BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES

Biology


BIOLOGY: SOME PERSONAL PERSPECTIVES

Section 1:

This section on biology makes no attempt to cover the field of biology, bring readers up-to-date with recent discoveries or deal in any systematic way with the history of this aspect of the world of wonders, this particular field of science. Readers will find here some personal perspectives that are of interest to me & which I draw on in my poetry. One of the major insights in biology, for example, in the modern biology of learning & memory, is that education, experience, and social interactions affect the brain. When a person learns something and then remembers it for a long time, it's because genes are being turned on and off in certain brain cells, leading to the growth of new synaptic contacts between the nerve cells of the brain. 

One of the explanations of why some forms of psychotherapy, of talk therapy, work, say, CBT, is that stable anatomical changes in the brain occur. We are now beginning to measure such changes with brain imaging.  If a person with obsessive-compulsive neurosis or depression undergoes psychotherapy and, if the treatment is successful in changing behavior, the treatment will cause a reversal in the biological, the brain, markers of these disorders. I have taken an interest in this aspect of biology due to the OCD and depression I have experienced in the last half century. They are aspects of my bipolar disorder.

Section 2:

I advise readers to go to this link which is my introduction to the biological sciences.:http://www.ronpriceepoch.com/BIOLOGICAL.html  I would also like to inform readers who come to this sub-section of my website that I have always been a generalist both as a student and as a teacher, a lecturer and a tutor. The subject of biology has been part of my study program now for more than 60 years: 1952 to 2015.   I have an extensive series of arch-lever files, and 2-ring binders in my study on many topics, many of the sciences, only one of which is devoted to biology. But biology is now a vast field of knowledge. That field can be sub-divided into: (1) the history and foundations of modern biology, as well as the following:

2.1 Cell theory
2.2 Evolution
2.3 Genetics
2.4 Homeostasis
2.5 Energy

3 Study and research

3.1 Structural
3.2 Physiological
3.3 Evolutionary
3.4 Systematic
3.5 Ecological and environmental

4 Basic unresolved problems in biology
5 Branches of biology
6 Bibliography and Further reading

Some of my files in other disciplines include the following: (a) psychology, (b) sociology, (c) media studies, (d) film studies, (e) history, (f) literature, (g) poetry, (h) creative writing, (I) anthropology, (j) Greek history, (k) Roman history, (l) interviews, (m) philosophy, (n) astronomy, (o) geography, (p) health, (q) historians, (r) fiction, (s) drama, (t) music, (u) art, (v) letters, (w) geology (x) botony (y) archeology, (z) publishing, (z.1) religion, (z.2) a wide range of religions and Baha’i topics: from animism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, to Baha'i history, writings, administration, inter alia.  Some of these files contain specific sub-topics which I have not placed on the above lists. I describe my filing, my information, system in several places on my website. I include this list here to indicate to readers my generalist orientation.  Readers wanting insights from specialists are advised to go elsewhere.

NEUROSCIENCE

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system. Traditionally, neuroscience has been seen as a branch of biology. However, it has become, by degrees, an interdisciplinary science that collaborates with other fields such as chemistry, computer science, engineering, medicine, linguistics, mathematics, genetics, and allied disciplines including philosophy, physics, and psychology. It also exerts influence on other fields, such as neuroeducation and neurolaw. The term neurobiology is usually used interchangeably with the term neuroscience, although the former refers specifically to the biology of the nervous system, whereas the latter refers to the entire science of the nervous system. For a review of neuroscience in the jounral Nature go to:http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v15/n10/index.html

Nature is a prominent interdisciplinary scientific journal. It was first published on 4 November 1869. It was ranked the world's most cited by the Science Edition of the 2010 Journal Citation Reports and is widely regarded as one of the few remaining academic journals that publishes original research across a wide range of scientific fields. Nature claims a readership of about 424,000 total readers. The journal has a circulation of around 53,000 but studies have concluded that on average a single copy is shared by as many as eight people.  For more go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_(journal)  For more on neuroscience go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroscience

CHEMICAL BIOLOGY

Nature Chemical Biology is an international monthly journal that provides a high-visibility forum for the publication of top-tier original research and commentary for the chemical biology community. Chemical biology combines the scientific ideas and approaches of chemistry, biology and allied disciplines to understand & manipulate biological systems with molecular precision. The journal publishes papers from the expanding community of chemical biologists, including contributions from chemists who are applying the principles and tools of chemistry to biological questions and from biologists who are interested in understanding and controlling biological processes at the molecular level.

This journal gives priority to studies that report significant conceptual or practical advances in any area where chemistry and biology intersect. The journal is primarily interested in basic research, especially those studies that report new chemical or biological tools or present significant new molecular-level insights into the mechanisms underpinning biological processes.  Additionally, because chemical biology approaches have broad utility for manipulating or engineering biological systems, the journal also considers manuscripts describing applied molecular studies at the chemistry-biology interface. Independent of the scientific area, this journal seeks to publish manuscripts that blend chemistry and biology in new ways, particularly those that provide major conceptual or methodological advances that are likely to open up innovative avenues of research in the field. The journal strives for a fair but comprehensive review process that emphasizes rigorous chemical and biological characterization. For more on this journal and its contents go to:http://www.nature.com/nchembio/authors/index.html#aim

MICROBIOLOGY

Part 1:

Microbiology is the study of microscopic organisms, those being unicellular (single cell), multicellular(cell colony), or acellular (lacking cells). Microbiology encompasses numerous sub-disciplines including virology,mycology, parasitology, and bacteriology. Eukaryotic micro-organisms possess membrane-bound cellorganelles and include fungi and protists, whereas prokaryotic organisms—which all are microorganisms—are conventionally classified as lacking membrane-bound organelles and include eubacteria and archaebacteria. Microbiologists traditionally relied on culture, staining, and microscopy. However, less than 1% of the microorganisms present in common environments can be cultured in isolation using current means. Microbiologists often rely on extraction or detection of nucleic acid, either DNA or RNA sequences. For more on microbiology go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microbiology  For a review of 2 new books: (i) Life’s Engines: How Microbes Made Earth Habitable by Paul G. Falkowski(Princeton University Press, 200 pages); and (ii) A New History of Life: The Radical New Discoveries About the Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth by Peter Ward and Joe Kirschvink (Bloomsbury, 400 pages) go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/jul/09/how-


