Welcome to Life, A Guide for New Members of Species Homo Sapiens

Posted on 30th July 2012 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment

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I was walking through the local forest trail a few months ago, and it was getting dark. As the sky shifted from blue to black, the full moon rose up through the trees creating a stunning scene. I realized my ancient ancestors were just as awe-inspired by that glowing orb in the sky, but my present-day awe was much deeper for knowing the moon as an object in space several hundred thousand kilometers away, circling the Earth for the same reason things fall to the ground, much of its mass once belonging to the Earth, lit up by the Sun, and causing the oceans to rise and fall as they follow its orbit.

At once I realized how crucial it was that this cherished knowledge of my place in the Cosmos was something I needed to give my son, Sagan.

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Naming is Not Understanding

Posted on 28th May 2012 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment
Evil Eye Galaxy, Messier 64 (M64)
Evil Eye Galaxy, Messier 64 (M64)
Credit: NASA

Before becoming a parent, I was well-acquainted with the word “colic.” According to my mother, I suffered from severe colic as a baby, keeping her up all night for weeks with my crying. I’ve also heard parents toss the term about when talking about their baby-raising trials and tribulations. After having our son Sagan, I got to hear the term from one of our pediatricians concerning him having a crying episode one night as a possible explanation for the outburst.

Curious about this seemingly common medical condition, I decided to look up the definition myself:

The strict medical definition of colic is a condition of a healthy baby in which it shows periods of intense, unexplained fussing/crying lasting more than 3 hours a day, more than 3 days a week for more than 3 weeks. [Bold Mine]

There’s that word there, unexplained. For years I thought this word “colic” described a phenomenon that was understood and therefore natural. The etymology of the word, pertaining to “disease characterized by severe abdominal pain” in the early 15th century suggests the infant’s crying is explainable, but in reality the term colic is just a fancy way for your pediatrician to say, “I don’t know why your baby is chronically crying.”

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Being Labeled for What I Don’t Believe Versus What I Do

Posted on 26th March 2012 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior,Ionian Enchantment
The Reason Rally
The Reason Rally

I remember unexpectedly having that conversation with my mother in law while riding in the car recently:

“What do you mean Sagan isn’t going to be raised Christian?” she asked when we accidentally let slip that he wouldn’t be going to a Christian church.

“There’s lots of possible belief systems out there,” Vicky answered, “and we’re going to let him decide for himself.”

“When he’s old enough, he can read the Bible if he wants,” I said.

“Old enough?” Grandma asked.

“Ummm,” I hesitated and decided to just let it out, “Yeah. When he’s old enough to read stories about daughters getting their father drunk to have sex with him, a husband giving his wife to be raped by a mob and then chopping her up into pieces to mail to his allies, a prophet summoning bears to devour children for teasing him about his male-pattern baldness, fathers sacrificing their virgin daughters to god as thanks for victory in war, mothers entering contracts to eat one another’s’ sons, … You know, when he’s old enough to be exposed to those kinds of stories.”

“Ha. Ha,” Grandma chuckled. “Yeah. I see what you mean.”

It’s so strange that in a world where humans can see to the edge of the Universe, live to a century through modern medicine, access unimaginable volumes of information online, and fly all over the world that I am still put in the awkward position from time to time of having to explain to someone that I don’t believe in any of the mythical invisible entities known as “gods.” It’s also awkward because I don’t walk around all day thinking about the fact that I don’t think about such deities. I don’t identify as a non-theist any more than I identify as a non-Mr. Snuffleupagusist. I identify as a Scientist a person who focuses on our shared empirical understanding of the natural world revealed through experimentation and inductive reasoning.

