Phantom menaces

6

I’ve been watching, at long last, the three Star Wars prequel movies (yes, yes, I know how truly awful the first two are NOW, but you didn’t warn me, did you?). Something struck me as I watched the endless computer graphics supplying background to the endless special effect fight scenes.

It has long been a commonplace that the representation of “alien races” in science fiction always gets it wrong. In brief, for this is totally irrelevant to the essay, natural selection will work exactly the same way wherever life appears in the universe. And we know that physics and chemistry is uniform. So alien body forms can’t be just random collections of unconnected exotic features, and bodies are limited by physical and chemical laws. So Wookies, possible, Jar Jar Binks, not so much.

Where was I? Oh yes. Aliens are wrong, but so, generally, are the planets they are portrayed as living on. Many Star Wars planets are portrayed as having surfaces totally covered by cities composed of huge skyscrapers and clearly intended to indicate populations of billions of beings. It is an old concept in science fiction. I guess based on the ideas of inevitable massive population growth, endless technological innovation, and cities as the ultimate expression of human evolution and civilisation.
…Read more

Bone of contention

10

In the mid-1970s I received an unexpected phone call – could I come and check out a museum display. The unexpected part was not the checking out, but the nature of the display I was to check.

In those distant times the only “museum” in Canberra (leaving aside the War Memorial) was the “Institute of Anatomy”. I don’t now remember its history, but it had been established early in Canberra’s history in a splendid Art Deco style building. I presume they funded research, conferences etc, maintained collections of anatomical specimens, but the main function by 1976 was their display area which was like a Dickensian museum of glass display cases full of all sorts of bits and pieces of flora and fauna and rocks and humans.
…Read more

The Old Astronomer*

3

Look, there’s a lot of different careers I could have had. Hell, had three different ones, three and a half, as it was. But if I ever manage to decide what I want to do with my life (and yes, that is a winged chariot you hear), astronomy is right up there as a possibility.

Oh, not really a possibility, with my lack of physics and mathematics abilities. I suppose my wishful thinking was always based on Herschel, hell Galileo, staring at the mysterious skies through a telescope and seeing, things never seen before, heavenly messengers.

We are of course, long past the time when amateurs could point a telescope from their backyard and make discoveries in the cosmos. Although, that said, it is from a backyard not a million parsecs from mine that a chap does keep making discoveries, most recently of bits of a comet crashing into Jupiter.

But my old eyes are too old anyway, these days, astronomy a young person’s game, these days. Besides, had my academic careers, working in zoology and archaeology. But it’s all the same thing, really, archaeology being part of zoology, and zoology a subsection of astronomy.

What was the question? Oh, you think I need to defend those suggestions? Well, if I must, it’s your blog.

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” Carl Sagan of course, in a rather wonderful thought. We don’t need to go out to the stars, they have come to us. And not just to humans, but every living being on the planet, and the very structure of the planet we live on.

The other rather wonderful thought is that we, you and I dear reader, are related to every other human being currently on the planet, and all those who came before. And if that isn’t a wonderful enough thought, we, you and I, are also related to every other living being, animal and plant, on the planet. How good is that eh?

And not just related in the literal, direct genetic sense, but in an ecological one. As the first of the apes that would become human walked across the African savannah they began to adapt to different habitats to their nearest relatives, and to make use of different plants and animals in their diet. Their hunting will have subtly altered species compositions among their prey and plant foods. And eventually, as some groups shifted towards agriculture or pastoralism, their interactions with other species actually affected evolution, in a process we call domestication.

We study early humans in exactly the same way we study their relatives, through palaeontology, studying not only their bony remains, but, where possible, diet and behaviour. As we reach the creation of stone and other tools we call this branch of palaeontology “archaeology”, but it’s all one thing. And palaeontology is of course just one aspect of zoology.

Convinced yet?

But wait, there’s more. For a long time another branch of zoology (well, biochemistry, but really I’m in an imperial mood) has investigated the origins of life. Plenty of ideas, successful experiments in forming organic molecules in conditions approximating early Earth in terms of water, heat, electrical discharge, low oxygen, clay minerals etc. But all with the deliberately built-in, assumed requirement that organic had to come from an original inorganic chemistry on Earth. [This is, was, a necessary assumption. The nonsense from Hoyle and Wickramasinghe about life forms arriving on Earth from comet tails or whatever was not only mad-brained, but didn't affect the study of the origin of life, merely shifted the location to somewhere else where, obviously, organic must have still been derived from inorganic, and on a surface of some kind].

