News from the Google Hit Parade

BPSDBCuttlefish was feeling upset that a piece of creationist drivel was ranking higher in the Google search results for the word “cuttlefish” than his own site, so in a gesture of amity, I’m doing my bit to help. Restore justice, truth and verse to the Network: link to Cuttlefish today!

And while we’re thinking about search results, Googling for {expelled movie} is finally bringing up some sensible results for Ben Stein’s monument to dishonesty, hatred and incompetence, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. One instance of the trailer sends the reader to Richard Dawkins’s website, which is a promising start. Then we’ve got a Digg entry for Phil Plait’s demolition of Expelled, and a fairly old post — last September — from the Bad Idea Blog, pointing out the dishonesty of Expelled‘s producer.

The “sponsored links” over on the side gives me RationalWiki’s debunking of Expelled promo material. That’s also good. Notice, however, what’s missing?

Expelled the movie -- Exposed!The official site of the National Center for Science Education, devoted to debunking the movie — Expelled Exposed — doesn’t appear in the first one hundred results. In fact, as of right now, it doesn’t appear until result 280.

We need to fix this.

We’re trusting the NCSE with the big responsibility of maintaining a clear and informative central site for this subject. I think they’re up for it; I also think, gosh darn it, they need to know we care.

An Unusual Occurrence

So there I was, quietly standing in Lobby 10, queuing to buy myself and a few friends advance tickets to Neil Gaiman’s forthcoming speech at MIT, when a strange odor proturbed onto my awareness. “That’s odd,” thought I, “it smells like backstage at my high school’s auditorium. [snif snif] Or the bathroom at Quiz Bowl state finals. . . And it’s not even 4:20. Something very unusual is going on, here on this university campus.”

I became aware of a, well, perhaps a presence would be the best way to describe it: the sort of feeling which people report when their temporal and parietal lobes are stimulated by magnetic fields. Something tall and imposing was standing. . . just. . . over. . . my. . . right. . . shoulder! But when I turned to see, I saw nothing there.

Feeling a little perturbed, I bought my tickets and tried to shrug it off. Not wanting to deal with the wet and yucky weather currently sticking down upon Cambridge, I descended the nearest staircase and began to work my way eastward through MIT’s tunnel system, progressing through the “zeroth floors” of the classroom and laboratory buildings, heading for Kendall Square and the T station. Putting my unusual experience in the ticket queue out of my mind, I returned to contemplating the junction of physics and neuroscience:

“So, based on the power-law behavior of cortical avalanches, we’d guess that the cortex is positioned at a phase transition, a critical point between, well, let’s call them quiescence and epileptic madness. This would allow the cortex to sustain a wide variety of functional patterns. . . but at a critical point, the Wilson-Cowan equations should yield a conformal field theory in two spatial dimensions. . . .

“But if you reinterpret the classical partition function as a quantum path integral, a field theory in 2D becomes a quantum field theory in one spatial and one temporal dimension. And the central charge of the quantum conformal field theory is equal to the normalized entropy density. . . so we should be able to apply gauge/gravity duality and model the cortex as a black hole in anti-de Sitter spacetime —”

Suddenly, a tentacle wrapped around my chest, and constricted, and pulled, and lifted — not up, but in a direction I had never moved before. Like a square knocked out of Flatland, I had been displaced.
Continue reading An Unusual Occurrence

Transhuman Science Begins Today?

A while back, we noted an interesting exchange which Neil Shubin had with Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report.

COLBERT: If I used to be a fish, and then I was a monkey, and now I’m a man, then what’ll be next?

SHUBIN: That’s a good question, ’cause we humans are actually now controlling our own evolution. So, if you’re worried about steroids in baseball now, come back in twenty-five years, because our technologies are fundamentally going to change our bodies. It’s gonna change how we work; medications are going to change how our bodies actually function and so forth. So really I think if you come back, we’re going to be sort of a product of technology and biology.

COLBERT: So you’re saying we’re wresting the steering wheel away from Darwin?

SHUBIN: I’m afraid with our ability to generate new technologies, essentially we are.

COLBERT: Can we turn ourselves back into fish? ‘Cause I’d love to be a shark.

These things have a way of becoming relevant sooner than we’d think. Bora Zivkovic and Jonathan Eisen report on an interesting and, for some, disturbing development from the National Institutes of Health:
Continue reading Transhuman Science Begins Today?


Ursula K. Le Guin’s review of Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence (2008) has, at least, convinced me to read a whole stack of Ursula K. Le Guin. I mean, how could I resist an author who says this?

Some boast that science has ousted the incomprehensible; others cry that science has driven magic out of the world and plead for “re-enchantment”. But it’s clear that Charles Darwin lived in as wondrous a world, as full of discoveries, amazements and profound mysteries, as that of any fantasist. The people who disenchant the world are not the scientists, but those who see it as meaningless in itself, a machine operated by a deity. Science and literary fantasy would seem to be intellectually incompatible, yet both describe the world; the imagination functions actively in both modes, seeking meaning, and wins intellectual consent through strict attention to detail and coherence of thought, whether one is describing a beetle or an enchantress. Religion, which prescribes and proscribes, is irreconcilable with both of them, and since it demands belief, must shun their common ground, imagination. So the true believer must condemn both Darwin and Rushdie as “disobedient, irreverent, iconoclastic” dissidents from revealed truth.