Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On the Correlation of Condyles (or lack there of)

Classes officially ended for the semester yesterday.

Fragmentary Human Remains: Isolated Mandiular Condyle
For one of my final projects I measured multiple dimensions of the mandible in hopes of finding something in the underlying boney structure and correspondence of the TMJ that might help me understand the disproportionately high number of females suffering from TMJ disorder in comparison to their male contemporaries.  Arguably my measurements only roughly captured the shape of the condyle and the sample I looked at was quite small with an N of 21 males and 10 females, but my limited results didn't show any consistent differentiation in the condyle based on sex.

Unpatterned variation in the dimensions of the human mandibular condyle surprised me a little.   Not only does there not appear to be differentiation between the dimensions of the condyle between males and females, the distribution is all over the place and there is almost no correlation between the lengths and widths of the condyles.  Condyles can by short and wide, short and narrow, long and wide or long and narrow.  This is not what I was expecting.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

QRcode Madness

Last week I discovered qrcodes.  Well, that's not exactly true, I had seen them around before and had heard that they contained a variety of different types of information including links to websites.  Actually, last week I discovered that I could make my own qrcodes.  Above is one that I created with the address for this blog.  Using photoshop I embedded the code into several designs of lemmings attached to balloons that I already created.  Nifty, right?

Anyway, my first thought when discovering the wonderful world of qrcode create was that they could be used to make an awesome scavenger hunt.  I realize I don't know anyone else who enjoys scavenger hunting quite as much as me, but there have to people out there that might be sucked in by an adorable rodent traveling via balloon.

After a little internet searching I discovered that there was already a website devoted to qrcode scavenger hunts called QR Wild.  I immediately decided to sign up.  Unfortunately the network seems to be somewhat limited and there is no way to tell where current scavenger hunts are occurring.  In order to get involved it appears that I will have to create my own hunt and hope that other people find my game pieces and decide to join my hunt.  I'm not sure how many people regularly go around scanning qrcodes, but it would be awesome if it actually works.  I downloaded some qrcode game pieces and began writing up clues to guide hunters to their hiding places.  I plan to make them into stickers so they will be small, easily hidden and not too readily moved from where I put them.  I'm already getting excited about the prospect of planting them around town.

Moreover, I think it would be fun to create my own game and hide my little lemmings around.  If people found them and scanned them they would be directed to this blog for more information.  It also might be interesting to create qrcodes containing secret messages or clues to solving a specific riddle.  I can't wait to see if qrscavenger madness will be a success! :)

Monday, November 28, 2011

A War for Hearts and Minds?

Human evolution fascinates me.  The lack of acceptance of evolutionary theory in regards to human development astounds and horrifies me.

I designed this piece to express what I thought was a clear view on evolution.  Basically, the image depicts the evolutionary lineage leading to Homo sapiens, starting with Au. afarensis at the bottom.  Au. boisei is the skull that is placed off to the left and represents an off shoot of the hominin lineage that branches away from the human lineage on a different evolutionary trajectory, eventually becoming extinct.  The skulls that continue up the torso are Homo erectus, followed by archaic Homo sapiens, then Homo sapiens neanderthalensis.  In this depiction, Neanderthals are considered to be a subspecies of Homo sapiens, rather than a separate species, which is still a hotly debated topic amongst paleoanthropologists.

Originally, many were convinced that Neanderthals and humans were biologically distinct species that did not interbreed due to the lack of admixture in mitochondrial DNA sequences of modern humans.  But more recent studies comparing nuclear DNA mixture, suggest the possibility that admixture may have indeed been occurring as modern humans and neanderthals appear to have genetic overlap.

The hand in the upper left corner of the picture is holding an apple, which the girl is reaching for.  In my original interpretation the girl represents modern humans, and evolutionary lineage of hominins is indelibly imprinted fundamental structure of her existence and physical morphology.  The hand represents an unknown omnipotent deity, extending the "fruit of knowledge," although the gesture can be seen as a taunt since there is no way for the girl to actually reach the information.

After finishing the design I quickly, and a bit glibly or maybe snarkily wrote up this description of the piece:

"even with all the evidence supporting an evolutionary path of human origins, the search for supernatural explanations continues with answers danging, forever, just out of reach (2011/Sept. 12)"

It has been several months since I finished the piece and since then I have had found myself re-evaluating my initial description of the work and even the very thought process behind it.  While I still agree with my original plan for the girl depicting human evolution, the relationship between the girl and the hand has bothered me.  Rather than depicting a negative view of God, the hand could instead be culture as a whole including a human drive to understand existence in terms of a divine presence, or even another human passing cultural knowledge on to the next generation.  While some cultural learning may be incorrect or illogical, the adaptation of culture is uniquely human.  