But the young lads and lasses of modern astronomy have shown in effect (and I never thought I’d find myself writing this phrase) that Fred and Chandra were sort of right. No, no, not in the sense of showers of frogs or beetles or bacteria from outer space, I haven’t lost my wits totally (nor my sarcasm). But what recent years of observation have shown us is that organic molecules of various kinds are common in space. Are produced, as I understand it, from dust clouds and the radiation from evolving and exploding stars. That it isn’t necessary to start from scratch to form life on this planet (and quite possibly also on Mars and moons like Titan and Enceladus), but that various organic molecules will provide a kind of kick start for electrical discharges, water, heat, clay substrates to go to work and develop the kind of self-reproducing complex organic molecules we call “life”. [This also, incidentally, makes it absolutely certain that many other millions of the planets the young astronomers are now also able to observe will also have life].

So, not just star stuff to build bones etc, but the very materials that can, in the right conditions, form life, come from out there. There is no gap between us and all the other life forms on this planet, and none between our organics and those spread throughout this awfully big universe. Another rather wonderful thought.

Oh, and of course no longer any need to distinguish between astronomy, zoology, and archaeology. And no need for me to plan (thank goodness) another end of life career – I always was an astronomer really, it turns out, just one studying the bits of the universe that happened to sit on this planet.

Not now, sadly though, a young astronomer but an old astronomer. Almost as old as the universe, I can feel it in my bones.

*see poem “The Old Astronomer” by Sarah Williams about a third of the way through my “Values” section, click tag above or http://davidhortonsblog.com/values/.

Political Gene-ius

3

I often think it’s comical
How Nature always does contrive 
That every boy and every gal,
That’s born into the world alive,
Is either a little Liberal,
Or else a little Conservative!
(WS Gilbert “Iolanthe”)

When I, aged 30, first met my Father we didn’t discuss cricket, and I have no idea whether he was a fan or not. But then I had no idea he was a Shakespeare fan until I learned he had somehow carried a volume of the Collected Works in his army kitbag all through the Middle East and New Guinea in World War 2, so perhaps he did love cricket.

My grandfather (yes, the one in the photo top right) certainly did play, and love, cricket, and was, apparently, a very handy fast bowler, even up to being in his Forties. I once proudly owned, and wore, his cricket cap from when he played in the County Durham competition, 100 years ago, but lost it in circumstances which remain painful.

He died not long after I turned seven. Before I was old enough to seriously appreciate cricket, and long before television, let alone direct tv broadcasts of Test Matches, came to Perth. Cricket could be followed, from England, on the radio in the early 1950s, and that was that. One of my many regrets about his early death was never being able to watch cricket with him. Both of us would have relished the experience.

But with no direct transmission from either father or grandfather, how did I get my love of cricket?

What used to be called the “lower vertebrates”, fish, amphibians, reptiles, generally speaking, fertilise eggs, lay them somewhere appropriate, and then piss off. Consequently the young, when born, are equipped to completely fend for themselves. All of their behaviour patterns are encoded in their DNA, and on hatching they simply seek shelter, food, and eventually mates in ways that were innate, not learned. [It's worth noting though that some species in all these groups have separately evolved live births, and others, after laying eggs, guard them until hatching, and then guard the young for a while. In such species it is possible the young do learn some behaviour associated with, say, feeding, from the male or female parent].

The “higher vertebrates”, birds and mammals, show considerable variation. All the birds (and three of the mammals) lay eggs of course. But there are some, the cuckoo species, that dump their eggs into the nests of other species to raise. There are some, all ground living types (emus, chickens, ducks etc), who have “precocial” young, with down cover, born ready to move off with their mother. Most others have young born naked and totally helpless, needing total care in nest from parents until their feathers develop and they can fly (and even then care continues). They therefore have a mixture of innate behaviours and learned (or at least modified) behaviours

Mammals also vary. Some, notably the herd/flock species, are up and moving within a few hours of birth and following the mother in the rest of the mob. Others are born completely helpless, and remain so for long periods, weeks, months, even years. The ones who develop quickly have less chance (and need) to learn from parents (though they will learn a great deal), those (notably the apes, including us, learn a great deal from the parents and have fewer purely innate components (though far more than we realise).

