I am a science nerd extraordinare, and am somewhat of a compulsive teacher, so for anyone who has any curiosities whatsoever - how does something work, what does a scientific concept really mean, what the hell is a dimension, that kind of stuff, or anything really. I study everything, and I enjoy flexing the curiosity muscle as much as possible, so consider me your Q&A guru forever more. No question too big, no question too small.

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Comment by John Camilli on January 6, 2011 at 8:59pm

Yeah, I hear you. I have the same issue attributing credit to any one person in particular. In fact, the main ideas in Gould's and Eldredge's theory was precipitated by a guy named Mayr, but then all scientific ideas are like that. Nobody starts with nothing, so I don't put much stock in giving credit to anyone. I'm quite bad with remembering names and dates because if this. I tend to focus on what was actually accomplished, rather than on who or when it was done.


I'll have to keep your friend's assertion in mind the next time I read Origins. It has been a while so I can't say for sure, but I was under the impression that Darwin specifically purported a gradual process. He didn't think the process was entirely smooth, but he thought the steps of change were small and steady

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on January 6, 2011 at 8:08pm

John  certainly agree both theories can coexist. Just not sure whether Gould deserves credit. Dont know of Eldredge. I never finished Origin. Erstwhile friend who superexamined origin said it is in there. What do i know about the restaraunt business? So what if I finished Beagle and bailed on origin.

I can go on without aknowing and if n i cnnot so what-mechanistic claptrap bopeep.

Comment by John Camilli on January 6, 2011 at 7:54pm

Glen, that was Gould and Eldredge (had to look that one up to be sure). Darwin purported that evolution happened gradually, rather than in leaps and bounds, which became a major criticism to his theory because fossil records at the time did not show gradual change. He was able to avoid the criticism for a while because fossil records were still pretty sparse, but after another 100 years and lots more fossils, the leaps and bounds theory has gained acceptance. Darwin's idea is not completely discounted though because we have also found some examples of gradual change. I don't see any reason why both theories can't be right.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on January 6, 2011 at 7:13pm
Ok John that added to my understanding or at least part of the answer was plausible. Do you know whether the idea of punctuated equilibrium is in "origin" or was it Gould's idea?
Comment by John Camilli on January 6, 2011 at 5:09pm

Rachel, I used to have the same thing happen with a gf of mine. She liked the water so hot it would make me yelp. At the time, I concluded that it was because she was from India and was used to things being hotter in general, but now I think that's probably not the right explanation. I suspect instead that is has to do with a person's metabolism and body fat. How much fat they have padding their nerve endings, how many nerve endings they have, and their heart rate.


If your heart rate is fast, your blood will be hotter because it has had less time to cool down before it got to your heart and was warmed up again. That would accustom you to more external heat because there is already more heat near those nerves in your dermis and nerves become entolerated to steady stimuli.

If your body fat is higher than his (women naturally do make more body fat than men), you will also be less susceptible to heat because of that. There are more nerve endings and nociceptors in muscle than in fat, so muscle is more sensitive to pain.

Comment by John Camilli on January 6, 2011 at 4:54pm

Well, Glen, that's an interresting case, to be sure. You could make an argument for natural selection or for vitalism there, although again in this case they are intertwined:


One could say that because the eyes are not being used, they wither and eventually disappear, the same way muscles atrophy. But one could also say that natural selection worked there because the eyes provided no advantage, and those offspring without properly working eyes required less energy to survive, or their nutrients were able to go to other parts of the body, making them stronger. So you could say they lost their sight because the eyes were not excersized, or because they were in the way and ate up too much energy. We would have to discern what telltale signs either process would leave in the system and see if we could find those markers in order to confirm which was the cause, or the predominant cause, since it could be a mixture of both.


Darwin had another tricky conundrum involving ants. He found some species of ants in which certain members of the colony fattened themselves up so that, when nutrients were scarce, the other ants could literally feed off of them. He could not explain how this would result from natural selection because those members of the colony did not breed, so did not pass on their genes, and their service made them poor survivors anyway, to be sure, even if the rest of the colony could survive better because of them. Now we know that the genes for such members of ant colonies are recessive and are carried by the reproducing members, the survival of which the fat ants facilitate. Not the case with cave species losing their sight, certainly, but it shows how a convoluted process can result in some very strange attributes that otherwise seem counter-intuitive.

Comment by Rachel Williams on January 6, 2011 at 4:08pm
Here's something I've wondered about. I like hot showers and my bf says the water is so too hot and feels like it is burning him. Why are some people more intolerant of hot/cold water than others?
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on January 6, 2011 at 3:57pm

John I should not say good answer simply because it is similar to my own answer, should I? What do you make of cave dwellers which lose their vision?

Comment by John Camilli on January 6, 2011 at 3:38pm

Richard, you mentioned that someone equated the belief in higher dimension to a belief in God. This is certainly an interresting conclusion. I'm sort of guessing at how they reached that idea, but this is what I would say if my guess is correct:


They are probably equating it to God because dimensionality encompasses concepts of reality that are not directly obvious to human senses. He or she probably envisions God as all things beyond direct human experience. The conclusion is not sound because no one has ever provided a logical proof for why God must exist, at least not one that is scientifically de rigueur. There is no accepted proof that ends with "...and therefore God must exist." Some people have tried - Moore, Aquinas, Ansel, etc. A few are here: http://www.saintaquinas.com/philosophy.html but they have all been shot down. There are, however, proofs that end with something like '...and therefore, 26 difference  dimensions of interraction must exist,' or something like that. In fact, Hawking's new book is a good explanantion of all this. I doubt the person would read it, but you never know, so try recommending it to them.


Basically, people have concluded the existence of other dimensions as necessary to reality working the way it seems to, but no one has concluded that God must exist for reality to work the way it seems. There's a big difference.

Comment by John Camilli on January 6, 2011 at 3:11pm

Glen, your evolution question truly is a mouse trap, lol.


Unfortunately for Lamarck, genetics was yet to be conceived when he postulated his theory of vitalism, so he was a little short-sighted. He was not aware of the durability of the genetic information passed on from parent to offspring, so he weighed the parent's activities in life much more heavily than he should have. That is not to say that his theory is invalid. There is plenty of evidence today that the activities of the parents can effect the genes of their offspring, and sometimes very directly (think of a crack baby). However, most of the time our activities do not alter our genetics so overtly as something like concentrated chemicals can, and in Lamarck's time especially, chemical refinement was still a fledgling science. with few exceptions, our genes are a re-mixture of our parents genes, and their parent's genes, and their parents, and their parents, and on all the way back to the primordial goo, regardless of what any of them did in life.


For the most part, a human's activities have very little effect on their genetic information. Everything has some effect, directly or indirectly, but vitalism purported that our actions or innactions in life are the primary cause of differentiation, which is over-stating things. I would not say that natural selection and mutation are the only things that effect species differentiation though. Vitalism is certainly a part of it, and considering that our action or innaction is part of what gets us selected or left out, the two ideas are really intertwined. That's why I say it's a mouse trap, heh heh. Good question.

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