29 December 2011

'the infinite succession of soft and radiant forms'

If anyone goes down to those shores now, if man or boy seeks to follow in our traces, let him realize at once, before he takes the trouble to roll up his sleeves, that his zeal will end in labour lost. There is nothing, now, where in our days there was so much. Then the rocks between tide and tide were submarine gardens of a beauty that seemed often to be fabulous, and was positively delusive, since, if we delicately lifted the weed curtains of a windless pool, though we might for a moment see its sides and floor paven with living blossoms, ivory-white, rosy-red, grange and amethyst, yet all that panoply would melt away, furled into the hollow rock, if we so much as dropped a pebble in to disturb the magic dream.
-- so wrote Edmund Gosse, recalling his boyhood seashore explorations on the Devon coast with his father in the 1850s.

News from Scotland, including (supposedly) the first sighting in British waters of the ancient amphioxus, or lancelet, indicates that at least a few inshore locations in the north of this island have survived the ravages of more than a century of intense fishing and other depredations. Could this be a token of more to come, and of a measure of recovery?

28 December 2011

Black iron snail

A scaly foot sea snail from the Dragon Vent. The scales are covered with layers of pure pyrite and iron sulphide.

27 December 2011

Potbelly hill

Nearly all the women were wearing head scarves, even burkas. I saw one woman so pious that her burka didn't even have an opening for her eyes. She was leaving a cell-phone store, accompanied by a teen-age boy wearing a T-shirt that said "RELAX, MAN," over a picture of an ice-cream cone playing en electric guitar. You wouldn't think an ice cream could play a electric guitar, or would want to. I was reminded of Schmidt's hypothesis [with respect to Göbekli Tepe] that hybrid creatures, unknown to neolithic man, are particular to highly developed cultures - cultures which have achieved distance from and fear of nature. If archeologists of the future found this T-shirt, they would know that ours had been a civilization of great refinement.
-- from The Sanctuary by Elif Batuman, who says that she likes to think that 'when it comes to identifying a headless man with an erection, I'm as sharp-eyed as the next person.'

Among the things about Göbekli Tepe that I did not know, and learned from Batuman's piece, is archaeologists speculate that the weak foundations of the stones may have had some acoustic purpose: perhaps the pillars were meant to hum in the wind. (See this)

26 December 2011

'Bears, dolphins and the animal stories we tell'

We don’t have to understand animals in order to care about them or in order to feel obliged to treat them in a certain fashion.
-- from a review Christopher Beha of four books about animals

19 December 2011

Mind in life

Am also late off the block on this from Alva Noë:
Plants are living beings, even the simplest ones, even the cell, are already engaged in an autonomous struggle to maintain themselves and survive. Living beings, even the simplest ones, already have something like rudimentary minds — motivated sensitivities and useful interests — and so they are way beyond [the IBM robot] Watson.

A wasp smaller than an amoeba

I missed this a few weeks ago. If you did too I recommend a look.

Hat tip Ephemeral curios

18 December 2011

'Turtles might deposit eggs in the sand of the beach where now the walrus sleeps'

Then might those genera of animals return, of which the memorials are preserved in the ancient rocks of our continents. The huge iguanodon might reappear in the woods, and the icthyosaur in the sea, while the pterodactyl might flit again through the umbrageous groves of tree ferns. Coral reefs might be prolonged to the arctic circle, where the whale and narwal now abound. Turtles might deposit eggs in the sand of the sea beach, where now the walrus sleeps, and where the seal is drifted on the ice-floe.
-- from Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology (1830-32)

Duria antiquior (1830)

16 December 2011

Scientific killing

The [method] that is now mostly used is a technique in the Antarctic that uses sonar. Not, however, to look at the whale underneath the water. They use it as a means of scaring [it], because sonar is very loud. They did experiments and chose a frequency which kept whales so panicked, that they were at the surface for breaths more frequently than at other frequencies. So, they drive the whale along at the surface and then they fire into it.
-- Roger Payne in an interview with Yale 360. Payne says that following the 1986 moratorium the total number of whales killed world wide was 185 a year. It has climbed steadily even since, reaching 1,004 by 2009

14 December 2011

'That beauty exists at all in a damaged world is to be celebrated'

"Linguistic disobedience" might be achieved in many ways: by speaking out of turn, by disrupting syntax and "meaning", and by offering comparisons between disparate things. It might be a case of the poem acting as "witness", a recording of what's normally "unseen", ignored or denied. It can be subtle -- using allusion and slight shifts from convention -- and it can be volatile -- from agitprop to rants.
An activist ecological poem might offer a glimpse of deep natural beauty that is nonetheless necessarily "disrupted" by the highly disturbing reality of species loss, deforestation or, say, the ecological implications of buying the latest flat-screen television technology. That beauty exists at all in a damaged world is to be celebrated, but our appreciation of it comes so often at a cost that we don't always register. We must be conscious of its vulnerability.
-- from John Kinsella on Keeping poetry outside the comfort zone.

13 December 2011


via Deep Sea News

A better soundtrack, in my view, would have been Chopin's Etude op 10 no 1 in C Major

8 December 2011

Beyond the horseless carriage

And now we’re doing something incredible. We’re literally creating potentially an entirely new species. If you believe both the scientists and the science fiction authors out there, that’s what they think we’re doing. But, if we’re being honest about it, the reason that we’re doing all this is just to get better at destroying one another.
-- P W Singer

6 December 2011

A sixth sense

We can actually use other physical parameters that mammals do not normally perceive and create other sensory channels ...We create a complete new sense with a physical parameter, a physical energy that mammals never experienced themselves so they are now living in a complete new world that is governed by this physical energy, and they have a detector that allows them to find sources of water (for instance) based on this new sense.
-- Miguel Nicolelis talking to Nature Neuropod in October 2011 about yet to be published work that builds on work reported here.

5 December 2011

'Adders have faces intense with hatred; hot with it...'

What had caught my eye in the heather was the zigzag, a pattern too clear to look natural. The shadows cast by bracken leaves have similar shapes. In these shadows, the zigzag evolved, presumably, but somehow the scatter of light and shade on the forest floor became on the snake a regular wavy line. It breaks up the animal’s outline. Hawks and crows see the snake from above. People do too. When the snake moves, winding through stalks and shadows, the zigzag goes in different directions, confusing the eye. On a motionless snake, it is insolently clear. In the heath’s debris, the zigzag looks stylized, like a printed or ceramic pattern, a logo or uniform, a badge of power and purpose.
-- from Our Adder by Richard Kerridge

'You are not your brain'

...we do know...that a healthy brain is necessary for normal mental life, and indeed, for any life at all. But of course much else is necessary for mental life. We need roughly normal bodies and a roughly normal environment. We also need the presence and availability of other people if we are to have anything like the sorts of lives that we know and value. So we really ought to say that it is the normally embodied, environmentally- and socially-situated human animal that thinks, feels, decides and is conscious. But once we say this, it would be simpler, and more accurate, to allow that it is people, not their brains, who think and feel and decide. It is people, not their brains, that make and enjoy art. You are not your brain, you are a living human being.
-- from Art and limits of neuroscience by Alva Noë