Hubristic humans should heed the boom-and-bust vision of Peter Ward & Joe Kirschvink's book. The vision is a grand synthesis of all that is known about evolution.  The most brilliant innovation in the history of our planet was also the most catastrophic. Some 2.4 billion years ago, a microbe evolved to extract energy from sunlight. That chemical reaction exploited the abundance of carbon dioxide in Earth's early atmosphere. As greenhouse gas levels fell, our planet became a great snowball, enduring a mass extinction from which our young world barely recovered. This cycle of boom and bust is typical of life on Earth. In fact, mass extinction is one of life's only constants, as Peter Ward and Joe Kirschvink show in A New History of Life. The other constant, counteracting life's destructive exuberance, is that "times of crisis promote new innovation". Each of us is "the descendant of survivors tempered by catastrophe and quenched by time", they say. For more go to: http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/a-new-history-of-life-9781608199075/ and to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/jul/09/how-you-consist

Part 2:

In 1609 Galileo Galilei turned his gaze, magnified twentyfold by lenses of Dutch design, toward the heavens, touching off a revolution in human thought. A decade later those same lenses delivered the possibility of a second revolution, when Galileo discovered that by inverting their order he could magnify the very small. For the first time in human history, it lay in our power to see the building blocks of bodies, the causes of diseases, and the mechanism of reproduction. Yet according to Paul Falkowski’s Life’s Engines: "Galileo did not seem to have much interest in what he saw with his inverted telescope. He appears to have made little attempt to understand, let alone interpret, the smallest objects he could observe." A microorganism is a microscopic living organism, which may be single celled or multicellular. The study of microorganisms is called microbiology, a subject that began with the discovery of microorganisms in 1674 by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, using a microscope of his own design.

LIFE ON US

SBS ONE TV in Australia continues to air new and compelling Australian commissioned science documentaries to the Sunday-night line-up as part of its science season. Life on Us is a two-part doco about an unexplored planet in the solar system, and it aired on 27/4/'14 and 4/5/'14 from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. That planet is the human body.  It's a strange world of bizarre creatures locked in a fight for survival. The human body is teeming with unknown ecosystems. Our bodies are home to a trillion cells that are not us - but are very much the making of us.

Bugs cling to our skin and grasp onto our hair. They live inside our gut, in our blood and even in our brain. They determine our health, body shape, mood and even our behaviour. We are super-organisms, part of an interconnected web of life. This hidden world is brought to life through fascinating personal accounts, breakthroughs in scientific insights and by the use of the latest imaging technologies. The series brings together scientists and a team of award-winning Australian and French filmmakers employing moving image electron microscopy and super macro filming techniques to make the invisible visible. 

THE BIOLOGY OF BEING GOOD TO OTHERS

In his review in The New York Review of Books(19/3/'15) entitled: "The Biology of Being Good to Others" H. Allen Orr reviews the book: Does Altruism Exist?: Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others by David Sloan Wilson(Yale University Press, 200 pages. Orr writes: "Altruism may seem a good thing—unless you happen to be an evolutionary biologist. Then it may seem a mixture of a mystery and a curse. The reason isn’t hard to see. How could a ruthless process like Darwinian natural selection give rise to altruistic organisms, human or nonhuman, that act in ways that are costly to themselves and helpful to others? Darwin himself was aware of the difficulty and offered some tentative solutions, but it was during the twentieth century that altruism became the subject of nearly fetishistic attention among evolutionary biologists.

One imaginable solution is to deny that altruism really exists in nature or to claim that it’s so rare as to be unworthy of serious attention. Another solution is to construct clever theories that show how natural selection is actually expected to yield altruism. Such theories typically hinge on the level at which natural selection acts. Does it select for fitter organisms, or fitter genes, or populations, or species? Indeed the problem of altruism and the so-called levels-of-selection problem have become nearly inseparable. For more of Orr's review go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/mar/19/biology-being-good-others/?insrc=toc


THE BIOLOGY OF BELIEF

Part 1:

"I believe that the stresses of the increasing human population will be responsible for pushing us up another rung on the evolutionary ladder. We will, I believe, come together in a global community. The members of that enlightened community will recognise that we are made in the image of our environment, ie., that we are divine, and that we have to operate, not in a survival of the fittest manner, but in a way that supports everyone and everything on this planet."--Bruce H Lipton, The Biology of Belief.

Bruce H. Lipton's article "Nature, Nurture and Human Development" in the Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health(Vol. 16, No.2, Winter 2001) begins with the following abstract: "The role of nature-nurture must be reconsidered in light of the Human Genome Project's surprising results. Conventional biology emphasizes that human expression is controlled by genes, and is under the influence of nature. Since 95% of the population possess "fit" genes, dysfunctions in this population are attributable to environmental influences (nurture). Nurture experiences, initiated in utero, provide for "learned perceptions." Along with genetic instincts, learned perceptions constitute the life-shaping subconscious mind. The conscious mind, which functions around age six, operates independently of the subconscious. Conscious mind can observe and criticize behavioral tapes, yet cannot "force" a change in subconscious mind.

Part 2:

One of the perennial controversies that tends to evoke rancor among biomedical scientists concerns the role of nature versus nurture in the unfoldment of life (Lipton, 1998a). Those polarized on the side of nature invoke the concept of genetic determinism. They see this as the mechanism responsible for "controlling" the expression of an organism's physical & behavioral traits. Genetic determinism refers to an internal control mechanism resembling a genetically-coded "computer" program. At conception, it is believed that the differential activation of selected maternal and paternal genes collectively "download" an individual's physiologic and behavioral character.  Their biological destiny is, therefore, downloaded.  In contrast, those endorsing "control" by nurture argue that the environment is instrumental in "controlling" biological expression.

