Hey! Got a library card? Then you can flash it and get free admission to the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Nature History this Saturday, June 30. What a great way to start the Summer!
If you haven’t explored this state treasure on the University of Oklahoma’s Norman campus, now’s the time to do it. A visit would make a most perfect day trip for you and your family. Take a gander below at what you can discover, and explore more at the museum’s website.
On, and this is also your Library YouTube Break!
We humans are a curious lot. We like to see ourselves above nature—higher than the animals, but lower than the angels. We often fool ourselves, believing we are in control of the natural world that surrounds our homes, schools and businesses. Well, at least until the next tornado, earthquake, flood, famine or disease comes along.
Even people who know full well how interconnected we are to the natural world can experience eureka moments of understanding. It happened to journalist and food author Michael Pollan one day while he was watching a bee move from flower to flower. He marveled that the bee really had no understanding of its role in the plant’s reproductive cycle.
And then Pollan was struck by the fact that he was in the middle of planting potatoes in his garden. Potatoes! He was servicing a tuberous root that was domesticated thousands of years ago by the Incas in South America. Human beings have spent centuries helping the potato spread across the planet. That’s when Pollan’s 2001 book, Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World was conceived.
Pollan looks at four plants in Botany of Desire, and explains how a particular attraction humans have for each of the plants has led us to move heaven and earth to cultivate them across the world. Because of our desires, we have made them four of the most successful plants in history.
Our pursuit of sweetness has made the Apple the most popular fruit on earth. Our love of beauty has made the Tulip a star. Our desire to get high has made Cannibis one of the most modified plants in the world. Finally, our history with the Potato is a compelling reflection of our desire for control in a chaotic world.
Pollan’s book is filled with histories and stories that will make you look at our relationship with these plants in a whole new way. You’ll see Johnny Appleseed in a completely different light. If you think the Housing Bubble is bad, wait until you read about the Tulip Bubble. You’ll see how we’ve changed Cannibis from a tall, ugly weed into a compact beauty that can be grown indoors (so as not to alert the authorities). And you’ll discover the dangers of monocultures (think Irish Potato Famine) as you follow the potato from its Inca origins to the french fries you buy at McDonald’s. (We’ve even grown potatoes in space!)
PBS was so impressed with Pollan’s groundbreaking 2001 book that it commissioned a documentary based on it. You can explore for yourself online, but don’t deny yourself the pleasure of the printed version. After all, the book is always better.
The rise in gas prices at the pump, the damage to one of Japan’s nuclear power plants, and the U.S. Congress’s inability to come up with anything resembling a national energy policy has me in the emotional dumps. And it made me want to pick up a book I’d read a few years ago: Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil by David Goodstein.
I didn’t expect a review of this great little book would make me feel better—I knew it wouldn’t. But it’s a good overview of the plight we find ourselves in, as China’s and India’s need for energy collides with America’s insatiable appetite for a finite resource.
Goodstein says the world is much closer to peak oil than we think. Peak oil is when demand for black gold outstrips the supply. America actually reached Dr. M. King Hubbert’s theoretical peak in the mid-70s when production at home declined:
…in 1956, Hubert predicted that the rate at which oil could be extracted from the lower forty-eight United States would peak around 1970 and decline rapidly after that. When his prediction was borne out, other oil geologists started paying serious attention.”
We solved the problem in the 1970s by importing more oil. By depending so much on imported oil, we have, as Fareed Zakaria wrote in Time magazine, “built our house at the base of a volacano (mideast turmoil).”
That U.S. peak back in the 70s may look like a cake walk compared to global peak oil. It’s impact on the economy, human well-being, and world peace could be devastating.
Goodstein reminds us that it is not just oil, but energy itself, that is finite (the law of conservation of energy). He reviews possible technological innovations that could help us; reminds us that these technological fixes do not yet exist; reminds us of the dangers of climate change that go hand-in-hand with fossil fuels; and explores other problems that come along with other energy sources, from coal to natural gas to nuclear energy.
