April 30, 2012
Of One-Celled Organisms and the Value of Uncertainty

Last night I posted the link to a LiveScience article on Facebook. The article, “Strange organism has unique roots in the tree of life”, is about a one-celled organism that might turn out to be the member of a new, as yet undiscovered and unclassified “kingdom”.

In biology’s taxonomical ranking, kingdom ranks below domain and above phylum. To give those of us who aren’t into biology a better idea, in taxonomical ranking, Animals and Plants are classified as kingdoms. So this new bug could be as different from all of us as animals are from plants. But this post is about the interesting conversation that followed in the comments between me and another friend. I post it below without edits.

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Benjamin Kibbey: You know you’ve had too much to drink when you read the title of the article and miss the “ni” in the second word.

Josh Shahryar: ‎Benjamin, that’s why I clicked on it and it took me to something else which was p. cool in itself, man…

Ben: Totally. My favorite part of science is never the uncovering of answers, but the uncovering of more questions.

Josh: And the pissing off of idiots in the comment section who don’t get how awesome science is. ;)

Ben: Man, I totally avoid comments these days like they are Wal Mart.

Josh: I stopped going to News Yahoo! I decided I’ll get my daily dose of racism and ignorance from Twitter.

Ben: Though you probably don’t want to know what I think of “evolutionary” biology.

Don’t get me wrong, I am no creationist, but I think there is way too little marriage of specialties in science these days (particularly where probability is involved) and most of our current theories regarding origins will, in a few centuries, be considered only slightly less quaint than the old creation stories involving gods vomiting up the earth.

Josh: ‎Benjamin, I don’t get the speculation part either. I believe in speciation through the modern evolutionary synthesis, sure. Other than that, stuff like Panspermia.. meh.

Ben: I think we could also give the people who came before us a little credit on some things. I mean, they looked at the world they knew, took what they saw, and made as much sense of it as they could. As long as we remember we are doing the same, just with more information and better means of gathering it, we keep some perspective on how imperfect our understanding will always be.

I think, I can be a bit of a bastard to all sides in anything. I was raised as something a step away from fundamentalist, and from that I came to realize that much of religion and philosophy has nothing to do with people coming to grips with death, as so many assume, but with coming to grips with life.

I mean, the world is an over-complicated mess that, at best, we can half-predict. We create pretense of understanding in order to be able to pretend we have some level of control, because the reality of how unpredictable and beyond our control the universe really is is far more scary than mortality will ever be.

Yet, religion is not the only philosophy we employ in this regard, and some even attempt to turn the ultimate quest for truth, science, into something by which they can control the random and inexplicable.

I think this is why I like physicists so much: they have stared into the void and come back smiling and saying, “ok, whatever, i still want to know more.”

Ben: In fairness, if this is nonsensical, I am very, very drunk.

Your Josh

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