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text 2018-06-25 09:08

The intimate sense of self-awareness we experience bubbling up at each moment is rooted in the originating activity of the Universe. We are all of us arising together at the invisible center of the cosmos.” We once thought that we were no bigger than our physical bodies, but now we are discovering that we are deeply connected participants in the continuous co-arising of the entire Universe. Awakening to our larger identity as both unique and inseparably connected with a co- arising Universe transforms feelings of existential separation into experiences of subtle communion as bio-cosmic beings. We are far richer, deeper, more complex, and more alive than we ever thought.


To discover this in our direct experience is to enter a new age of exploration and discovery.The Universe is continuously emerging as a fresh creation at every moment. All point to this same, extraordinary insight.


The Universe is not static, nor is its continuation assured. Instead, the Universe is like a cosmic hologram that is being continuously upheld and renewed at every instant.14 A universal encouragement found across the world’s wisdom traditions is to live in the ‘NOW.’ This core insight has a clear basis in physics: The present moment is the place of direct connection with the entire Universe as it arises continuously. Each moment is a fresh formation of the Universe, emerging seamlessly and flawlessly.


Awakening to our conscious connection with the living Universe naturally expands our scope of concern and compassion—and brightens the prospect of working together to build a sustainable future.

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review 2018-06-17 19:40
The Equations of Life
The Equations of Life: How Physics Shapes Evolution - Charles S. Cockell

[I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.]

Well, that was a pretty informative read. A little difficult to get into at times (although I suspect half of it was because I was trying to read it when I was too tired), but definitely informative.

To be honest, I’m not that well-versed in equations in general. I can solve basic linear equations with two unknowns, that kind of thing; just don’t ask me to memorise really complex ones. So, I admit that, at first, I was hesitant to request this book, thinking that maybe it’d be out of my reach. Fortunately, while it does deal with equations, it’s not just page after page filled with numbers and symbols, and the author does explain what each term of each equation stands for. In the end, this was all fairly understandable, both the math and the writing itself.

The book doesn’t simply deal with equations either, and delves into astrobiology and basic atomic and particles physics (electrons -are- subatomic particles, after all, and knowing what part they play in atomic interactions is useful to understand what exactly happens at the biological molecular level, too). In fact, I found that a couple of chapters do fit in nicely with quantum theory, if you’re interested in that as well, since they explain essential interactions at shell level. I hadn’t studied chemistry since… at least 21 years, but this sent me back to my old classes, and I realised that I still possessed the required knowledge to get what the author was talking about. Which is great, because 1) I’m interested, 2) I like it when I grasp something that old me would’ve dismissed as ‘too hard’, 3) did I say I’m interested?

Last but not least, the book also contains a list of references that I’ll try to check at some point. Not all of them, of course, but since he points to Sean B. Carroll and his works on evo-devo, that’s a win in my little world.

All in all, this was a set of really interesting and intriguing theories, theories that make a lot of sense when you think about it and take time to observe nature around you. (Why did animals develop legs and not wheels? Well, inequal terrain and all that… Logics, logics…) And if you’re wondering about the possibility of other forms of life, either carbon-based on other planets or not even carbon-based, the author also explores this, going to demonstrate why it may or may not work (hence why a basic lesson in chemistry is provided). A solid 4.5 stars for me (I just think it dragged slightly in the last chapter).

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review 2018-06-07 19:19
Facts, anecdotes, some opinions, and a very engaging way of learning about the human body.
Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes - Nathan H. Lents

Thanks to NetGalley and to the publishers (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

When I saw this book on offer, I could not resist. I studied Medicine and have been fascinated by Biology and the Natural Sciences for ages. I have also thought and often commented on our (mostly mine, but yes, most of the issues are general, not exclusive to me) flawed design, no matter how superior we feel to the rest of the species that share the planet with us. In a later chapter of the book, the author sums it up observing that if we participated in an Olympic Games-style contest that included all of the Earth’s species, we would not win at anything, apart from perhaps decathlon (or chess if it was included), as we are generalists. We might not be able to compete with the physical prowess shown by many other species (we are not the fastest, the strongest, the best hunters, the ones who jump higher or who can run for longer), but we can do many things to a reasonable level. And yes, we are pretty intelligent (however we choose to use our minds).

There is enough material to fill several books under the general title of this book, and Lents chooses pretty interesting ones (although I guess some will appeal to some readers more than others). He talks about pointless bones and anatomical errors, our diet (here he talks about our tendency to obesity and our need to eat a varied diet due to the fact that our bodies have lost the ability to synthesise a number of vitamins, amino acids… while other species do),junk in the genome (issues to do with our DNA), homo sterilis (we are not very good at reproducing as a species), why God invented doctors (about our immune system and autoimmune diseases, cancer…), a species of suckers (about cognitive biases. The title of the chapter refers to P.T. Barnum’s edict ‘a sucker born every minute’ although as the author notes, this is an underestimate), and he discusses the possible future of humanity in the epilogue. There is a fair amount of information contained in this book, and that includes some useful illustrations, and notes at the end (I read an ARC copy, but it is possible that the final version contains even more documentation and resources). It is an educational read that I thoroughly enjoyed. I listened to the book thanks to the text-to-speech facility, and it suits it well, as it has a very conversational tone and manages to impart lots of information without being overbearing or obscure.  I read some reviews suggesting that it was so packed with facts that it was better to read it in small bites. Personally, I read it in a few days and never got bored of it, but it might depend on the reader’s interest in the subject.