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101 Reasons Why Evolution is True

Posted on 12th February 2012 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment

Jump To:
Age of the Earth and Its Fossils
Comparative Anatomy
Transitional Fossils
Convergent Evolution
Vestigial Traits
Artificial Selection
Evolution in Action
Sexual Selection
And The List Goes On…

    These reasons will work from the general to the specific. I’ve used links to articles in Wikipedia as much as possible because Wiki articles are refined over time with our understanding of the subjectmatter and are less subject to link-rot. This post is licensed Creative Commons and all photos listed here are available under some form of free-to-use licensing. Please feel free to refine this list and repost it, just please preserve the photo credits and links to photographers. Also, suggestions for improvement on any items is welcome as this is a lot of material over a wide range of scientific fields, so I have certainly bungled some things here.

    Over time, new evidence will certainly find some of these examples in error, and that’s a good thing because science is about refining our understanding of the truth. The Theory of Evolution is strong enough that nearly half these examples could be disproved and the evidence would still be fairly overwhelming. There is so much in this world that only makes sense in the light of Evolutionary Theory.

    Age of the Earth and Its Fossils

    We live on a very old Earth.

  1. Lithologic Stratigraphy
  2. Looking at Millions and Millions of Years
    Looking at Millions and Millions of Years
    Credit: cobalt123

    The Earth’s crust has layers. Some of these layers are from the decomposition of sediment, others come from chemical precipitation, others from decaying organic matter, and others from volcanic lava. The reason we can see the layers is because they were formed in different ways.

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Evolve Culturally or Die

Posted on 16th January 2012 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment
Cavefish and Zebrafish Embryos
Cavefish and Zebrafish Embryos
Credit: wellcome images

An important rule of evolution is that species lose adaptations they aren’t using. Cave fish have eyes that do not work because they live in an environment without light. Crocodile icefish blood has lost its hemogloblin because they live in oxygen-rich water where they don’t need the protein to transport oxygen throughout their bodies. Kiwis, chickens, and ostriches have wings but can’t fly. Humans lack the gene to make Vitamin C, forcing us to get our ascorbic acid from dietary sources.

This happens because when a trait isn’t in use, natural selection does not discriminate against mutations that break the trait. For example, when an individual impala is born with a mutation that gives it bad eyes, it gets eaten by a lion, but when a fish in the total darkness of a cave gets bad eyes, they are just as likely to survive as the fish with working vision; in fact, they have a slight advantage for not having to put resources into building and maintaining eyes that provide no advantage.

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Powers of Eleven Day

Posted on 11th November 2011 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment,science holidays
Pascal's Triangle, Odd Numbers Highlighted
Pascal’s Triangle, Odd Numbers Highlighted

One of the great joys of being human is our incredible powers of pattern recognition. Our brain’s ability to manifest meaningful associations out of the complex morass of sensory stimuli perpetually assaulting us is a cognitive expertise into which computers are only just starting to venture successfully. It’s what allows us to recognize faces, raed wrdos wtih smrelcabd ltretes, identify with our fellow humans, and compartmentalize the sounds, tastes, and sights around us.

The number 11 has always been my favorite whole number. Ever since I was a kid, I appreciated the way the first nine multiples of 11 are numbers that mirror the tens and ones places (in a base-10 numbers system): {11, 22, 33, 44 … 77, 88, 99}.

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Archeological Narratives that Enchant the Imagination

Posted on 7th November 2011 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment
Shonisaur vertebral disks arranged in curious linear patterns
Shonisaur vertebral disks arranged in curious linear patterns
Credit: Mark McMenamin

I admit it. I knew better when I posted the story about the kraken lair to my Facebook for my less scientifically literate friends to awe and wonder at. I could tell from the scant evidence provided in the press release that there really wasn’t anything there but a collection of bones from 45-foot-long ichthyosaurs mysteriously piled together at a site in Nevada. To infer the bones were gathered together by a gigantic ancient cephalopod whose soft tissues left no trace in the fossil record was an admirably imaginative idea, but I knew this extraordinary claim didn’t pass the Sagan Standard’s “extraordinary evidence” requirement. As Samuel Clemens best expressed it, “There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such trifling investment of fact.”

