Archive of posts with tag 'biology'

Evolution Has No Goal

February 27, 2024 • #

There’s a common misconception that evolution is “seeking” fitness — that there’s some inherent motivation in the process pushing toward a particular objective.

But evolution is an undirected process of mutation, testing, and accidental discovery of fitness. Within the genes of an organism, there is no memory acquiring feedback from these experimental genetic guesses. Genetic drift, mutation, and natural selection are evolution’s conjecture and criticism. But the criticism feedback loop doesn’t close in a single generation.

Evolution’s feedback loop is survival. If a gene survives, it will replicate. If it doesn’t, that mutation is “found” not to have worked (though...

Weekend Reading: Raising Less, the Adjacent Possible, and Fire and Motion

August 15, 2020 • #

🧰 There Are More Uses For A Screwdriver Than You Can Calculate

Biologist Stuart Kauffman on biological functions and the “adjacent possible”:

The unexpected uses of features of organisms, or technologies, are precisely what happens in the evolution of the biosphere and econosphere, and the analog happens in cultural evolution with the uses of mores, cultural forms, regulations, traditions, in novel ways. In general, these possibles are novel functionalities, in an unbounded space of functionalities, and so are not mathematizable and derivable from...

Weekend Reading: Figma Multiplayer, Rice vs. Wheat, and Tuft Cells

November 23, 2019 • #

🕹 How Figma’s Multiplayer Technology Works

An interesting technical breakdown on how Figma built their multiplayer tech (the collaboration capability where you can see other users’ mouse cursors and highlights in the same document, in real time).

🌾 Large-Scale Psychological Differences Within China Explained by Rice Versus Wheat Agriculture

A fascinating paper. This research suggests the possibility that group-conforming versus individualistic cultures may have roots in diet and agricultural practices. From the abstract:

Cross-cultural psychologists have mostly contrasted East...

Weekend Reading: Darwinian Gastronomy, Humboldt, and Taxes

November 16, 2019 • #

🌶 Darwinian Gastronomy

Turns out cultures from warmer climates evolved a taste for spicy foods to combat the presence of more diverse bacteria:

Alas, nothing in nature turns out to be that simple. Researchers now suggest that a taste for spices served a vital evolutionary purpose: keeping our ancestors alive. Spices, it turns out, can kill poisonous bacteria and fungi that may contaminate our food. In other words, developing a taste for these spices could be good for our health. And since food spoils more quickly in hotter weather, it’s only natural that warmer climates...


July 17, 2019 • #

Yesterday was Neuralink’s unveiling of what they’ve been working on. Their team of engineers, neurosurgeons, and computer science experts are working on a “neural lace” brain-computer interface.

Elon Musk announced the launch of a company to work on this problem back in 2016. Seeing this amount of progress, it’s clear now that the science fiction story of a cybernetic implant looks like a possible near future reality. The idea itself conjures images of Neuromancer’s console cowboys and Effinger’s “moddies”, neural augmentations that...

Weekend Reading: T Cells, Creating Proteins, and SNI Awards

April 6, 2019 • #

🦠 T is for T Cell

After reading The Breakthrough, I’ve been doing more reading on immunotherapy, how it works, and what the latest science looks like. Another book in my to-read list is An Elegant Defense, a deeper study of how the immune system works. The human defensive system of white blood cells is a truly incredible evolutionary machine — a beautiful and phenomenally complex version of antifragility.

🧬 Engineering Proteins in the Cloud with Python


The Origin and Transmutation of Species

February 10, 2019 • #

Since The Origin of Species, Darwin’s theory of natural selection has been the foundation of our thinking about the evolution of life. Along the way there have been challengers to the broadness of that theory, and David Quammen’s The Tangled Tree brings together three core “modern” concepts that are beginning to take hold, providing a deeper understanding how lifeforms evolve.

The book mostly follows the research of the late Carl Woese, a microbiologist who spent his career studying microorganisms, looking for connections between creatures in the micro and macro. Beginning with Darwin’s tree...