stuck to the chest wall. So I thought, ‘Oh, probably that’s normal.’ We looked at these early embryos and foetuses and, yes, very, very early on the lungs stick to the chest wall and there is no pleural cavity at all.

We did some work with a very good respiratory physiologist in San Diego who had spent his life looking at respiration and he said, ‘If you’re a snorkeler, you know that you’re not allowed to have a snorkel tube that’s much longer than that because, if you do, you will actually rupture the blood vessels in your chest cavity, and so it’s illegal to have a longer snorkel tube.’ And here is an elephant with a snorkel tube that is about eight-foot long, so they couldn’t possibly snorkel were it not for the fact that they have managed to glue their lungs to the chest wall so that they can’t get a pneumothorax, which is what you or I would get.

Robyn Williams: Yes. Would the elephants have been living presumably in rivers or lakes rather than anything out to sea?

Roger Short: Yes, I don’t think they were in the deep ocean, although they crossed large expanses of sea to get to remote islands off the coast of California. Santa Catalina Island has got these elephant remains on it and it had never been part of mainland California, so how had elephants got there? They had swum. David Attenborough has lovely shots of elephants swimming under water in the Indian Ocean.

From TheIndianExpress

Now that most fish have disappeared from the North Sea, the trawlers are trawling up the sand banks across the North Sea and coming up with all these amazing elephant remains, of which I have quite a selection here, from tusks to vertebrae to teeth. Mammoths, as they were then, were swimming across the North Sea between England and Scotland and Europe, and they have really been great aquatic animals, and of course they are herbivores. We have been able to do their mitochondrial DNA recently, and guess what their closest relative is? The dugong.

From SnappyGoat.com

Robyn Williams: Really!

Roger Short: And elephants and dugongs arose from a common ancestor, called Anthrobacune, which I saw the first complete skeleton of in northern Hokkaido just recently.

Does anyone have access to an image of the Anthrobacune skeleton? Not even Google could find me one.


Short, Roger. 2021. The Science Show: Professor Roger Short, reproductive biologist Interview by Robyn Williams. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/scienceshow/professor-roger-short,-reproductive-biologist/13342638.


 


2021-02-27

Restoring Trust in Science as a Source of Reliable Knowledge

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by Neil Godfrey

Another great program from the ABC’s Radio National, this time from the Science Friction program. The interviewer is Natasha Mitchell. This one is about 25 minutes.

Science FAIL! A perilous story of why it’s good to do

From the concluding minutes:

Dr Ben de Haas: . . . . Ideally that’s what makes the difference between science and other pursuits of truth – that we correct our errors.

Natasha Mitchell: But the current culture of science could be undermining that ideal, and is taking a toll on the mental health of early career scientists especially, — short term grants, a publish or perish culture, promotion being contingent on journal papers, job insecurity, short PhD scholarships, and a focus on only publishing positive findings.

Professor Alan Love: In recent years there have emerged movements for the publication of negative results where some journals will do that. However, it’s still clearly the case, what is expected from scientists is to break through, be the first to discover something, . . . There’s a deep tension there.  Then the only people who can secure those positions that are few and far between are the ones who “grab the golden ring” of the results that everybody wants to tweet, not the person who says, “I discovered that everything I was doing was based on an artefact.” . . . You can’t build a career on that.

artefact: something observed in a scientific investigation or experiment that is not naturally present but occurs as a result of the preparative or investigative procedure.
“the curvature of the surface is an artefact of the wide-angle view”

Mitchell: But perhaps that announcement, that everything I’ve just done for the last three years is based on an artefact, is actually the most powerful finding of all for subsequent experiments.

Love: It could be, absolutely. That’s the picture of science that we really need society to have. If they only get what they see in the movies, if they only get the sort of Era[?] stories, or the recounting of the Nobel prize lecture about how you found that amazing discovery, they’re going to really misunderstand the enterprise and why we should trust it, why we should think that it generates reliable knowledge.

If they read the front page news and they see one week, “Oh look, coffee’s good for me”, and next week, “Oh look, coffee’s bad for me” and then next week, “Oh look, coffee’s good for me again” and they become jaded if the expectation is somehow that the scientists are going to deliver some sort of inviolate factoid about coffee, can we reset those expectations? If we can, I think we can make some serious progress in how we understand the role of science in society.

And given the anti-intellectual, anti-science views that appear to be pervading very large swathes of our supposedly enlightened communities, that is surely an urgent task.

 

 


2020-11-04

Escape Zone (enter here to escape the tensions of waiting for election results)

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by Neil Godfrey

Before there was Trumpian fake-news there was “Australia’s most notorious tabloid”, The Truth — now the subject of a book — The Awful Truth — by one of its erstwhile reporters, Adrian Tame. If you can’t read the book then do at least have a good laugh listening to a 20 minute interview with the author: The scurrilous tabloid called TRUTH. It was one of Rupert Murdoch’s early acquisitions, and soon after he took it over the paper earned the nickname “The Old Whore of La Trobe Street”. But it also had some serious and great moments.

