Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Archive for the ‘paleontology’ Category


with one comment

The hospital called today, the first good news in awhile. The pathologist has looked things over, and they believe they removed all the cancer yesterday. Woohoo! So reconstructive surgery tomorrow, and if that goes well, I might be blogging for years to come! Front row seats to the collapse of the American Empire. And hell, Covid may get me yet, but sure doing what I can to avoid it. And speaking of personal tunnels, that’s me in 1978 or so. Me and my friends made a hobby of exploring old mines. One can see from the photo, not exactly up to modern codes. How the hell I survived my youth is still a mystery to me. Oh, Jenny Lee Mine, near Vernon, Nevada. A ghost town. Second pic this page is actually the tailings of the Jenny Lee, the entrance I’m coming out of is just off the right edge of the photo.

Thank you for listening to my TED Talk. Short post tonight, I have to be at the hospital at 530am. Today’s links and news: A scientist weighs in on Trump and company’s, well, toddlerism: Following the Rules. It really is that simple, Trump lost the election fair and square, and is now trying to change the rules to make it so he won. Pathetic. Now Trump’s firing election officials who pointed out Trump’s claims of voter fraud are completely unsubstantiated. God only knows how the cult of Trump is going to end, but as long as Trump is around, that’s what the GOP has become: The Republican Party Is Dead. It’s the Trump Cult Now.

Fun times. Former Secret Service agents speculating about having to drag Trump from the White House. This long and depressing article in the NYT: Why the 2020 Election Makes It Hard to Be Optimistic About the Future. Still, two exciting new vaccines, but not a magic bullet: The Latest Vaccine News Doesn’t Tell the Full Story. And of course, we still have dinosaurs: ‘Dueling dinosaurs’ fossils show Triceratops, T. rex, may have died after a battle.

One last link before I stagger off to bed. I’ll probably miss the bed on the first few tries, being able to see out of only one eye is confusing. Interesting article, basically posits that humans and Neanderthals warred for over 100,000 years. Makes sense I guess. Sadly it might explain why racism and “othering” come so easy to humans. The “other tribe” was wiped out tens of thousands of years ago, but we’re still fighting. Sadly against our own now.

Stay safe and sane everyone.#StaytheFHome #WearaDamnMask #FelesRegula

Copyright © 2020 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Described in article. Copyright © 1978 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.)

Written by unitedcats

November 17, 2020 at 8:22 pm


leave a comment »

One trump note to start, then on to science. At least it was a far more substantive debate than the previous yelling match. That’s about all that can be said about it. Trump reached dizzying new heights on the BS meter, almost everything he said was what the old folks called lying. Back when America was great, presidents didn’t lie through their teeth quite so constantly.  Just saying. Doesn’t matter, if Trump said it, it must be true. Trump has truly turned the GOP, or his core at least, into something pretty much indistinguishable from a religion. If Trump said or promised it, they believe. Like Trump’s health care plan to replace Obamacare, promised it during his 2016 again, now he’s promising it again. Or Trump’s Covid-19 plan. Lies and empty promises, well, it worked in 2016. Even using the same promises. Sigh.

Moving right along, a whole concept I’d never heard of before. Carcinization. This is when an arthropod evolves into something like a crab. It’s happened no less than five times. Yes, parallel evolution is a thing, but five different times, that’s special. God likes crabs? No, it’s obviously a highly effective animal design in certain habitats, so it’s evolved repeatedly. It’s proved to be a great way to study evolution. Yeah, probably only of interest to the biology nerds: Animals Keep Evolving Into Crabs, Which Is Somewhat Disturbing. I just think it’s neat that there’s a specific word for it. Carcinization, going to be a challenge to fit into daily conversation.

And in more biology, electric mud! News to me, I can’t keep up with everything. Hell, so much new is being discovered these days, that no matter how much one tries, there’s more to learn every day. Anyhow, about ten years ago, in a freak experimental discovery scientists found out there are bacteria that form electrical circuits so to speak. Allowing them to perform biological functions over a distance. It was so weird it was disbelieved at first, but now two species have been discovered and it’s definitely real. I mention it because it’s interesting, and a wonderful example of how science is self correcting. This discovery will require rethinking a lot of things about, well, mud. Here’s the article for the suitably nerdish: ‘Electric mud’ teems with new, mysterious bacteria.

