Making Sense of Life

  Biology 103, Fall, 2007, Bryn Mawr College
 
COMPLEXITY

BIOLOGY: BASIC CONCEPTS

Making Sense of Life


UNPREDICTABILITY



DIVERSITY

HUMANITY


INQUIRY

Welcome to the home page for a one-semester introductory biology course at Bryn Mawr College, fall semester, 2007.

Students (and visitors) should be aware that this is a "non-traditional" science course in several respects (see Science As Story Telling in Action for further background).

The course is organized in relation to the following general presumptions (see syllabus for specifics):

  • Biology, like all science, is an ongoing process of trying to make sense of the world and one's relation to it by a recursive and unending process of making observations, summarizing the observations, and using the summaries to motivate new observations.
  • Biology is of interest and is accessible to everyone, and is an essential tool in the repertoire of anyone who is themself trying to make sense of who they are and how they relate to the world around them.
  • Biology, like all science, is best assimilated by a process in which students themselves work through in their own minds and in relation to their own experiences and understandings relevant observations and the summaries of those observations suggested by others. Education, like science, should be an ongoing process of making observations, summarizing the observations, and using the summaries to motivate new observations.
  • Biology, like all science, is a social process, one in which the observations and tentative summaries are shared among individuals, so that each can benefit from the ongoing inquiries of others.
  • For these reasons, students (like faculty) will be expected to actively engage in all aspects of the course, including making thoughts in progress available not only to other students in the course but to the world at large by way of an on-line forum and web papers.

Course Announcements/Evolution:

 

Welcome to Biology 103. And to thinking about science, and about life, and to trying to make sense of their relation to one another, and to ... Browse around, be sure to read the course presumptions, and let's see what we can together do that's interesting, productive, and fun (those being the same thing?). If you're registered for the course, be sure to follow instructions for getting a user name and password (you must use a bico email address).

Start by introducing yourself in the on-line forum below (be sure to log in first if you're registered for the course), with some thoughts about what you'd like to better understand about life. Visitors are welcome to add their own thoughts here and in the other course forums without logging in. Such postings will be reviewed to avoid spam and so may be delayed in appearing. Comments on the general organization and conduct of the course are welcome at any time in the on-line forum associated with the more detailed course information.

7 September

  • If you haven't introduced yourself in the forum below, please do so. And check back for comments.
  • Thoughts from/for this week go in the course forum. Please post at least once, by Sunday evening.
  • Labs meet next week from 1-4 pm in Room 127. See lab rosters.
  • Remember to start browing for first web paper, book for commentary.

10 September

  • Labs meet this from 1-4 pm in Room 127. See lab rosters. Bring things to write with/on.
  • Remember to start browing for first web paper, book for commentary. Responses to forum postings below may be helpful.
  • Let's continue thinking about science, life, and the relations between them.

17 Sepember

19 September

21 September

24 September

28 September

1 October

8 October

  • See web papers for my thoughts on your thoughts; thoughts on presentation yet to come, will email (with grades)
  • Back to evolution

10 October

24 October

29 October

  • Students with last names A->M should have received first web paper emails; the rest this evening
  • First lab reports due this week in lab
  • On with atoms/molecules
2 November

5 November

12 November

26 November

3 December

12 December

 

Comments

Rachel Mabe's picture

Hi, My name is Rachel. I'm a

Hi,
My name is Rachel. I'm a super senior at Bryn Mawr, meaning this is my last semester. I'm from south florida. I'm an english major. I am taking Bio to fulfill the lab requirment but also because I took Neurobiology and behavior with Grobstein and really enjoyed it.
What puzzles me is how everything fits together: The place of humans in the world. Our advanced technology and increasing knowlege of "the way things work" seems to improve our lives...but isn't it also a detriment? Not many people stop to think about how we are creating a world completely different from the world we evolved to live in. I would be interested in looking at this.

Paul Grobstein's picture

"creating a world ... different ..."

