27 September 2010


HUMAN ASCENDANCY. In my Philosophy of Biology class, a quarter century ago, the professor suggested that the evolution of three traits accounts for the eventual rise to dominance of homo sapiens -- large brains (abstract thinking), bipedal posture and opposable thumbs (freeing our hands to use tools). There is, of course, much more to the story, and reading the thoughts of any evolutionary biologist -- Stephen J. Gould and Richard Dawkins are good starting pointa -- provides evocative insights into our development as a species.

A new study by anthropologist Pat Shipman introduces an intriguing hypotheses -- that the appearance of a symbiotic relationship between humans and animals (initially as hunter and prey, and currently reflected in our relationships with our pets) helps to explain the development of more sophisticated toolmaking, the development of language, and even the advent of art. I highly recommend Drake Bennett's article on Shipman's work -- whether you accept the premise or not (and not all scientists do), I suspect you will discover that Shipman's research will resonate, and provoke new avenues of thought. I've found that controversial ideas often provide the seeds for the transformation of our knowledge to new realms of understanding, and even new disciplines within science. This may be one such idea. Your cat, dog, horse or parakeet will likely agree.

Digestion. Speaking of science, I love the intro to this gee-whiz article -- "Science is inherently cool, but gross science is even better ... Using a combination of computer tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), scientists at Aarhus University in Denmark were able to visualize the entire internal organ structures and vascular systems of a Burmese Python digesting a rat." See the entire article for a series of images that record the digestive breakdown of said rat. Below is a picture of the entire snake at mid-digestion -- definitely click on the image to enlarge, then click again on the enlargement for fullest detail. Snakes are so damn cool !!

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