Metazoa is kind of a sequel to “Other Minds”, Godfrey-Smith’s excellent book about the nature of cephalopod intelligence. Metazoa takes a broader view, and explores the nature of minds in general, and how they’re inextricably linked to the animal way-of-being: having a unified, unitary body that can sense and react to the world around it. It was also an interesting book to read in combination with Sean B. Carroll’s “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” about animal body plans, and how they evolved through the use of gene regulatory networks and a meta-genetic toolkit that we share with all bilaterians.
This author kind of feels like a Carl Sagan of Marine Biology — very clearly trying to understand the world within a Materialist / Naturalist framework (which I appreciate) but without losing a sense of the mystical nature of existence. He’s asking “What kind of thing is a mind?” and “How can that kind of thing arise through evolution and be composed of nothing but a particular collection of matter and energy?” Why does this happen at all? How general or common a phenomenon is it?
The Atlantic Monthly looks at Pakistan, America’s “Ally From Hell”. Following the raid to kill bin Laden in Abbottabad, and in the shadow of our ongoing drone war in the northern tribal regions, Pakistan has become (somewhat understandably) paranoid that we’re intent on denuking them in the event of a crisis of state. So they’ve taken to driving around assembled tactical nuclear weapons in unmarked, unescorted, unarmored cargo vans. The ISI takes US money, and funds various paramilitary groups which it doesn’t actually control, some of which are anti-American and end up killing US troops and disrupting our supply channels. Both sides turn a blind eye to the mess because they can’t do without each other. What a clusterf*ck.
I’m a little bit of an information pack rat. I started blogging before there were blogs, from UGCS. It seemed mildly neurotic and self involved and exhibitionist at the time. I mostly did it for my mom as a way to keep in touch without having to e-mail all the time. I’ve lost information here and there, even digital information (which seems kind of unforgivable), but analog too. Actually, I think more I just didn’t create much analog information. Five intense months of life, bicycling across Europe in 1994. Maybe 2 rolls of film total? Almost no photos from my summer in Russia. Both my parents were avid photographers. My dad professionally (though eventually he tired of the weddings and quinceañeras, and retreated to a steady stream of passport and similar photos… para las micas rosas, y para amnestia…) and my mom (so far as I can tell) more personally. Family pictures, documentarian style, wildflowers, and some prizes in the Fresno County Fair. But I never got into it, until I got a digital camera in 1999. My first piece of digital film was a 64 MB compact-flash card (incredibly, several times larger than the 20 MB hard disk in my first computer, which I got in 1993). It cost about $100. The camera was a Nikon Coolpix 700, with 2.1 MP sensor and no zoom. I bought it in an online auction (at Yahoo!) for $425, but had the seller leave me feedback at eBay (you could leave anyone feedback for anything back then). I mailed the check, and he mailed the camera, simultaneously, trusting each other. I still have our e-mails. The pictures could go directly to the web… via the web server I had running in my bedroom in Santa Cruz. I still have those pictures. No developing. No cost-per-click of the shutter. Kayaking through Southeast Alaska with Becky in the summer of 2000 I had to limit the resolution to 640 x 480 to avoid running out of space over 3 months, and I couldn’t use the LCD lest I run out of batteries, but at least I took the pictures, and kept them.
The World Without Us is an exploration of what the Earth would be like, and has been like, in the absence of H. sapiens.
This book was as much a look at how we have changed the world as it was an exploration of what would happen were we all to vanish one day. I especially liked the chapter Polymers are Forever, about the ultimate fate of our plastics, and The Lost Menagerie, a chapter about the missing megafauna of the Americas. Missing, largely because we ate it. I thought he could have spent more time on nuclear waste and our laughable attempts to plan 10,000 years into the future in dealing with it. It would have been interesting to have a chapter on climate change too, in the event that we’ve already tipped it over the edge and into an Eocene like warm period. Maybe better than anything else, I liked his descriptions of the wild Earth, both before and after us. I still think we can have such a world without driving ourselves extinct. But it would take something on the order of his suggestion that we limit our fertility rate to 1.0 for the next few generations. Down to 500 million people by the year 2150. Are we up to the task? This is a real chance to demonstrate that our intelligence makes us special after all.
He occasionally rambles off into technobabble about holographically projecting our minds to other worlds… or other far out stuff, which is doesn’t really serve the purpose of the book, and is distracting to anyone with a science background. Those lapses aside, the basic message of the book is about the beauty and perhaps the inherent value, of the Earth, even without us here to observe it. It is an inspirational call to Zero, Now. It’s heartening that it spent so long on the bestsellers lists, if others got the same kind of message out of it that I did. If it’s just feeding some apocalyptic peakist zombie trance, well, then that’s less heartening. Certainly makes me want to visit all the remaining pristine parts of Earth. Dive the coral reefs while I still can. Walk in every different kind of remaining old-growth forest. And keep on composting my urine.