Biology

How Fungi Saved the World

For all that we humans worry about saving the world, it was mushrooms that rescued an Earth that had drowned in wood for 40 million years, and even gave us the coal to jumpstart modern civilization:

Here is the crux of our problem: lignin made the lycopod trees a little too successful. Because their leaves were lofted above many herbivores and their trunks were made inedible by lignin, lycopods were virtually impervious to harm. They grew and died in vast quantities, and their trunks piled up in swamps, eventually becoming submerged and locking huge quantities of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere for good in the form of coal. Without any decomposition to recycle this carbon, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels crashed, leading to global cooling and making it much harder for plants to grow. Atmospheric oxygen concentration, in turn, soared to an estimated 35%, much higher than the 20% of modern times.

Consciousness as story

Our consciousness may be primarily the continuous story we tell ourselves, from moment to moment, about what we did and why we did it. It is a thin, often inaccurate veneer rationalizing a mountain of unconscious processing…

On the one hand, our consciousness may be an evolutionary fluke, telling an unreliable story in a far-fetched interpretation of a pattern of tiny salty squirts. On the other, our consciousness is the only reason for thinking we exist (or for thinking we think). Without it there are no beliefs, no sensations, no experience of being, no universe. – Hans Moravec

Ways to stop climate change, ranked

A fascinating list of ways to reduce global warming, ranked by effectiveness and cost, with some surprising findings.

Refrigerant management–basically what happens when you discard an air conditioner–is the top opportunity, above anything energy-related. After that comes onshore wind farms, then two food-related items: reducing waste and eating more plants.

Pragmatic and encouraging! The authors have edited a book around all of the opportunities, Drawdown.

Why Elon Musk is working on brain interfaces

Because any other way of evolving humans isn’t fast enough:

Genetics is just too slow, that’s the problem. For a human to become an adult takes twenty years. We just don’t have that amount of time. – Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future – Wait But Why

What computers can teach us about the world

By thinking differently than humans do:

Our machines now are letting us see that even if the rules the universe plays by are not all that much more complicated than Go’s, the interplay of everything all at once makes the place more contingent than Aristotle, Newton, Einstein, or even some Chaos theorists thought. It only looked orderly because our instruments were gross, because our conception of knowledge imposes order by simplifying matters until we find it, and because our needs were satisfied with approximations…

The nature of the world is closer to the way our network of computers and sensors represent it than how the human mind perceives it. Now that machines are acting independently, we are losing the illusion that the world just happens to be simple enough for us wee creatures to comprehend.

Full-body computing

“Channeling all interaction through a single finger is like restricting all literature to Dr Seuss’s vocabulary. Yes, it’s much more accessible, both to children and to a small set of disabled adults. But a fully-functioning adult human being deserves so much more.” – Bret Victor

What a world we live in

A fruit salad tree…bears up to six different fruits of the same family on the one plant. All fruits retain their own individuality, with staggered ripening times. – The Fruit Salad Tree Company

Empathy and imagination

Is it possible that, we human beings–who are soft-wired for empathic distress–is it possible we could actually extend our empathy to the entire human race as an extended family, and to our fellow creatures as part of our evolutionary family, and to the biosphere as our common community?

If it’s possible to imagine that, then we may be able to save our species and save our planet. And…if it’s impossible to even imagine that, I don’t see how we’re going to make it.

Quantum-sized quantum researchers

Jonathan Keats continues to blow my mind:

“Until today science has been completely dominated by one species,” says Keats, an experimental philosopher and former director of the Local Air & Space Administration…”People may not be biologically equipped to understand the universe at a fundamental level, he contends. “Other species might be better adapted to the task.”

Keats believes that the most promising candidates are bacteria…”But they need facilities,” says Keats. While their minuscule size lets them experience quantum phenomena on a first-hand basis, they have no natural way of exploring the galaxies….

“Rows of petri dishes filled with brackish water – teeming with cyanobacteria – will be set up atop a flat screen monitor laid flat on its back. The monitor will glow with images of the cosmos provided by the Hubble Telescope.”

10 minutes of gratitude

I think watching this would be a pretty good way to start each day; filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg explores gratitude, mindfulness, and the beauty of the world we live in and people we live with:

Could also be seen as the sentimental counterpart to Louis CK’s celebration of the modern world.