Links for 17th June 2009

Fresh from the clogged tubes of teh intarwubs…

  1. Gaia’s evil twin: Is life its own worst enemy?

    "A number of recent discoveries have cast serious doubt on the Gaia hypotheses. Two lines of research are especially damning: one comes from deep time – the study of ancient rocks – and the other from models of the future. Both overturn key Gaian predictions and suggest that life on Earth has repeatedly endured "Medean" events – drastic drops in biodiversity and abundance driven by life itself – and will do so again in the future."

    Tagged with: scienceGaiatheorybiologyearthnaturelifeMedea

  2. Could Life Be 12 Billion Years Old?

    "Better models and improved knowledge of the physics at work in early stars could change the picture somewhat, changing the timescales for the buildups of the elements and the interstellar environment they are born into.

    Of course, knowing which elements need to be present and whether or not they are won't answer the question of when life might have been able to spring forth. The elements must also collect in pools in significant enough amounts.

    "That final question is not only which elements, but what concentration do you build up locally?" Rothschild said.

    Once Rothschild comes up with estimates of the amounts of different elements likely required, she and Venkatesan can use models that estimate concentrations in galaxies and solar systems over time and see if they find any likely-looking spots for life to form."

    Tagged with: spacelifeevolutionchemistryastrophysics

  3. Why geeks can save the world

    "Which brings me back to Gates. He may be practically a social cripple, and may at times seem to lack human empathy. But he’s also a geek, and geeks are incredibly good at thinking in concrete terms about giant numbers. Their imaginations can scale up and down the powers of 10 – mega, giga, tera, peta – because their jobs demand it.

    So maybe that’s why he has an accurate understanding of mass disease in Africa. We look at the huge numbers and go numb. Gates looks at them and runs the moral algorithm: preventable death = bad; preventable death x one million people = one million times as bad.

    We tend to think that the way to address disease and death is to have more empathy. But maybe that’s precisely wrong. Perhaps we should avoid leaders who ‘feel your pain’, because their feelings will dissipate after, say, eight people or thereabouts."

    Tagged with: empathyabstractiontragedymodellingmoral-calculusgeekdom

  4. Get Smarter

    "Scientists refer to the 12,000 years or so since the last ice age as the Holocene epoch. It encompasses the rise of human civilization and our co-evolution with tools and technologies that allow us to grapple with our physical environment. But if intelligence augmentation has the kind of impact I expect, we may soon have to start thinking of ourselves as living in an entirely new era. The focus of our technological evolution would be less on how we manage and adapt to our physical world, and more on how we manage and adapt to the immense amount of knowledge we’ve created. We can call it the Nöocene epoch, from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the Nöosphere, a collective consciousness created by the deepening interaction of human minds. As that epoch draws closer, the world is becoming a very different place."

    Tagged with: Casciointelligenceaugmentationnoospherefuturism

  5. Lung-on-a-chip could replace countless lab rats

    "Cell biologist Kelly BéruBé at the University of Cardiff, UK, has managed to grow human lung cells into flat differentiated layers that resemble the inner lining of the lungs. Her method is already being used for drug testing by companies such as Unilever and AstraZeneca. But when allowed to grow in three dimensions, as in the body, cells arrange themselves very differently, and this can change how they respond to chemical stimuli. "We need to move from something flat to 3D structures," says BéruBé."

    Tagged with: biologyanimaltestingethicstissueculturelungscience

  6. China Mieville’s Interview From Weird Tales

    "I think for a lot of people who don’t read pulp growing up, there’s a real surprise that the particular kind of Pulp Modernism of a certain kind of lush purple prose isn’t necessarily a failure or a mistake, but is part of the fabric of the story and what makes it weird. There’s a big default notion that “spare,” or “precise” prose is somehow better. I keep insisting to them that while such prose is completely legitimate, it’s in no way intrinsically more accurate, more relevant, or better than lush prose. That adjective “precise,” for example, needs unpicking. If a “minimalist” writer describes a table, and a metaphor-ridden adjective-heavy weird fictioneer describes a table, they are very different, but the former is in absolutely no way closer to the material reality than the latter. Both of them are radically different from that reality. They’re just words. A table is a big wooden thing with my tea on it."

    Tagged with: China-Mievillefictionprosewritingreadingweird

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