Nicely phrased issue. Maybe the point is in fact to create worlds different from those we evolved in? See http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/reflections/Emergence07.pdf ...
OrganizedKhaos's picture

Hi, my name is Kerlyne Jean

Hi, my name is Kerlyne Jean and I was born and raised in a small town called Hyde Park which is in Boston. I'm a Frosh at Bryn Mawr and may be a Pre-Health major or simply go into Public Health. I enjoy studying languages, dancing, and singing. So, hopefully that can play a role in deciding what I may want to do in the future.

Something I would like to learn from this class is about the whole nature vs. nurture idea. Are our traits/characteristics necessarily passed down from our parents or is because of the surroundings that we are in that makes us the way we are?

Paul Grobstein's picture

genes and environment

How about both? As a general rule, in all cases including behavior? And maybe with some additional factors as well?
Kaitlin Cough's picture

Biology, Kaitlin, Brains, Dreams....etc.etc.

Hey...
My name is Kaitlin, I'm a frosh at BMC. I'm from Maine and am interested in just about anything and everything, so I'm a little unsure of what I want to study. I'm thinking along the lines of a career in Public Health, so probably Anthro major with Pred Med concentration. My dream is to do a Paul Farmer, Partners In Health, Doctors Without Borders kind of deal. We'll see where it goes though.
As for Bio topics...I'm very interested in the brain-how it works, how much of it we use (and how much of it Einstein used, for example), dreams, sleep patterns, and the like. Also Epidemiology (I think Saskia you were wondering about TB mutations and MDR TB (Multi Drug Resistant TB) which I'm very interested in as well) and Infectious Diseases. Should be a fun class.
K

Paul Grobstein's picture

epidemiology and the brain

Maybe a link between the two? Epidemiological neurobiology? See disease and society and thinking and genes.
Ashley Savannah's picture

Hello

Hello, my name is Ashley Savannah. I am from Boston, MA. I am a sophomore at Bryn Mawr College where I intend to major in Anthropology. I am very excited about this class and will love to learn as much as I can. I am very interested in learning about diseases and why there are some diseases that are found in a huge population of a particualar race and not others.

Paul Grobstein's picture

disease and race

andrelle's picture

Hi My name is Saskia

Hi

My name is Saskia Guerrier and I am originally from Haiti.  I moved to America when I was about 10 years old.  My family now resides in Boston.  I am currently a freshwoman at Bryn Mawr.

I am thinking of majoring in Anthropology and eventually attend a school of public health and study infectious diseases as well as the effect that culture has on the treatment of diseases.  My question is how does some diseases like Tb mutate so that there are stronger strains of them.

Paul Grobstein's picture

evolution of virulence

This article might be a good starting point.
eurie kim's picture

intro.

Hello.
I'm Eurie Kim, a sophomore at Bryn Mawr, intending to major in Art History.
I'm from a lot of places, like New Jersey (U.S.A.), Seoul (Korea), and Surabaya (Indonesia).

Now, what I'd like to know is why do some people inherit all the good genes while the rest inherit the "reject" genes? Inheritance is a tricky little thing and unfair, at that. Can someone's way of thinking be genetically traced or is it all "nurture" playing the role of shaping someone's personality? And if the saying goes "survival of the fittest", then why does it not seem like everybody really fits? There are always some deviants, no?
To sum that up, genetics and evolution are what I'm curious about.

Paul Grobstein's picture

thinking and genes

Richard Nisebett's recent Geography of Thought provides some interesting food for thought along these lines.
Crystal's picture

Hello

(Sorry, I wasn't able to get to a computer in time to make an account yet.)

Hello, my name is Crystal, I'm from San Diego, California. I'm a junior at BMC and a Classics major.

There are many things in life that I don't yet understand, but one of my main interests is the impact of various types of diseases on cultures and societies.

