The Plastic Brain


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Review: The Neck of the Giraffe, or Where Darwin Went Wrong, by Francis Hitching

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I’ve been reading a lot of books/blogs on evolution recently – and being somewhat biased towards Darwinian models, have natural focussed on pro-Darwin sources like Dawkins.

A while back I noticed The Neck of the Giraffe (TNoTG) on my father-in-law’s bookcase, and asked if I could borrow it. I thought it would be an interesting exercise in hearing a counter-argument to my view-point in order to force myself defend where I stand.

With this aim in mind I plunged in, and immediately ran into two issues. Firstly, it wasn’t immediately obvious which camp Hitching fell into. Secondly, his arguments were sometimes more nuanced and harder to refute than I had expected.

Nonetheless, despite the subtitle, and many of the conclusions he draws, Hitching does little to show that Darwin was ever wrong. What he actually shows is that Darwin’s theory, as original stated and as Darwin admitted, was limited, and possibly contained minor flaws and simplifications. None of this, however, issurprising in a work over 150 years old, and it certainly doesn’t show that evolution by natural selection is wrong.

TNoTG is itself around 30 years old, and I note that in some (possibly later) editions the subtitle is changed to “Darwin, Evolution and the New Biology”.

Dawkins seems to have read it before drafting Climbing Mount Improbable, in which he sets out to doggedly and rigorously undermine two key planks of irreducible complexity, which from a major part of  TNoTG – namely the evolution of flight and of “the” eye.

Despite logical errors, straw men (eg the odds of getting the 20 amino acids the for a 100-mer peptide in their exact order to be functional) and out of date arguments, I found it good fun and well worth a read,

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Reblogged from hereiswonderland:

A friend of mine told me to look this up, so I did. Quite fascinating analogy.

Sure, it looks pretty similar – but you can find neurons of just about any shape and branching pattern, then pseudo-colour them at will. Bit like the face of Jesus in a tortilla really…

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Tumblr is full of great Star-Wars-inspired graphic art and design. I often show them to my son, as he is a big fan.

Yesterday he did this drawing of an AT-AT walker under attack. He trots up to me with it and says “Hey Dad, put this on Tumblr”.

Happy to oblige.

[Note Darth Vader’s distinctive helmet as he stands between the AT-AT’s legs]

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Tatooine’s twin suns – coming to a planet near you just as soon as Betelgeuse explodes

Twin suns – setting on Earth any day now. Rumours of possible wamp rats and Sarlaac manifestation yet to be confirmed. 

Twin suns are real. And here’s the big news – they could be coming to Earth.

Yes, any day now we see a second sun light up the sky, if only for a matter of weeks.

The infamous red super-giant star in Orion’s nebula – Betelgeuse – is predicted to go gangbusters and the impending super-nova may reach Earth before 2012, and when it does, all of our wildest Star Wars dreams will come true.

The second biggest star in the universe is losing mass, a typical indication that a gravitation collapse is occurring.

When that happens, we’ll get our second sun, according to Dr Brad Carter, Senior Lecturer of Physics at the University of Southern Queensland.

Reblogged from themagnificentlifeofplants

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I have noticed the recent slide of Lego from being a platform for creative play to being a model-making, merchandising tool. Sets where you build a vehicle or scene from a movie are cool and all, but they are pricey, can kill creativity* and indoctrinate kids to the mass marketing consumer culture.

It’s nice to see that (at least in some small part) Lego has some corporate guilt and it redressing this (a bit). Of course, they’re probably just doing it to keep old farts like me happy, since I’m the one forking over wads of cash.

* Happy to report that my boy, even though he is keen that the vehicle should look like the one of the website or box, does then use it to engage in creative role-play.