And still I posted it to Facebook, where it got eight Likes, three comments, and one share. That’s eight more Likes than my link to Discovery’s Faces of Our Ancestors gallery, featuring facial reconstructions for 11 ancestors of Homo sapiens and for which there is plenty of direct fossilized evidence to support their stories.

Stories. We only have a few millennias’ worth of stories from the written and oral history of the human race, but the archeological record is brimming with billions of years’ worth of them. Like detectives at the scene of a crime, archeologists have reconstructed events out of the shared story of our origins to tell engaging tales of our ancestors trials and tribulations.

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Our Childbirth Experience

Posted on 10th October 2011 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment

Jump To:
Researching Pregnancy
Pregnancy Lifestyle
Where to Deliver
Labor and Delivery
Our Parenting Choices
What We’ve Learned
Further Reading

Stages of Fetal Development
Stages of Fetal Development
Credit: NHS Pregnancy Desktop

One of the first things Vicky and I established when we first became romantically involved is that we both wanted to have children. We share a deep love of science and the natural world and wanted to share our sense of wonder with children of our own. At the same time, in our sharing we were hoping to experience the world vicariously through fresh eyes, reliving the thrill of learning and discovery.

When the pregnancy test finally came up positive, we were launched into a whole new realm of learning: reading up on diet, lifestyle, and fetal development. We were also put into an unanticipated tour of various types and standards of prenatal care. This post covers what we learned and what we are continuing to learn about pregnancy and childcare.

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Is Archeopteryx a Bird or Dinosaur? The Fuzzy Lines Drawn between Species

Posted on 1st August 2011 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment
Credit: digital cat

ResearchBlogging.org On top of Pluto being demoted, the non-existence of Brontosaurus, and whether it’s okay to proposition a woman on an elevator at 4:00 in the morning we can now add a fun new debate for the online scientific community: is Archeopteryx a Bird or Dinosaur?

Analysis of a Xiaotingia zhengi fossil is driving the debate. The animal is “very closely related” to Arhceopteryx according to the researchers, but its characteristics more closely relate it to Velociraptors than birds:

After analysing the traits present in Xiaotingia and its relations, Xu and his colleagues are suggesting that the creatures bear more resemblance to the dinosaurs Velociraptor and Microraptor than to early birds, and so belong in the dinosaur group Deinonychosauria rather than in the bird group, Avialae. Many features led the team to this decision, but the most immediately noticeable are that Xiaotingia, Archaeopteryx and Anchiornis have shallow snouts and expanded regions behind their eye sockets. Microraptor has similar traits, but the early birds in Avialae have very different skulls.

Xiaotingia zhengi
Xiaotingia zhengi
Copyright Xing Lida and Liu Yi

To summarize: Back when Archeopteryx was the only fossil we had that possessed both dinosaur and bird traits, it made sense to consider it the “link” between dinosaurs and birds. Now that we have lots of other bird-dinosaur hybrid fossils from this same period in evolutionary history, we no longer know which of them, if any, is a direct ancestor of modern birds. Therefore, it is no longer accurate to call Archeopteryx the first bird, because there are so many other contenders in the mix now.

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Yuri’s Night Space Party and the 50th Anniversary of Manned Space Flight

Posted on 11th April 2011 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment,science holidays

Circling the Earth in my orbital spaceship I marveled at the beauty of our planet. People of the world, let us safeguard and enhance this beauty — not destroy it!” ~ Yuri Gagarin

Yuri's Night 2011
Yuri’s Night 2011

50 years ago, on April 12th, 1961 cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin piloted the Vostok 1 into space, entering the history books as the first human to achieve space flight. It follows the 50th anniversary of the first artificial satellite in orbit, Sputnik, the first living passenger to make it into space, Laika, and America throwing our hat into the space race. It will be eight long years until we can celebrate the next big semicentennial event, the Apollo Moon landing.

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