Here’s how Adrian got the job:

[The editor, Paul Edwards] had brushed aside my lack of clippings, telling me: ‘Doesn’t matter, mate. Wouldn’t want to read your references, you probably wrote them yourself. Same with your clippings, except if they’re any good, someone else probably wrote ’em. Start tomorrow, that’s Tuesday, and you’ve got two weeks to show me what you can do. We’ll either make you permanent, or I’ll flick you.

Another excerpt (also covered in the Late Night Live interview linked above):

On this particular occasion the three of us had, for once, too much information to play with. Too many facts to fit into the number of words we were allotted. The story involved Marlon Brando and his daughter Cheyenne. Brando was grossly overweight and due to arrive in Australia to work some of it off at a health farm. Cheyenne was arriving simultaneously for emotional counselling, following a breakdown caused by a particularly traumatic and unsavoury domestic, resulting in a murder. We were playing with puns like ‘meltdown’, and arguing over which part of the story should be prioritised in the headline. And then Thommo strode into the room.

After a quick glance at the two stories he muttered something derisory about the amount of time we had been taking, grabbed a piece of paper and scribbled the following:

The Brandos are coming
HE’S FAT
SHE’S MAD

‘Fuckin’ obvious isn’t it?’ he scowled as he left the room.

Pure tabloid genius. It was intriguing – how could anyone not want to read further? – it was wildly funny and it was to the point – all vital ingredients for a good headline. But what made it a truly great headline was its barbaric cruelty.

Excerpt From: Adrian Tame. “The Awful Truth.” Apple Books.

The interview is genuinely fascinating and informative for insights into what people who produce a paper like that think of what they’re doing and what they think of their readers.

Or if you prefer your escape from real-world political tensions to be more on cute and soft side, here is another bird photo, not from my own place this time but from my sister’s front yard:

Frogmouth parents guarding their new (fast growing) chick. No nest — everything balanced on a wide tree branch.

Not the best photo, but they are very high up in a very tall tree.

One more on that awful truth….

 

 

 

 


2020-10-13

Laughs, Ghosts & Peace Crimes

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by Neil Godfrey

Catching up with my favourite interviewer Philip Adams on my favourite interview program Late Night Live and must share two comedies and one tragedy. . . . .

What’s the purpose of laughter? (links are to the home pages of the interviews where they can be heard/downloaded)

Interview with Jonathan Silvertown Professor of Evolutionary Ecology at the University of Edinburgh. First thing of interest was to learn that other animals do laugh. Even mice, though at a pitch we cannot hear. I have sometimes seen acts by animals or birds that I have immediately wondered if they were done in some sort of jest, but my mind, aspiring to be totally rational, tries to dispel that thought. Has the professor has given me licence to revisit those thoughts? I don’t know. Perhaps if I read his book, The Comedy of Error, I will find out.

When Philip suggested laughter is cathartic Jonathan Silvertown pointed out that if that were the evolutionary motor that led to it then once the cathartic effect of, say, a Marx Brothers movie, had been accomplished after, presumably, the first 15 or so minutes then we would not find the rest of the film funny. Interesting.

The evolutionary driver that Silvertown hypothesizes is that laughter was primarily a sexual attraction, like the peacock feathers. So that’s why “must have good sense of humour” is always listed as a desirable attribute by those seeking a mate.

True Ghostly Hauntings

This one was with Kate Summerscale about her book The Haunting of Alma Fielding. Ghosts and seances were very popular post World War and through to the Second World War and Summerscale’s study focuses on the investigations of one “sceptic” (though a sceptic in a positive sense since he really did hope to prove the existence of the paranormal but only by rigidly honest means) Nandor Fodor, chief ghost hunter at the International Institute for Psychical Research.

I was intrigued enough to find an inexpensive electronic copy of the book online in order to find out what tricks Alma Fielding used to convince so many that poltergeists were responsible for moving and smashing things.

Pine Gap Peace Crimes

This one struck a little closer to home. I knew some of those who had been arrested and put on trial for entering the Pine Gap US satellite surveillance base and assisted with them publicizing their experiences afterwards. Further protest actions followed. Kieran Finnane has written a book about Pine Gap and the more recent protests. It would be easy to think that nothing was achieved by those efforts. The protesters were treated with utter contempt in court and even by some of the media. But a book has been written about the base they were protesting against and their efforts, and those efforts, though small, demonstrate quite vividly the extremes to which Australian governments have gone to hide all knowledge of the functions of the bases from the public.