Paul Grobstein's picture

disease and society

See biology and cultural anthropology. There is also a lot of interesting stuff on culture and mental health, as for example, the Culture of Our Discontent.
Vivian Cruz's picture

Hi Everyone!

Hi, my name is Vivian Cruz. I am Salvadorian and live in Massachusetts with my family. I am a possible Anthropology major and Political Science minor (they might switch) and I am interested on the different approach that this class has on biology. I'm excited about all the things that we'll learn, particularly I would like to learn the reasons for some diseases to exist more in certain ethnicities, and I would like to understand why is it that science has already been able to do amazing things for the cure of certain diseases but not yet of cancer? I'm also intrigued by the things that keep humans of this era from living extensive lives like our ancestors did?

Paul Grobstein's picture

ethnicity and disease

A recent paper includes some good discussion/references on this topic.
Eri Koike's picture

Hello!

Hi! My name is Eri Koike and I am currently a sophomore (undecided major) at Bryn Mawr who is originally from Princeton, NJ!

I haven't completely decided on a major as of yet, but I am leaning towards possible a Sociology or Economics major with an Art History minor. I was originally interested in taking this class because of the unique approach to Biology that I wasn't able to experience during my four years at high school.

My question is about the genetic/molecular aspects of obesity and whether the Body Mass Index (BMI) really has a bearing on determining the fitness of an individual. I recently read a book in Sociology concerning these problems from a sociological point of view, so I would appreciate being able to understand the scientific aspects of this issue.

I look forward to being able to work together with other students in order to find the solution to these and other problems.

Paul Grobstein's picture

obesity

LaKesha Roberts's picture

LaKesha Roberts

Hello Everyone!
My name is LaKesha Roberts and I am a Sophomore at Bryn Mawr College. I am from California and I know a lot of people wonder why I would leave such a state, but I was really interested in experiencing the different seasons. I plan to major in mathematics and really would like to find something that I can minor in. Even though I have never been the student you would catch in a science class, I found this one to be very interesting. I enjoy the fact that this class is not focused around a textbook, but instead more discussion based. I hope to learn a lot about the human race and how it relates to the world. One of the things I really would like to know is how did the environment affect the evolution of mankind? I also want to learn more about diseases, abnormalities and defects that are present in the world today? And how they came about?

Paul Grobstein's picture

environment and evolution

Try Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.
PS2007's picture

Introduction

Hi, my name is Paige and I'm a junior psychology major at Bryn Mawr. I'm originally from Boston but now I live in New York. I have always wondered about the biological processes involved in creating emotions and mood. How much do the events in our lives influence the chemicals in our brain?

 

Paul Grobstein's picture

emotions and the brain

Descartes' Error by Antonio Damasio is a good starting point for thinking about emotions and the brain.
Kee Hyun Kim's picture

Hi

Hi, my name is Andy..

I am from Seoul, Korea and I am a sophomore at Haverford.  I would probably major in political science and economics.

I am haverford photo editor for the Bi-college newspaper and also work at the CDO. 

I was never really a science person but signed up for this class because the discussion based course structure sounded interesting.

I always wondered at what stage of the pregnancy should the embryo be considered as a life and would like to learn more from this class.

I hope to learn much from all of you and hope we have a great semester :)

 

Andy

 

 

Paul Grobstein's picture

pregnancy and life

Interesting topic indeed, and relevant to our current effort to define life. Lots written on the subject, of course. Including an article in the New Republic several years ago that puts a little more in my mouth than I had intended, but isn't perhaps a bad starting point; its posted here (among other places). There's an interesting family connection on this one. See "fact 7" of http://www.abortiontv.com/Growth/WhenDoHumanBeingsBegin2.htm, which might provide an interestingly different starting point for further exploration.
kgould's picture

Intro to Kate

Hi there.

 

I'm Kathryn (Kate) Gould, I'm from Massachusetts, and I'm a freshwoman at Bryn Mawr. At this point in time I haven't quite decided on my major, although I am leaning toward Biology.

