Category Archives: Philosophy

more indications that we know little about genetics

I was talking to my brother John the other day about how it’s commonly assumed that we know almost everything about science, so there isn’t much left to discover. Specifically, there’s this notion that new discoveries aren’t likely to overturn older ideas, because if so someone would have done so by now. I personally think that’s complete hogwash; my favorite saying about the scientific method is, ” Progress consists of replacing a theory that is wrong with one more subtly wrong.”[1] Ideas derived scientifically are certainly useful, but they shouldn’t be considered inviolate.

In that vein, it’s nice to see scientists continue to push the boundaries of what we assume, as in this article by Derek Lowe about DNA sequences that are identical in humans and mice:

Even important enzyme sequences vary a bit among the three species, so what could these pristine stretches (some of which are hundreds of base pairs long) be used for? The assumption, naturally, has been that whatever it is, it must be mighty important, but if we’re going to be scientists, we can’t just go around assuming that what we think must be right. A team at Lawrence Berkeley and the DOE put things to the test recently by identifying four of the ultraconserved elements that all seem to be located next to critical genes – and deleting them.

The result? No detected difference in the mice, and a whole lot of speculation as to how that’s even possible. The results can be (and are being) debated furiously, but the point is that there’s something completely unexplained that, when tested against prevailing knowledge, doesn’t match up. To me that’s not just noteworthy, it’s exciting! It means there’s a lot more exploring to do, a lot more science for all of us.
[1] I’ve seen this one around the tubes, generally attributed to Dr. David Hawkins. If you know of a linkable source, post it in the comments.

Giving Weight to Childhood Baggage

Families Weight Comments May Harm Girls for Years is the title of the article. This may seem obvious, but I sure wish someone had pointed that out to my parents. You know, diet programs at age eleven are 1) never a very good idea and 2) really hard on one’s self esteem, not to mention waistline. I have heard that kids will self-regulate their eating quite unselfconsciously. Thus, if one presents healthy options — both for eating and excercise — that should be all the “commentary” necessary.

A renegade jew

Three hundred and fifty years ago, the philosopher Baruch Spinoza was excommunicated from his Portugese Jewish community. As the author of this op-ed piece, entitled “Reasonable Doubt,” writes:

[Baruch] Spinoza’s reaction to the religious intolerance he saw around him was to try to think his way out of all sectarian thinking. He understood the powerful tendency in each of us toward developing a view of the truth that favors the circumstances into which we happened to have been born. Self-aggrandizement can be the invisible scaffolding of religion, politics or ideology.

Against this tendency we have no defense but the relentless application of reason. Reason must stand guard against the self-serving false entailments that creep into our thinking, inducing us to believe that we are more cosmically important than we truly are, that we have had bestowed upon us — whether Jew or Christian or Muslim — a privileged position in the narrative of the world’s unfolding.

Still seems somehow apropos, eh?