It’s more or less common knowledge now that while Neanderthals have been extinct for some 30,000 years, a lot of their DNA (possibly as much as 20% of it) remains mixed into human DNA, because humans and Neaderthals cross bred. Slightly less known, the Denisovans, another recently discovered extinct human ancestor that cross bred with humans, thus some of their DNA also survives in human populations as well. Well, studying modern human DNA scientists have discovered DNA that’s neither human, Neanderthal, or Denosivian. They don’t actually know what it’s from, Homo erectus is the best guess so far. Pfft, sometimes scientists have no imagination. It’s clearly alien DNA, I mean they had to be doing something with those probes:  Mystery ancestor mated with ancient humans. And its ‘nested’ DNA was just found. Helpful illustration above. People just love to have sex. And not even necessarily with other people.

Speaking of aliens, ever look up at the sky and wonder if anyone was looking back? Well, scientists wondered if aliens using the same technology we use to discover exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars) would be able to see Earth? They found about sixty nearby G-type stars that could conceivably detect Earth, and in fact they could likely tell a fair amount about Earth. I wonder if the SETI people will give them a good look, if they can see us it stands to reason they might try to contact us. Or worse: Aliens From These Worlds Could Be Watching Us Right Now

In more news to me, there’s a type of beetle that can survive getting run over by a car. It’s called a diabolical ironclad beetle. That’s a pretty neat trick, normally cars running over bugs is a quick trip to that great windshield in the sky, or wherever bugs go after they die: The diabolical ironclad beetle can survive getting run over by a car. Here’s how. Obviously this might well have practical applications, keeping things from getting crushed is always a good thing.

Lastly, in the “humans have issues” file, I found out what happens to items returned to Amazon. I would have just guessed they were returned to inventory and sold to someone else. Nope, for the most part they get trashed: Hidden cameras and secret trackers reveal where Amazon returns end up. It bugged me, seems like such a waste. Certainly another indication of how inherently worthless most things are in the modern world. I realized what bugs me though. If they are just going to throw it out because it’s cheaper than restocking it, why not just cut the cost further and have the consumer toss it? Wouldn’t that be the greener and cheaper solution?

And once again I wish my friend Peter was still alive to ask him of this, he was a world class economist. What a strange world we live in. Even before  Trump and Covid-19 it was weird, now, well, that’s why I blog every day. 2020 America, books will be written. Stay safe and have a great weekend everyone. #StaytheFHome #WearaDamnMask #FelesRegula

Copyright © 2020 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Best free image I could find of a Neanderthal. I wonder what they would have to say about the times. Lost forever I guess. Credit: Stefan Scheer Used legally, the various legal stuff here.)

Written by unitedcats

October 23, 2020 at 7:43 pm


leave a comment »

Ha ha, rickrolled gentle reader, sort of. I do have one great science story, which I will write about first. Then my evolving thoughts on the evolving situation in America. I’m trying to evolve my thinking with the times as well, the times are indeed evolving. Still, science does go on, in fact so far life goes on for most of us. Skip the science part if one wants to just go to Biden. The science part is about fossils, so yes, it does segue nicely into Biden.

Soft fossils. A quick recap. 20 odd years ago a graduate paleontologist found what looked like preserved soft tissue deep inside a dinosaur bone. Sounds impossible, right? She marshaled her evidence to a senior scientist, and being a good scientist he didn’t say “That’s impossible!” He said “Prove that it isn’t!” And she couldn’t, and decades of science followed. Turns out there was a lot of soft tissue preserved in fossils once scientists started looking for it. The science denying religious people claimed this discovery was proof that fossils weren’t that old. Um, no, the map is not the territory. That’s confirmation bias or motivated reasoning, not logic.

I digress, it’s a habit. Links at the end, but the mystery has finally been solved. Organic tissue shouldn’t last for millions of years, so what was going on with soft fossils? Well, turns out they aren’t the original soft organic tissue like blood vessels or skin, they are soft fossils of it. I’m sure somebody thought of it long ago, but turns out that under the right conditions fossils can be soft. The original organic matter long ago was replaced by stable compounds. Polymers in this case. The only reason we think of fossils as rocks, is because we never see any other kind.

