You learned in grade school that a caterpillar metamorphoses into a moth or butterfly. But what would you find if you were to cut open a chrysalis during that transformational stage? Would you find a half-caterpillar/half-butterfly hybrid? It’s a black box — you don’t know. Caterpillar goes in, butterfly comes out. We don’t ask what happens in between.
But we should.
What you would actually find would be little more than snot – a milky white mucous, with a few dark specs floating in it. The caterpillar dissolves itself into goo, and the cells of the goo reconstitute themselves into a moth or butterfly.
So what happens to the “personhood” of the being inside? Does one creature die while another is reborn, growing out of the mulch of its former self? Does the butterfly have any “memory” of the caterpillar it was? Here’s the really mind-blowing part: Scientists have figured out how to train a caterpillar (via subtle electric shocks) to turn and walk the opposite direction when a certain smell is introduced into their environment. When they later tested for the same learned ability in metamorphosed butterflies and moths, they found a 70% memory retention rate, which had lasted right through the goo phase. Turns out those little specks in the goo are clusters of brain cells, which save memories and then reproduce in the new being.
The biological weirdness continues: If we peel off the skin of a dead caterpillar, we find proto wings, laying in wait. They never emerge on the caterpillar itself, but when the rest of the insect dissolves to goo, the proto-wings cling to the walls of the chrysalis, and then attach themselves to the newly formed butterfly and continue their evolution. The caterpillar starts them, the butterfly finishes them.
The whole process is as spiritual as it is philosophical as it is scientific. Is there anything stranger or more magical in nature? (rhetorical question). Over dinner, as our family discussed this process, we wondered why it isn’t taught in grade school. Why do we just get the black box (input –> output) version? Always look behind the curtain.
I have gone back and forth between polar extremes on this question over the past decade. On the one hand, nuclear accidents and waste disposal problems pose risks so great we shouldn’t even contemplate them, not even for a moment. On the other hand, continuing to burn fossils sets us on a course toward continued environmental destruction and unchecked climate change.
Recently a group of environmental scientists delivered a public letter encouraging environmentalists to start taking nuclear seriously.
The reality is that renewables (wind and solar) can’t begin to scale to match the amount of energy we are using / will need in the future. And:
“Quantitative analyses show that the risks associated with the expanded use of nuclear energy are orders of magnitude smaller than the risks associated with fossil fuels. No energy system is without downsides. We ask only that energy system decisions be based on facts, and not on emotions and biases that do not apply to 21st century nuclear technology.”
Fukushima freaks us out, as it should. But Fukushima also represents a completely antiquated mode of nuke plant construction. Future plants will operate very differently, with a native tendency to shut down, not melt down.
So Miles just spent four days with his class at Live Power Community Farm in Covelo – camping out in 30-degree weather (at night), milking cows at the break of dawn, shoveling poop and plowing the earth and sorting vegetables. No electronics, no toys, no media – just kids experiencing life at its messy, organic best. During the breaks, they swam in the river and put on talent shows for each other. The kids worked hard but had a great time – all returned exhausted but recharged.
The farm gets its name from the fact they try, where possible, not to use powered machinery – everything is powered by animal and human effort. Blood, sweat and tears… and the rewards that come from that. Of course, everyone jokes about how it’s powered by child labor, but that’s not fair – the kids are there not as indentured servants but because their grownups see the work done on the farm as character building and healthy — everyone needs to spend time in and around real live dirt, and everyone needs to have milked a real live cow at least once in their lives.
I often lament that it seems to be so hard to provide kids with anything like the environment I (we) grew up in. The combination of our technology-heavy environment and the fact that kids don’t just “go play outside” anymore means something crucial is being lost. I do my best to get him out into nature as often as possible, but big picture, it’s a drop in the bucket. So grateful he was able to get a real taste of dirt this week.
He took a ton of photos on the trip, and I helped him to select a few of the best and create his first web slideshow – check it out.
There’s one element of the home over which even the most design-minded homeowner has traditionally had little control – the ugly beige thermostat that comes bundled with most heating/air-conditioning systems. There it is, plunked in the middle of an otherwise beautiful wall – a nondescript blob of plastic with a crummy little LCD display and Shinola for brains. But this is 2012, the age of the iPhone. We can do better!
A month ago, I was invited to become a beta tester for the amazing Nest Learning Thermostat (would love to share the access, but don’t ask – I can’t get you in :). The premise is so simple you have to wonder why no other company has tackled this niche: Make a thermostat that’s as gorgeous and intuitive to use as a smartphone, tie into the sensor revolution, build in WiFi so you can control it remotely, give it the intelligence to learn your schedule so it can optimize your energy consumption, and treat it more like a small computer (with remotely update-able software) than a piece of uninteresting functional hardware .
Excellent piece at commutebybike.com: How to Talk About Cycling to a Conservative, making the case that it’s actually quite easy to make the case for bicycle commuting to a conservative, if you frame it right. What conservatives don’t want to hear: Knee-jerk blanket statements like “Oil corporations are evil” and “Cars are stupid.” Points to make instead: “Bicycling reduces dependence on foreign oil” and “Bicycling builds self-reliance” and “Bicycling reduces traffic congestion.” Worth a read. xxx
This response at the LinkedIn bicycle commuters’ group by Joshua Putnam sums it up well:
The conservative arguments for cycling are really quite strong — it’s an exercise in self-reliance, it builds character and physical fitness in a society where a majority of young adults are unfit for military service, it reduces consumption of foreign oil, it reduces public expense for roads and health care, it extends the productive working lives of bicycle commuters, and it increases the workplace productivity of bicycle commuters while reducing absenteeism. Those are all valid, documented benefits that make bicycle commuting beneficial to the health of the republic, as well as to individual cyclists.