Monthly Archives: May 2009

Book – River Out of Eden

A Darwinian View of Life
by Richard Dawkins

Dawkins presents a dispassionate and mechanistic explanation of Darwinism. As always, he can come across as derisive and arrogant, or charming and intelligent, depending on the reader’s predilection. He uses the metaphor of a river to show how DNA flows through geological time, with individual organisms being only the temporary vessels of that DNA at any point. The real force driving evolution is the maximization of DNA replication. Purposeful design is an illusion. In fact, he argues, even biologists are at times altogether too hung up in organisms, their physical structure and purpose. The staggering time scale of life on earth needs to be grasped if one is to avoid the mistakes of anthropomorphising and deifying. Propagation of DNA over this vast time line is sufficient to explain the entire process of evolution.

He ends with another metaphor which he calls a ‘replication bomb’, similar to a stellar supernova. By listing ten thresholds that life will achieve during evolution, he paints a picture of biological history beginning with simple chemical self-copying and eventually achieving space travel. It would have been interesting if he had taken this metaphor a bit further, but that would involve speculation and philosophy, two things that Dawkins prefers to avoid.

Compelling, well-written and argued using hard science, thought experiments, and empirical examples, this volume serves as a good handbook for those who would take the Darwinian side of a debate on origins.

Book – Einstein: His Life and Universe

His Life and Universe
by Walter Isaacson

There are only a few biographers capable of doing justice to such a life – Isaacson is one of them. It is the story of a brilliant, quirky, funny, wise, flawed, charming, and unique man. A good layman’s view of relativity is achieved, but it is really a personal journey that’s well worth the somewhat daunting read (700 pages). The tumultuous times he lived in and the dramatic scientific advances he witnessed, discovered, and later struggled with are painted beautifully. The reader oscillates between seeing Einstein as one of the greatest geniuses (if not THE greatest) of all time, and an ordinary man with weaknesses and strengths.

For those who have never studied him, it’s a great biography. For those who have, it will make them love and appreciate Einstein even more.

Lynn Margulis

Lynn Margulis was born in 1938 in Chicago. She was the first wife of astronomer Carl Sagan. She was fascinated by genetics right from youth and looked at theories from the 19th century, based mostly on zoological arguments, in the light of modern microbiology. She was the originator of Endosymbiotic theory, which proposed that eukaryotic life (cells with a nucleus) evolved as gardens of simpler prokaryotic life (such as bacteria). This was indeed a fringe theory when it was proposed, but due in equal parts to her tenacity and subsequent microbiological evidence supporting it, it is mainstream today. She continues to argue radical theories to this day.

Her respect for others’ work that is many years, even many decades old is refreshing in the modern world. Margulis is also an example of how “even when spoken by a minority of one, the truth is still the truth”, an important principle of science.

How to Join the Einstein@home Team

The team name is geopense.EAH and the team id is: 9963

  • Download the BOINC client software package for your specific OS
  • Install the software package on your computer
  • Launch the BOINC Manager

    • Select Tools…Attach to Project
    • Select Einstein@home from list
    • Enter email & password in User information

      (this creates a new account in this project)

    • Should see Attached to project notification
    • Select Finish and enter a user name and optionally some geographic information
    • In the Find a Team dialog, enter geopense.EAH in keywords box and click Search
    • Select geopense.EAH in Team search results
    • In the Team info page, click on “Join this team”
    • Your account preferences for geopense.EAH are displayed

      Welcome to our team !

    • Please note that you may not show up on the team list until you have finished crunching at least one unit as a team member

  • You can obtain team certificates from here or the link on the account preferences page