22 04 2008

I want to set the record straight from the start. Whether you believe all life evolved from a unicellular organism, or that a god or gods created us and everything around us, I am not here to dispute either claim. That is for you to decide on your own, and I’m not about to start a ‘Does God Exist?’ debate for this article’s discussion.

However what I am going to discuss is the fact that a species can evolve through the process of natural selection, and whichever belief you hold, this is not a fact that can be disputed.

Case Study:
A very recent study shows that the average length of elephant tusks has shrunk significantly over the past 50 years. This is the result of poachers hunting the elephants with large tusks for their valuable ivory. Over a period of only fifty years, elephant tusks have now become stereotypically shorter which makes them less appealing to poachers for hunting.

This is a classic example of how the logic of evolution of species through natural selection works. It’s the concept of how there are always variations of species (e.g. short or long tail, blonde or black hair, short or long fur, etc.) and some of these variations will allow certain organisms to survive better than others, and long enough to reproduce several offspring with the same or similar advantageous characteristics.

Example: It is only logical that giraffes with short necks will find it hard to find food and many of them will end up dying off from starvation. Meanwhile, their long-necked counterparts are thriving. In the end, it is the long-necked giraffes which are more actively reproducing off-spring and outliving the short-necked of the species. Eventually over time, the short-necked giraffes will become such a small group that they may eventually cease to exist.

What I’m trying to get at in this article is basically I am sick and tired of the people out there who down-right deny the concept of evolution through natural selection altogether.
Yes, I can’t say for absolute certainty whether we did in fact all evolve from a single cell. Yes, I can say there are missing links and a lack of proof to support either side of the story. But the fact is, nobody can say species don’t evolve.

Final thoughts: It’s up to you whether you want to believe one theory or another, but it is impossible to completely deny that species evolve over time. Whether we all evolved from a single cell, or if we had help from a supernatural force to get where we were some thousands of years ago is uncertain, and there is a lack of concrete proof on both sides of the argument. However we can’t deny that since human records have existed, evolution has occurred.


Alien Life

10 04 2008

The universe is massive. In fact it is so extensive; we have no idea where it ends, or if it even ends at all. Within this large expanse we have discovered so many planets, star systems and galaxies, that it would be very naive and arrogant of us to consider ourselves the ‘centre of the universe’ in the context of being the only planet able to sustain life.

Scientists have already estimated some 50 billion galaxies to exist just within visible range of modern day telescopes. Each one of these galaxies has as many as hundreds of billions of stars, most likely with their own solar system of orbiting planets.

Let us be conservative in our estimations and say there are only 10,000,000,000,000,000 (ten million billion) planets in the universe. It is extremely difficult to believe that only 1 planet out of those ten million billion has an atmosphere that can support life.

Even if no other planet in the universe could sustain life as we know it, this does not exclude the possibility of life existing in other forms that we cannot yet detect, see, or begin to understand. And let us not forget that the universe is so great that if alien life were to exist, the chances are it would be so distant from our world that it would be impossible for us to physically transport anything to their world using current space technology.

Even sending a radio signal which travels at 300,000 kilometres per second (the speed of light) could take decades or centuries before it reaches the planet of alien inhabitants. The chances of such life forms even receiving the signal, knowing how to interpret it, and then sending a signal back is virtually non-existent.

Such alien life forms could have also designed alternative communication technologies which we do not pick-up when scanning for radio frequency signals. Itis also important to realize that the alien life might be too primitive to even design and operate radio frequency communication technology.

Final thoughts: The existence of alien life is more than just a possibility; it is a theory with overwhelming certainty. Whether we will ever be able to communicate or seek-out such life is yet to be seen, and it is unlikely to happen for at least the next couple of decades, if at all during our life time.

Does the pot really take longer to boil when you watch it?

6 04 2008

Let us define time. Time is a basic component of the measuring system used to sequence events, to compare the durations of events and the intervals between them, and to quantify the motions of objects [Wikipedia].

In other words, time is a man-made system of measurement used to perceive and measure events and intervals between said events to establish a duration or ‘period of time.’

Using this notion, it is then reasonable to assume that humans can change or control time by altering their perception and durations of those events. The question is whether it is possible for the brain to consciously or sub-consciously achieve this task, ultimately controlling the speed at which a period of time occurs.

The answer is yes.

Do you ever wonder why people who fall off a tall structure (e.g. a bungee jumping platform) say that their entire life “flashed before [their] eyes” when in reality the fall started and ended in only a few seconds? To us observers, it seems impossible for someone to reflect upon their whole life in such a short period of ‘time’, but believe it or not, the victim of the fall is likely telling the truth.

Why is this?
At the moment of the fall, time was perceived to be moving faster for the victim than it was for the observer. The victim’s brain was able to take in and process much more information in the same period of time than the observer was able to.
* For the purpose of this example, the observer is anyone on the ground that is not affected by the fall; whether they actually observed the fall is irrelevant and the ‘observer’ is simply being used for the basis of comparison.

This is also why people who are involved in accidents can often describe what happened in great detail in what seems to be ‘super-slow motion,’ or the reason why one can remember the look on people’s faces in a room during an embarrassing or frightening situation. This is result of the victim being able to take in and process everything that is happening at extremely fast speeds relative to their observing counterparts.
But there is still an unanswered question, why does time move faster for the victim? Why is it that the victim can process more information than the observer over the same period of time?

The answer is this: When certain chemicals flood the body (such as adrenaline), the brain starts to perceive time at a different speed than its observing counterpart. This allows the brain to think more ‘quickly’ as if a two second fall was actually occurring over several seconds or maybe even minutes, much like how high-speed slow-motion cameras are used to represent a quick event over a long period of time.

Scientific study: Scientists from Duke University recently designed and performed an experiment which provided conclusive evidence to support this theory of time perception. In the experiment, several lab mice were trained to operate a lever at exactly 12 seconds after a timer started in order to receive a food reward.

Under normal conditions, all the lab mice were able to execute this task flawlessly. However when one of the mice was given a dose of cocaine, it began to perceive time as moving much faster relative to the control mouse. In fact, the mouse then tried the experiment and operated the lever at only 8 seconds, 4 seconds quicker than the normal time period.

When a mouse was placed under the influence of marijuana however, it perceived time slower and didn’t operate the lever until 16 seconds into the experiment, 4 seconds after the normal time period.

In actuality, the movie “The Matrix” is a lot more real than it seems. We have the ability to control and speed up time using emotions to trigger a chemical flow of adrenaline so the brain is able to process and act on a given situation much quicker (e.g. in a fight or life threatening scenario). Learning to control the chemical flow is learning to control time.

Thus it is my belief that improving reaction time is actually the skill of learning to speed up time so the brain can realize a stimulus earlier, rather than just training the eye to be more sensitive to movement. I also maintain a hypothesis that people who possess a so called ‘eidetic memory’ (a very rare ability, also loosely termed ‘photographic memory’) live in a state where time is almost always perceived faster than people around them, allowing them to walk by a painting and remember it as if they studied it for minutes at a time.

Final thoughts: Yes, the pot will take longer to boil if you watch it. Your brain will become docile and inactive while waiting, resulting in time (as defined earlier) being slowed down relative to those around you. While you wait (for what seems to be an eternity) for the water to boil, your friend who is talking on the phone probably did not even notice you left the room.