Life appeared on earth about 3.8 billion years ago. The posts here discuss parts of that history as well as its results in present-day organisms. Although I’m not a scientist, gaining some understanding of this epic has become important to me as I’ve grown older. It intrigues and consoles me, stirs my imagination, and beckons me to see myself and all living things in its light.
The blog also turns out to be about time. Spans of a million or a billion years don’t have much reality for most of us. But filling them in with stories of life’s development—such as the evolution of humans over six million years—brings meaning to those eons. Time, I keep thinking, resembles what people say about deities: they can not be grasped directly, but we see them in their work.
Within this broad subject matter, the posts here come in no particular order. But for readers looking for themes to get a grip on, here is an outline of topics and some of the posts about each.
1. The Cosmos and the Origins of Life. We don’t know exactly how we living things got started, but we know about the probable process and we know approximately when.
On the Cosmic Calendar, A Date to Remember
New Thinking about the Origins of Life (2): Catalyst and Containers
Is DNA Alive?
Neil Shubin’s ‘The Universe Within’
2. The First Two Billion Years: Single Cells. The evolution of the groundwork of life was slooooww, complicated, and vital.
Genesis For Non-Theists
The Pioneers: Archaea and Bacteria
Life Before Fossils
Most of Your Cells Aren’t Yours
3. Plants and Animals. The longer you look closely, the more you see.
Plants As Aliens
I Like Lichens
400 Million Years of Ferns
Hope Jahren’s ‘Lab Girl’ and the Dramatic Life of Plants
Reverence For (Some) Life
Beavers, Humans, and Evolution
Animals and the Law: More Like Persons or Property?
4. The Processes: Emergence and Natural Selection.
Genes Are Like Sentences, Genomes Are Like Books
Emergent Phenomena: More Than the Sum of the Parts
“We Are All Mutants”: Mutation Basics
It’s Diversity All the Way Down
5. The Human Body. How we evolved and how our body works. First, we walked on two feet—without a tail.
Walk, Run, Eat: The Evolution of Our Body
How Consciousness Might Have Evolved
The Body Electric
Breath: Divine Gas In a Smart Body
Stem Cells: How to Build a Body
6. Thinking and Feeling. Our brain gets us by, with some help from irrationality.
Steven Pinker on Disgust, Sex, and Happiness
Comparison is the Thief of Happiness
The Biology of Suffering
“The Mind Is Mainly Drawn to the Future”
The Gambler’s Fallacy and Other Biases of the Brain
7. Competition and Cooperation. Organisms have been competing against and collaborating with each other for a long time. Humans take the second for granted.
Darwin’s Dark Vision: “Ten Thousand Sharp Wedges”
Symbiosis, Or How We All Get Along
8. Aging and Dying. Death frighten me a little less when I think about the long linkages of lives of all kinds before me, around me and after me.
The Death of Everything
Oliver Sacks and The Comforts of Metal
Feeling Old? Envy the Lobster
The Immortal Jellyfish
9. Religion and Spirituality. Religions tell us our Story, reassure us about life after death, and urge us to live in certain ways. Can naturalism do the same?
Darwin and The Buddha
Genesis for Non-Theists
Hindus Seek Detachment. Have Plants and Animals Already Found It?
How To Make A Religion
I’ve followed your blog for a few years now. You say you’re not a scientist, but i disagree. Your insights, your writing, and your subtle humor all point to a highly scientific mind. I’ve learned from you, and achieved a greater appreciation for life from your writings. Thank you!
Thank you. It’s encouraging to be viewed as scientifically inclined. I’ve appreciated your comments in the past–especially your quotation that “Miracles are explainable; it’s the explanations that are miraculous.” And I’m glad that “life” and all the meanings that word carries with it resonate for you as well.
What an amazing range of topics you cover! Best wishes, Michael
Thank you. Many topics but one main theme, and five years to do it. But still, appreciate the comment.
I’ve enjoyed your blog too. Keep up the good work expressing wonder and joy for this natural life!
Thanks, Ed. Will do.