It’s a book (another one) I want to read. Peace Crimes.


2020-09-24

More of Something Light

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by Neil Godfrey

Here are more of the birds that have graced my backyard these past few months:


(Click on the image for a more detailed view)

This is the first year I’ve seen the pale-headed rosella here. (We’ve had brilliant red rosellas here before but they have given us a miss this year. Our new visitor has a stronger yellow colour in the head feathers but they won’t allow me to get a close enough photo of them to show you that feature. Yellow off-set by the deep red, light blue underbelly and dark blue wing, a magnificent looking bird.

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Not a frequent visitor, but I love the blue-faced honeyeater when it does appear.

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Another one very familiar to Australians – the kingfisher. I am used to seeing these fellows in bushland near creeks and rivers. I was surprised to see them where I am which is well away from any natural bodies of water. Maybe I’ve been misled by the “fisher” in their name.

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The egret flies through once a year, sometimes stopping in our backyard for a bite to eat.

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The crested dove reminds me of some of those dinosaurs with odd crowns protruding from their heads. Every time it takes flight its wings make a screechy-wheel sound, presumably to put off predators.

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The magpie lark, more commonly known as the pee-wee, are very common throughout Australia. They can often be seen checking themselves out in reflections on parked car windscreens and rear vision mirrors.

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I don’t know why exactly, and I am sure if I did know I would not be able to justify my feelings, but I don’t like these currawongs very much. Maybe it’s because I see them as interlopers who sometimes take over territory from the much more interesting magpies (see the last post for those). They make a very tedious sound compared with the rich variation given by the magpie.

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2020-08-13

Something Light

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by Neil Godfrey

Here are the birds that have spent time in my little suburban yard this year:

 

A red wattlebird — I could only ever hear it for nearly a year before it let itself be seen. It has the sound of something from Jurrasic Park, a raucous twisted series of screeches. Suddenly it has perched quite close by where I have been able to get a very good look and I think that’s the occasion that inspired me to do this post.

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Lorikeets — magnificent colours and regular feeders in our bottlebrush trees.

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My favourites, the magpie. One of them used to regularly perch on the clothesline whenever I was hanging out washing and just watch me. We used to have long chats. They have the most remarkable sound. That youtube link gives one small sample. Google for more and if you don’t live in Australia you’ll be amazed at the range of their singing. Luckily the local magpies don’t attack us in their breeding season.

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Fairy-wrens. The male hops around and through the lower shrubs with half a dozen or more of his harem.

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The kookaburras (laughing jackass) come and go. They’re everywhere.

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Not quite sure if this is the same owl that we sometimes see on our gateway. The one we see is certainly very large, but more greyish, I think. They give you quite a start when you suddenly walk right by it at night, with it staring at you from its huge frame.

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Golden plover. I’m cheating a bit with this one. It doesn’t come to my yard but lives in a park about 100 meters away. I draw breath and walk with extreme caution whenever I pass them since the one’s I used to see in the Northern Territory were vicious — they nearly took out someone’s eye with their wingtip. The local ones here have learned to accept passersby, it seems, but I’m still wary.

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Other common visitors when they feel like it. They’re more common out west, though. My grandparents on a dairy farm kept them as talking pets.

That’s about half of them. Maybe I’ll post the rest later.


Images scanned from Peter, Slater. 2009. The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds.2nd ed. Reed New Holland.


 

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2020-05-06

Two WOW Factors Hidden in Meteorites and Micrometeorites

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

From researchgate.net

I happened to watch Catalyst last night (the program was titled Asteroid Hunters) and was slightly blown away by two things.

  1. Micrometeorites, as small as the width of a human hair, can be extracted from rocks 2.7 billion years old and tell us about the composition of earth’s atmosphere at that time.
  2. The meteorite that landed 50 years ago at Murchison, Victoria, contains volatile organic compounds — sugars, amino acids — and they still release odours. Have them land in an environment like Rotarua’s steamy, gaseous horror-scape and they could form membranes, the skin of soapy like bubbles, that were the necessary precondition to forming cells from which life evolved.

Fascinating. Well, I think so, anyway.

But I missed the film’s explanation of what the organic compounds had to do with the asteroids containing elements in their original primordial state while on earth the heavier elements have had time (from when the earth was molten) to sink to the centre and leave the lighter stuff in the crust. Are those organic compounds made from heavier elements? Anyone know?

For the video and transcript: https://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/s21-e04-asteroid-hunters/12198186?jwsource=cl

Rotorua, New Zealand. I visited here years ago and can still recall the stench of sulphur coming up from the roadside gutters as I entered. I also braved a hot mud bath. Was told the minerals would do me lots of good. Earth millions of years ago.

 

 

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