Rather than attributing biological fate to gene control, nurturists contend that environmental experiences provide an essential role in shaping the character of an individual's life. The polarity between these philosophies simply reflects the fact that those endorsing nature believe in an internal control mechanism (genes) while those supporting nurture mechanisms ascribe to an external control (environment). The resolution of the nature and nurture controversy is profoundly important in regard to defining the role of parenting in human development. If those endorsing nature as the source of "control" are correct, the fundamental character and attributes of a child are genetically predetermined at conception.

BIODIVERSITY and LINNAEUS

Carolus Linnaeus, who was born 306 years ago, on 23 May 1707, was the founder of modern systematics and taxonomy, the sciences of classifying and naming living things. Science has no holy books, but Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae comes close. Its tenth edition, published in Stockholm in 1758, was the starting point of zoological classification, and the binomial system for naming – one for the genus, e.g. Homo, and one for the species, e.g. sapiens – is still the norm. Linnaeus was also a talented taxonomist in his own right; many of the species he described without the aid of modern microscopes and molecular methods still stand. He was, you might say, a founding father of biodiversity studies.

Carl Linnaeus(1707-1778), also known after his ennoblement as Carl von Linné, was a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who laid the foundations for the modern biological naming scheme of binomial nomenclature. He is known as the father of modern taxonomy, and is also considered one of the fathers of modern ecology. Many of his writings were in Latin, and his name is rendered in Latin as Carolus Linnæus, and after 1761 as Carolus a Linné.

THE MENTAL LIFE OF PLANTS AND WORMS

Part 1:

"The Mental Life of Plants and Worms, Among Others," is an essay in The New York Review of Books on 13/4/'14 by Oliver Sacks. Oliver Wolf Sacks (1933-) is a British-American neurologist, writer, & amateur chemist who is Professor of Neurology at New York University School of Medicine. For more on Sacks go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Sacks I place the introduction to his essay here to provide what is, for me at least, a stimulating survey of a range of subjects and books dealing with aspects of biology.  This post could also be placed in the evolution, ecology or physiology sub-sections of this website.

"Charles Darwin’s last book, published in 1881," Sacks begins his essay, his review, "was a study of the humble earthworm. His main theme—expressed in the title, The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms—was the immense power of worms, in vast numbers and over millions of years, to till the soil and change the face of the earth. But his opening chapters are devoted more simply to the “habits” of worms."

Sacks continues: "Worms can distinguish between light and dark, and they generally stay underground, safe from predators, during daylight hours. They have no ears, but if they are deaf to aerial vibration, they are exceedingly sensitive to vibrations conducted through the earth, as might be generated by the footsteps of approaching animals. All of these sensations, Darwin noted, are transmitted to collections of nerve cells. He called these collections “the cerebral ganglia” in the worm’s head."

Part 2:

“When a worm is suddenly illuminated,” Darwin wrote, it “dashes like a rabbit into its burrow.” He noted that he was “at first led to look at the action as a reflex one,” but then observed that this behavior could be modified—for instance, when a worm was otherwise engaged, it showed no withdrawal with sudden exposure to light. For Darwin, the ability to modulate responses indicated “the presence of a mind of some kind.” He also wrote of the “mental qualities” of worms in relation to their plugging up their burrows, noting that “if worms are able to judge…having drawn an object close to the mouths of their burrows, how best to drag it in, they must acquire some notion of its general shape.” This moved him to argue that worms “deserve to be called intelligent, for they then act in nearly the same manner as a man under similar circumstances.”

For more of this essay, which serves as a review of the following books: (i) The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms: with Observations on Their Habits by Charles Darwin, London: John Murray (1881); (ii) Jelly-Fish, Star-Fish, and Sea-Urchins: Being a Research on Primitive Nervous Systems by George John Romanes, London: Kegan Paul, Trench and Co. (1885); (iii) Mental Evolution in Animals by George John Romanes, London: Kegan Paul, Trench and Co. (1883); (iv) In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind by Eric R. Kandel, Norton, 500 pages; (v) What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz, Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 200 pages; (vi) The Foundations of Ethology by Konrad Lorenz, Springer (1981); (vii) Behavior of the Lower Organisms by Herbert Spencer Jennings, Columbia University Press (1906); (viii) Cephalopod Behaviour by Roger T. Hanlon and John B. Messenger, Cambridge University Press, 250 pages; and (ix) An Introduction to Nervous Systems by Ralph J. Greenspan, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press--go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/apr/24/mental-life-plants-and-worms-among-others/?insrc=hpss

E.O. WILSON


I first read about E.O. Wilson’s 1975 book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis when I was teaching management studies at a college of technical and further education in Port Hedland Western Australia.  Along with The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins(1976), Sociobiology transformed my view of sociology and biology. As Wilson now expresses thirty-seven years later in the concluding pages of The Social Conquest of Earth, “History makes no sense without prehistory, and prehistory makes no sense without biology.” Whatever the specific arguments and ultimate merits of sociobiology, it saved me from an immersion in the social sciences without regard for the biological and physical sciences. Thank you, Professor Wilson.

At the time, back in the 1980s, I did not appreciate E.O. Wilson’s stature as one of the greatest biologists of the twentieth century. I soon came to learn that in 1967 he was coauthor with Robert H. MacArthur of The Theory of Island Biogeography, which remains a key work for conservation today. I then learned that Wilson was the world authority on ants.  I had never gone through a “bug phase” as a boy and never had any wish to be an entomologist.  I did begin, by stages from 1975 to the 21st century, to appreciate the elegance of his prose.  So E.O. Wilson was rapidly installed as one of the many intellectual heros in my pantheon.  Wilson was, for me, someone who contributed to the highest-level theory about the nature of humanity, engaged in fieldwork, analyzed data with meticulous erudition, and communicated to the layperson as effectively as to his scientific peers. Quite rightfully, he has been described as Darwin’s heir. For more on Wilson and his latest work go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jun/21/how-fit-eo-wilson-evolution/


RICHARD DAWKINS

Part 1:

Clinton Richard Dawkins(1941-) is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and author. He is an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, and was the University of Oxford's Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008. Dawkins came to prominence with his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, which popularised the gene-centred view of evolution and introduced the term meme. In 1982, he introduced into evolutionary biology the influential concept that the phenotypic effects of a gene are not necessarily limited to an organism's body, but can stretch far into the environment, including the bodies of other organisms; this concept is presented in his book The Extended Phenotype. 

