Category: Nature, Ecology & Environment

Nature, Ecology, and the Environment

There is no “original” state in nature, no nature-in-itself in the sense that a fixed set of characteristics holds true, like the law of gravity, always and everywhere. Nature resembles less a law than a story. And the story is not over. Thus to inquire of nature is to inquire of time, of circumstance and of contingency. What was natural three billion years ago – an empire of anaerobic bacteria – would strike most of us as decidedly unnatural today. Ecology The word originates from the Greek root oikos, “at home”, and *ology, “the study of something.” Haeckle, (1870), defined...

The Earth Charter

The Earth Charter is an ethical framework for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the 21st century. It seeks to inspire a new sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility for the well-being of the whole human family, the greater community of life, and future generations. It is a vision of hope and a call to action. The Earth Charter is concerned with the transition to sustainable ways of living and sustainable human development. Ecological integrity is one major theme. The Earth Charter recognizes that the goals of ecological protection, the eradication of poverty, equitable economic development,...

Origins of Life: Timeline, and Research

The problem of the origin of life is still unsolved, and we face many open questions. The research into the origins is one of the fascinating stories in recent history, and we still have a lot to discover. Below you will find first a timeline of the earliest events, then a timeline of the scientific progress. The source for it is Prof. Hazen’s textbook for the Course “Origins of Life,” from the Teaching Company. At the bottom of the page there is a video lecture where Prof. Hazen explains the journey. Timeline of Events in Life’s Origins 4.55 billion years...

Sperm Whales

The New York Times just ran an article about Sperm Whales, and their modes of communication. They seem to have an elaborate language that we don’t understand yet. The sperm whale is the largest of the toothed whales and the largest predator on  earth. Mature males average 16 metres (52 ft) in length, with some reaching more than 20 metres. The head represents up to one-third of the animal’s length. They can dive down to 2,250 metres (7,382 ft). The sperm whale makes clicking sounds, which is a form of echolocation as well as communication. Sperm whales’ brains are the largest ever known, around six...

You are my Creator, but I am your Master.

“Nature” has different meanings: It is the horizon of civilization, it is the material from which everything is made, and it is the origin to which everything wants to return. By “nature” we also mean the basic form which determines what something is. Aristotle thought that this natural form also determines the purpose something has. And finally, we human beings have a nature too – but how do we define it?

The Life of a Bee

The following video shows the 21 day transformation of the honeybee from larvae to nature’s greatest pollinator in a 60-second timelapse. The video was produced in a partnership between Anand Varma and the Bee Lab at the University of California, Davis. And here is his commentary, from a TED talk: Like most advanced insects, bees go through a complete metamorphosis during their development. The young and the adult look very different, and the diet of the young and the adults differ so much that there is no competition for food between parents and their offspring. The life stages are egg, larva, pupa and adult....

What is life?

The study of life is the domain of biology as a natural discipline. Biology examines all living organisms, and focuses on structure, function, growth, evolution, distribution, as well as the taxonomy of life forms. Life itself is hard to define, because there is such an extraordinary diversity in its manifestations. It is more like a process, rather than a substance or state. Is it possible to develop a definition for life? Is there something that is common to all life? A good definition must be broad enough to encompass all known life forms, as well as leave room for the forms of...

Chai Jing: Under the Dome

China’s economy has grown around 9 to 10 percent for the last 20 years. One of the side-effects of this economic miracle is extreme environmental damage: Pollution in China is by now legendary, but the full picture is still emerging. On March 2nd, Chai Jing, a Chinese journalist and writer, released a documentary about air pollution that she produced herself “Under the Dome”. By March 3rd, 2015, the film had been viewed more than 150 million times in China, and sparked widespread discussions. On March 7, the film was blocked on Chinese websites. The Chinese government was consulted during the production...

Radical Abundance through Nanotechnology?

In his newest book, Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization, 2013, he tells the history of nanotechnology from its beginnings to today, and then he turns towards the future: What can we expect from the accelerating breakthroughs generated by nano-technological research? Will it benefit humanity, or cause us harm? He is very optimistic, and his answer is given in the title: We are going to experience radical abundance based on these technological breakthroughs.

Vanishing Butterflies and Dying Bees

The European Environment Agency just published a study about butterflies in Europe. It shows that from 1990 to today, over a period of 20 years, the butterfly population was reduced by 50%. The reasons for this disappearance are increased agriculture, and the overall reduction of wild meadows. Mono-cultures, intensification of farming, and lack of sustainable practices leads to a dramatic loss of grassland biodiversity. Butterflies are a  major contributor to biodiversity.  They feed primarily on nectar from flowers, and they get nourishment from pollen, tree sap, rotting fruit, dung, and decaying flesh. They have a crucial ecological function for plants,...

Darwin: The marvels of a riverbank

At the end of the “Origin of the Species” (1859) Darwin writes about a riverbank: It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability...

Chimpanzee Memory

Chimpanzees split from the human branch of evolution about four to six million years ago; they are our closest relatives in the animal world. They use tools like spears, they have limited language capability, and they are sophisticated group hunters. They can be deceptive in their behavior, and they are capable of planning for future events. They can mourn, and they can be altruistic within their groups. Our human sense of being fundamentally different from all other animals needs to be reexamined; it is probably the deepest hypocrisy we carry.

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness

The field of Consciousness research is rapidly evolving. Abundant new techniques and strategies for human and non-human animal research have been developed. Consequently, more data is becoming readily available, and this calls for a periodic reevaluation of previously held preconceptions in this field. Studies of non-human animals have shown that homologous brain circuits correlated with conscious experience and perception can be selectively facilitated and disrupted to assess whether they are in fact necessary for those experiences

Emergence

We are currently experiencing a paradigm shift in scientific thinking and explanation, away from reductionist and constructivist approaches. This shift is the result of the introduction of computers and the internet. Scientific researchers are now capable of collecting and processing much more information than ever before, and advanced modeling techniques allow them to develop and test scientific theories in ways that were simply not possible 20 or even 10 years ago. Traditionally, physics operated with a reductionist approach: it breaks down complex phenomena into simpler parts that can be studied independently. Once the basic laws were understood, scientists thought they...