What I do know is that I'm interested in scientific journalism and just about any science-related subject. My main interests probably fall in neurobiology and epidemiology, but they change every time I start a new book or read a new article online.

I have so many questions --I hardly know where to begin-- but I guess my first one concerns the human mind. Phantom limbs, cartoon character hallucinations, pseudocyesis-- these are symptoms caused by damage to the brain... but why? How? And how are these bizarre abnormalities related to human nature and how the mind works?

 

Paul Grobstein's picture

brains, minds, and human nature

Maybe a course along these particular lines in your future? In the meanwhile, Steven Johnson's Mind Wide Open is pretty good food for thought.
Elizabeth Harnett's picture

Hello!

My name is Elizabeth and I am a freshwoman at BMC from Brooklyn, NY.  Currently I am not sure of what I want to major in:  I am still deciding if I want to major in Biology or Art History.  I took two years of biology in high school (one regular biology course, and one AP biology course).  I was interested in what I learned in those classes, though I wasn't sure if I had the desire to major in the course.  My Biology classes in the past have been textbook and lab oriented with very little discussion.  I decided to take this course so that I could learn Biology from a different perspective-by studying what I was interested in and talking with other people about my ideas and questions.

  There are many different questions and topics that I am interested in and a lot of questions I would like to try to answer in this class.  One of the topics that really sparked my interest was the "Fat is Fit" article in the New York Times.  I am interested in learning about how people's bodies differ and how humans can not all be compared to a certain standard.  I want to learn how different parts of our genetic make up can help us learn more about ourselves. 

Paul Grobstein's picture

biology, art, and bodies?

A little long/rambling but maybe interesting? http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/artneuro/
Ron C. de Weijze's picture

Fat or fit?

Paul, "For purposes of the present argument, though, what is significant is that there is no sign in the picture in the head of either the ambiguity itself or of the act of repainting the picture as it goes from one stable state to the other."

Indeed it is amazing what the brain can do, interpreting the same shape ('fat or fit') in different ways. Being concerned about one's figure, where does the medical observation turn into the 'modical' one? Is there an intrinsic non-physical logical force shaping our polar variables and parallellisms that makes them fit the outside world, or would that rather be from the involuntary (or unconscious) sensor functions? I am tempted to say that this is the 'normal way' of seeing things that is fed (on topic!) forward or backward through communication, which would make it a story, but even more that this is 'normal science' or 'normal religion' with a solid empirical or teleologic base. So sports sciences would sanction the 'fat view' as being unhealthy but buddhism would sanctify it as imperative to the nirwanic state.

Paul Grobstein's picture

Fat or fit? Medicine versus ?

Glad to have the issue raised of whether "health" has a "solid empirical or teleologic base", ie a form of definition independent of the observer and associated cultural and individual idiosyncracies, or is instead context-dependent. Yes, we normally don't notice the likelihood of "ambiguity" along these lines when we call something "healthy" or "unhealthy" (the "For purposes of the present argument ..." quote is from here). For more exploring this ambiguity see Culture as Disability, A Critical Analysis of the Scientific Model of Health, Models of Mental Health, and The More I Learn, the More I Realize How I Think and Learn is Different. What makes the fat vs fit issue particularly interesting in this regard is the increasing evidence that substantial variation in body size is probably "normal" rather than being pathological (as per the Angier articles mentioned above).

