The chat with Lynn Margulis is over; thanks to Dr Margulis and all who participated. I’ve included the transcript below the fold.
[17:08] * Margulis (~pjirc@ZiRC-60364A8F.hsd1.ma.comcast.net) has joined #pharyngula
[17:08] <TimMc> oh, right
[17:08] <TimMc> ah, there we go
[17:08] * Cairnarvon sets mode: +v Margulis
[17:08] * TimMc taps mike “Is this thing on?”
[17:09] <Margulis> Yes
[17:09] <Margulis> So?
[17:09] <TimMc> Well, the gang’s all here.
[17:10] <Margulis> hat now in my first chat room disexperience
[17:10] <Margulis> What now?
[17:10] <TimMc> So, I’m coming a little late to this discussion
[17:10] <TimMc> (overall)
[17:10] <Margulis> No discussion yet, you’re not late
[17:10] <TimMc> The general controversy seems to be over specifics of evolutionary biology?
[17:11] <TimMc> (I’ve been in the room for an hour or so, but I haven’t been keeping up with PZ’s blog, etc.)
[17:11] <Margulis> There is never any controversy when the same set of scientific fact, observations, experiences are the basis for the comments
[17:12] <Diogenes> Could you talk a bit about why you reject the modern synthesis (presuming that is your stance), and your alternative method of evolution
[17:12] <TimMc> So, the argument is over which “facts” are indeed facts?
[17:15] <TimMc> Everyone might not be working from the same definitions, so it would be good to err on the side of verbosity. :-) In other words, when in doubt, define your terms.
[17:15] <TimMc> That goes for everyone. *Looks at Diogenes*
[17:16] <Diogenes> ok, I’ll rephrase, it seems you do not think that random mutations are the cause of the raw material that natural selection works on, could you please elaberate your alternative
[17:17] <TimMc> (thanks! ^_^)
[17:17] <Diogenes> dammit, “are not the cause of”
[17:17] <Diogenes> dammit again
[17:17] <TimMc> Diogenes: I think you had it right the first time.
[17:17] * Diogenes stops talking, it isn’t helping
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[17:18] <Margulis> Sure. I agree with the major tenets of evolution, clearly documented: All populations potentially grow at a number, their “biotic potential” measured as number of offspring per generation (or per unit time). The biotic potential which ranges from an e lephant per coulpe every two years to a bacterial division every 15min is not reached in the real world because of what Darwin called “checks”. Limit of energy, food, water, space, etc.
[17:19] <TimMc> Malthusian limits, etc.
[17:19] <Margulis> 1. Bacteria certainly have different types but they have no species since you can put strains in the refigerator and they can change species overnight (say by loss of a plasmid) Sonea is correct
[17:20] <Margulis> 2. Euakryotes whether sexual or not have well defined species
[17:20] <TimMc> (Yeah, “species” is tricky to define with bacteria — different definition, really.)
[17:20] <Margulis> I meant eukaryotes (protoctists, fungi anmals and plants)
[17:21] <Margulis> New species in the literature have been generated by
[17:21] <Margulis> 1. genome acquisition (symbiogenesis)
[17:22] <Margulis> 2. karyotypic fissioning (centromeric duplication, neocentromeres)
[17:22] <Margulis> 3. larval hybridization
[17:22] <Margulis> 4. plant hybridization
[17:22] <Margulis> 5. polyploidization in plants
[17:22] <TimMc> ^ By genome acquisition, you mean horizontal transfer by incorporation, a la lytic cycle viruses?
[17:23] <Margulis> 5. “forbidden fertilization (btween members of widely distinct taxa, eg, Geosiphon)
[17:23] <TimMc> (sorry, meant lysogenic cycle)
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[17:24] <Margulis> Probably other ways, just like “love is not enough” single genes are not enough
[17:25] <Diogenes> could you elaborate on point 2, because the opposite seems true, rings species and mules suggest that species are not well defined, they seem quite loosely defined
[17:25] <TimMc> So, your claim is that a buildup of simple mutations is not only not sufficient for speciation but also plays no significant role?
[17:26] <Margulis> Of course random mutations occur and are important for evolution in honing, modifying and generally influencing the big steps.
[17:26] <TimMc> So, you see mutations as having a *shaping* role
[17:26] <TimMc> rather than a *production* role.
[17:27] <Diogenes> and by “big steps” you mean a macroevolutionary mechanism other than random mutation+natural selection?
