Posts Tagged ‘connections’

Am I Stardust?

Saturday, January 7th, 2017

Am I really made of stardust? Yes, many of my (and your) atoms were made in dying stars – when the stars exploded (‘supernova’) the atoms were flung into the universe and eventually became planets and plankton and people. The atoms themselves have not changed but were constantly recycled into different matter – those same atoms of stardust make up 93% of my body mass (some are hydrogen atoms which are actually Big Bang dust). That means I’m billions of years old… which is strange but oddly hopeful.

‘Our presence in the universe is deeply rooted in this cosmic history.’– Marco Bersanelli, physicist.

puppisMy Mum and Dad? The remnants of two ancient supernova explosions, Puppis and Vela. Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Honey Bee Quotes

Saturday, November 5th, 2016

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour – Isaac Watts

For a long life, breakfast daily on honey. – Pythagoras

Human beings have fabricated the illusion that they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature. Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less, dependent on nature’s services… – Achim Steiner

Life is all one – as big as the world and as small as a honey bee.  – Hattie Ellis

Bees – their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers. – Ray Bradbury

We have rather chosen to fill our hives with honey and wax; thus furnishing mankind with the two noblest of things, which are sweetness and light. – Jonathan Swift

The comb of the hive bee is absolutely perfect. – Charles Darwin

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Connections

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

We are an impossibility in an impossible universe.– Ray Bradbury

The human brain:

  • 85 billion neurons (nerve cells)
  • Each neuron is unique
  • Each neuron connects to 10,000 other neurons
  • That’s up to 1,000 trillion connections possible

The universe is not composed of mere matter, but of mind stuff. – Charles Birch

Photo: ‘Facebook’, my limestone bookends inspired by a Polynesian mask.

Last Child In The Woods

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

Just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may also very well need contact with nature.

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv is an inspiring book about how to prevent ‘nature deficit’ in children. Children today are often more aware of threats to the environment (climate change, extinction, pollution) than they are of the environment itself.

If we fill our classrooms with examples of environmental abuse, we may be engendering a subtle form of dissociation. Lacking direct experience of nature children begin to associate it with fear and apocalypse.

Louv brings together a body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development. He takes a positive approach by offering practical solutions in your own backyard.

Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts…It is not half so important to know as to feel when introducing a young child to the natural world. – Rachel  Carson

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Honey Bee Science

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

Recent research has revealed more amazing honey bee abilities:

  • BeeSweet: Bees can detect electrical signals from flowers which help them identify the flowers with the richest nectar.
  • BeeSpresso: Many flowers have traces of caffeine in their nectar which bees are more attracted to than flowers without.
  • BeeTox: When bees eat honey it detoxifies them by triggering genes that make antibiotic chemicals.
  • BeeFriend: Bees use their right antenna to tell friend from foe – it has more smell-sensing hairs on it than the left antenna.
  • BeeStill: Even non-fatal amounts of pesticides will eventually destroy a beehive. Don’t spray near flowers!

Photo: Brittany beeIMG_4047

Quantum Compass Found In Animals

Monday, June 15th, 2015

At last, a big picture is emerging in science as links have been found between the small and the large, between quantum physics and biology. The poster child of ‘quantum biology’ is the European robin. The bird uses the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate vast distances – but the field is 100 times weaker than a fridge magnet, so how does the robin detect it? It uses an very finely balanced system that reaches from the sub-atomic level to the biological. Here’s how it seems to work: a photon (‘particle’) of  light enters the bird’s eye as it’s flying; the photon is absorbed by a protein molecule in the eye where it causes electrons to become ‘entangled’ (an electron state that’s sensitive to magnetic fields); this creates a chemical change in the protein molecule which sends a signal to the bird’s brain telling it which way to fly. This ‘magneto-reception’ occurs in many bird species (including chickens!), honey bees, dolphins, butterflies, sharks, lobsters and stingrays. This fascinating book tells the full story:

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The Forces of Writing

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

Writing requires four fundamental steps:

Imagine: ‘Open your mind’ (P.D. James)

Write: ‘Put one word after another’ (Neil Gaiman)

Edit: ‘Omit needless words’ (William Strunk)

Hope: ‘Outrun the self-doubt’ (Stephen King)

The steps of writing harmonise nicely with the four forces of physics:

Electromagnetism holds our atoms and molecules together, and like imagination, it has infinite range.

The Weak Force is confined to the centre of atoms, as a writer must be confined with a story until it’s drafted.

The Strong Force holds atomic nuclei together, as editing gives the story strength.

Gravity is like hope, in that it keeps us anchored and has infinite range.

Read my essay, The Science of Writing.