So preserved soft dinosaur tissue is … just another type of fossil. This actually is a huge boost to understanding these fossils. Huge amounts of knowledge to be gained. We learn new stuff all the time about ancient life by studying fossils in rock, now we know fossils are sometimes soft. That’s how science and human knowledge advances. One study, but it’s a significant step forward.

Moving right along to fossilized politicians, my progressive friends are very upset that Biden won’t support “Medicare for all” or other progressive ideals, instead running on a corporatist “I’ll make no fundamental changes” platform. They see him as a sell out, and are angry that a candidate openly espousing liberal change was denied the nomination by hook and by crook. Probably, Biden, like Clinton, is the anointed one of the Washington corporatist establishment. Not denying that.

Progressives think Biden would stand a much better chance of winning if he went full Bernie. I’m not so sure at all. There may be a method to Biden’s madness. The important thing here is to win the election right? If Biden loses, all bets are off for the powers that be.  I wonder if Biden’s blandness is designed to get as many crossover votes in battleground states as possible. In a very real sense both Kerry and Clinton lost their presidential runs because they had essentially zero crossover appeal. Biden does not have the charisma and appeal of Kerry, let alone Obama, he has to win key battleground states to defeat Trump. Something Clinton didn’t understand until election night.

In fact thinking about this more, if Biden came out with progressive policies, what would happen? Huge numbers of progressive Democrats would come out and vote for Biden … and he’d win the blue states by a larger margin? That doesn’t help. Sure, it brings out more progressives in swing states, but what else does it do? It gives Trump HUGE ammo to wrap his socialist and liberal demonizing lies around. That aint gonna help either. If Trump gets a big turnout on battleground states, he wins. And there just aren’t that many Berners in battleground states.

Going with what Biden is doing, giving Trump all the rope he needs, and looking safe and reasonable might well be all it takes for the unengaged Trump voters, the guy next store that watches Fox News and votes GOP but does so out of social habit. I’m already hearing stories of same switching to Biden. This is how Biden will win or lose this election, he needs to soften Trump’s support in battleground states enough to carry the day in a few of them. It might even make mad sense for him to call for the protestors to stand down, or at least protest peacefully. The more he can get the message across that Trump is encouraging the violence, I mean, this is happening on Trump’s watch, the more Trump’s non-fanatic fan base will desert him.

People forget, the American South was pure blue until 1972, when Nixon’s southern strategy changed all that. Things can change with mass social opinion, and if Biden can appeal to the typical Trump supporter, we could see the GOP destroyed by blindly following Trump. Thinking aloud, anything is possible.

A few months to go until the election. I hope cooler heads prevail and we don’t see massive street violence out there. So far it’s been minor, God rest the souls of those who have died, let’s hope and pray that this current mess leads somewhere ultimately good. Stay safe everyone. #StaytheFHome #WearaDamnMask #UtMelioremPeiusAnteTempora

Copyright © 2020 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Anonymous Facebook Meme. Claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. For those who have to know how it turned out: “That was awfully disturbing, but oddly satisfying at the same time.”

Written by unitedcats

August 30, 2020 at 7:04 pm


leave a comment »

My friend’s daughter lost her sense of smell from Covid-19 too. A very bad sign, means it’s doing things in her brain. Let’s just hope she’s not going to have heart damage either, looking like a lot of people who otherwise got over Covid-19 with few symptoms have damaged hearts: Covid-19 infections leave an impact on the heart, raising concerns about lasting damage. Thank you Mr Trump and Mr Limbaugh and all the other people who downplayed the severity of this crisis and left America virtually defenseless. Or worse: Coronavirus Doctors Battle Another Scourge: Misinformation.

And Trump (and his followers) still haven’t grasped that magical thinking isn’t going to make Covid-19 go away. Now Trump’s touting a quack cure made from Oleander leaves: On coronavirus, Trump reportedly has a new ‘cure’ in mind. No Mr Trump, as Rachel says, this is the cure: “Trump needed to implement a national, coordinated response, built around stay-at-home orders, an aggressive testing regime, an ambitious contact-tracing system, and related mitigation efforts.” Still waiting. The real death toll is likely over 200,000 now: Up to 204,691 extra deaths in the US so far in this pandemic year. We’re hosed.