[17:31] <Margulis> There is a huge difference between virus, plasmid, small replicon horizontal gene transfer which OF course can be documented and “GENOME ACQUISITION”. It is the same kingd of difference that one sees between a family and a town. The difference is in the size of the unit and the suddenenss of the change through time. Genome acquisition involves at least a single autopoetic entity (CELL or organism composed of cells). Small (plasmids,
[17:32] <Diogenes> there is a character limit per line here, your message got cut off at: Small (plasmids,
[17:32] <Margulis> I was told in a hssing way by Kieth Porter at Harvard that I was a “Macromutationist” and that “Macromutation” had been rejected alreay in the 19th and early 20th C. So I tend to avoid the word.
[17:32] <Margulis> Diogenes, I’m sorry.
[17:33] <Margulis> Ithink I meant: small replicons include plasmids, phage, viruses (whether RNA, DNA ir reverse transcipt), etc.
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[17:34] <Margulis> Diogenes you have enough of an answer?
[17:34] <Diogenes> I’m chewing on it
[17:35] <Margulis> I’m not used to typing into the blue yonder without the benefit of editing carefully. Forgive the errors.
[17:35] <Margulis> The many errors.
[17:36] <lolife> so…on to astronomy! (j/k) although i am curious if your past relationship with Carl Sagan has caused you to be interested in astronomy.
[17:36] <Margulis> If I failed to answer anyone’s earlier question feel free to ask again.
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[17:38] <TimMc> Margulis: Don’t worry about the typos — it comes with the medium.
[17:38] <Margulis> The fundamental problem is that so many practicing scientists interested in evolution define evolution as a subfield of biolgy “evolutionary biology”..this tends to mean a subfield of “zoology”. This implies to me that they deal with a data set that is 3000 million years out of date and excludes about 7/8th of the evidence. Why? The existence of this field chauvinism excludes, for openers
[17:39] <Margulis> 1. the entire Archean and Proterozoic eons
[17:40] <TimMc> Who claims that evolutionary biology is a subset of zoology rather than a subset of biology?
[17:40] <TimMc> (References would be good, if you happen to have them on hand.)
[17:40] <Margulis> 2.microbiology (bacteria, smaller fungi, smaller protoctists where nearly all the biological diversity lies, both metabolic and sexual cycle)
[17:40] <Margulis> 3.atmospheric chemistry
[17:41] <TimMc> I think we can all agree that evo bio is not a strict subset of zoology, and certainly interacts with science from other fields.
[17:41] <Diogenes> is that not just a realization that the most information we can gather on the subject is in current living organisms, in the same way that stellar evolution involves the study of current stellar bodies
[17:41] <Margulis> Reference: Some people say I publish too much. For accessibility “Acquiring Genomes: a theory of the Origins of Spces” Margulis and Sagan, Basic books 2002
[17:42] <Margulis> for thereal science at the profession level: Symbiosis in Cell Evolution, 2nd edition, W H Freeman
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[17:43] <Derek> hey
[17:43] <TimMc> these books cite other scientists as claiming that evo bio is a strict subset of zoology?
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[17:43] * TimMc changes topic to ‘http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula – Now discussing evo bio with Lynn Margulis ‘
[17:43] <Margulis> for new essays (some of which are already published in Simon and Schuster;s “Slanted Truths” the forthcoming Daxzzle Gradually: Relaction on Nature in Nature will help. Essays on Gaia. symbiosis and evolution, as well as philosophy will be in there
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[17:44] <Diogenes> so you believe that evolutionary scientists are (purposely?) ignoring large areas of study?
[17:44] <Margulis> PLEASE see two websites for details on all this: Chelsea Green Publishing Co, and www.sciencewriters.org. Not dot come or you will get an editing service to help write your own papers
[17:45] <TimMc> :-) I hear ya.
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[17:45] <TimMc> “sciencewriters.org expired on 01/21/2007 and is pending renewal or deletion.”
[17:47] <TimMc> ( ^ from Google Cache, since site was not available — is anyone able to get through?)
[17:47] <Diogenes> I wasn’t TimMc
[17:48] <TimMc> Looks like it has been renewed, but is not yet available again.
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[17:49] <TimMc> Most recent version available through Wayback: http://web.archive.org/web/20050404210539/www.xsnrg.com/sciencewriters/
[17:50] <TimMc> Coral CDN can’t get through either.
