Tag Archives: science

Science Friday: Cephalapod Week

From Jeff VanderMeer’s City of Saints and Madmen


Like a kraken rising from the depths (or a cuttlefish emerging from the sand), Cephalopod Week is back!

Every year, during the third week in June, we take time to honor those mighty cephalopods, the clever mysterious creatures that, as professor of neurology Frank Grasso once said, are the closest things to alien intelligence on Earth. Thousands of you all over the world join the cephalo-bration by reading, watching, sharing, and getting together with your fellow cephalo-fans.

This year, we have a whole, well, octopus city of great new stories, videos, and events for you. For the next eight days, we’re going to dive deep with these amazing animals. Join us and learn about the paper nautilus that’s neither paper nor a nautilus, the Hawaiian bobtail squids and their unlikely BFF, the inky link between octopuses and the early days of underwater photography, a special undersea puppet show, and much more.

How To Join The Cephalo-Fun:

Party On Social Media #CephalopodWeekHave an octopus tattoo? A favorite fact about the Humboldt squid? Some adorabilis art? The easiest way to dive right in is to share it on social media. It’s super easy to join!

This year, Science Friday is hosting a special Cephalopod Week Facebook Group so you can all participate in the squiddy goodness. Join here.

We’ll also be beaking out about cephalopods on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #CephalopodWeek.

Read more here.

Text Source:  Three Hearts, Eight Arms, Can’t Lose: Cephalopod Week 2018

Image Source: Jeff VanderMeer’s City of Saints and Madmen and  “Jeff VanderMeer: Science-Fiction City”


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Filed under Animals, Jeff VanderMeer, science fiction

Planet of Microbes

post by Liam Heneghan


Please join the Institute for Nature & Culture as we welcome DePaul Professor of English Ted Anton for a reading and discussion of his most recent book, Planet of Microbes: Perils and Promise in the Earth’s Essential Life Forms.  

Wednesday, April 4, 4:00-5:30 p.m., DePaul University, McGowan South, 204

[Ted’s] new book explores the latest discoveries that may reshape the future of our planet and our understanding of where we came from, detailing the ways in which the world’s tiniest, and sometimes most dangerous, microorganisms are being tapped as allies in seeking better health and a sustainable future.

From microbreweries to volcanic hot pools, the bottom of the ocean and miles below the earth’s surface, from our gardens to our bodies to Mars, a hidden living world is deepening our vision of life’s capabilities.

Planet of Microbes puts a new spin on a remarkable era as powerful new tools reveal the abilities of microbes that respire minerals, make our wine, and shape our climate, in ways that might have therapeutic relevance. A comprehensive yet integrated overview of the microbial world around us, integrating concepts from many different disciplines and drawing lines of interdisciplinary activity where normally people don’t see them, it reveals the ways in which microbes have shaped the planet and  all life around us.


See video from WTTW’s Chicago Tonight: http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2018/01/09/microbes-earth-s-oldest-and-most-essential-life-forms

Block quote from Anton’s website.

Image and book can be found here.

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Filed under Ecology, Literature, Uncategorized

Everything is Headed Toward Annihilation

Film review by ­­­Matthew Skolnik and Christine Skolnik

Alex Garland’s latest film, Annihilation, loosely based on Jeff VanderMeer’s best-selling and critically-acclaimed novel by the same name, explores creativity and self-destruction as well as the fuzzy boundaries between the human, natural, and alien worlds. The advancement of Area X diminishes the role of “barrier islands.”  The rest will be history.

Area X, the mysterious and amorphous antagonist and setting of the film, also known as “The Shimmer,” creates beautiful, disturbing, and at times terrifying hybrids from the raw materials of the natural world.  This creative aspect is recognized by the researchers and rendered aesthetically in the film’s hybrid landscapes.  Flora, fauna, and “the elements” are all exceedingly strange, colorful, and in some cases terrifying. Though generally surrealistic and often moving as well as striking, some of the landscape elements might come across as a little kitsch.  Intentional or not these seemingly false notes disturb the otherwise hypnotic dream-state of the film.