Well, in brief, we are into the nitty gritty of the “nature-nurture” debate – what part of a species, say Homo sapiens sapiens, behaviours are genetic, inherited, what part are learnt? Not simple, as the evolutionary history above shows. Certainly there are fundamental things – eating, drinking, danger, comfort, athleticism – that are strongly genetically based. Then there are superficial things – religion, taste in music and art, social unit structures, political beliefs, and, yes, sport preferences – that are strongly based on the context in which you are raised.

But, on the one hand the genetic ones are modified by upbringing (eg particular food preferences, response to dangers, how fit you are), and on the other, even some of the superficial socio-culturally-based ones have some genetic basis it has been found. Studies of twins raised separately for example show some tendency for them to be similar in their strength of religious belief (though the form strictly related to household raised in). Musical abilities are well-known to often “run in families”. And more recently (for example) studies show tendency towards respectively right and left-wing political beliefs have some genetic component (though again, the particular form this might take being related to up-bringing). Wonder if the otherwise inexplicable gun love in the US is part of this inheritance?

Interestingly, though not surprisingly perhaps, both the religious and political tendencies are related to serotonin production and the brain’s response, and since music also causes serotonin reactions, it may well be that is also related to the abilities of, say, the sons of JS Bach.

Anyway, all of that may help to explain (though of course there would be many other factors), why a religious believer might suddenly appear from an atheist household, or a fervent Young Republican from a Democratic one, or a genius musician from a non-musical family. May also explain why musical ability is rare, why the irrational belief in religion persists to damage societies, and why roughly half of the voters in most countries keep voting for conservative parties that will damage their interests.

Oh, and it might just explain why I am watching a cricket match on tv while I write this! There being more things in heaven an earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy, or made a fault in our stars.

The sphere of private life

40

When theocracy comes back to western civilisation it might begin with three young women protesting in a church and being jailed for two years. Or it will ride in on a wagon outlawing same-sex marriage. Perhaps it will come from small fundamentalist religious schools keeping their students isolated from any other thoughts, including Darwin’s dangerous idea. Or maybe it will come from leaders who pray to an imaginary being for guidance before making decisions on war.

Maybe “witches” being burnt will provide a spark. Or the loud voices demanding that women cover up their bodies, and art work be destroyed which depicts nakedness. Could it be hiding under the cloak of those who called a young Olympic runner a “prostitute”? Or of those who are certain that women must never be allowed to preach to men?

Perhaps it’s coming in that mob of wild-eyed young men brandishing AK 47s in the air and screaming “god is great” in triumph at having slaughtered other young men. Or in the ones screaming abuse about homosexuality at people attending soldier’s funerals. Or in the hands of the ones screaming at young women attending family planning clinics, or blowing them up or shooting “abortion doctors”. Or maybe it’ll be riding in a plane being flown into a tall building, or a truckload of explosives smashing into a girl’s school.

Maybe theocracy will begin on old battlefield sites being labelled as “sacred ground”. Or on pieces of burnt toast with an imaginary face. Or in a row of fence posts imagined as a woman’s figure. Or in the ancient monuments blown up as impure. Or perhaps in those places where gullible sick people are prayed upon and preyed upon by those promising miracle cures in return for a little money.

Its arrival will be speeded up by those determined to smash science. By those who preach the dominion of man over nature. By the tax exemptions for religious institutions. By the prayers at the start of parliamentary sessions. By the growing role of religious cadres in schools, in hospitals, in military memorial ceremonies, in political lobby groups. By the politicians flaunting their religious beliefs as an incentive to vote for them. By the preachers blaming a drought or a tornado on people behaving “sinfully”.

It will come from the children indoctrinated, and sometimes mutilated, at ages far too young to give consent. It will come from cults shielded from scrutiny by threats of legal action, shielded from criticism by laws limiting free speech. Will come from the poor devils refusing medical treatment in favour of prayer. Will come from big businesses with religious fundamentalist owners using their power. Will come from fearful people, made afraid by shock jocks serving political masters. Will come from the deliberate conflating of religion and race by unscrupulous leaders. Will come from words written by deluded people hundreds, thousands of years ago, believed by deluded people now to have come from one imaginary being or another.

