A quiz

Question 1: Do you know that children sometimes look like their parents or grandparents?

  • Yes. –> great
  • No. –> start here; if Wittgenstein can use this idea, so can you

Question 2: Do you know how you get these traits (for example, the color of your eyes)?

  • Yes. –> cool
  • No. –> read this (also a comprehensive yet comprehensible explanation that’s good for kids)

Question 3: Do you know that traits do not get passed onto the next generation equally (so that the total number of parents who have a trait is different from the number of children who have the same trait)?

Continue reading

“McMuffin-poopin’-cakes”: a theory of pet names

"Big man" Drizzt

“Big man” Drizzt

I sometimes call my sister “bo,” but other than that I refer to the humans in my life by their given names or common substitutions like “mom” or “dad”. On the other hand, I almost never refer to my pets by the names I decided they should have unless I’m talking about them to someone else. Yes, that does mean that I often talk to my pets directly. I call Drizzt, my bearded dragon, “big man” or “Drizzt-y-pie.” My American cat Isabelle is “pitoo” or “boo-boo,” while my Swiss cat Zora is “snuggle pumpkin,” “buckets,” or “butthead” (when she’s being annoying).

I have called every pet I’ve ever had by some cutsey name or, more often, a totally random word or sound. In the reverse, no one I know has a pet name for me as far as I am aware. One time, a friend suggested “kakes,” but it didn’t stick. Why do people use pet names at all? Is there some kind of mental or social benefit to that kind of communication? More importantly for me, why do I use pet names for animals but not for people? What does that say about me?

Continue reading

The vast sweep of human history

Photo credit: news.nationalgeographic.com

Photo credit: news.nationalgeographic.com

I’m reading a book right now (Plagues and Peoples by William H. McNeill) that at one point compares the spread of early humans out of Africa to a disease. He has a good argument, saying that the ability of humans to use technology allowed them to mutate, in effect, faster than local wildlife could respond and comparing human expansion to a pandemic. I might have used an invasive species as a metaphor rather than a disease because in this case it wouldn’t really be a metaphor – humans were at the time an invasive species. But in a book about pathogenesis in humans, such a comparison is apt.

So here is the question: to what extent is our history as a species inevitable?

Continue reading

Which came first?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Answer 1 (to emphasize the value of descriptiveness over brevity): Obviously, the egg came first. Current knowledge dates the domestication of the chicken at no earlier than 10,000 years ago, while reptiles pioneered the hard-shelled egg idea about 300,000,000 years ago when they diverged evolutionarily from Paleozoic amphibians (Carroll, Robert L. “Problems of the Origin of Reptiles”Biol. Rev. 1969, 44, pp. 393-432).

Let’s rephrase the question:

Which came first, the chicken or the chicken egg?

Continue reading