Mentions about the Viking, Roman or Norman invasions of Britain make me wonder if my family or any of my friends originate from those peoples. I’m also intrigued by the way recent work using DNA analysis can build up an overall lineage of modern people which originates in a small group of individuals in Africa around 200,000 years ago. So, I got to thinking that it would be an interesting TV programme to track down the origins of a whole bunch of our very diverse British population using modern DNA analysis. We might all be surprised about how foreign we all are and yet how closely we are all related.
I’ve become intrigued by how we’ve managed to evolve the complexity of the human being, particularly after reading the following: “The inner ear is where the receptors for hearing (and balance) are contained. Specifically, the cochlea is a liquid filled (snail-like) spiral structure that internally widens in the middle such that different vibration frequencies will have heightened energy at different (specific) locations along the structure that cause the membranes to be displaced. Inside the cochlea, liquid filled tubes (scala) are separated by membranes, one of which (the basilar membrane) contains rows of hairs (the stereocilia) that cause neural activity when the membrane is displaced nearby.”
I thought it would be interesting to do a rough calculation of how long it would take for us to get from our originating bacteria to where we are today based on my top-of-the-head estimates of the number of mutations required and how many entities were contributing to them.
W: Number of mutations required: 10 million – 610 million: average 310,000,000
X: Number of generations required for a successful mutation on top of a previously successful mutation: 10,000 – 210,000: average 110,000
Y: Number of entities/couples contributing to generations: 1 – 100,000,000: average 50,000,000
Z: Number of years between generations: 0.01 – 20: average 10
Using the averages:
For W mutations to occur, taking X generations for each one, would take 310,000,000 x 110,000 generations
If there were Y contributing entities/couples, this would take (310,000,000 x 110,000)/50,000,000 generations
If there were an average of Z number of years per generation, the overall process would take [(310,000,000 x 110,000)/50,000,000)] x 10 years = 6,820,000 years
Despite this being a possible result (considering the earth is apparently 4.5 billion years old), it is clearly wrong since the earliest microbes found in rocks are estimated to be 3.7 billion years old. Anyway, I’m feeling distinctly uncomfortable about all the assumptions I’ve made in the above calculations – essentially every element is totally flawed and the whole calculation is worthless. In any case, I’m still left with the feeling that, to have evolved such a huge set of such very highly complex and interworking physical mechanisms, completely by chance, seems to be highly unlikely. So, I’m left with a lurking suspicion that somewhere in the originating DNA, or early equivalent, was a programme of instructions….
POSTSCRIPT: Quite by chance I watched part of “Attenborough: 60 years in the wild” on the BBC this morning – the day after I posted the above material. The programme is highly relevant and I recommend it.
I spend a lot of time doing things in my study – which is not a very sociable thing to do when your partner spends a lot of time in the lounge, particularly during lockdown times when we weren’t getting out much. I’ve often thought I could have been doing some of the things in the lounge – but it lacked a suitable work surface. Putting a desk in the lounge wouldn’t be acceptable; what’s needed is a work surface that can be concealed until you need it, and in a position preferably where you can watch the TV just like your partner. Clearly the answer is to build a folding desk into the back of a lounge suite armchair that you can either stand at (addressing the problem of too much sitting) or sit on a folding stool also incorporated into the back of the armchair. Maybe there’d also be space for a bit of stationery and paper storage.
It’s been a tradition in our family to have table presents at the Christmas lunch, but this year we didn’t; it had all become a bit difficult and expensive, and, in this year of pandemic lockdowns, there were only three of us at the table. However, it’s quite a nice thing to do, so I got to thinking there might be an easier and cheaper way. Maybe the present could just contain a piece of paper describing something you think the person concerned might like but didn’t know about. For example, a holiday destination, or a hotel, or a book, or a hobby, or a restaurant, or a walking trail, or a type of pet, or a band, or a piece of clothing, or a voluntary job with a particular charity…. or almost anything really that you think the person might enjoy. Might also work for New Year meals as well.
During a wet round of golf last Wednesday, I was reminded again of the problems of slippery wet golf club grips. In a previous wet round, I’d tried putting the club handle up inside the front of my waterproof jacket: it kept the handle dry but was fiddly. Last Wednesday, however, I tried putting the handle underneath my arm on the outside of my waterproof jacket which I found much easier, and just as effective at keeping the rain off the grip. Now, if waterproof jacket manufacturers could put some towelling or other drying device on the underside of one of the arms, which would dry already wet handles, I think we might have a solution to the problem.
The TED talk I’ve just listened to by Yaël Eisenstat (Dear Facebook, this is how you’re breaking democracy, Aug2020), is important because it explains how Facebook’s business model is dependent on creating constant interest and emotion in its users. This ultimately leads to the system essentially promoting extremism. As I was listening, it occurred to me that it is Facebook’s structures (the extra functionality provided around a simple messaging system – such as adding a ‘like’ button) that dictates this result. A Social Media system with a different set of structures could avoid such harmful effects. Perhaps it’s time for competitors, or an Open Source operation, to create a messaging system with structures that promote a society with people who listen to each other and work together; and to draw users away from Facebook. In the meantime, the more people who listen to Ms. Eisenstat’s talk the better.
People in power a few hundred years ago just didn’t have access to up to date global information. These days such people have no excuse as large numbers of diligent writers research global issues and publish up to the minute resumes on a wide range of topics around the world. There is no excuse for failing to be aware of what humans have done, and continue to do, to each other; what effects we are having on the planet we live and depend upon; what our universe might consist of; and what possible futures we might have within it. Even I, with just a few books I have read in the last few years, feel informed and broadened. If each world leader were to be given just ten or fifteen books to read at the start of their reigns, perhaps they would act rather more in the interests of all of us, than they currently appear to do so.
I wonder if any internet entrepreneur has come up with a web service to help with choices in present buying… I’m envisaging a website called EitherOr which enables people to outline a number of gift options, and possibly a ‘none of the above’ option, for the individuals they want to buy for. The recipients would be notified and be able to use links to review the items and to choose the option they want. The service would then purchase the item for them and have it sent to them. The ‘none of the above’ option, if provided, might enable the recipients to specify any item on the net up to the specified amount, for the service to purchase for them.
I got to thinking in the shower the other day (probably prompted by the BBC’s Years and Years series) that we’ll be needing the concept of the NaturalBody sooner rather than later. NaturalBody people – NBod1.0 – have no piercings or permanent embellishments on the skin; have had no parts of the body deliberately removed, filled or cut (and that includes teeth and the sexual organs); and have not had surgery to alter their natural appearance. They have no permanently attached artificial physical appendages; and they don’t contain any embedded physical engineering equipment. NatBod1.0 people don’t have any embedded chips or other computer equipment, or software that connects them to any digital networks. NatBod1.0s have not had their DNA adjusted to enhance their or their offspring’s capabilities or appearance (the offspring will not be NBod1.0 as they will inherit their changed DNA status). NBod1.0s are simply people who are as they were born and who have developed naturally. They may have been born with disabilities, or have had accidents or illnesses – the notion of NBod includes no value judgements. In the western world there may be relatively few NBod1.0s (mainly babies and young people) as many people have had dental fillings and/or tattoos; but large numbers must still be up at the 0.8 or 0.9 levels. Going forward, however, we may need the concept of NBod to remind us of what humans are as we gain a growing capability to augment our bodies with technology. Even today, such a concept might help us make choices in the face of cultural and religious motivations to deface, cut, mutilate and remould our bodies.