It is enabled every time the media calls it a “miracle” when someone is saved by the full application of five centuries of western science and medicine. Every time tv channels run “serious” programs about “psychics” or “near death experiences” or “ghosts”. Every time someone is said to have “passed” instead of died. Every time someone says they will “pray for you to get better” and you don’t say “how about donating to medical research instead?” Every time someone wears a “power band” or a “healing crystal”, or recommends homeopathy.

Brought nearer every time someone says “Oh, those New Atheists, so aggressive and rude, they really should respect the beliefs of religious people”.

The bible will arrive, everywhere, wrapped in the flag and carrying a gun. Theocracy is coming to a country near you, soon, and it will take you back to the Dark Ages. The only thing needed for religion to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

“Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade the sphere of private life” (William Lamb, on hearing an evangelical sermon)

By special act

63

Questions for creationists:
1. Given anoxic conditions, water, variety of chemicals, electrical discharges, complex organic molecules arriving from space, how did/does “god” STOP life emerging on planets all over the universe?
2. Since all species are variable, how does “god” STOP evolution happening?
3. Since populations of species constantly become isolated geographically, how does “god” STOP speciation occurring?
4. Given two extreme genetic bottlenecks for humans – Adam and Eve (the latter being cloned from the former!), then “Noah’s family” – how do you imagine the human race became so diverse, and abundant,  in just a few hundred years?
5. If “all the animals” were each represented by a single pair on the Ark, how did they all become so abundant and diverse in a few hundred years
6. How did “Noah” collect animals from the then unknown continents of Australia, Americas, Asia, southern Africa, northern Europe?
7.  Why did Noah have an inordinate fondness for beetles?
8. If the whole earth was covered with water of sufficient depth to cover mountains, how did any plant species survive?
9. If any plant species did somehow survive, how did they reform complex ecosystems all over the world in a few hundred years?
10. Given that all the other people of the world had different ideas how they came to exist, and that none of them “remember” the Flood, what makes you think … oh, forget it, I know your answer to that one.

And here’s a bonus question, if you finish the others early:
11. Name any two of the hundreds of thousands of biological scientists who have worked on aspects of evolution since Charles Darwin. To make it easier you can include geologists and physicists. Struggling? OK, I’ll give you a start, Alfred Russell Wallace. Over to you.

To be hanged with the bible

57

When the bible was written humans* didn’t know:
About bacteria and viruses and parasites
Blood circulation
Earth going around sun
More than 5 planets
About galaxies
There was a southern hemisphere
Earth round
What lightning is
That whales aren’t fish
What mental illness involves
About genes and inheritance
About Chinese, Aztecs, Zulus, Aborigines, Navaho, Japanese, Papuans, Bushmen, Mayans, Eskimo, Indonesians, West Africans, Britons
Composition of matter
Any history
Composition of moon
About fossils
There was a western hemisphere
The age of the Earth
About the great apes
About continental drift
About kangaroos, lemurs, opossums, emus, iguanas, alpacas, platypus, kiwi, gila lizards, sloths, tree frogs, humming birds, horseshoe crabs, peripatus, tasmanian tigers, rhinoceros

When bible written humans had never:
Flown
Travelled faster than a horse can run
Communicated except by speaking directly
Elected a government
Swum under the ocean
Read books
Looked through a telescope
Looked through a microscope
Warmed themselves by anything except wood fires
Been cured by antibiotics
Had a surgical operation
Seen a hospital, school or factory
Seen a town of more than few thousand people

When bible written humans were happy about:
Slavery
Women as chattels
Divine kings
Child marriage
War
Destruction of environment
Gods living on mountains
Child labour
Torture
Human sacrifice
Ghosts
Magic

And yet there are people in 2012 who believe everything written in the bible. There are people who use it to determine who to vote for, where to send their children to school, how they feel about burning environmental and social and economic and cultural issues. And if that wasn’t bad enough, incredible enough, we can’t just smile wisely and say “there there, one day you will grow up” as we might to a child who tries to live their life by, say, the Harry Potter books, because there are people who want to insist that the rest of the world obey these silly old books as well. There are people making all kinds of pronouncements about the environment, about bringing up children, about justice, about science, about art and literature, based not on some independent and rational analysis of an issue, but on what they think is said in the bible about it. And in turn appearing in the media, influencing politicians about it, indeed running for political office themselves. Some countries, notably Iran, Saudi Arabia, and America, are now theocracies run by people who know nothing except what someone has told them an old book says.