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Science and Soul

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Does the universe have a purpose or is it an accident? Scientists have divergent views on the significance of the universe. At one end of the spectrum is the iconoclast, Richard Dawkins, who sees an indifferent universe which has “precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose.” At the other end is biologist Jane Goodall who believes the universe is both purposeful and meaningful. In between there are theories ranging from a ‘conscious universe’ to a ‘self-creating universe’. Whatever their beliefs, at least there’s usually a shared sense of wonder among scientists…

…Read the rest of my essay, Science and Soul, here.

puppisPhoto: The remnants of supernova explosions, Puppis and Vela, birthplace of some of our atoms. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Love Bees

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Pollination: ‘a love story that feeds the Earth.’ – Louie Schwartzberg

We can’t survive without bees and bees won’t survive unless we love them. It’s the most unique partnership between ‘wild’ creatures and humans. Honey bee pollination gives us fruit, vegetables, and pastures – let’s respect them by providing a variety of flowering plants and clean habitats (avoid pesticides, especially neonicotinoids).

Human beings have fabricated the illusion that they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature. Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less, dependent on nature’s services. – Achim Steiner

 Watch a sweet little film, Dance of the Honey Bee’ (Vimeo).

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Shrinking Man

Monday, March 17th, 2014

The classic sci-fi movie, The Incredible Shrinking Man (1958), was about the atomic angst of the 1950s and it’s themes have not dated. The hero is exposed to a radioactive cloud and begins to shrink. Trapped in his home, he battles his cat, a spider, and a leaking tap (always a threat to the male ego). Finally, he’s reduced to his essential self and ponders his place in the universe. Watch the end of the movie here. This extract is from the closing monologue (script by Richard Matheson):

So close – the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly, I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet—like the closing of a gigantic circle…

 

Neonicotinoids – A Word Everyone Should Know

Friday, November 1st, 2013

‘Neonicotinoids’ … a clunky word, but one that everybody should know. They (‘neonics’ for short) are the most widely used insecticides in the world – they’re now found in almost every managed landscape from farms to home gardens (and use is increasing rapidly). Neonics are non-targeted (ie.lazy) pest control: they’re usually coated on seeds and the poison stays in the plant as it grows. And the residue can remain in plant tissue, pollen, soil and water for years – it’s these residues that can kill beneficial wildlife: bees, birds, soil creatures and helper insects. That makes neonics a threat to our food supply because:

  • Bees and other pollinators directly provide much of our food
  • Soil creatures (worms, microbes) are vital for soil health
  • Helper insects (predatory and parasitic species) provide natural pest control

Why would we want to harm any of these? The EU has put a two year ban on neonics (because of damage to bees)but they are still used in NZ and are available to the public. Let’s ask garden and hardware shops to stop selling them (Placemakers and The Warehouse have recently withdrawn them) and the EPA to ban them.

Research: neonicotinoids harming honey bees

Report: effect of neonicotinoids on beneficial insects.

The larval stage of a ladybird (right) loves to eat aphids (left) – great natural pest control.

Animal Imagination

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

In the 1960s, Jane Goodall was criticised for saying chimpanzees have emotions. Today the evidence suggests she’s right although scientists remain wary of anthropomorphism – associating human traits with animals – often with good reason (eg. the gross inaccuracy of The Bee Movie in which boy bees did the work). Of course animals don’t see the world exactly we do, but we shouldn’t ignore what we have in common with them:

Anthropo-denial: A blindness to the humanlike characteristics of other animals, or the animal-like characteristics of ourselves. – F. de Waal

The weight of scientific evidence is that animal have thoughts, feelings and intelligence – animals are not mere ‘survival machines’. It’s now accepted that humans and animals share many traits (Marc Bekoff  (The Emotional Lives of Animals); this fits nicely with evolution which teaches us animals are our relatives and all life is connected. Forgetting  this relationship has led to the honey bee crisis, for example, as people have treated bees as tools rather than partners in pollination.

Acknowledged as individuals, those sparrows, salamanders and squirrels are not interchangeable parts of a species machine. They are beings with their own inner lives and experiences. – Brandon Keim (Animal Consciousness)

Using language that reflects our ‘common ground’ can help give children empathy with the natural world. When writing Flight of the Honey Bee I wanted accurate science yet also a sense of a bee’s experience. Should I use human concepts such as ‘know’, ‘remember’, captivate’, and ‘story’? Should I even call the bees ‘sisters’? The answer was yes. Honey bees have language, intelligence, and memory (and maybe something like emotions); and they’re more genetically sisters than humans.

droneeyes

They are not us, but to look into their eyes is to know that someone is in there. Imposing our own specific thoughts and feelings on that someone is in one sense too imaginative, in presuming he could receive the world in the way we do, and in another not imaginative enough, in not opening our minds to the full possibilities of his difference.- Caitrin Nicol (Do Elephants Have Souls?)

