Complacency with the Everyday Fantastical

I am fascinated by dinosaurs, prehistoric marine reptiles, prehistoric squaliformes, prehistoric giant sea scorpions, and so forth like a lot of folk who grew up as kids in the 70s (or really…like a lot of kids). Seeing the bones or fossils of such creatures, the artist renditions, the movies that feature (gross exaggerations in many cases) such creatures all stir my imagination and just plain excite me to no end. They just seem so…<i>fantastic</i>…so legendary…so other worldly.

I was thinking about this yesterday and I came to the conclusion (and I’m betting I’m not alone in this) after a few brief searches that I have a real bias in regards to the “fantastical”. And I think that bias stems from familiarity.

Part of the amazement people have with dinosaurs stems from the fact that a lot of them were quite large. Many people (and I’ve been guilty of this misconception myself) get the impression that at some point (or even various points) the world was filled with animals far larger than anything we have today. In fact, a lot of people think that the vast majority of prehistoric animals were larger than anything we have today (which simply is not the case), mostly because of a few very popular and more well-known specimens (T-Rex, stegosaurus, Triceratops, brachiosaurus to name a few). What few take the time to consider is that not only do these animals not represent the size of the majority of other animals from those times, but in many cases those particular animals didn’t even exist <i>at the same time</i>. Still, we tend to think that animals in the past were larger, more fantastic than anything around today.


Here is a pic of the (likely) largest animal that has ever existed on this planet. Unless you actually get a chance to see one up close in the wild, particularly with something nearby for scale, you really can’t appreciate just how unbelievably large this animal is. It. Is. ENORMOUS. Here’s how it compares (at least based on an artist’s rendition) to some other “fantastical” animals:


Now one can debate about how accurate the artist got some of the sizes I suppose or whether the current research and inferences to actual size are accurate, but that isn’t all that relevant to the point. Even if some of the other animals are off by significant percentages, the Blue Whale still dwarfs every other specimen.

The point is, we DO live in an amazing time of fantastical creatures. And I hope we can learn not to take that for granted.

Phylogenetics. Huh! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

I do think this site needs a thread to discuss phylogenetics and whatever the creationist alternative might be. Let’s start with this quote from Sal Cordova:

stcordova: Insisting on the truth of naturalism in the disguise of evolutionary theory could impede scientific progress in the medical sciences if the whims of some evolutionary biologists like Dan Graur are realized. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has invested 170 million dollars in unresolvable evolutionary phylogenies of little or no utility to medical science.ii To date, no therapies based on the 170 million dollar phylogeny project have come to market. By way of contrast, with the help of research like ENCODE, epigenetic therapies are already being delivered to patients with more such therapies in the pipeline. Therefore, a gambler’s epistemology that seeks to maximize reward in the face of uncertainty would seem a superior approach versus blind insistence on impractical naturalism.

This short paragraph raises a number of questions, a few of which seem like topics for discussion.

1. Assuming for the sake of argument that investing in phylogenetics doesn’t help medical science, why should we ignore other benefits? Is basic knowledge useless unless it contributes directly to human health? Should NSF be concerned only with medical sciences, and if so, shouldn’t it be folded into NIH?

2. Phylogenetics actually does have practical applications, even in medical research. Feel free to discuss that. Me, I’m into knowledge, regardless.

3. What is “unresolvable” intended to mean here? NSF grants, the AToL program in particular, have produced great amounts of phylogenetic resolution. My project, Early Bird, for example. Is it all somehow bogus? How much phylogeny is there, anyway, and how would a creationist tell where it begins and ends?

4. And a minor point: Where does this figure of $170 million come from? Is it the total amount awarded by the NSF Assembling the Tree of Life program from beginning to end? Or does it also count various other programs that have funded systematics research? I find it hard to pull any aggregate info from the NSF web site.

Thorp, Shannon: Inspiration for Alternative Perspectives on the ID vs. Naturalism Debate

The writings and life work of Ed Thorp, professor at MIT, influenced many of my notions of ID (though Thorp and Shannon are not ID proponents). I happened upon a forgotten mathematical paper by Ed Thorp in 1961 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that launched his stellar career into Wall Street. If the TSZ regulars are tired of talking and arguing ID, then I offer a link to Thorp’s landmark paper. That 1961 PNAS article consists of a mere three pages. It is terse, and almost shocking in its economy of words and straightforward English. The paper can be downloaded from:

A Favorable Strategy for Twenty One, Proceedings National Academy of Sciences.