So, yes, the post title. No doubt about it, like heights, I am afraid of catching Covid-19. It’s basically like being forced to play Russian roulette without even knowing how many bullets are in the gun. Typically one out of six. With Covid-19, we don’t know! I already know people who survived, but are still messed up. It’s still stunning to me that so many people simply can’t grasp that Covid-19 is utterly new and unknown. It really is an alien invasion, but people are so wedded to their complacent world view, they can’t see that.

I guess it makes sense. A colony of animals first and foremost must get along in a reasonably productive and safe manner in a mutually agreed upon reality. Things like Covid-19 are extreme outliers, it simply doesn’t fit into our world view. Covid-19 is superficially like a cold or flu, so that’s how our brains categorise it. Sadly though the rest of the human race appears to  at least on some levels understand their leaders need to be able to deal with novel threats. We are living on the surface of a planet, a chaotic dangerous environment if there ever was one.

Oh well. I’ll survive. Or I won’t. Was gonna make a science post, but the pandemic intruded. Still, here’s one sciency thing: Political forecast models aren’t necessarily more accurate than polls – or the weather. Polls are the astrology or divination of our times. Here’s a secret  this old fellow has learned through decades of studying reality: The future can’t be predicted, because it hasn’t happened yet! Codicil: Yes of course some things like eclipses can be predicted with great accuracy, but even then not 100% accuracy. Things can change. Elections though, way too many variables. Especially in contemporary America, where things are kinda messed up right now.

So lastly, the image. A Tully monster. Only known from fossils in Illinois. It lived in shallow seas about 300 million years ago. Grew up to about a foot long. A frog, a fish, a worm? No one knows, best guess it was a vertebrate of some sort. It was apparently an evolutionary dead end, it’s not believed any modern life descended from it. Let’s hope homo sapiens doesn’t suffer the same fate. Right now I am not reassured.

It’s a Monday in 2020. Blerg. Stay safe everyone. #StaytheFhome #wearaDamnMask

Copyright © 2020 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image. A Tully Monster. Credit: Nobu Tamura  Reproduced here under a creative commons licence.)

Written by unitedcats

August 17, 2020 at 7:53 pm

Could Neanderthals Speak?

with 9 comments

I had an interesting debate the other day. Could Neanderthals speak? For the longest time the answer was “No!” However, this was more based on prejudice than anything else. IE when Neanderthals were first discovered it was more or less assumed they were a brutish forebear to humans. The quintessential ape-man as it were, basically because the were discovered and described in the early/mid nineteenth century at a time when it was assumed that humans were the apex of creation and nothing else approached us. And the view that Neanderthals couldn’t speak was reinforced by lack of any evidence that they even had the physical capability of speech.

In recent decades however the debate has been re-opened. For one thing an intact Neanderthal hyoid bone was found. This is a bone in the larynx, and it was essentially identical to a human’s, indicating they could make a wide range of sounds. Another recent discovery was of their ear bones, again, it indicated they could discern a wide range of sounds, substantially different than a chimpanzee for example. And it was pointed out that the nerve channel that led to their tongue was similar in size to a human’s, indicating they had the ability to shape a variety of sounds with their tongue. Lastly it was discovered that they had a gene called FOXP2, in humans this gene appears to be essential for speech. This of course doesn’t prove Neanderthals had complex language, but it certainly shows there is no reason they couldn’t, they had the physical capability to make and hear the sounds required for a complex language.

Other arguments for Neanderthal language are their tool use and lifestyles. Especially their hunting, Neanderthals were definitely apex predators, bringing down very large game in group hunts. Though recently it has been discovered they often did have veges with their meat. It has been argued that the complexity of some of their tool-making  tasks, let alone hunting large dangerous animals, would have require complex language. Still, prides of lions and other carnivores bring down large game in group hunts without language, so it’s certainly not definitive. Other arguments include recently discovered cave paintings by Neanderthals, and what has been interpreted as a flute made by Neanderthals. The flute (pictured above) may have just been a  gnawed bone though.

There are still strong arguments against the Neanderthals having complex language. For one thing they were around for several hundred thousand years but made almost no technological progress during that time. Unlike Cro-Magnons, who lived in groups of 30 or more, Neanderthals lived in small and apparently isolated bands of about ten people. There is no evidence that Neanderthals engage in anything resembling trade or other long distance commerce, which humans were fully engaged in starting at least 150,000 years ago. Only a very small number of tools found at Neanderthal sites originated other than locally, and even those few were never from more than 100km (60 miles) away. It’s been argued that these were “gifts” by adolescents trying to ingratiate themselves into a new group, there had to have been some interbreeding between groups. Nonetheless Neanderthal’s apparently primitive, isolated, and non-evolving culture does argue that Neanderthals didn’t have complex language.