Angry? You betcha. The modern world is difficult enough, will become more difficult in the future, without the drag on political life from people living in the past. Can’t laugh at these people any more, this is serious.

*By “humans” in what follows I sometimes mean “the whole human race” and sometimes “the humans who wrote the bits and pieces of old manuscript that got collected together and called ‘the bible’”, which is which will be obvious and not of much importance anyway.

Kissing Cousins

7

[Note this was written to follow on from discussions which began in comments on post "When you wish" below and continued into those of "Extraordinary". One of my most regular commenters on this blog, Eric, is trying to understand evolution. I, we, are trying to help him. This post arose from Eric's comment that "I don’t get the 'every generation' being a transition between the species at all." So, Eric, let's try it like this.*]

I don’t know if you are interested in your family history, but let’s assume you are. And let’s assume that you know all your ancestors, way way back (will come to how way back soon). And let’s imagine that not only do you have photographs of your ancestors going back 150 years (when the camera was actually invented) but there was a previously unknown mechanism which enabled photos of all your ancestors going way way back.

So you start to arrange the photos on your table. Parents first, then grandparents, great grandparents and so on, back through the generations. And let’s assume (last assumption, promise) that you have not only told your immediate family what you are doing, but have told your more distant family of cousins etc, your community, and, through the internet, the whole world.

OK, with me? Right. You are putting your great grandparent’s photos on the table, your children remarking how much you look like them and you not being sure if it is a compliment, when in walks your second cousin and says, hey, they are my great grandparents. You chat for a while and keep working. Down go the photos generation after generation.

Back to six generations and a previously unknown cousin from Germany drops in and points out you share a great great great great great grandparent. He still lives in the same village your ancestors migrated to America from (I have a real example of that, a sixth cousin living just a few miles from the village in England my six times removed grandparents lived in).

I don’t really know your background so I will switch to me now. I keep adding more and more generations (roughly 4 per hundred years). Back a thousand years. All those people, all 45 generations look much like me – variation in hair colour here, different height there, shorter nose over this way – all residents of the English Midlands.

About a thousand years ago a bit of a change – more men and women seem to be of strapping solid build with red or yellow hair. Just as I am putting their photos out, trying to keep track of which generations I am up to, there is a knock at the door and a couple of strapping red haired gentlemen tell me that I have just identified some common ancestors of their’s which means I now have Danish and Saxon distant cousins.

Another 500 years back and a knock at the door tells me those dark haired olive skin ancestors are the reason I have Italian cousins. And so on, back thousands of years. Little differences between generations, but all recognisably the same group. Tens of thousands of years, still the same, and if you put any of them in modern clothes they could drink in my local bar unnoticed.

Oh there are changes, as you [that is me, "I" became awkward!] realise when you look back to your recent ancestors, and when you hear knocks on the door from people from Germany, Hungary, Turkey. But still, generation to generation, no obvious change. And then as more tens of thousands of years tick over you get vists from Australian Aborigines, Asians, South Americans, and finally Africans. Still no obvious change from generation to generation, but your ancestors are now recognisably different – shorter in stature, with curly hair and darker skin – from those ten or twenty thousand years later or those today. You realise if you put the photos in a bundle and flicked them like those old children’s moving picture books, you would see a gradual change over time to the present day.

And still you go back, ancestor after ancestor. You’ve lost all sense of time. What is it, a million years maybe, gosh, that’s, um, 2500 generations. Curious, you hadn’t noticed change, but these G G G G …. Grandfathers of yours are much heavier built, more muscly, bigger jaws, bigger brow ridges. Other cousins drop by from Indonesia, far east Russia. Similar but a bit different again.

And still we go on, another 2500 generations and another. Is it your imagination or do these ancestors seem shorter, darker, more, well, hairy? No it’s not. You look along the table, can’t see the change, until you jump forward a couple of million years (big table this) and compare. And then you get a phone call from zoo, chimpanzee there wants to tell you that you and he are 10,000th cousins, sharing a 9999 great grandparent. Seems odd, he looks quite different to you when you arrive at the zoo, but on a table he has arranged all his ancesors going back same number of generations as yours. You look at his photos and notice the same pattern. The later ones all look just like him, “typical chimpanzees”, but as you get further back you notice small changes – slightly shorter arms perhaps, jaws a little larger, hair colour a little different, slightly more upright. He points at another slightly different looking chimpanzee, and you discover that when your friend got back to about a million years ago he got a visit from a Bonobo chimp who said he was his long lost cousin, just like the calls you had along the way. By the time you look at his ancestors and yours from about, say, 9000 generations ago, there’s not much difference at all, and when you get back to the shared ancestor they are of course identical.