Why Does The World Exist?

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

Why Does The World Exist? by Jim Holt is a fascinating book that asks the question, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’  Holt looks at all sides of the question, interviewing scientists, philosophers, atheists and believers (Richard Swinburne, John Irving, Roger Penrose, Adolf Grunbaum…). There are three types of theorist:

The “optimists” hold that there has to be a reason for the world’s existence and that we may well discover it. The “pessimists” believe that there might be a reason for the world’s existence but that we’ll never know for sure… Finally, the “rejectionists” persist in believing that there can’t be a reason for the world’s existence, and hence that the very question is meaningless.

Leibniz’s Principle of Sufficient Reason says that ‘For every thing there must be a reason for that thing’s existence‘, which is the basis of our scientific worldview. Holt does a good job of summarizing some knotty philosophy, physics and maths (understanding it is another matter!).  Although he offers no firm answers, the book left me feeling “optimistic”; and it’s oddly comforting that after picking the brains of the world’s greatest thinkers, Holt concludes,

No one can confidently claim intellectual superiority in the face of the mystery of existence.

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Photo: Solar eruption, Dec 31, 2012 – courtesy of NASA Images

The Universe is made of stories

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Nearly all of the atoms in your body were once cooked in the nuclear furnace of an ancient supernova. – Frances Collins

The story of our atoms began in the stars. As the universe expanded after the Big Bang, atoms of hydrogen and helium were formed first. These atoms gathered together in galaxies where they came in handy as fuel for burning stars. When stars died (in supernova explosions) new atoms were sent out into the universe – including carbon and oxygen atoms, happily for us. By and by, over eight billion years, planets were formed and Earth’s story unfolds from there.

Photo (NASA Images): Remnant of a star that exploded in a supernova long ago. This ring of gas is enriched with oxygen that was created by the star.

The /Xam San people of Southern Africa knew that humans were related to the stars in a mysterious way. The /Xan suffered a slow genocide to extinction in the 1800s but their words remain. Their stories say that stars are closely connected to the human heart and fall down when people’s hearts ‘fall over’.

“The stars know the time at which we die.” –Díä!kwain, 1876

The Universe in 199 words

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Dark matter is the missing link.Stuart Clark

Our universe exploded into being about 14 billion years ago, for motives which are unclear. Equal amounts of matter and anti-matter were made but most of the anti-matter mysteriously disappeared. And so the universe became biased towards life (matter). But only a ‘mere- smear’ of the universe is Normal Matter – that’s the atoms in stars, planets, you and me – the bulk is dark stuff.

This pie (Image: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss) shows the ingredients of the universe. Most of it is Dark Energy that hides in the vacuum of space. We don’t yet know what it is, but it’s made the universe expand. Dark Matter is made of particles that are also invisible to us but we can see galaxies being affected by its force. The smallest slice of the universe is Normal Matter. Matter is built up from extremely small bits to extremely big bits: from inner space to outer space. Sub-atomic particles are arranged into atoms,  atoms into molecules; molecules into cells and organisms; and so on up to galaxies and dark stuff. Everything belongs.

We exist only because of subtle connections between the very small and the very large. Charles Birch

The universe is made of stories

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Writer Dorothy Sayers (in The Mind of the Maker, 1941) suggested every creative act has three elements: Idea, Energy and Power. The Idea remains intangible until the story writing begins. The Energy is the activity of writing the book. The Power is the response the book produces in the reader – ‘The thing that flows back to the writer’.

I’m amazed when starting a new story how a shapeless idea in my head generates a story. As the characters are given energy they help me create the story; and by the end it’s as if they always existed. Then each reader has a unique response to the book.

Writing in the Shallows

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

I was writing a story on an iPad near Christchurch last week. Writing tools such as computers have become flexible, but perhaps less intimate, and I wonder if it affects my writing.  When Ted Hughes began writing on a typewriter he noticed he became less concise. Writing by hand had made him invest more in each word:

every year of your life is right there, wired into the communication between your brain and your writing hand… things become automatically more compressed, and, perhaps, psychologically denser.

The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr, brilliantly examines how our brains react to computer use ( read a great essay about the book here). He says that working on computers can be distracting (rather than reflective) for the brain — so it stays in the shallows, barely engaging with the myriad connections at deeper levels. In that case the iPad might be okay for writing because you can fade out all but the sentence you’re on. But my iPad trial was interrupted by the earthquake — which came from the shallows with terrifying force.

Photo: Allen Carbon