Since most of my training is in biology I sometimes forget the importance of recognizing the importance of culture as an adaptation for humans.  It is easy to criticize what we don't fully understand.  Rather than invoking the imagery of a war between evolution and religion, this piece can simultaneously represent the dual forces of cultural knowledge and biological adaptation that contribute to the modern understanding of the species Homo sapiens sapiens.  If I were asked to describe the piece today I think I would choose this description instead:

"anthropology: a multi-faceted approach to understanding and connecting hearts, minds and morphological origins (2011/Nov. 28)"

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A New Leaf

I have never been especially diligent in the journalling department.  I always thought, hey, it would be fun to have a journal to look back and compare my memories of events or issues years later with my initial reactions, but interest quickly wanes as I have to write laborious entries to catch myself up to this point in my life.  So I have decided to skip that step.  Instead this blog will not be about my life.  Rather it will just be a place for random musings about various topics that interest me.
Here's the plan (guidelines for myself).  
1) Post something everyday.  
2) The topic can be anything, except an actual re-cap of that day.
3) The post must include at least 1 picture.

Alright, those are my goals.  Who knows, maybe a little bit of my life history will leak through for future self reflection.  :)

Let the blogging begin.  

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Giraffefish and Other Nonsense

I love this painting.  It was made by one of my best friends, and it has inspired several debates about the nature of the universe and the existence of unknown or impossible creatures (such as a giraffe fish).  During one of these debates I found myself arguing the position that even though there is no tangible proof that giraffe fish exist, the possibility of their existence should not be ruled out on that basis alone.  My friend on the other hand, argued that since there is no proof of the existence of giraffe fish, it is foolish to even consider the possibility of the existence of such a creature.  While I was focused on the immensity of the ocean and the likelihood that there are numerous undiscovered species potentially living on our planet, my friend was debating the larger social question of the existence of God.  

Yes, in this case the fictitious character of the giraffe fish plays God.  

I suppose this issue brings up and interesting difference between atheism and agnosticism.  My friend is an atheist, or at least when we were discussing this topic several years ago she was. (I think she may have joined my agnostic/ indecisive worldview at this point, but that is an entirely different discussion.)  She had made up her mind that God did not exist and chastised me for being gullible/ naive enough to entertain the possibility of any form of supernatural deity.  In response I would argue that her strong belief in atheism is equally problematic since the main evidence she uses to argue against the existence of the divine is the failure of religion to prove its existence.

I consider myself agnostic.  I honestly have no idea whether or not there are supernatural forces existing in the world.  Sometimes I find this problematic.  While I have no evidence that there is any type of deity influencing the universe, I have equally little evidence to prove that one does not exist.  In this case, atheists and religious groups alike are basing their views on a belief system, or faith, as neither can provide evidence to substantiate their claims.  One key phrase that I have heard repeatedly in my studies or biology and anthropology is the adage "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."  This phrase basically sums up my reasons for being agnostic.  The lack of evidence from either side prevents an adequate basis for drawing an informed conclusion on the topic.  While the fundamental inconsistencies in accepted modern religions lead me to reject any specific doctrine, I realize that humans created religions and humans are fallible.  Yet, it is possible that a deity beyond human comprehension exists.  Until I can gather further evidence on god's existence or lack there of, I have chosen to accept the unknowability or the universe and remain my indecisive self.

Today I was thinking about whether it would be possible for a giraffe fish to evolve through the process of natural selection.  I realize "fish" is probably and inappropriate term to use, as I expect that the proposed organism would be a mammal, but technically all tetrapods are evolutionary descendants of fish.  More on that another time.

Anyway, upon considering the potential advantages and disadvantages of giraffe features in an aquatic environment the prospects aren't great.  First of all, the elongated thin neck of a giraffe would not be streamlined or effective in an aquatic environment, especially given a more massive torso.  Secondly, the general consensus in the scientific field is that marine mammals evolved from a wolf-like ancestor that returned to an aquatic environment.  Thus, an aquatic giraffe would probably represent a parallel evolutionary trajectory of an herbivorous quadruped that returned to the water and adapted to the conditions by developing fins (ect.). While parallelism are common in mammalian evolutionary history, my friend had a point when she noted that an aquatic giraffe-like creature would probably have difficulty remaining unnoticed by humans since it would need to breath oxygen, and would need to be fairly large to maintain mammalian metabolic functions in an aquatic environment.  

That being said, I challenge anyone to completely disprove the possibility of the existence of a giraffe fish.