Monday, April 23, 2007

Josh's New and Hot (week 4) - The Brain! and a book review.

Click here for the article.

Scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) have recently discovered that the centralized (spelled {centralised: in the UK!) nervous system is actually quite a lot older than we previously thought. It sounds like the past concensus was the vertebrates and invertebrates had vastly differing nervous systems. Vertebrates have a spinal cord running along their back. The living fossil Platynereis dumerilii (annelid worm) that EMBL was studying have a rope-ladder-like chain of nerve cell clusters running along their belly, while many other invertebrates have their nerve cells distributed diffusely over their body.

Researchers at EMBL compared the molecular fingerprint of Platynereis nerve cells with those of vertebrates. The findings reveal that these fingerprints were very similar. Gáspár Jékelyuch said, "A complex arrangement could not have been invented twice throughout evolution, it must be the same system" which means that "Platynereis and vertebrates have inherited the organisation of their CNS from their remote common ancestors."

Once again, we have more scientific proof that all living things are basically related. For many religious people this represents a huge stumbling block: How can humanity be considered the apple of God's eye when so much evidencing is mounting that we are not unique? As science progresses, the great mysteries of human distinction like "personality", "beauty", and, with this discovery, the brain and "thought" are slowly being understood. The very things that make Homo Sapiens human is now explained by empirically, and, as it turns out, we aren't as special as we thought. What a blow to our hubris!

On the other hand, this close relation to other creatures is understandably scary since it could be dehumanizing humanity. If we really are as closely related to the animals as we think, what is the point of kindness, compassion, and mercy? Are they merely social institutions that are keeping us from our ultimate animal goal to propagate our species by whatever means necessary? These are difficult things to grapple with. The controversy over the blurring of these lines is clearly seen in cases such as this in Spain where an ape is being considered a candidate for human rights. Things are getting really sticky.

Also, check out my book review of Aydon's biography of Darwin.

And now, in the spirit of our class, I'll gladly insert a bit of levity. Enjoy!!

Evolution of Homer

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