September 25, 2006

We're Just On Loan

Category: Science And Technology — Cranky @

Each of us is composed of about 59 elements. At the very top of the list are the basics: Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, and Calcium. For the average 70 kilogram person, it breaks down something like this:

Oxygen 43 Kg
Carbon 16 Kg
Hydrogen 8Kg
Nitrogen 1.8Kg
Calcium 1.0Kg

There follows a long list. Bringing up the rear is Tungsten, at 20 micrograms. We even have 200 micrograms of gold in each of us. We might be able to melt down 140,000 people and make $570US.

When we were conceived, each of us began life with the bare essentials, supplied by our parents. They donated their matter as egg and sperm. Then, as time went on, we accumulated the elements we needed through food ingested and processed by our mother. We grew and grew, and we locked in those atoms.

It’s almost like we exist by the agreement of these elements. They are cooperating to keep us in this living state. The universe has loaned us this matter, and in the very long run, it will reclaim it. These same atoms that are in our bodies are ancient. They have been witness to the long history of this planet – indeed, they are far older than the Earth – and they will continue to exist, unchanged, in whatever they agree to do next.

Our lives and our bodies are very short-lived. The constituent elements are not. Some day the atoms that are in my body will be in the bodies of future generations. My body contains atoms that were once a part of dinosaurs. Indeed, atoms from the great scientists, philosophers and religious leaders – and psychopaths – may currently exist in me.


September 22, 2006

Fates of the Famous V

Category: Entertainment — Cranky @

Smokey Bear

In 1943 when the United States Forest Service needed a spokesperson to address campfire safety, they turned first to Bambi. A year later, when the draconian taskmasters at Disney unceremoniously pulled their star, the search for a new mascot began. In 1944 they found the perfect candidate – a bear named “Hotfoot Teddy” who had been burned in a forest fire.

The bear was perfect, but the name didn’t sing. When “Smokey Bear” was proposed as a pseudonym, the marketing team knew they had struck gold. With his unforgettable catchphrase, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!”, he became very famous, very quickly. The incredible volume of fan mail arriving daily prompted the U.S. postal service to give him his own zip code, number 20252.

In 1952 the Smokey Bear Act was passed by Congress, which took Smokey out of the public domain, allowing the government to retain control of their star. They treated him well, and for nearly forty years he remained at the forefront of fire prevention.

He married, and had a son named “Smokeout the Bear”. He was the picture of happiness, with health, home and work satisfying him. He was always ready to teach children, and he led by example, never straying even once from his wholesome image, until the day he died.

In 1995 Smokey Bear was shot to death while masturbating in a fireworks factory.


September 18, 2006

One Planet, One Life

Category: Science And Technology — Cranky @

A few nights ago I was lying in bed waiting for Mr. Sandman to make an appearance, when I realized I had a conceptual problem with regards to the history of DNA, the blueprints for life on earth.

I had been envisioning this unbroken history of DNA like a tree trunk, with branches representing species. Of course there’s a built-in flaw in this idea – many species evolve rather than become extinct. Branches are terminated, and clearly not every species merely terminates.

My epiphany was simple, yet instantly beautiful to me. You see, I think there is just one life on this planet.

Everything that we would consider to be alive has DNA, and our DNA is very similar from creature to creature. I think that this single life is composed of billions of tiny individual strains of DNA all interacting. The history of life is the history of DNA. As it has evolved, it has created and discarded countless variations on itself, but at any given moment, life was in a single state. Life is “all current strands of DNA”, of which each of us is one.

When viewed this way, natural selection becomes a way for DNA, and thus this single life, to improve itself. If all of the individual strands of DNA that are rabbits vanish, then the varieties of DNA that depend on rabbits – foxes, for instance – must adapt or vanish as well. All varieties of DNA depend on some other variety of DNA for food, and so life in total sustains itself from the energy found within the planet, and that which radiates from the sun. It is interdependent in the extreme, and changes in one variety of DNA can have far reaching consequences.

So everything that lives on this planet is a part of this single life, this current state of DNA. Life is a mesh – a vast network of interacting discrete parts. We are cells in the organism, if you will, and we are not any more evolved than any other part of the mesh. Every part has evolved for the same amount of time, and each is adapted for their current purpose.

Scientifically it makes sense. It’s an elegant idea. Philosophically speaking, many people say we are all connected. It’s not a new idea. I would go a bit further than that, though. I’d say we are one life.