For more on Dawkins go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Dawkins

The Extended Phenotype(Freeman, 307 pages, 1981) is a sequel, as I say, to The Selfish Gene. Although Dawkins has aimed his second book primarily at professional biologists, he writes so clearly that it could be understood by anyone prepared to make a serious effort. The Selfish Gene was unusual in that, although written as a popular account, it made an original contribution to biology. Further, the contribution itself was of an unusual kind. Unlike David Lack’s classic Life of the Robin – also an original contribution in popular form – The Selfish Gene reports no new facts. Nor does it contain any new mathematical models – indeed it contains no mathematics at all. What it does offer is a new world view.

Part 2:

Although the book has been widely read and enjoyed, it has also aroused strong hostility. Much of this hostility arises, I believe, from misunderstanding, or rather, from several misunderstandings. Of these, the most fundamental is a failure to understand what the book is about. It is a book about the evolutionary process – it is not about morals, or about politics, or about the human sciences. If you are not interested in how evolution came about, and cannot conceive how anyone could be seriously concerned about anything other than human affairs, then do not read it: it will only make you needlessly angry. For more of this review go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v04/n02/john-maynardsmith/genes-and-memes

THE BRAIN

Part 1:

Michael Mosley studied philosophy, politics and economics at the New College, Oxford before working for two years as a banker in the City of London. He then decided to move into medicine, intending to become a psychiatrist, studying at the Royal Free Hospital Medical School. However, he became disillusioned with psychiatry, and joined a trainee assistant producer scheme at the BBC.  Many people can identify a turning point in their career or life, perhaps determined by a chance meeting or a favourable situation.  For Michael Mosley the driving force behind his change of direction was not the subtle cogs of fate but a conscious decision to leap, almost blindly, from a promising medical career into the world of media.

I found these words, by Beth Chapman from the internet site BMJ Careers, provided an excellent overview of Mosley’s life. These words were also not a bad statement of my own experience.   I, too, have leaped all over the place from country to country, state to state and town to town in a set of jobs too long to list here---perhaps part of my Baha’i pioneering-travelling mentality.  I will not list all of the programs Mosley has presented and produced. Tonight I watched his Inside the Human Body: Building Your Brain(1)---the story of the maturation of the human brain from birth to the age of 20. -Ron Price with thanks to (1) WIN TV, 8:30-9:30 p.m. 7 July 2011.

Part 2:

If you stretch your brain in adulthood
it will rise to the challenge--I was very
pleased to learn and to know---what I
had already experienced in this early
evening of my life in which learning has
come to be centre-stage after more than
35 years of teaching others......There are
more connections in the brain than there
are stars in the universe.........100 billion(1)
& so there are plenty of resources to do
the jobs I want them to do in these years
of late adulthood and old age----the years
from 60 to 80, and 80+, if I last that long &
only time will tell, Michael---and thank you!

Part 3:

(1)  A SIDE-TRIP INTO ASTRONOMY

This statement of 100 billion stars in the universe may have been an earlier calculation some decades ago. But in the last two decades the subject of the number of stars in the universe has become a quite complex subject which the following paragraphs will illuminate to some extent. According to astronomers, our Milky Way is an average-sized barred spiral galaxy measuring up to 120,000 light-years across. Our Sun is located about 27,000 light-years from the galactic core in the Orion arm of the Milky Way.  Astronomers estimate that the Milky Way contains up to 400 billion stars of various sizes and brightness. A few are supergiants, like Betelgeuse or Rigel.  Many more are average-sized stars like our Sun. The vast majority of stars in the Milky Way are red-dwarf stars; dim, low mass, with a fraction of the brightness of our Sun.

As we peer through our telescopes, we can see fuzzy patches in the sky which astronomers now know are other galaxies like our Milky Way. These massive structures contain sometimes more, and sometimes less, stars than our own Milky Way. There are also spiral galaxies out there with more than a trillion stars, and there are giant elliptical galaxies with 100 trillion stars. And, finally, there are tiny dwarf galaxies with a fraction of our number of stars. So how many galaxies are there?

Part 4:

According to astronomers, there are probably more than 170 billion galaxies in the observable Universe, stretching out into a region of space 13.8 billion light-years away from us in all directions.  
And so, if you multiply the number of stars in our galaxy by the number of galaxies in the Universe, you get approximately 10 to the 24 stars. That’s a 1 followed by twenty-four zeros. That’s a total of septillion stars. It’s been calculated that the observable Universe is a bubble of space 47 billion years in all directions. It defines the amount of the Universe that we can see, because that’s how long light has taken to reach us since the Big Bang.

This is a minimum value, the Universe could be much bigger.  But we just can’t ever detect those stars because they’re outside the observable Universe. It’s even possible that the Universe is infinite, stretching on forever, with an infinite amount of stars. So add a couple more zeros. Maybe an infinite number of zeroes. 
That’s a lot of stars in the Universe.

Ron Price
7/7/'11 to 28/6/'13.


The Story Of Science: What Is The Secret Of Life

Michael Mosley, a British journalist, producer and presenter. embarked on an informative and ambitious journey exploring how the evolution of scientific understanding was and is intimately interwoven with society's historical path. The Story Of Science: power, proof and passion tells the story of the forces that came together to create scientific knowledge, the practical business of making instruments and machines, and the great forces of history. Mosley weaves in the revolutions, the voyages of discovery and the artistic movements showing along the way the dogged determination of scientists and experimenters.(1) It was an immense pleasure to watch this programme, although I must confess to falling asleep by the end due to my medications for BPD. -Ron Price with thanks to (1)ABC1 8:30-9:30 p.m. 10 May 2011(BBC 2010).

