Progress?

Lichen, Barbara Page, 2007, wikipedia.org
© Lichen, Barbara Page, 2007, wikipedia.org

The process of evolution has produced a world of great beauty, diversity and complexity. Ants form structured societies, trees reach for the skies, and whole ecosystems thrive in inhospitable-sounding places like underwater caves, deserts or deep-sea trenches. Where the air is clean, rocks and anything else that doesn’t move is covered with a crust of lichen – a partnership between fungus and algae (or bacteria) that survives even the harshest of weather. The constant adaptation of living things to their environment through the accumulation of tried and tested genetic changes produces the most incredible solutions to living in different environments.

Oddly (to me), the concept of progress in evolution is debated among biologists. Change happens, but is it directional in any way? Denis Alexander spoke on this subject at the Faith and Thought conference in October last year. I was fascinated to hear about the changes in ideology among scientists over time, and I wonder how their views will develop in future years? Continue reading

Deepest Wonder

© Shilpin Patel, freeimages.com

There are two kinds of wonder. You may well experience the first when you look at the night sky on a clear and moonless night. The universe is vast, beautiful, and at times incomprehensible. The other kind of wonder can be experienced when someone studies something scientifically: a complex and highly ordered process analysed and understood. I mentioned last week that Ernst Mach didn’t believe in wonder. It was the first kind of wonder that he didn’t believe in: the kind that comes from ignorance and is dispelled by knowledge – a process that can lead to disillusionment. But as Einstein pointed out, when one explores phenomena scientifically the wonder only deepens as the order and complexity in a system reveals itself.

Maggie Boden, Professor in Cognitive Science and Informatics, has described the journey from ignorant to informed wonder. Continue reading