27 August 2011


The editors of Seed Magazine online posed this question to eleven scientists (their disciplines ranging from evolutionary biology, neurology, and astrophysics to mathematics, political science, and international relations) ~ "If you only had a single statement to pass on to others summarizing the most vital lesson to be drawn from your work, what would it be?" Here are their answers. I find the responses of Paul R. Ehrlich, Enric Sala, and George Sugihara to be the most compelling, but that's my bias as an ecologist and evolutionary biologist.

Seed's survey was prompted by physicist Richard Feynman's speculation ~ "If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generations of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words?" It is a wonderful, dreadful challenge, one which I invite the gentle reader to take up. Think about your life experience, your training, your worldview, all that you've learned over the years, and try to sum it all up in one concise, cautionary statement. I welcome you to share your thoughts using the "comments" prompt below.

My own thought runs something like this ~ "Plan ahead, far ahead, and do not allow your numbers or your behaviors to outrun the ability of your environment to sustain them." For me this embraces not only runaway industrial activity or the quest for wealth and power, it also embraces the root cause of nearly any problem which humans face ~ our own overpopulation. Our numbers are currently approaching 7 billion (that's 7,000,000,000) globally. It's fair to say that the earth could sustain roughly one-tenth of that number indefinitely, while safeguarding sufficient land, air, and water to allow all other species to flourish. Wilderness and wildlife have just as much right to exist as we do. In fact, all life forms and the traits of their environment are interdependent upon each other. We push other species to extinction at our own peril, such is the intricacy of the web of life.

On a more cheerful note, check out the PBS Nova episode titled Hunting the Hidden Dimension. You can view the entire 53 minute feature (summarized by the header, "Mysterious beautiful fractals (see image below, click to enlarge) are shaking up the world of mathematics and deepening our understanding of nature") by simply clicking on the "play" arrow. I love the portrayal of out-of-the-box thinking, ideas crossing disciplines, demystifying both math and science as we watch researchers try out new concepts and get blown away by the results. It happens that I am acquainted with two of the people who appear in the episode ~ ecologist James Brown, under whom I studied island biogeography at the University of Arizona in the 1980s, and science writer Jennifer Ouellette, whom I met at the social network Google+. Both individuals are dynamic and original thinkers ~ as are the others who appear in the feature. Click on the link and fasten your seatbelt, it's going to be a wild ride !


  1. Another interesting post!

  2. And thank you for your response ~ I value my readers' feedback more than you know. :)