[17:51] <Diogenes> Would you care to talk about the gaia hypthesis
[17:52] <Margulis> No. I believe at all zoologists are intrinsically poorly educated in biology and that medical people are misinformed. This results f rom “field chauvinism”. Lovelock aptly calls it “academic apartheid”. Probably related to the budget categories and marketers that set them up. See a wonderful book by Steve Dick (NASA historian) and hostory of science p rof. James Strick on the history of Astrobiology..a new category, a wonderful field
[17:52] <Margulis> Sure, what’s your question?
[17:53] <Diogenes> could you give a synopsis of the hypothesis, and for why you think it is correct
[17:53] <TimMc> I agree that academic compartmentalization is a bad thing (E O Wilson has written about it wonderfully in his book Consilience), I just don’t see anyone claiming evo bio is only about animals!
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[17:56] <pzmyers> Well, I have to agree that operationally evo bio is often focused almost exclusively on animals — I have that bias myself and have to watch out for it.
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[17:57] <Hairhead1> Logging in/delurking at the same time
[17:57] <Derek> Is there even a way for gaia theory to be tested?
[17:57] <TimMc> I would contend that it is more of an unconscious tendency — y’know, being mammals, we tend to focus on mammals.
[17:57] <Derek> it doesn’t seem like it
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[17:58] <pzmyers> Animals are very cool, though, so I think it’s OK. We just have to be willing to notice that there are other groups that are also cool, and that studying them can give us a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of evolution.
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[17:58] <Diogenes> pzmyers, is that caused by bias or necessity? do we study animals because they make good test subjects, or because we are more interested in things that are like ourselfs?
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[17:58] <TimMc> Derek: I think is possible to test for Gaia, but not with today’s technology.
[17:58] <pzmyers> The risk with animals is that we tend to get hung up on the peculiarities and details.
[17:58] <pzmyers> It’s clearly bias.
[17:58] <TimMc> It would take the form of a no-control experiment. Very tricky.
[17:58] <Hairhead> What do you want to test in the Gaia theory? The “overarching consciousness?”
[17:59] <Cairnarvon> Plants are boring because they don’t squeal.
[17:59] <pzmyers> E coli is a far better test subject than a mouse.
[17:59] <TimMc> Hairhead: Presumably the self-healing properties.
[17:59] <Derek> I mean, isn’t the whole idea behind gaia that the earth is a self-regulating organism? There are many processes on the earth essential to life that don’t appear to have anything to do with any mechanism of regulation.
[17:59] <Diogenes> pzmyers, but evo devo is by necessity an animal specific field, correct?
[18:00] <Hairhead> What’s the difference between the inertial tendency of any stable biosystem and “self-healing”, which seems to assume a consciousness?
[18:00] <Margulis> The hypothesis states that the following properties of the Earths surface are actively modulated by the biota (sum of all organisms): the mean midlatitude temperature, the concentration of the 40 or so reactive atmopsheric gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur and N oxides, etc) and the acidity/alkalinity. Biological proceses at varying time and spatial scales interact to do this regulation (behavior, metabolsim, p
[18:00] <Skatje> Cut out at “metabolism, p”
[18:00] <TimMc> Hey, Skittles~
[18:00] <pzmyers> No. Plant development is also important. One of the exciting developments, I think, is that we’re also finding the molecular mechanisms with which we are so impressed also present in single-celled organisms.
[18:00] <Skatje> (Yes, I am here. >.>)
[18:01] <Hairhead> Well, the second iteration of organisms on Earth changed the atmosphere and pusched out the first iteration of organisms.
[18:01] <Hairhead> “Active modulation” seems to postulation a “desired outcome”.
[18:02] <Hairhead> Active, as opposed to “reactive” — again the assumption of consciousness lurks behind the words.
[18:02] <TimMc> Hairhead: I think a good question is this: “Can we hope to discover any difference between the niche-finding nature of life in general and the idea of biospheric self-regulation?”
[18:02] <Hairhead> Can we apply a Turing Test to Earth’s biota?
[18:03] <TimMc> Hairhead: It doesn’t need to be conscious to be alive.
[18:03] <TimMc> And it doesn’t need to be alive to be a self-regulating system.
[18:05] <Hairhead> Though self-regulating to a certain extent, the system, as is evidenced by changes previous bio-regimes (clumsy word there) have imposed on this “Gaia” shows a lot of vulnerability to the system.