All of this, of course, is bad news. But it’s good to know it, because we need to know what we’re up against.
Goodstein wrote this back in 2004, when Americans were paying $2 per gallon at the pump and screaming to high heaven. Prices went down and we went back to SUVs. It’s time to pick the book up again.
That’s the question that the approximately 2% to 3% of us (according to recent estimates) on the planet want to know. Science wants to know the reasons of heterosexual and homosexual development, too, and some intriguing answers are found in Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation by neuroscientist Simon LeVay.
In the nature vs. nurture debate over sexuality and other gender traits, nature seems to be winning the battle, and science is employing a variety of experiments and research to show how sex hormone levels during fetal development, genetics, and brain systems determine whether we develop as straight, gay or bi.
Dr. LeVay doesn’t necessarily break new ground here. What he does is provide an excellent round-up of the most up-to-date scientific theories and experiments, and then adds his own expert analysis.
Among the findings presented in the book:
• There is no actual evidence that family dynamics, learning, early sexual experiences or free choice play a role in the development of an individual’s sexuality.
• Testosterone plays the leading role in the sexual differentiation of the brain, and research points to testosterone levels during fetal development as having an impact on the development of an individual’s sexuality.
• Environmental factors that impact biological factors (such as prenatal stress, which alters testosterone levels) could have an impact on gender traits and sexuality in human beings. (They do in laboratory animals.)
• Other hormones, and the chromosomal sex of brain cells of the fetus, also play a role in determining sexuality.
• Estimates of heritability of homosexuality range from 30% to 50%, similar to heritability for many other psychological traits.
• Sexual orientation is linked to other gendered traits, and gay people express both gender-shifted traits and gender-typical traits.
The findings LeVay shares concerning the effect of hormones on fetal development were popularly introduced back in the 90′s when Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Men and Women was published. I read that book, and even gave a copy to my niece and her new husband as a wedding gift. (I know. I’m weird!)
Perhaps most importantly, LeVay presents the additional questions that need further study. This line of scientific inquiry has been going on for some decades now, and yet is still in its infancy. There is much more to discover.
Why do the vast majority of human beings believe in the supernatural? With the advance of science and the continuing discoveries about the natural processes behind human life, it would seem that we would be moving toward a more rational way of viewing our lives, our planet, our universe. But no. We still believe in the benevolent gods. We still attach superstitious qualities to inanimate objects and personal rituals. We still knock on wood. We still throw salt over our shoulder.
Experimental psychologist Bruce M. Hood believes our very mind construct leads to irrational beliefs, and he presents his hypothesis in a stunning and mind-bending book, SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable.
Think you’re immune to superstition? Ask yourself these questions:
• Would you wear a sweater if you knew it had been worn by a serial killer? (Feel a little creepy?)
• How would you feel if you were able to try on a sweater that had been worn by Mr. Rogers? (Get all warm fuzzies inside?)
• If a person offered to give you $100 in exchange for your soul, would you take it? (If you believe we don’t have souls, why does this still make you feel a little fearful? If you believe you do have a soul, why do you believe this person could actually purchase it and own it?)
Hood shows us how the supersense develops early and independently as a child develops, before religious or cultural beliefs are passed on. He covers the nature of phobias, our attachments to objects (like a blankie), the question of mind-body dualism and the possible illusion of free will. He explains the difference between religion and secular superstition, considers our nature as psychological creatures who recognize sentience in others, talks about the influence of dopamine, and looks at the impact of brain disorders and injuries (like Capgras Syndrome) that may have something to tell us about the supersense.
The supersense comes from our intuitive reasoning systems and so is part of our makeup.”
In the end, Hood believes our intuitive senses will always play an essential role in our species. Indeed, it appears to have served us fairly well in our evolutionary history. He writes, “I think the supersense will persist even in a modern era because it makes possible our commitment to the idea that there are sacred values in the world.”
And that, perhaps, is what makes us special as human beings.
How strong is your supersense?