Archive for the 'Evolution' Category

Carl Sagan’s Cosmos – One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue

Today on Discovery Enterprise we present the second episode of Carl Sagan’s highly acclaimed PBS documentary series – Cosmos.

Join us as we follow Carl Sagan on an odyssey through time and space as he uncovers the origin of life and its evolutionary history from its humblest beginnings.

How did life begin and evolve? What is DNA and how does it work? Dr. Sagan makes these complex subjects accessible to the average viewer. His cosmic calendar outlines the history of the universe and highlights Earth’s origins and the evolution of life.

Copyright the Science Channel

Carl Sagan’s Cosmos – One Voice in The Cosmic Fugue

Humans v2.0:Human Evolution at the Cross Roads

Will the human species take the course of its own future evolution into its own hands as a result of advances in genetic engineering and the merging of the human mind with advanced computer technologies?

We are approaching a very uncertain future beyond which we can barely glimpse. On our immediate horizon lies Vernor Vinge’s “
Singularity“, the point at which computers reach and surpass human intelligence. Will humans become extinct or will we merge with our machines in a symbiosis that will create a new player in the future evolutionary story of planet Earth. We are at the cross roads of evolution and what really lies ahead is anybody’s guess.

In the following BBC Horizon documentary meet the scientific prophets who claim we are on the verge of creating a new type of human – a human v2.0.

It’s predicted that by 2029 computer intelligence will equal the power of the human brain. Some believe this will revolutionise humanity – we will be able to download our minds to computers extending our lives indefinitely. Others fear this will lead to our oblivion by giving rise to destructive ultra intelligent machines.

One thing they all agree on is that the coming of this moment and whatever it brings is inevitable.

Horizon – Human v2.0

The Voyage of Charles Darwin – Episode 1

Tuesday November 24th, 2009 marks the hundred fiftieth anniversary of Charles Darwin’s publication of his master work “On the Origin of Species”. Today on Discovery Enterprise we continue our year long celebration of the life and achievements of Charles Darwin by joining him on his historic five year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle in this wonderful television series produced by the BBC in 1978.

Darwin’s five year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle was an odyssey through time as well as space for it led Darwin to discover the principle mechanism that has shaped and sculpted every life form that has graced our world across the eons of life’s existence on our planet.

The Voyage of Charles Darwin – Episode 1

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The Real Neanderthal Man

Today on Discovery Enterprise we will take a journey through time and visit Europe during the last ice age and encounter a remarkable group of people.

Some forty two thousand years ago, the only living humans in Europe made clothes, educated their young, made tools. But they were not us. Now twenty first century science can reveal exactly how they lived, the dangers they faced and the communities they made in the Neander valley of Germany.

In 1856, two workers found sixteen bones in a limestone quarry in the Neander Valley, east of Düsseldorf. It was originally thought the bones belonged to a cave bear, but they were subsequently found to be the remains of an early human quite distinct and different from our own species.

Now more than one hundred and fifty years after their discovery these bones along with recently discovered bone fragments associated with the original fossil finds reveal some remarkable details concerning the life of this individual.

And, with the aid of DNA samples recovered from the original fossils we are beginning to build a genetic library that will shed light on how closely related the Neanderthal species was to our own. This genetic research poses another outstanding possibility. Could we one day resurrect this individual and his contemporaries by cloning them?

These and other recent discoveries paint a totally different and more humane portrait concerning this man and his contemporaries. A portrait that highlights some remarkable facts concerning Neanderthal man’s tool manufacturing technology, his social organization and his spiritual beliefs.

Discovering Ardipithecus

We Humans, in every age and across all cultures have had one major question – Where did we come from? It is perhaps the most profound question humans could possibly ask and has been the central driving force in the development and evolution of many of the world’s major religions and all the most important braches of scientific inquiry.

We human beings seem so different from the rest of the animal kingdom that it was easy to conclude that we are the pinnacle of a special act creation. This illusion was to be scattered when Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species” and his conclusion that human beings, like all living creatures in the natural world, evolved through the process of natural selection from a common ancestor shared by the other great apes . But, Darwin did not have the human fossils to support his ideas. Now from a remote African desert, buried for more then four million years, comes the conclusive fossil evidence that Darwin could have only imagined with the discovery of Ardipithecus.

Human Evolution – Discovering Ardipithecus

Homo Futurus

Today on Discovery Enterprise we continue our year long celebration of the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s publication of “On the Origin of Species” by presenting a somewhat controversial documentary concerning the future course of human evolution.

Homo Futurus is a controversial because it presents a theory regarding the mechanism driving the evolution of humans from primates to modern man that is distinctly non-Darwinian. The theory being proposed challenges the presently accepted evolutionary premise that genetic mutations and environmental pressures are the prime influencers for natural selection. It also speculates on humanity’s long term future evolutionary path. So prepare to take a glimpse at the faces of our descendants.

Homo Futurus

Author’s Note:

I recently learned that Anne Dambricourt Malassé, the French palaeoanthropologist featured in the documentary “Homo Futurus” was associated with an organisation called UIP, a French institute dedicated to promoting Intelligent Design, What struck me about this documentary was the appearance of South African palaeoanthropologist Phillip Tobias, well known for his research at Sterkfontein on Australopithecus and Homo Habilis at Olduvai Gorge. The documentary gave the impression that Tobias appears to support this research. Whether the result of clever editing on the part of the producers or Tobias’ actual opinion is something I would really like to look into. But, it should be noted that in recent years Phillip Tobias (along with such luminaries as David Attenborough and Daniel Dennett) has also lent his support to another controversial hypothesis concerning human evolution namely the Aquatic Hypothesis.

When I was in college I took several elective courses in Anthropology and Biological Anthropology and Tobias is a well respected researcher in this field. So his appearance in the documentary did lend it some legitimacy.
I must admit though, that the research concerning the shifting of the sphenoid, bone situated at the base of the skull in front of the temporal bones and basilar part of the occipital bone, and its role in the evolution of the primate/hominid face and cranial vault did intrigue me. It may prove to be a very important tool in the classification of hominid skulls.

The idea that evolution is following a trajectory leading to greater and greater complexity is not unique to Intelligent Design. In fact you find it hinted at in such fields as diverse as Artificial Life and SETI.
Even Simon Conway Morris seems to believe that complexity is an evolutionary certainty. In fact many leading biologist, foremost being Ernst Mayr, have been critical of SETI because of this idea.

What Darwin Didn’t Know

A hundred and fifty years ago Charles Darwin published his master work on the origin of species. His explanation of the why there is so much diversity of life on Earth was so seductive, and so simple that it seems obvious today.

Anyone who is serious about science takes evolution for granted. But it’s extraordinary that we do, because Darwin’s theory was riddled with holes. It contained, as he freely admitted, much speculation and yet he had no doubt that future generations would complete his work and demonstrate the essential truth of his vision, and for a hundred and fifty years that is what scientist have been doing.

Now as we approach the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s seminal work “On the Origin of Species” on 24th November, 1859, twenty-first century science is providing the evidence to fill the holes in Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. The evolution of life on Earth is no longer a matter of speculation but a well supported fact.
What Darwin Didn’t Know