The characters and the environment are also destructive.  Destructive and self-destructive.  Garland’s version gives each main character a motivation to self-destruct.  Portman and Isaac excel at intimating the creative and destructive complexities of committed relationships.  Portman’s character says about her husband’s mission, “The silence around it is louder than usual,” but silence is as much a cause as an effect of their marital struggles.  On one level the various character motivations are psychological clichés; on another level they are intellectually provocative and moving. The film has an “organic” quality in the sense that inter- and intrapersonal conflicts mirror the larger environmental and cosmic drama.

“It’s not destroying.  It’s making something new.”

The female ensemble cast is interesting to reflect on in terms of creation and destruction.  While “the feminine” is typically stereotyped as creative, the fact that members of the all-female research team play different roles and are all strong, “masculine,” and “destructive” in various ways, undermines mythical structures and social stereotypes.  And while science is presumed to be inherently destructive in the sense that science kills in order to understand, the Garland narrative suggests, through language as well as action, that the irrational urge to destroy may be a cause of intellectual curiosity.

The larger forces of environmental destruction in the film seem alien, throughout, but on the condition that we imagine the cosmic as an outside of “nature.”  And perhaps, more pointedly, when we ignore our own alien and hostile behavior.  The permeability of the self and the internalization of destructive drives call the distinctions between the human, natural, and alien into question throughout the film.  Is alienation an external or internal problem?

Another creative aspect of the film is the manner in which it subverts the common dystopian science-fiction tropes of mega cities or desertified environments, in the Blade Runner movies or the Mad Max series of films, for example.  These environments are staples of various literary, film, and now graphic novel genres.  The tropes of unbridled urban expansion and desertification are here replaced by an environment evolving into a variation of itself—a “neotropical” realm.  Left to the will of “The Shimmer” post-evacuation, abandoned buildings and military bases become home to strange and beautiful incursions, while still retaining elements of brutality.  Thus the dance of creation and destruction is accelerated and heightened.

Garland owes this alternative dystopian vision to VanderMeer whose novel is not only a descriptive master piece but also a kind of manifesto for the natural world.  In the novel, Area X is not only setting and character, but alternately antagonist and protagonist, depending on one’s perspective which VanderMeer seems to manipulate. Some of this Escher-like quality is lost in the film, in which Area X is primarily an existential threat, though the sheer aesthetic quality of the best set elements and special effects also recruit us over to the other side.

This could even be the case with some of the most horrific elements.  One might think a screaming wolf-bear could only be an antagonist, but in this context the creature can also be conceived as a product of an environment rebelling against the invasive behaviors of mankind.

The same can be said of the various familiar and yet strange facsimiles of nature.  If humans as a product of nature are destructive, then their familiars and antagonists may conversely be creative.

At one point in the film, the leader of the expedition, the venerable Jennifer Jason Leigh, in a complex, villainous performance comparable to her performance in Single White Female, remarks that the biologist is “confusing suicide with self-destruction.”  Though this statement, like most of the sententious dialogue remains unclear, the character also marks the ubiquity and unconscious nature of self-destruction.  Her comments oppose a programmed self-destruction to suicide as a willful, existential choice.  If self-destruction is a law, however, suicide is merely a rationalization or, more accurately, self-deception on all fronts.  Before the expedition the geologist says of Area X, “I watch it grow closer. There’s only so long someone can do that.”  However, on some level, it remains unclear whether the existential threat is ultimately external or internal?

“You’re confusing suicide with self-destruction”

One serious complaint is that the film loses track of itself in its penultimate act.  This seems an expression of either artistic hubris, or a kind of stress response of a creator overwhelmed by his creation, not coincidentally untethered from its original.  It also reads, for obvious reasons, as a unconscious performance of self-destruction.

Some fight, some are vanquished, some succumb, and some willingly become part of the alien landscape.  At the end of the day, however, the “choices” seem irrelevant, because there is no “outside” of our own, already alien human nature. In this Garland remains faithful to VanderMeer’s great novel.