[18:05] <TimMc> An excellent point — Margulis, care to address?
[18:07] <Hairhead> I find the “Gaia” hypothesis reasonable to the extent that our current bio-regime has set up a system of feedback loop which regulate fairly efffectively the gross environment.
[18:08] <Hairhead> What I find questionable about “Gaia” is that some of its proponents perceive or present that “Gaia” has a definable “objective”, the way that some people misperceive the evolution means “progress.”
[18:08] <Hairhead> And that’s mystical, and not testable, as far as I can see.
[18:08] <Margulis> Hairhead: a dictionary definition defines consciousness as “awareness of the surrounding environment” Bacteria tend to be more conscious than adolescents and infants. Consciousness, the sensory self, is a propert of life itself. We are working out the details of consciouness of light, gravity, magnetism, touch (hearing and other mechanosensitivies) taste and smell (and other chemosensitivites) etc. These are Gaia’s sensing systems, S
[18:09] <TimMc> cut off at “Gaia’s sensing systems, S”
[18:10] <TimMc> You claim that bacteria are more aware of their environment than adolescent humans?
[18:10] <TimMc> <__<
[18:10] <Derek> Margulis: As far as the operational definition goes, that would, strangely, be accurate. However, I think when we as humans think of ‘consciousness,’ we are thinking about something a bit different.
[18:10] <Margulis> The Gaia you are talking about is not the scientific Gaia hypothesis (or theory). Read Lovelock’s best book Ages of Gaia, or second best book, Homage to Gaia (these of course are my opinions. Indeed I like all of his books)
[18:10] <Hairhead> So, a question, if we get to know this “Gaia”, what is it that we want to know that will benefit us humans, specifically. I mean, I can think of a bunch of things, but I’d like to hear what others say.
[18:11] <TimMc> Margulis: Perhaps we can drop “consciousness” in favor of “sapient” and “sentient”
[18:12] <Derek> Every cell in my body is, by that definition, conscious to a degree. Isn’t consciousness usually denoted by some form of self-determination?
[18:12] <TimMc> “Sentient” indicates some ability to process information using abstract symbology.
[18:12] <TimMc> sorry
[18:13] <TimMc> that would be “Sapient”
[18:13] <Edd> I was going to suggest what TimMC just did. There’s a difference perhaps between awareness and sentience. We’re also getting worryingly philosophical I think.
[18:13] <TimMc> “Sentient” indicates awareness of environment to any degree
[18:14] <Hairhead> I’d say that a lot of our problem is crossing the boundary between sapient and sentient. For instance, through much arduous observationa and testing we have found that some birds use as adjuncts to their navigational systems an internal sensing of Earth’s magnetic field. Now, they aren’t conscious of this and cannot tell us how the Earth’s magnetic field feels — and we need these kind of tools to make predictions of the changes to Gaia, ch
[18:15] <Margulis> Human success (relative to that of chimps, bonobos, gorillas, orangs) for exmple is the efficacy of our delusionary anthropocentrism. For why the number of humans increases as we destroy the bisphere that sustains us (while the number of the other great apes tends to decrease) please read Reg Morrison, Cornell Univ Press 1999 bbok: The spirit of the Gene: Humanity’ Proud Illusion and the Laws of Nature. His explanation is compellin
[18:16] <Hairhead> I mean, we (humans) are now in the position where we can and are changing our global environment to our detriment, and we need tools to cross the sentient/sapient boundary so we know better exactly how and how badly we are fucking things up. (technical term there)
[18:16] <TimMc> Can you tie that in with Gaia or one of the other topics of conversation, Margulis?
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[18:17] <Hairhead> Margulis, I appreciate your references to useful works; it’s much quicker than for you to try and summarize/type the ideas.
[18:18] <Hairhead> Aarg! I hope that didn’t come across as sarcasm. It wasn’t meant to. I am going to read the works you are dropping refrence to.
[18:19] <Terras> (PS. On most IRC clients, your text gets cut off on very long lines. )
[18:19] <Hairhead> Perhaps we’ll have to become like Radagast the Brown (LOTR reference) and listen to the birds and the bees (which our best researchers are doing already)
[18:19] <TimMc> Margulis: Your last comment was cut off at “His explanation is compellin”
[18:20] <Hairhead> I’m on PJIRC and I’m not getting any cutoffs.