Ron C. de Weijze's picture

The end of correctness

Cultural adaptability can be explored ad infinitum in (cultural) relativism, however not in one particular way. Cognition easily accommodates behavior in pure perception, one cognition easily responds to another 'through the cables' as Grandin puts it, and behavior easily adapts to cognition if there is will behind it. One respect though, the contagion of one behavior by the other, is a subject of interest if not of great concern. Although once a Leftist, I now strongly feel that contagion is propagated by the (activist) Left. Democracy and the common view are 'constructable' as the Dutch Left has had it for far too long (that is over now, luckily), when behavior spreads like wildfire, one person mimicking the other, 'as they should'. This can be true for (Leftist) political views as well as for the judgment on someone's (own!) health. I reject this as you correctly suspected. That is not to rule out the contextualist view, though it is to dismiss the nihilist cultural relativistic one. The spreading of the view is still to be desired, however it all depends on the way in which that is to be obtained. It should NOT be by behavioral contagion (memes or memetics, René Girard), 'proving' the Other ('politically') correct by doing, saying and thinking as he/she does, but by independent confirmation as science and religion authentically have meant it to be. Not in the way democrats rape democracy, even when the collective view is steered away from the medically correct to the modically correct, the dictate of correctness is to be eliminated altogether. For two people sharing one thought do not necessarily confirm each other's independent views, if they just pursue personal happiness and a sense of belonging through repeating whatéver the Other says and does, let alone think alike.

Cat Mueller's picture

Introduction

Hello, everyone!

My name is Catrina Mueller. I am a freshman this year and am thinking of double majoring in Japanese and Spanish.

What I really want to know about life is what makes us different. Not what types of characteristics make us different, but what makes us like things and dislike things . Even identical twins can like and dislike different things.

I also would like to know more about how speech is formed in the brain.

Paul Grobstein's picture

language, brain, differences

Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct is pretty good along these lines.
Samar Aryani's picture

Introduction

Hi my name is Samar Aryani and I am a sophomore at BMC.  I am planning on majoring in political science with a minor in sociology. My background in Biology is not much so there are a few aspects of it that I am interested in learning more about. I want to learn the fundamentals of biology such as the building blocks of life. I am also curious in exploring the similar characterstic(s) that is(are) present within every life filled object, if such a characteristic exists. A broader question that I have would be, how is everything in the world related by its origin? Does this mean that biologists more or less believe that every object in the world has the same origin? Also, what are the similiarities between human and animal interactions within the same natural environment? A final question that has been constantly put to debate is the theory of evolution. What do a majority of biologists believe about evolution? What is their stance on the issue?

 I really hope to get a better understanding of at least a few of the topics listed above because most of them are interesting topics that can be discussed among different fields of study and each field presents interesting views and points. 

Paul Grobstein's picture

beliefs of majority of biologists?

There is something special about majority beliefs? Maybe evolution is a good "story" no matter how many people believe in it? Whether one believes in it oneself or not? See, for example, http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/reflections/pubintell/ibelieve.html and http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/local/suminst/eei03/forum7.html#6178.
Ruth Goodlaxson's picture

Hey everyone

My name's Ruth, and I'm an English major with an education minor. I'm from Baltimore, MD, and I'm hoping to teach English in an urban environment one day. My interest in biology is kind of half-formed at this point. I find literature looks a "LIFE" one way, and I'm starting to understand that literary view point of understanding the world and the way things work. When I think biology, the first thing that comes to mind is the poem "Bone," by Mary Oliver, which is this amazing poem about finding a whale's ear bone on a beach. She can make conclusions about herself and other people based on this ear bone, and I wonder if the same kinds of connections can be made more factually.

What I hope to learn from this course is how people are similar and how they are different from the rest of nature. We've given ourselves this caretaking, top-of-the-food-chain role, but do we deserve it? And how can I look at these things from a more practical, perhaps less theoretical view point?

Paul Grobstein's picture

biology and literature

Maybe there's a course on this interface in your future? In the meanwhile, Loren Eiseley is an essayist (The Star Thrower) who also does powerful things with biological observations.
cmcgowan's picture

My name is Caitlin McGowan

My name is Caitlin McGowan and I am a Sophomore here at BMC. I am from St. Paul, MN. I am really excited about this class because I heard that it is a great discussion class. I am excited to learn more about biology by interacting with other students rather than memorizing textbooks. I am very interested in stem cell research, diabetes, obesity, fat v. fit, and heart transplants. I just think there is so much in this world that we take for granted and I hope that in this class we can help each other understand these things better on a deeper level. 
Paul Grobstein's picture