Image Sources:





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Standing Up to Climate Denial in Action

by Thanu Yakupitiyage – 350.org


The only event the Trump administration hosted at the COP 23 UN climate talks during the last two weeks in Germany was a panel promoting “clean” coal, nuclear, and other fossil fuels. This is climate denial in action.

Luckily, people weren’t buying it. As fossil fuel executives took the stage to speak, hundreds of people rose up, disrupting the event by singing, and walked out. I was there, and I can tell you that being part of that beautiful and powerful moment sent shivers down my spine. But don’t just take it from me — watch this powerful video of people rising up in resistance.

This powerful act of resistance was led by members of the U.S. People’s Delegation. The delegation included youth, Indigenous peoples, frontline communities, advocates, and policymakers who came to Germany to stand their ground as the true representatives of people in the U.S. Through direct actions, speak outs and discussions with elected officials, they spotlighted that true climate leadership in the U.S. comes from the people.

The U.S. People’s Delegation sent a powerful message to the world in Germany: U.S. communities aren’t waiting for this administration to get its act together — we’re demanding lasting change now. The delegation showed world leaders that people are already organizing in cities and states across the country to call for a fast, just transition to a world free of fossil fuels that’s powered by 100% renewable energy for all.

The organizations represented in the People’s Delegation include: SustainUS, Sunrise Movement, Indigenous Environmental Network, Global Grassroots Justice Alliance, and the Climate Justice Alliance as part of It Takes Roots, U.S Human Rights Network, Climate Generation, Our Children’s Trust, ICLEI USA, NextGen America, and 350.org.

Now, with the climate talks having just finished, the delegation members are heading home for some much-needed rest — but here in the U.S., our fight is just beginning. We will be in touch soon with more information on what’s next.

With resolve,

Thanu Yakupitiyage



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Filed under Climate Change, corporations, environmental justice, Social Justice

A Neuroscientist Tells Us What Your Dog Is Really Thinking

Introduction adapted from wbur.

With guest host Jane Clayson.

What it’s like to be a dog.   Interview with animal neuroscientist Dr. Gregory Berns, director of the Center for Neuropolicy, professor at Emory University’s Computation and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, and author of “What It’s Like to Be a Dog –And Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience.” (@gberns)


A dog named “JC” smiles for the camera while his owner holds back. (Benjgibbs/Creative Commons)

Listen and read here.

Sincere thanks to Dirk Felleman at Synthetic Zero for the link.

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Filed under Animals, brain science

“An Inconvenient Sequel” Screenings and Much More

See below information about “An Inconvenient Sequel” screenings, and various related resources for educators, business professionals, and concerned citizens.


From a New York Times review:

In a summer movie landscape with Spider-Man, a simian army waging further battle for the planet and Charlize Theron as a sexy Cold War-era superspy, it says something that one of the most compelling characters is Al Gore.

“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” a follow-up to “An Inconvenient Truth,” Davis Guggenheim’s Oscar-winning documentary from 2006, is a reboot that justifies its existence — and not just because Mr. Gore has fresh news to report on climate change since his previous multimedia presentation played in multiplexes.

Read more here.

See trailer here.

Get tickets and find various resources here.











Image source: Occasional Planet, http://occasionalplanet.org/2017/04/03/just-time-inconvenient-sequel/





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Filed under Climate Change, Film, Policy, politics

The Uninhabitable Earth

Re-posted from New York magazine.

Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think.



To read an annotated version of this article, complete with interviews with scientists and links to further reading, click here.

I. ‘Doomsday’

Peering beyond scientific reticence.

It is, I promise, worse than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today. And yet the swelling seas — and the cities they will drown — have so dominated the picture of global warming, and so overwhelmed our capacity for climate panic, that they have occluded our perception of other threats, many much closer at hand. Rising oceans are bad, in fact very bad; but fleeing the coastline will not be enough.

Indeed, absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.

Continue reading here.

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Filed under Climate Change, future