Michael Moseley tells the story
of how the secret of life has been
unravelled through the prism of
the most complex organism that
we know: the human body....His
story begins with the attempts to
save the lives of the gladiators in
Rome; it unfolds with the macabre
work and the near-perfect drawings
of Leonardo da Vinci back-&-during 
the Renaissance, and it continues:(1)

.....through the idea of the 'life force' of
electricity, on to the microscopic world
of the cell.....It reveals how a moral crisis
was unleashed by work on that A-bomb,
and this helped trigger that breakthrough
in biology: understanding of the structure
&workings of life's master molecule: DNA
in that year, mirabile dictu: 1953 and that
start of the Kingdom of God on(2) Earth--
an incredible journey Michael, incredible!

(1) The Renaissance, from the Italian meaning "re-birth" and "to be reborn" was a cultural movement that spanned the period roughly from the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. Though availability of paper & the invention of metal movable type sped the dissemination of ideas from the later 15th century, the changes of the Renaissance were not uniformly experienced across Europe. For more go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Renaissance
(2) See Shoghi Effendi in God Passes By, Wilmette, 1957, p.351.

Ron Price
11/5/'11 to 6/12/'14. 


WONDERS OF LIFE(THE SOLAR SYSTEM)

Wonders of Life, with Brian Cox, recently debuted on BBC2 to much fanfare and anticipation, but also scepticism and concerns, particularly that a documentary fronted by a physicist that focussed on a biological subject would be flawed. This review shows that it is indeed unwise to assume you know what you're talking about when discussing an unfamiliar subject. Biology is, arguably, not as cool as physics. Everyone appreciates it, obviously, but pushing the boundaries of physics sounds impressive, whereas pushing the boundaries of biology sounds alarming (and possibly quite painful for those involved). People gasp at the sight of galaxies; they scream at the sight of blood. For more go to:http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/brain-flapping/2013/jan/29/wonders-of-life-confusing-overrated

No better is this love of physics illustrated than with the widespread popularity of physicist Professor Brian Cox, the people's smiley scientist. Amongst other things, Brian Cox has fronted two very successful science programmes for the BBC; Wonders of the Solar System, and Wonders of the Universe. The latest in the franchise is Wonders of Life, which debuted on BBC2 on Sunday the 27th of January 2013.

WONDERS OF LIFE(BIOLOGY)

Wonders of Life is a five-part television documentary series presented by physicist Professor Brian Cox. The series was produced by the BBC and the Chinese state television network CCTV-9.  The series began to be aired on 27 January 2013 on BBC Two, and on ABC1 in Australia five months later on 27/6/'13. 1.  Part 1 is entitled "What is Life?" Professor Brian Cox journeys to Southeast Asia to see how life began on Earth and how the flow of energy created and supports life.  In Part 2, the "Expanding Universe" Cox travels to the U.S. to showcase how the laws of science allowed senses to arise. For more details on this program-series go to: http://http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonders_of_Life_%28TV_series%29
I have placed this item in the physics and the biology sub-sections of this website since the subject matter is relevant to these two disciplines, as well as chemistry.

THE PENETRATION OF AN OVOCYTE BY A SPERM


For a sperm to penetrate an ovocyte it must pass through the corona radiate layer. Suddenly, a molecule on the head of the sperm becomes bonded to a protein in the zona pellucida layer of the ovocyte causing an acrosome reaction. I won't go into the fine detail leading to fertilization and the biological details after. Readers can acquaint themselves with these details at the following link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_fertilization


The entire purpose of the in utero life is preparation for transition or birth into a more expansive, a more complete and complex form of existence. It is my view that the entire purpose of this ex utero existence is preparation or birth into yet another more complete and complex form of existence. But this is to venture outside biology.

The Watch and the Watchmaker: Philosophy and Intelligent Design on "The Philosopher's Zone" 3 April, 2010, Radio National with Alan Saunders. Alan Saunders interviewed Elliott Sober.  Sober is the Hans Reichenbach Professor and William F. Vilas Research Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Sober is noted for his work in the philosophy of biology and the general philosophy of science. Part of the interview went like this:

Elliot Sober: I think there's room to believe in God and to think that evolutionary theory is a good scientific theory, the best we have now. One way to do this which is kind of obvious. The idea that needs to be remembered is that God starts the universe, he creates the universe, he creates the laws that will govern the universe, and then he mostly stands aside and lets natural processes play themselves out. This was the view that Darwin himself defends in The Origin of Species. Many people think that Darwin was an atheist....the official position described in The Origin of Species is that he's investigating these laws of nature that govern biology the way Newton was investigating the laws of nature governing physical objects and matter in motion. And in both cases it's emphasised that these laws must come from somewhere, and that's where God comes in.

There's a second way to reconcile belief in God with the theory of evolution, which is not as visible and perhaps not as obvious, but I think it's logically consistent, and let me emphasize. I'm not saying that it's true or that I believe it, but I'm mentioning it because I think it's an option that people who believe in God should consider.  It's the idea that there's more going on in the universe than evolutionary biology or science in general describes. And some of the things that go beyond what science is describing are acts of divine intervention. I don't personally believe that this is true, but I think someone who does believe that God at certain times in human history has intervened in human affairs, should realise that that's not inconsistent with scientific theories in physics or in biology. We have to be careful to distinguish a theory as being true, from its being complete. I think the theory of evolution is true, is that all there is? I don't think the theory says that.


TELEOLOGICAL BIOLOGY

The history of science is partly the history of an idea that is by now so familiar that it no longer astounds: the universe, including our own existence, can be explained by the interactions of little bits of matter. Scientists are in the business of discovering the laws that characterize this matter.  Scientists do so, to some extent at least, by a kind of reduction. The stuff of biology, for instance, can be reduced to chemistry and the stuff of chemistry can be reduced to physics.Thomas Nagel has never been at ease with this view. Nagel, University Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University, is one of our most distinguished philosophers.

