Archive for biology

John Carpenter’s “Planaria”: or, The New Individualism

Sometimes you run into a concept that completely rewires your outlook. It happened for me back in the eighties, when I encountered the definition of “Life” in Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker: “Information, shaped by natural selection”. That concise distillation—an actual description of what life is, as opposed to all those tired and exception-prone checklists that […]

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What Dreams May Come.

Interrogating the Dream Anyone who caught my talk at Ratio back in 2017 might vaguely recall a curious claim: that the Human corpus callosum—that bundle of neurons connecting our cerebral hemispheres—has a bandwidth in the same ballpark as that of a modern cell phone, once you take noise correction and synaptic redundancy into account. I […]

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Batman.

“What’s the point in even having money if you can’t use it to buy better health care?” —Jonathan, my (late) brother, explaining whyhe renounced his Canadian citizenship I’ve been reading a lot about bats recently, in particular this review article from Nature. You can guess why, even if you haven’t hopped on the Batwagon yourself: […]

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The Viral Vasectomy: Covid’s Silver Lining.

“May we live long and die out.”—Motto of the Voluntary Extinction Movement We begin the new year with a glimmer of hope: Covid remains ascendant, and it might have ecological impacts far beyond what we first thought. I’m not talking about the obvious drop in carbon emissions. That was nothing, a mere blip: it didn’t […]

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N.K. Jemisin, Alpha Gal

…and picking right up from where we left off last week, some of you may remember an ancient post about the Lone Star Tick, whose bite can provoke a fatal hyperallergenic reaction to “alpha-gal” (galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose for the pedants in the audience), a monosaccharide found only in the meat of nonprimate mammals. You may remember cool […]

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The Sulfide Solution. (Also, Who Sent Me All These Wombats?)

Before we get started: does anyone know anything about these? They appeared on my doorstep a few days ago, from Australia. No card, no clue. They’re pretty awesome, but they’re also a bit suspicious: I keep remembering that giant wooden rabbit rolling up to the door of the Frawnsh Castle in Holy Grail. Who knows […]

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Extinction and the Reset Button

I’ve just finished reading The Re-origin of Species, by Torill Kornfeldt (2016 in the original Swedish). The English translation is just barely out in Australia and the UK; here in North America it’s slated for a November release. (I scored an early copy from a publisher eager for blurbs.) Re-origin is about the burgeoning de-extinction— […]

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Riding the Tiger: or, Flirting with the Antivaxxers.

[PreProda: Yeah, after some really enlightening discussion in the Comments section, I’m walking back about 90% of this post. But I’m leaving it posted both because the comments are so interesting, and as a kind of historical artefact to remind me of what happens when I don’t take the time to think things through.] [Proda: […]

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Arc Weld

“Language is a virus from outer space” —William S. Borroughs   Chest-thump to start off the year: Last year’s “ZeroS”, appearing in Jonathan Strahan’s Infinity Wars, made it into a couple of (late-breaking update: into three!) Year’s Best collections: Neil Clarke’s Best Science Fiction of the Year (Vol. 3), and another couple I hesitate to […]

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Dolphinese

This is how you communicate with a fellow intelligence: you hurt it, and keep on hurting it, until you can distinguish the speech from the screams. —Blindsight Believe it or not, the above quote was inspired by some real-world research on language and dolphins. Admittedly the real-life inspiration was somewhat less grotesque: scientists taught a […]

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