The jury is still out on the issue. Basically the debate is about whether Neanderthals were another species, or another race. They did have larger brains than us, though they were structured somewhat differently. It’s been argued that compared to humans, Neanderthals were extremely neophobic, dogmatic and xenophobic. Afraid of anything new, afraid of strangers, and stuck in their ways. Yes, Neanderthals were the Archie Bunkers of prehistory.

So myself, I prefer to think they had language. If nothing else, imagine the sit-com one could base on it, a band of surly cavemen sitting around suspicious of everything:  “If it was good enough for your great great great great great grandfather, it’s good enough for you son!” or “No you can’t date that Cro-Magnon boy, those people have no respect for tradition!”

Feel free to add your own. Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image is from Wikipedia, so I’m assuming it’s OK to use non-commercially. And yes, there is a middle ground between complex language and no language, but I can only cover so much in 800 words or so.)

Written by unitedcats

September 21, 2012 at 7:46 am

The Mask of la Roche-Cotard

with 9 comments

Continuing with my “strange old things” theme, here we have the Mask of la Roche-Cotard. Unlike our previous rock, this rock has been shaped by human (well, Neanderthal) hands. It’s a piece of flint about 4 inches (10 cm) tall and wide, and through a natural hole under the “nose” a piece of bone was driven and then wedged in place with two rock splinters. The shape of the original rock was further modified by chipping away to increase its resemblance to, well, something. A human face or an animal face maybe? It was made about 33,000 years ago in France, most likely by Neanderthals of the Mousterian Culture.

Is it really a face? Who knows. It seems pretty clear to me that it was deliberately created, but even that is subject to debate. If one was just throwing useless bits of bone and flint into a pile, something like this could come about by chance I suppose. The bone piece seems pretty deliberate to me though with the wedges holding it in place. And when it was new, the “eyes” would have been whiter and more noticeable. Still, some have claimed that it is not representational at all, and in fact it had some as yet undetermined practical use. In this case the resemblance to a face would have been accidental, and maybe not even noticed by the Neanderthals using the item.

So what is the significance of this discovery? Well, some background. The whole Neanderthal thing is  a mystery. The Neanderthals were our brothers, in fact it was only a few hundred thousand years ago that humans and Neanderthals diverged from a  common ancestor. Humans and Neanderthals didn’t have a whole lot of contact, but in some places we lived in close proximity for thousands of years. They made stone tools, buried their dead, and were really into eating meat. They may have had language, ornamentation such as body paint and jewellery, and music. They definitely interbred with humans, the gentle reader no doubt has at least some Neanderthal DNA in him or her. So the big question remains, could a human have sat down with a Neanderthal and had a philosophical discussion, or were they little more than tool using apes?

And this is what the Mask of la Roche-Cotard may hint at. If it was made by a Neanderthals as a representation of a face, it shows a cognizance of self identity that animals simply don’t possess. In fact I would argue that it shows that Neanderthals were human in every sense of the word. Were they?  My suspicion is that they were human, and this mask is an example of such.  I think it was just kids playing around, or an adult playing with kids, in either case it was someone constructing this to impress, maybe even as a joke, their fellows. It’s also possible that it was made by a single Neanderthal genius, and not representational of the typical Neanderthal.

Will we ever really know? In regards to this particular artifact, probably not. Still, our relationship with Neanderthals is important. They were both our brothers … and aliens. How we related to them may be a harbinger of how we will relate to true aliens if we ever meet them. It’s still not known why the Neanderthal line failed and our line thrived. Their brains were as large as ours, maybe even larger. Yet somehow they never made it out of the Stone Age, the last ones disappearing just as humans were starting to make cave art. The Neanderthals didn’t even cave art, this mask may be the only self portrait of a Neanderthal that we will ever have.

I think that’s both amazing and sad.

(The above image is claimed as Public Domain under US copyright light, the original creator of the work having been dead some 30,000 years.)



Written by unitedcats

April 12, 2011 at 8:03 am