Thorp was a colleague of Claude Shannon (founder of information theory, and inventor of the notion of “bit”) at MIT. Thorp managed to publish his theory about blackjack through the sponsorship of Shannon. He was able to scientifically prove his theories in the casinos and Wall Street and went on to make hundreds of millions of dollars through his scientific approach to estimating and profiting from expected value. Thorp was the central figure in the real life stories featured in the book
Fortune’s Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System that Beat the Casino’s and Wall Street by William Poundstone.
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Evolving Phone Numbers

Over on  the The War is Over: We Won! thread at UD, The subject of phone numbers is brought up by Bob O:

lots of things are sequences. But they can be produced in lots of different ways. Frankly, I have difficulty seeing how phone numbers mate and recombine, especially when within a longer string of sequences.

Our beloved Mung is quick to retort:

Ah, the old “I cannot imagine” defense. I could write a program in which phone numbers mate and recombine. Incredulity is not an explanation.

We all love Mung having a go at programming. Come back and walk us through it.

A few of thoughts for discussion:

  1. How big is the state space for phone numbers and how much functional space (viable / live numbers) is there?
  2. What is the ‘evolutionary’ history of telephone numbers? How big was the ‘biogenesis’ phone number?
  3. Is there a stepwise evolutionary history for phone numbers?
  4. Or is this all evidence for Evolution by design!!!1111???

The eleven Satanic rules of the earth

  1. Do not give opinions or advice unless you are asked.
  2. Do not tell your troubles to others unless you are sure they want to hear them.
  3. When in another’s lair, show him respect or else do not go there.
  4. If a guest in your lair annoys you, treat him cruelly and without mercy.
  5. Do not make sexual advances unless you are given the mating signal.
  6. Do not take that which does not belong to you unless it is a burden to the other person and he cries out to be relieved.
  7. Acknowledge the power of magic if you have employed it successfully to obtain your desires. If you deny the power of magic after having called upon it with success, you will lose all you have obtained.
  8. Do not complain about anything to which you need not subject yourself.
  9. Do not harm little children.
  10. Do not kill non-human animals unless you are attacked or for your food.
  11. When walking in open territory, bother no one. If someone bothers you, ask him to stop. If he does not stop, destroy him

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Boltzmann Brains and evolution

In the “Elon Musk” discussion, in the midst of a whole lotta epistemology goin’ on, commenter BruceS referred to the concept of a “Boltzmann Brain” and suggested that Boltzmann didn’t know about evolution. (In fact Boltzmann did know about evolution and thought Darwin’s work was hugely important). The Boltzmann Brain is a thought experiment about a conscious brain arising in a thermodynamic system which is at equilibrium. Such a thing is interesting but vastly improbable.

BruceS explained that he was thinking of a reddit post where the commenter invoked evolution to explain why we don’t need extremely improbable events to explain the existence of our brains (the comment will be found here).

What needs to be added is that all that does not happen in an isolated system at thermodynamic equilibrium, or at least it has a fantastically low probability of happening there.  The earth-sun system is not at thermodynamic equilibrium.  Energy is flowing outwards from the sun, at high temperature, some is hitting the earth, and some is taken up by plants and then some by animals, at lower temperatures. Continue reading

String Theory Co-Founder: Sub-Atomic Particles Are Evidence the Universe Was Created

Even the scientists are against you. You guys just can’t catch a break.

After analyzing the behavior of these sub-atomic particles – which can move faster than the speed of light and have the ability to “unstick” space and matter – using technology created in 2005, Kaku concluded that the universe is a “Matrix” governed by laws and principles that could only have been designed by an intelligent being.

Let the mudslinging begin!


Evolution of Consciousness

Seems like this new thing in the Atlantic’d be up y’all’s alley:

A New Theory Explains How Consciousness Evolved

Michael Graziano

Ever since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, evolution has been the grand unifying theory of biology. Yet one of our most important biological traits, consciousness, is rarely studied in the context of evolution. Theories of consciousness come from religion, from philosophy, from cognitive science, but not so much from evolutionary biology. Maybe that’s why so few theories have been able to tackle basic questions such as: What is the adaptive value of consciousness? When did it evolve and what animals have it?

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Talkrational is Dead, Long Live Talkrational

The logo

The logo

The new forum is temporarily housed here:Talkrational Zombie Forum

On May 23, the Talkrational database experienced a crash that left the post table broken.  Our Web Host, Arvixe, farted around for several days and let the last good backup of the database be overwritten with the borked version.

They’ve been singularly useless at recovering the database, but I have some slender hopes that we may be able to fully or partially recover the post table without their “assistance”.  osmanthus, one of our members who knows a lot of peeps in the forum tech world has reached out to some database experts who would like to try to resuscitate the database.

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