[18:21] <Margulis> There is always a desperate need to find what exactly it is that humans are best at doing: consciousness, building the true arch, speaking, expanding our environmental range, agriculture, buidling the World Trad Towers and then blowing them up, tolerating premaure infants, lynching, denying history, flying in the air in structures heavier than air..etc. Everyone has his favorite list. But what Morrison asks is how has this knowledge o
[18:21] <TimMc> Margulis: cut off after “But what Morrison asks is how has this knowledge o”
[18:21] <Margulis> Hairhead, please help Tim Mc
[18:22] <Hairhead> How can I help? All it did was install the Java applet.
[18:22] <Skatje> Someone (Hair or Marg) just copy paste what’s after the cutoff.
[18:22] <TimMc> I don’t think this is on my end.
[18:22] <Skatje> Cuts off for me too, Tim.
[18:22] <Edd> no it’s not, happens to me too
[18:23] <Cairnarvon> IRC has a maximum line length on the server side.
[18:23] <Margulis> We probably differ from the other Homo species in our franticness to modify the environment to make McDonaldland global
[18:23] <Cairnarvon> It may not appear cut off to the sender, but it will for everyone else.
[18:23] <TimMc> indeed
[18:24] <Cairnarvon> So retype everything from “But what Morrison asks is how has this knowledge o” on, please.
[18:24] <Hairhead> I disagree. We don’t want to “modify the environment”. Modifying the environment is an unintentional byproduct of our other activities, making money, breeding, fighting wars. The challenge for us is NOW to intentionally modify our environment for the better.
[18:24] <TimMc> (Depending on your IRC client, hitting the up-arrow may retrieve past messages.)
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[18:25] <Margulis> Sorry, I am a chatroom novice and a blog-idiot. All of the web stuff is an improvement over television thought, as Sut Jhally noted, TV now has our children employed, uncompensated, by the Corporatocracy.
[18:25] <Hairhead> For instance, Australia and Europe have announced timetables to get rid of the power-wasting incandescent bulb.
[18:26] <Cairnarvon> Europe hasn’t, AFAICT.
[18:26] <Cairnarvon> Some city in California did, though, didn’t it?
[18:26] <Cairnarvon> *AFAIK, even.
[18:26] <TimMc> NAFTA keeps suppressing attempts to environmentalize.
[18:26] <TimMc> (For the USA.)
[18:26] <Hairhead> Just to move the discussion. How many things can we all here list that our culture could do to reduce our power consumption while maintaining our standard of life (because our society is just not going to negotiate our standard of living down).
[18:27] <Margulis> Sure Hairhead, you see how Gaia works already. One organisms feces, urine and underarm sweat is another’s food and drink. Make the environment better for who? My slime molds? More United STatesians?
[18:28] <Cairnarvon> Reduction of power consumption isn’t as important as just moving to cleaner energy, really.
[18:28] <Hairhead> Good question. Make the environment better to the extent that humanity will not suffer an enormous die-off in the next century. That’s a start.
[18:28] <Hairhead> Then we can work on not murdering all of the other species on earth.
[18:28] <Edd> Cairnarvon: http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2007-03-09-eu-lights_N.htm although it’s not an announcement of a timetable
[18:28] <Diogenes> so is Gaia any more than the fact that we live in a (currently) self balancing system?
[18:28] <Margulis> Yes, our corporatocracy is not going to give up its power and privilege willingly.
[18:28] <Cairnarvon> Huh.
[18:29] <Hairhead> John Ralston Saul posits that the answers are in democracy and doubt. That is, lots and lots of self-aware discussion for the non-power-elites.
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[18:30] <Hairhead> We won’t move to alternative energy until people are comfortable with reducing energy consumption (which would start with simply making things more efficient)
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[18:31] <Hairhead> Personally, alternative energy is great.
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[18:31] <Hairhead> If I’m ever able to build my own house, I intend to dig 60 feet down and use rock ballast for heating/cooling.
[18:31] <lolife> there is no shortage of energy on earth
[18:32] <Hairhead> There is no shortage of energy. There is a shortage of infrastructure to deliver clean energy.
[18:32] <TimMc> Wind is more accessible (for now), but solar (of some form) is the big one.
[18:32] <Cairnarvon> Reduced energy consumption will just slow down adoption of decent alternatives.
[18:32] <Diogenes> substitute “cheap, easily stored and distributed”
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[18:33] <Hairhead> I don’t think reducing energy consumption will slow down adoption. It will kickstart an attitude change.
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