Fat v. Fit

Some interesting articles on this subject by Natalie Angier in the NYTimes over the past several years.
Luisana Taveras's picture

Hi, I am Luisana Taveras and my username is pending approval

Hello again, my name is Luisana Taveras and I am a frosh at Bryn Mawr. I have a great interest in Biology and most recently cultural anthropology. I am glad to know that there are courses aside from the "traditional" science ones meant for premeds. I could never aspire to be a doctor because I can not have the life of someone on my hands. I could however, dwell on the ways in which science has, is, and will continue to leave it's footprint on this planet. Its always amazing to see how the progression of science technologically or otherwise has impacted the inhabitants of this world that use and abuse it. With that said and with the different topics and ideas brought up from our first class, I'm really looking forward to this course.
Thank you.

Paul Grobstein's picture

biology and cultural anthropology

Perhaps Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond and/or 1491 by Charles C. Mann would intrigue you.
Marie Sager's picture

Hello!

My name's Marie and I'm a senior History Major here at Bryn Mawr. I play tennis for the college, which I really like.
I think that my questions about life focus on my wonderings of why I feel the way I do. For instance, I often wonder about why I feel sad, mad, happy. I've always thought that something must be happening outside of me to make me feel an emotion, like some outside element must be the cause (which is not to say that it is not my fault). But there is also the possibility that it is actually something inside of me, like a trigger in my brain, that makes me feel a particular emotion, which I think would make it more biological.I don't know if these things are really answerable but that's what came to mind!
Also- the saying "You are what you eat?" I find that puzzling.

Paul Grobstein's picture

autonomy and matter that matters

Nice lead in to several themes of the course (maybe, we'll see). Yep, lots of things change for reasons internal to themselves instead of/in addition to external influences (think about menstrual cycles; see also http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultranet/BiologyPages/C/Circadian.html). And in an important sense you are what you eat (and drink and breathe). There isn't any place else from which to acquire the matter that makes you up (cf http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultranet/BiologyPages/N/Nutrition.html)
ksykes's picture

hihi, my name is Kendra

hihi, my name is Kendra Sykes and I am from New York City. I am an intended Political Science major/ Spanish minor and I am a sophomore at BMC. I have never considered myself much of a science kind of girl but the course description as well as the first day of class really sparked my interest in more of the 'why?' of biology than what is taught in conventional science classes. I, like a number of others have mentioned, am interested in the genetic pathway of certain diseases, but even more than that certain conditions like alcoholism. I feel that in this class I would get my questions answered. Can't wait!

Paul Grobstein's picture

no answers but ... more observations?

Sharhea's picture

Me, Me, Me

My name is Sharhea Wade. I was born in St.Thomas, one of the Virgin Islands but spent most of my life in Montserrat, West Indies. Since beginning my education here in America, I call Boston home. I am sophomore and plan to major in Economics with a minor in International Studies. I love to sing. If anyone in the class love to sing look out for auditions dates for JWAHIR. We sing gospel (the only accapella group on campus that does this), hip-hop, r&B, reggae and other genres that the group pick for the year. I hope we can all enjoy this course and learn a few things that we never knew before. My question is: What is the future affects of having a heart murmur?
Paul Grobstein's picture

a few things we never knew before

Sounds like a worth ambition. For heart murmurs, try http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/heartmurmur/hmurmur_what.html and links from there.
Shanika's picture

Introduction

My name is Shanika Bridges-King and I am a sophmore here at Brynmawr college. I was born and raised in the inner city of Boston in the town of Jamiaca Plain. At this point of my career i am leaning towards a major in Growth and Structure of Cities.I am not sure if i am going to major in "Growth and Structure of cities", but I am interested in urban development within the inner cities. In the future I hope to run programs that can resolve some of the major issues that involves young people and the way the live in the inner cities. What I do know for sure is that I am minoring in education. One of the questions that i want to learn about life is how are heart problems genetic? Every diseaese seems to be genetic....like diabetes...High blood pressure???? HOW?
Paul Grobstein's picture