Thomas Nagle's book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False presents readers with a teleological biology. This biology is heavily human-centric or at least animal-centric. Organisms, it seems to Nagel, are in the business of secreting sentience, reason, and values. Real biology, though, says the reviewer of this book, H. Allen Orr, in his article in The New York Review of Books, "Awaiting a New Darwin" February 7, 2013, looks little like this and, from the outset, must face the staggering facts of organismal diversity. There are millions of species of fungi and bacteria and nearly 300,000 species of flowering plants. None of these groups is sentient and each is spectacularly successful. Indeed mindless species outnumber we sentient ones by any sensible measure (biomass, number of individuals, or number of species; there are only about 5,500 species of mammals). More fundamentally, each of these species is every bit as much the end product of evolution as we are. The point is that, if nature has goals, it certainly seems to have many and consciousness would appear to be fairly far down on the list. For more on this view of biology go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/feb/07/awaiting-new-darwin/?page=1

THIS SECTION IS TOO COMPLEX

The Human Genome Project (hgp) can be looked on as an attempt to ground explanation of the phenotype in terms of an efficient cause rooted in a gene.  While the universe can ultimately, perhaps, be explained by quantum fluctuations being computed through the laws of nature, the origin of life remains a mystery. The ground-clearing exercise refers to coincidences that motivate the cosmological anthropic principle, before raising an alert about the possibility of similar thermodynamic laws facilitating the emergence of life. Life itself seems to involve symbolic operations that can be described by the grammatical rules within tightly defined limits of complexity. The nascent field of biosemiotics has extended this argument, often in a Peircean direction. Yet, even here, the task involved needs to be specified. Is the organism creating proteins to launch an immune counter-attack? Alternatively, is a pluripotent stem cell generating an entire organism? We consider what these separate tasks might look like computationally.

To say Biology is in “crisis” is, paradoxically, a complement. It is to state that the discipline has progressed to the point where contradictions between its putative founding principles, actual practices, and results are apparent enough to suggest salutary root-and- branch reform.
A first stumbling-block is the nature of causal explanation in biology. Refugees from the informational sciences tend to think only in terms of Aristotle’s “efficient cause”. Wiser heads have pointed out that the final, teleological cause was necessary as an explanatory gambit for explaining the role of the heart in the circulation of the blood; similarly, the role of whole-properties associated with entities like the cell,
echoing Aristotle, has given rise for about a half-century to the notion that organization might itself be a cause in the matter.

The new field of bioemiotics stresses that with the advent of life comes also the existence of codes that are by definition not informationally dependent on the appearance of their carrier. The strong biosemiotics position is that biology is above all about communication. The cell is a semiotic system with genotype, phenotype, and ribotype. The basic processes in life are coding and copying. The basic processes in evolution are natural selection and natural convention. Semiosis is defined by “coding”, not interpretation. Signs and meanings are codemaker-dependent. They are nominable, that is they can be specified by naming their components in their natural order. Rna and proteins also are codemakerdependent. The translation apparatus is a semiotic system.

METAPHOR’S DANCE

The dream-web of myth has fallen away; modern man has emerged from ancient consciousness like a butterfly from its cocoon, or like the sun at dawn. The great coordinating mythologies of the past are now known as lies. The problem today is one of rendering the modern world spiritually significant in scientific terms.  Science and religion need to walk hand-in-hand.  A transmutation of the whole social world is necessary so that through every detail of secular life the vitalizing image of the universal god-man who is effective in all of us may be somehow made known to consciousness. -With appreciation to Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Princeton UP, 1949, NY, pp.387-389.

This vitalizing image of my universal god
that fills every atom of existence with a
richly allusive, poetic imagery, a metaphor,
a drama, for my path of spirituality, with
this man-god, this life, these words, at
one remove from what I see here...and
unlocking a meaning......I must turn the
key to open the door of an autonomy of
spirit in this world of people and, like the
butterfly, fly free in the light to suck yet
again the nectar of life on a flight-path
carved out by destiny, biology and fate:
slowly, meticulously, wittingly, and even
methodically, until death removes all the
colour, the form & the dance of this life.

Ron Price
30 September 1996 to 10 July 2011


LET THERE BE LIGHT

In the third verse of the Book of Genesis we can read of God saying: "Let there be light!" Until the slow and complex evolution of the eye, and particularly the cornea, this light could not be the transmitting medium for any living thing to view the world. A convenient beginning point for the beginnings of sight is the Cambrian explosion of some 550 million years ago when the 'monopolizing grip of the algae was broken'
-Ron Price, Textbook of Modern Biology, Atlas of Anatomy and Cosmos by Carl Sagan.

We were blind until that great explosion
when life's new burgeoning produced
some of the earliest stages of cornea's
half mm thick, five-layered pack humours
and that marvellous mix of rods & cones
after three billion years of darkness...Yes
light transmitted to an inner being, and the
world seen at last, after endless bacteria &
algae, granular protoplasm. Receptors in
molluscs: squids & octopuses, arthropods
with their mosaic of lenses &, then, those
breathtaking adaptations in rapid succession,
exquisite organic molecules in that elaborate
machinery of the cell, its labyrinthine & subtle
architecture and nucleic acids slowly refining
that mixed-focus lens, cornea: mirabile dictu!

Ron Price
29 May 1998
to 10 July 2011

UNDERSTANDING ADULTHOOD

It is difficult, if not impossible, to understand adulthood by projecting forward the issues that are salient in childhood or, a fortiori, in utero. What is most striking is the lack of predictability from in utero, from childhood to adulthood and adulthood to old age with regard to life outcomes. Childhood and early adulthood's successes and failures are simply not predictive. Developmental models are virtually all age-specific and their primary focus is on change and constancy in the life-span. There are a number of short-comings to developmental models of life-span studies, short-comings that have only begun to be studied empirically. Life-span studies in the last forty years following the lead of early twentieth century psychologists such as Charlotte Bühler (1933), Carl Jung(1933) and Erik H. Erikson(1959), among others are still in their first century.  Sub-fields of psychology, like psychogerontology, psychobiology and psychohistory, inter alia, have really only begun. The study of a life-span, then, which in some ways is what my autobiography is, is itself a new field. I feel very 'beginnerish' about the application of life-span studies to my autobiography even after more than 25 years of working on what has become a 5 volume 2600 page work.-Ron Price, Pioneering over Five Epochs, 25 May 2011.

