2012-06-24

Why Monkeys Haven't Evolved?

Typical human evolution by natural selection chart
Evolution by natural selection is most controversial of all ideas for understanding the natural life surrounding us. Proposed by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book On The Origins Of Species, its advocates (mainly of scientific and/or non-religious backgrounds) find the most extraordinary discovery a human has ever made; its advocates (mainly/strictly of religious and/or fundamentalist backgrounds) find it absurd and disrespectful to their deity or systems of beliefs.

One of the arguments given against evolution is "If humans evolved from monkeys. then why are there still monkeys?".

To start with, Darwin didn't state that monkeys are the direct ancestors of human beings in the evolutionary context. This misconception dates back to the case of John T. Scopes, who was prosecuted by Tennessee state for teaching human evolution in the famous Scopes Trial, where the claim was raised by the prosecution attorney to gain public support.

Nevertheless, below an infographic from the Berkeley's 'Understanding Evolution' page that explains this nuance.

(as seen on Moniks: Unleashed)


Monkeys haven't evolved like us, simply because humans didn't evolve from monkeys but from a common ancestor, if anything we evolved with them.

Joseph.

2012-06-22

Why Don't We See A Spectrum Of Colors?

I woke up this morning, annoyed by the daylight penetrating through my window and directed at my eyes. A bright white light (it rhymes! How poetic!), to announce the start of a new day.

Going through my morning ritual of yawning, stretching and checking my social media platforms, I found an interesting Direct Message in my twitter inbox; one of my followers was asking:
"...I have a qs cant find the answer to online. Why can't we c the different colors of the spectrum of light?"

Each color in a rainbow corresponds to a different wavelength of electromagnetic spectrum.
(source: NASA.gov)
As a first impression, I thought "What a trivial question! Light we see is the composition of all wavelengths!", but then thought about that answer deeply, and discovered that the answer is actually more complex. It occurred to me that Richard Dawkins had handled this topic in his 1998 book Unweaving The Rainbow, so I hopped to my book shelf (it's more of a pile than a shelf, actually) and started looking through the pages for the extended scientific explanation it offers.

As per Dawkins words, [T]he colours that we actually experience, the subjective sensation of redness and blueness, are arbitrary labels that the brain ties to light of different wavelengths.
So basically, our vision is a reconstruction of the information received by the brain in way that can make sense to it (the brain).

Dawkins proceeds explaining the functioning of this process:
The eye has four kinds of light-sensitive cells: three kinds of 'cones' and 'rods'. All four are similar and have surely diverged from a common ancestor. 
Each tiny rod or cone contains a deep stack of membranes, packed like a tall column of books. Threaded aback and forth through each book is a long, thin molecule, a protein called rhodopsin.
Natural selection has equipped us (over a long time of selective processes) with the tools necessary to ensure us the vision we have now.

Normalised absorption spectra of the three human photopsins and of human rhodopsin (dashed).
(source: Wikipedia)
Cone cells, which work best in bright light, are the ones that play a major role in color vision, whilst rod cells are most useful for night vision. In the case of cones, the active protein is called Iodopsin (referred to subsequently, as per Dawkins, by rhodopsin which is analogous to it), the color protein based on photopsin.
Rhodopsin [...] [L]ike a photocell, [it] flips from one state to the other when it is hit by light. It automatically clicks back to the previous shape after a brief recovery period.
So, when light causes it to snap into its active shape, this initiates a special chain reaction and a rapid turnover of molecules.
The end product of the resulting chemical cascade is a stream of nerve impulses which are relayed to the brain via a series of nerve cells, each of which is a long thin tube.
The three kinds of cone have different flavours of rhodopsin. All of them respond to light of all wavelengths. But one kind is most sensitive to blue light, another is most sensitive to green light, and the third is most sensitive to red light. By comparing the firing rates of the three kinds of cone, the nervous system is able to reconstruct the wavelengths of light hitting the relevant part of the retina.
The brain, because it receives reports from more than one kind of cone, is able to compute the true color of the light.
Our vision is simply the computation of the brain executed based on sensory inputs. Evolution has shaped our visual range to within the wavelength spectrum of 400-700nm for our survival purposes. *Update* A recent study puts the evolutionary root of vision in groups of animals to "an opsin ancestor common to all groups appearing some 700 million years ago. This opsin was considered 'blind' yet underwent key genetic changes over the span of 11 million years that conveyed the ability to detect light."
(Source: PhysOrg)

Knowing the underpinnings of the vision process, white light is thus the result of our retinas perceiving equal amounts of stimuli from all wavelengths. Color perception is thus an imbalance of this retinal stimulation towards the color of a certain wavelength.

Joseph.

2012-06-20

Joe Maalouf And The New Low In Morality

Notes:
  • I have never watched the show "Enta Horr" on MTV and don't intend to. This post is based on a YouTube video shared on social media platforms.
  • I don't know who Joe Maalouf is neither on a personal nor a professional level and I don't care or intend to know him.
  • I don't know the victim in the video or any member of his family nor have any relation to the case, and this post isn't about the murder nor the judicial process it involves.

Why don't we demand to go back to the middle ages as well?

The Case

A lame presenter on a Lebanese TV station making use of a horrible crime to get audience to his show, inciting to public killing in the form of capital punishment, and making a sectarian political statement. (Apparently this isn't the first time he does it, another post on Jean Salim's blog discusses his handling of the case of pornographic cinemas).

The Exhibit

This is the YouTube video of the report about the murder case in the "Enta Horr" episode.



The Two Cents

Controversy is definitely TV material. And what more than moral issues can stir controversies?

Joe Maalouf has taken this to another level: Take a case of horrible murder, give the victim's relatives who are still under the spell of the misfortune that happened to them and who want quick justice (especially that the evidence of the murder is a clear videotape), use a sectarian and religious approach to this moral issue, incite against the political and judicial system and make statements, without any supporting statistical evidence, about the efficiency of capital punishment in  protecting against future murders.

This is part of a huge social deficit, which Joe Maalouf is helping in deepening it. Being free (the translation of the name of the show), isn't about making false claims and stirring unneeded controversies. Besides, why would Maalouf (and other people in the report), ask for sectarian political involvement in this case? Isn't it the speciality of the Justice system, which media should help promote its independence?

The report in itself is frightening. I don't deny the fact that the case is horrible but the tendency to vigilante justice is scary. And the support of religious bigotry to this behavior is dreadful (regardless whether the victims and the assailants are from different faiths).

Thou shalt not kill. He who kills with the sword, with the sword shalt be killed.
In a recent discussion with a friend, she made the claim that abhorrent criminals and psychopaths must be executed for being incorrigible. I, of course, was on the other end of the argument, supporting behavioral analysis and corrective attempts. I assume we both were exaggerating our arguments and the complication of the cases make neither sides an eligible solution to the whole problem. Yet the tendency to less killing is my preferred world view. With all the technological and scientific advances, one would expect more openness to humanity, and less middle-ages-like social behaviors.

What we really need is a social revolution. Politics can wait. Economics can wait. We have to learn how to accept the other, with all his differences. We have to stress on proper education, to reduce delinquent and criminal behaviors. We have to prevent bigot ideas from leading our society. I presume, that this social change can be of huge benefit to both political and economical states when achieved.

I may be a silly idealist, a Utopian, but this doesn't deny the fact that we have reached a low in our social morality, and correction to the situation must be a priority, not media stunts or political victories.

Joseph.