I was familiar with some of the content but I appreciated the author’s take and the way he organised the materials. Although I enjoyed the whole book, I was particularly interested in the chapters on genetics (the DNA analysis and the identification of specific genes have moved on remarkably since I completed my degree) and on cognitive biases. As a doctor, I also agreed with his comments about autoimmune diseases, the difficulties in their diagnosis, and how these illnesses can sometimes be confused with psychiatric illnesses (being a psychiatrist, I know only too well this can happen). Of course, as is to be expected from the topic, the book reflects on the development of the species and discusses natural selection and evolution, and I was fascinated by the reviews of people who took his arguments as personal attacks on their beliefs. I agree that some of his interpretations and his hypothesis of the reasons for some of these flaws can be debatable, but that does not apply to the facts, and I did not feel the book is intended as a provocation but as a source of information, and entertainment. As the writer notes, we remember better (and believe in) anecdotes and stories than we do dry data. (I am not an expert on the subject but was fascinated by the comments on his blog.)

I found the book fascinating, and as a writer, I thought it was full of information useful to people thinking of writing in a variety of genres, from science-fiction (thoughts about how other species might evolve crossed my mind as I read it), historical fiction (if we go back many years), and any books with a focus on human beings and science.  I would recommend checking a sample of the book to see if the writer’s style suits the reader. I highlighted many lines (and was surprised when I learned that female Bluefin tunas don’t reach sexual maturity until they are twenty years old and was pleased to learn about the important roll old female orcas play in their society) but I particularly like this one:

Scurvy is a dystopian novel written by the human body.

A great read for those who prefer non-fiction and fact-packed books, perfect for people with little time, as it can be picked up and savoured in bite-size instalments, and a book that might pique our interest in and lead to further research on some of the topics. Experts are unlikely to find new information here, but other readers will come out enlightened and with plenty to think about. I strongly recommend it.

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text SPOILER ALERT! 2018-05-22 11:00
QUOTE: The Evolution Underground [Chapter 1]
The Evolution Underground: Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath our Feet - Anthony J. Martin

Once spotted, I greeted it like an old friend, enthusiastically striding toward its opening before delivering my little lecture to the assembled group. A few students stood back, impressed by the size of the hole and staring into its underground darkness, a seemingly bottomless pit of mystery. The whirring of zoom lenses and digitally rendered shutter sounds behind me told me they were taking plenty of pictures. I was pleased that they found this burrow as interesting as I did.

Suddenly, I was jarred out of my educational reverie when one of students said, “I see teeth in there.”

“Teeth?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said, and others nodded agreement. She was looking into the den, while two others looked anxiously back and forth between their camera view-screens and the den, testing what they either observed or imagined.

“What kind of teeth?” I asked. Like a typical paleontologist, I was thinking of a disembodied skull or jaw, instead of a breathing animal bearing (or baring) those teeth.

“I don’t know. Could it be a snake?”

“Sure, that’s possible.” I had seen alligator dens with snakes in them before. Also, unlike certain fictional archaeologists, I like snakes and relished the thought that one might be in the burrow. “But you probably wouldn’t be seeing its teeth,” I said, as I became more confused about this unexpected shift in the lesson plan for my students. Puzzled, I stepped closer to the entrance, which is when I received an admonition from their “classmate” who had somehow (but understandably) made it past the registrar without paying tuition.

I looked up at Michael. The disbelief probably still registered on my face, but my expression also must have wordlessly asked him, “What do we do now?”

With his GPS unit in one hand, Michael smiled, and with barely suppressed glee at the absurdity of our predicament he said, “Guess we have to mark that one as occupied.”


From:  The Evolution Underground by Anthony J. Martin


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review 2018-03-19 23:18
Domesticated by Richard C Francis
Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World - Richard C. Francis

This book and I got off to a rocky start because I didn't really learn anything new in the chapter about foxes and then I got a little overwhelmed by all the dog breeds and landraces in the dog chapter. Each chapter focuses on either a single domesticated (or somewhat tamed) animal or related groups of animals, from dogs and cats to camels and ultimately humans. It discusses the changes that that particular animal experienced relative to its wild counterpart and the commonalities between domesticated animals, like a lessened fear response to both humans and "crowds" of its own species and neotenic features (juvenile behavioural or physical attributes that persist into adulthood).


Humans, you say? How could we be domesticated? By whom? Well, apparently some people have wondered whether some of our evolution away from the other apes was due to a kind of self-domestication process that would have brought out attributes common to other domesticated animals in us. After discussion various aspects of this theory, Francis has this to say:

"Whatever its ultimate fate, the self-domestication hypothesis is valuable in reorienting our focus somewhat from our singular intelligence to our emotional constitution, which is every bit as singular. Our pro-social emotional tendencies are what afford human groups unrivaled capacities for coordinated action and, ultimately, our capacity for culture. Intelligence is secondary in this regard. Spock-like creatures, much more intelligent than we are, would never have achieved what we have, for lack of motivation."

Doesn't that give you the warm fuzzies?


Anyway, my attention waxed and waned a bit as my interest peaked and ebbed according to the topic, but overall I think it's a great book that discusses the process of domestication intelligently. I'm kind of curious about the author's other books now too, although I'm not sure whether they'd be as interesting as this.


Previous updates (and boy are there a lot):

48 / 351 pages (dog chapter)

50 / 351 pages (dog chapter: bulldog/breeding quotes)

53 / 351 pages (cat chapter: Sylvester the cat quote)

58 / 351 pages (cat chapter: cat teeth quote)

82 / 351 pages (other predators chapter: raccoons in Toronto)

166 / 351 pages (sheep and goats chapter: Jacob sheep quote)

199 / 351 pages (camel chapter: camel protest quote)

200 / 351 pages (camel chapter: war camels)

245 / 351 pages (rodents chapter: mice as weeds)

248 / 351 pages (rodents chapter: popcorn-like jumping mice quote)

284 / 351 pages (humans - sociality chapter: evolutionary psychology dig)

351 / 351 pages (done!)

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