Genetics and heart disease

Interesting intersection of biology, urban development, race. Some possible starting places. Remember to distinguish observations from "stories", and that you may want to try and create "less wrong" stories than those you read.

http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4610 (American Heart Association)

http://www.cdc.gov/genomics/public/famhix/faq.htm (Family History initiative, from the National Office of Public Health Genomics)

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6615237.stm (BBC news report)

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/11/health/11heart.html (NY Times report)

kharmon's picture

My name is Kyree Harmon, and

My name is Kyree Harmon, and I am also a freshwoman at Bryn Mawr originally from Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Though my major is still quite undecided, I would like to attend graduate school for public health with a focus on epidemiology and AIDs. I am fascinated with infectious diseases and their relation to emergence and I have questions pertaining to how immunity is attained with respect to molecules, cells, organisms, and entire populations. 
Paul Grobstein's picture

Infectious diseases and emergence

Nice relevant book:

Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond

And some intriguing broader questions.  Like science fiction?  Robert Sawyer has a interesting trilogy beginning with Hominids, that offers some not unreasonable speculations following from considerations like Diamond's.

Jen's picture

Introduction

I am from Ellicott City, Maryland and am an intended Political Science major. I am a freshman at BMC.

I have questions about life similar to Rachel's. How did life form? Where did life originate? Was life planned? How did complex organs (such as the eye) of the body evolve? How does the brain work? Is the brain merely a highly complex computer or is there something else involved?

Jon's picture

Evolution of The Eye

Elliot, I too had - and still have - many questions similar to this. In regards to the evolution of the eye, here's a neat little video by David Attenborough that I hope will clarify your question: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TEKDWAe_b8

Regards, Jon.
Jon2_1@hotmail.com

Paul Grobstein's picture

planning and brains

Rachel Tashjian's picture

Introduction.

There was a girl named Rachel T

Who decided to take biology

She liked reading a lot

And read much, so she thought

For there's nothing in Delaware, you see.

 I wrote a limerick to introduce myself because I thought it would express what it is that I would like to understand better about life. A poem makes sense, just as, say, it makes sense that the human body's arms are shorter than its legs. But many poems also rhyme, which fascinates me: I am always surprised after reading a poem with a rhyme scheme that the English language contains words that both rhyme and are related in some way.

 Likewise, I am fascinated that something - biology, life - is able to create shorter arms than legs. What scientifically is creating these characteristics is something basic I'd like to know more about. But furthermore, is this "something" deciding to create things? Or is it just coincidence, like the fact that the first letter of my last name (T) rhymes with biology? For example, if a gene does indeed determine one's sexuality, then what does that bring to the discussion besides, "A person does not choose to be gay." True, we may not be able to figure out some code to the unpredictability of life and biology, but how others (and I) think about the ramifications of what we do and could know is of great interest to me.

Paul Grobstein's picture

Influences, including unpredictability

Older, probably still relevant book that impressed me a lot when I was in college:

Chance and Necessity, by Jacques Monod

Maybe also relevant:

http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/EncyHumBehav.html

http://arjournals.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.141429 (Annual Reviews of Psychology)

Ron C. de Weijze's picture

epigenetic triggers

Rachel, "But furthermore, is this "something" deciding to create things?"

Most literally, "something" is turning on, or off, inheritance. This something is the immediate environment. From memory, a gene can be turned on in the next generation, when the previous generation has experienced e.g. famin. Pembry found that famin experienced by the parents can turn on a stress hormone in the children. Or the eating habits of the grandparent can determine the life-expectancy of the grandchildren. This is called the 'transgenerative response' in epigenetics. (That is, genetics immediately influenced by the environment.)

http://medlibrary.org/medwiki/Talk:Epigenetics

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