Seeing that you are a bit puzzled your Chimpanzee cousin points at you and points at the ground, then points at himself and then at a tree outside. Light dawns – your common 9999 great grandparents were mainly ground dwellers, but around 4 million years ago his direct ancestors were in a group that became separated from yours, and while your ancestors adapted more and more strongly to ground living, his were in an area where tree living was all the go. Adaptation proceeded in the two directions in different parts of Africa, and by the time conditions changed and the two groups were in contact again they had become different enough not to interbreed.

You go home, pleased to have discovered more long lost cousins, and keep working through your photos. Back to 7 million years, 17500 generations and another zoo call, this time the gorilla wants to say hullo to his cousin. Same thing. A line of photos on a table, call from a distant gorilla cousin (separated in east Africa), not much change from one photo to next, but change over longer time. Seems quite different to Humans and Chimps initially, but doesn’t look that much different to the common human-chimp grandparent perhaps 5 million years ago, and as you get further and further back they converge in appearance (and genetics of course) until they look more and more like a kind of generalised ape – Australopithecus (again with various cousins).

And… Well, you get the idea. You can continue generation after generation through the other apes, then back through the early mammals, the reptiles, the amphibians and so on. Not much evident change from one generation to next but over immense time substantial change. No modern species the direct ancestor of any other modern species, just like your cousins are not your grandparents, but all are cousins to some degree.

There you are Eric, evolution over four billion years in a short post – gradual adaptive change, and equally importantly, geographic separation of different populations forming new species. What a wonderful world that has such potential in it.

* I’d love to claim the credit for this idea of how to present evolutionary change, but saw it (in the marvelous illustrations by Dave McKean) and read it originally in Richard Dawkins 2011 “The Magic of Reality” Random House, London. However I have added the calls from cousins, and the zoo, as my own piece of originality.

When you wish

10

Once upon a time the question about life elsewhere in the universe was complicated by lack of basic information. From the time we knew that we lived in a galaxy and there were 400 billion stars in our galaxy, and that there were 200 billion other galaxies (so that’s, um, 80,000 billion billion stars as far as the telescope eye can see), it seemed likely that there would be many possibilities of life elsewhere.

But the unknown part of the equation was the number of stars which had planets. Then, recently, we began finding planets around other stars, but they were all uninhabitable gas giants, like our Jupiter and Saturn. Then smaller planets began to be seen as observations improved. Then smaller planets at right distance (the Goldilocks Zone – not too hot, not too cold) from stars. Now calculations show that on average every star has one or more planets. Billions of billions of stars – billions of billions of planets.

So now, almost overnight it seems, we know there are essentially infinite numbers of planets. What percentage could life have evolved on? Half? Quarter? Even if only 1% had the kinds of conditions that enabled life to emerge here we are still talking billions of occupied planets. And once you have life the Darwinian equations – variation + selection = adaptation; adaptation + isolation = evolution – mean that all kinds of interesting organisms are out there. Chances of high intelligence evolving? Very good, it has evolved many different times here.

It’s all just a matter of very high numbers and chance. Always was, but we didn’t know how high the numbers were before. Now we do there is no question but that there is a lot of life out there, and a lot of intelligent beings.

So, where are they? Well, a long way away. And unless physics is a lot odder than we think there aren’t going to be student exchanges or tourism between here and there and right over there. Certainly not before the dominant intelligent people here wreck this habitable planet (a long long way from the next one) by being unable to control their own CO2 emissions. I’m guessing there are other beings in the universe (Dolphin beings, or Octopus beings, or Crow beings, or Pig beings) who consider getting CO2 levels down as a definition of intelligence.

But hey – looking up at all the stars and thinking it’s a big lonely universe? So 2011. Now look up and picture all shapes and sizes of intelligent beings looking back at you from all directions. There, that feels better doesn’t it? But I wish there was more intelligence here too.