ELEGANT AND UNLIKELY

On April 25th 1953 the science magazine Nature published the Watson and Crick double helix structure of DNA. The solution was elegant and the team an unlikely duo: an adolescent postdoc researcher and an elderly graduate student. Four days later Shoghi Effendi outlined the goals of the Ten Year Crusade to the 45th annual convention of Baha’is of the USA. The presentation was given by his wife: Ruhiyyih Khanum. Annual conventions in other countries also received their Ten Year Crusade goals in that same week. It was the start, arguably one of the starts, from a Baha’i perspective, of the Kingdom of God on earth. This, too, was an unlikely beginning for such a long-awaited event in history. This, too, was part of an elegant spiritual solution to the complex and thorny problems of history. –Ron Price with appreciation to Shoghi Effendi in Citadel of Faith, p.107 and Messages to the Antipodes, p.336.

The simplicity of the structural
complementariness of the two
pyrimidines and their corresponding
purines was a surprise even to them
because of the illumination it shed
on other problems especially heredity.

The simplicity of the structural
complementariness of the two
brancnes of the Baha’i order--
elected and appointed sides &
having its root in a Covenant
threw light on the entire system.

This discovery of the structure
of DNA marked a pivotal moment
in the entire history of science.

So, too, was April 1953 a pivotal
moment in the spiritual history
of humankind, but recognition
would come slowly, very slowly.

The most important biological
work in the century 1853-1953;
and my mother became part
of that Kingdom that year-'53.
It was a very, very big year!!*

Ron Price
14 July 2005 to 10 July 2011


NOBOKOV AND LEPIDOPTERY

Lepidoptery, the branch of science dedicated to the study of butterflies and moths, has its own legendary figures, and its history is both long and glorious. But for lepidopterists, as in fact for most entomologists, the light of celebrity seldom shines outside a narrow but passionate circle of scientists and collectors. Nobokov wrote: "Frankly, I never thought of letters as a career. Writing has always been for me a blend of dejection and high spirits, a torture and a pastime — but I never expected it to be a source of income. On the other hand, I have often dreamt of a long and exciting career as an obscure curator of lepidoptera in a great museum." For a review of the life of Vladimir Nabokov and a book Nabokov's Blues: The Scientific Odyssey of a Literary Genius, by Kurt Johnson and Steve Coates in The New York Times, 20/1/'00 at: https://www.nytimes.com/books/00/02/20/reviews/000220.20connift.html


What follows is a series of interviews with Ron Price about his writing and poetry.  Biology is only one of the subjects on which he writes.

INTERVIEW NO.2 WITH RON PRICE

This is the second of a series of more than two dozen interviews with Ron Price, a writer of poetry, who lived in Perth Western Australi when the interview took place. The first interview took place four months before this second one on a certain literary stage, at his home. Interviews like this are part of an ongoing dialogue that helps the writer of poetry to define the act, the process, the experience whereby poems seem to come from somewhere, from everything that ever happened, is happening and might happen and become available on a page. The interview also allows the reader to have a better understanding of just what the poet is trying to do and why he is trying at all.  Writing poetry helps define, express, shape the prayer of the human soul. The famous poet, Rainer Maria Rilke said this is the essence of poetry. Writing poetry is like a personal experience of deepening because it enables the poet to sustain his capacity for contemplation, a useful skill in a world of increasing velocity. This interview is, in some ways, a sort of biology of Ron's poetry. 

Some readers have a very fixed view of what constitutes poetry. In this day just about anything a person wants to call poetry is poetry. Some 20th-century literary theorists, relying less on the opposition of prose and poetry, focus on the poet as simply one who creates using language, and poetry as what the poet creates. The underlying concept and focus on the poet as creator is not uncommon, and some modernist poets essentially do not distinguish between the creation of a poem with words, and creative acts in other media such as carpentry. Yet other modernists see the very attempt of theorists and individuals generally to define poetry as misguided folly.  Readers are encouraged to get an excellent overview of the history and forms of poetry as well as the very definition and meaning of the subject at the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poetry


Questioner(Q): I’d like to continue our examination of just why you write poetry.

Price: We examined a number of reasons in that first interview, but one thing that I did not talk about sufficiently is the simple pleasure of writing and that it is an essentially democratic activity. So many people think of the act of writing poetry as distant or above them, as if it belongs in the territory of some elite group. This may have been true through most of history when so few people could read or write. But as education is spreading to more and more of the population of the globe, poetry is becoming more and more popular. It is a part of people’s lives, their souls, their pleasures. It is about their inner lives. We all have inner lives and we all need to put words around what happens there. Writing about our inner life allows us to get hold of this world, grasp who we are inside, at least to some extent. Also poetry is about saying the truth no matter what. It is difficult to be absolutely truthful in the public place where tact and a kindly tongue are crucial. You need some place where you can call a spade a spade. One does not write poetry for money, but to say what you might never say in everyday discourse. Poetry can strike through like lightening to plumb the depths of private or institutional life. There is a kind of heightened speech in poetic utterance. I find it keeps my thoughts and my experience fresh, like fresh fruit or vegetables. The world is more vivid, vital, alive. For me this is important because much of the world is also tiresome at the external, lived, level. Poetry is like a booster, a step-up transformer, to take me to my inner world and make it articulate. It combines and compresses the complexity and helps me understand it. You can see yourself having a conversation with yourself. It seems to create a special energy in the act of writing. Of course, what I say here is not true of everyone. Each person searches out their own forms of expression and meaning. I'm talking here about my own.

Q: Do you find something about the writing process that pulls you away from people?

Price: Yes and no. Yes in the sense that writing pulls me into a quiet space, a space that the first African American poet laureate, Rita Dove, said is part of my connectedness with my own history and the world’s. This quiet space is inhabited by me with fibers that lead everywhere in a multi-dimensional hookup. In this space I have total control and there’s an influence of souls, of spirits in ways that are essentially undefineable. But this process requires a withdrawal from the public space. It involves a savouring of experience, a tasting, a slowing down, a going down, a going in, into. Sometimes the writing, the experience, is quick and jazzy, sometimes slow and very simple. Poetry is something that comes, like an orgasm; you can only control the process to a point and then biology, or sociology, or some other ‘ology takes over. In the embroidery of poetry I define my life, my culture; the process is not a social experience, except tangentially. I explain myself to myself and, although this can be done in company and is, it can also be done by writing poems. And I do.

