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Archive for June, 2010

One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue

June 12, 2010 Comments off

I’ve recently begun reading Cosmos by Carl Sagan (Amazon|UK), which is well overdue since the accompanying TV series has been my favourite piece of television since I was in primary school.

While reading Chapter 2, “One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue,” where he’s talking about evolution using his work with Nobel laureate H.J. Muller (discoverer of X-ray mutagenesis) and Drosophila melanogaster fruit flies as an example, a paragraph just jumps out at you:

The secrets of evolution are death and time — the deaths of enormous numbers of lifeforms that were imperfectly adapted to the environment; and time for a long succession of small mutations that were by accident adaptive, time for the slow accumulation of patterns of favorable mutations. Part of the resistance to Darwin and Wallace derives from our difficulty in imagining the passage of the millennia, much less the aeons. What does seventy million years mean to beings who live only one-millionth as long? We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.

What a magnificent turn of phrase. It sums up what we know of artificial and natural selection, underlines the breakthrough of its realisation, and wraps it into a beautiful philosophical illustration.

Knowing the TV series as I do, I’m looking forward to many more stand-out pieces such as this during my journey through the Cosmos, as it were. If you’re good, I may even share them with you…

Revisiting Pascal’s Wager

June 6, 2010 Comments off

A while ago I covered Pascal’s Wager, the logical fallacy used by some religious people to ‘reason’ non-believers into believing ‘just in case’ their particular god story is true. And then along comes a single image to cover it simply and succinctly:

 

 

When you then consider the likelihood that this is the only life we get — that there’s nothing once we pop our clogs — all of that suffering, brutality and ignorance becomes tragic.

Of course if there is a god of some kind, then he/she/it/them will appreciate the person who used the brains they were given, rather than hitching their horse to the wagon they were born next to.

 

Hat tip: LOLgod