Friday, July 21, 2006

David Deutsch

David Deutsch, who teaches physics at Oxford, laid the groundwork for current research on quantum computation. That alone is kind of interesting. But what really caught my attention was an entry he wrote almost a year ago (on my birthday, incidentally) in his blog. He takes to task a BBC report claiming that "A team from James Cook University in Australia reports that the tiny coral reef goby lives a frantic existence to avoid becoming extinct." It's well worth reading.

His home page, by the way, contains links to stuff involving Karl Popper and Richard Dawkins, so it's hard for me not to like the guy just on that alone.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Ecology and evolution

I decided almost a year ago that I wanted to specialize in the rhetoric of science. The question, then, becomes, which science?

Evolutionary biology has always been a major interest of mine. I've been a fan of Stephen Jay Gould's work since I was about eleven. But I'm also fascinated by the implications of quantum mechanics. Unfortunately, I don't have the math I need to speak the language of quantum mechanics, and I don't kid myself into thinking I can truly understand it just by reading the popular works about it.

I've kind of fallen into the work of Pasteur and Lavoisier, even though I don't consider it in my primary area. I could stick with chemistry, but I'm not sure I want to.

I'd been thinking lately about ecology, and especially its connection with evolution. At first, there didn't seem to be much of a connection (except in the sense that everything is connected). Then I read something pointing out that the theory of evolution is essentially an ecological theory. Ecology is the study of how organisms interact with their environments; natural selection explains how organisms adapt to these environments.

Scott Sampson, a Canadian paleontologist, seems to feel even more strongly about this connection than I do: "To my mind, of the many diverse concepts within science, the two most in need of broad understanding are ecology and evolution. These revolutionary ideas--actually flipsides of the same coin--are the unifying themes of all the natural sciences" (Intelligent Thought 220-221).

Fortunately, we're not alone in seeing a connection. The University of Minnesota puts both of these disciplines in the same department: Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior. They offer a minor that seems fascinating: Quaternary paleoecology. I'm not sure yet if I can minor in that, or if I want to, but it certainly seems worth looking into.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Another book recommendation

Intelligent Thought : Science versus the Intelligent Design Movement, by John Brockman. Sixteen essays that remind me of why I'm so glad to be moving away from Kansas.

Seriously, the intelligent design movement is very strong here, and I find that frustrating.