Q: There are some things which the garment of words can never clothe, as Baha’u’llah says. Does poetry have anything to say about this world of the unsayable?

Price: Carl Jung says there are some problems which are better left unsolved because they are at the core of life and give you the tests which keep you fine-tuned, so to speak. And as you say, life is full of things which words can not express. There are some longings, some loves that can’t be put into words. It’s like a divine discontent. But you try. You try to put words to the many paradoxes in life, the joy at the centre of grief for example. Laughter sometimes comes close; irony gets close to the bone and poetry can bring out both. I have not really developed these talents yet. They may not be in me to develop.  Life is pervasive, complex, inexhaustible. I’m a little like the ant which the poet, Coleman Barks, talks about. I don’t know what the anthill is doing but I plod away everyday with my job of writing poetry. The plodding gives me enough joy and pleasure to keep going and, when it doesn’t, I put it away and do something else. The ant can’t do this, victim of instinct that he is. But I certainly can, given my free choice. And I do.

Also, our culture is very noisey: TV, radio, hi-fis, cassette-tapes, talk-talk-talk, electronic and print media, a million poets with a billion things to say, etcetera, etcetera, exercise, sport, busy-busy-busy-go-go-go. Poetry is more of a stop-stop-stop, find some inner person, if you can, listen to the quiet voices if they’re audible above the din of channel 5. I’m rather of the opinion that many poeple, if they looked within for the Real Me, would get lost, would not know where to begin the exploration.

Q: Poetry can contribute to the withdrawal of a poet; can it contribute to his community participation?

Price: Yes, unquestionably. As Barks also points out poetry can be a way of being with your friends. It was for the poet Rumi. Poetry for him had something to do with community. And it has for me. All of my poetry I have sent to the Baha’i World Centre Library primarily because what I write is quintessentially community poetry. I define myself within the context of community. I don’t give poetry readings very often for several reasons, some of which I have already explained. But poetry does not have to be read outloud. If there was no Baha’i community I doubt very much if I would bother writing at all. For my whole identity is wrapt up with this community. If I did not have to earn a living I would probably write at least four or five poems a day. I don’t think I could keep the pace that Rumi did of twelve to fourteen poems a day. Stanley Kunitz says that poets are solitaries with a heightened sense of community. I like that way of putting it. Right now I am having personal difficulties with aspects of my Baha’i community life and it is causing me inner turmoil because this community is important to me. From time to time over what is nearly forty years of Baha’i community life I have had to withdraw from active involvement. I have always found aspects of this withdrawal uncomfortable, unhappy. But some of our keenest pain and grief arises out of our relationship with the Baha’i community itself. In many ways the Baha’i community represents one, or many, of the significant others in our lives.

The support and challenges I get from those around me: poets, non-poets, artists, a great tradition of writers and thinkers is an inspiration which carries me away from solitariness. Although I am often alone in a room, I have the company of a vast host of those who have passed on and those not yet born. It is very important for each of us to define that degree of sociability that is consistent with our needs and wants. Some are loners and some seem to need others around them more. I always liked Baudelaire systhesis of these two tendencies: he talked about peopling his solitude and being alone in a busy crowd. The poet, the writer, the creative person, all of us, must make decisions here. Although the Cause provides broad parameters that help us decide we each must work them out individually. I am part of a great stream, a river, of life; a river that is full of meaning, richness and life. The stream, the river, is the same for all of us but we are each different parts.

Rivervale WA
18 May 1996


The following links will provide more interview material and issues IN RELATION TO BIOLOGY AND SCIENCE---and much else:

http://www.online-literature.com/forums/showthread

http://www.sciencechatforum.com/viewtopic


http://www.theforumsite.com/forum/topic/ONE-OF-THE-GREATEST-PUZZLES

http://ezinearticles.com/?An-Interview-with-Ron-Price

http://www.poetrycircle.com/index

http://www.scribd-Interview-With-Australian-Canadian-Poet-and-Baha-i-Ron-Price

http://bahai-library.com/price_autobiography_poetry_interviews

WILDERNESS

I entreat Thee by Thy footsteps in this wilderness, and by the words “Here am I. Here am I” which Thy chosen Ones have uttered in this immensity.....-Baha’u’llah, Long Obligatory Prayer, Baha'i Prayers.

For without a wilderness ethic the modern American was in serious danger of turning into an overcivilized man, who has lost the great fighting, masterful virtues.-James Bishop Jr., Epitaph for a Desert Anarchist: The Life and Legacy of Edward Abbey, Atheneum, NY, 1994, p.220.

The wilderness we face today
is both external and internal.
We need to work out an ethic
of biological survival and learn
to live with our own small selves.

To see ourselves as sinking like
a stone, or a tree, so motionless,
under the wings of imagination,
looking down at ourselves through
the eyes of a bird......and watching
ourselves becoming smaller in the
receding landscape, by a twinkling
campfire, as the bird rises into the
evening air....far above this land of
sand and water, bitumen, cars and
a million houses....a million streets.

Perhaps, then, we could see ourselves,
our groaning and our wailing, and our
lamentation, our trespasses, and our
separation, our remoteness, our very
tribulations, our shame-covered faces,
our cup of woe, our chalice of adversity,
vexed with trials, our melted hearts, our
anguish, our sorrows, our wilderness:
maybe, then, we could learn how to be
enraptured with His sweet melodies, &
maybe, then....restless waves surging
within our hearts in our many yearning
moments towards Him could teach us
how to live in this our wilderness which
is more wondrous in its wild beauty, more
awesome: closer to us than our life’s vein.(1)

Ron Price
4 May 1999 to 7 July 2011

(1) This last stanza drew on two passages in Baha’u’llah’s, Prayers and Meditations,USA, 1969(1938)), pp.61-62 and pp.69-70.