Darwinism in Thought and Action

It has been interesting to see a Darwinian perspective increasingly being applied in areas outside the confines of biology. Take this line from a recent review of the Umberto Eco edited On Ugliness in the Village Voice:

That he shows no awareness of post-Darwinian science can mean only that he isn’t serious about locating the sources of aesthetic feelings.

I can’t recall ever seeing Darwin invoked in a piece of literary criticism.

In A Farewell to Alms economist Gregory Clark presents data showing that the most economically successful individuals in the pre-industrial era were not only more literate, but had significantly more surviving children than the disadvantaged. In an age of little economic expansion, this forced cultural and perhaps genetic differences down the economic ladder, taking their middle-class values with them. This he argues lowered the level of violence and set the stage for the Industrial Revolution. See the New York Times review here, as well as the accompanying graphics.

Interestingly, Norman Cantor in The Civilization of the Middle Ages suggests an antieugenical effect from the prohibition to marriage and siring children for the most educated segment of early Medieval society, the clergy. This stands in contrast he says to the rabbinical mandate to father as many children as possible.

The recent troubles with Frank Gehry’s Stata Center at M.I.T. brought to mind the work of Rafal Kicinger. He has proposed applying natural selection to structural design.

Mystery Text

Schematic of Genetic Design Process

It would be interesting to see this approach taken to other aspects of design, such cost, environmental impact and aesthetics. I imagine there will come a time when all designs are proven and adapted against these vectors using genetic algorithms.

» Posted: Saturday, November 17, 2007 | Comments (1) | Permanent Link

Not So Mysterious Script After All

I was interested enough in the “mysterious script” discovered in Iceland recently that I wrote to the Árni Magnússon Institute asking if there would be any more information forthcoming.

It turns out that the details of its discovery got out before it had been properly investigated. The document had been purchased in Kenya in the 1980’s. The document’s alphabet is in fact Amharic and it’s written in the Ge’ez language, which would make its origin Ethiopia.

Mystery Text

Sample of the Ge’ez language

Ge’ez is a “dead” language that is used in religious texts similar to the way Latin is used today. The document itself may be put on line pending agreement by the owner. Ah well, I was hoping this would turn out to be something a bit more interesting…

» Posted: Wednesday, November 7, 2007 | Comments (0) | Permanent Link

Latest Sunrises Ever

Because Daylight Savings Time (DST) has been pushed back to the first Sunday in November this year, most people in the United States are experiencing the chronographically latest sunrise ever. Daylight Savings Time has never been extended into November making these sunrise times unprecedented.

In Boston for example, sunrise for November 3rd occurs at 7:20am, which because of DST, is 7 minutes later than it will be at the time of the latest astronomical sunrise. This will occur a few days after the Winter Solstice, around December 31st, when in Boston, the sun will rise at 7:13am. With the current law in effect, 2010 will have to latest possible date for the return to standard time, November 7th, when sunrise will occur at 7:23 - a full 10 minutes after the otherwise normal latest sunrise.


Boston Sunrise and Sunset for 2007

Prior to this year, DST started on the last Sunday in October, which put the latest sunrise almost exactly at the time it occurs after the Winter Solstice. I suspect in fact that is how the original date was decided upon in the first place.

» Posted: Friday, November 2, 2007 | Comments (2) | Permanent Link