Inside a Single Cell

Occasionally a project takes me off on an unusual tangent. Researching for a recent project I came across Harvard University’s The Inner Life of the Cell. A medical illustrator David Bolinsky spoke at T.E.D. about the video he was working on in 2007. (A better copy of the video than I show here is at T.E.D., but I can’t embed that one.) I thought these too neat not to share.

The collection of animations created by Harvard for their project can be found here: Harvard Multimedia. The 8 minute video The Inner Life of the Cell can also be found at YouTube, which is what I have below. It is a poorer quality than you’ll find at the Harvard site. If you watch from the Harvard site I recommend you use Internet Explorer.

All this stuff is going on inside a single cell… Wow!

Following is philosophy on what the complexity in the cells may or may not prove.

Charles R. Darwin (1809-1882) is thought of by most of those believing in species evolution as the originator of the idea of species evolution. Most also think he was a scientist. That last is debatable, because he dropped out of most of his scientific and religious studies.

The Greek philosopher Anaximander (611-546 B.C. – before Socrates) is the earliest person I can find that was a proponent of the evolution idea.

Darwin’s original contribution is the theory of Survival of the Fittest. Remember. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations. We have excellent proof of that idea in the area of species adaption to environment.

Darwin saw a major obstacle to the hypothesis of evolution. He referred to it as Irreducible Complexity. There has been a lawsuit over the idea. See: Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District/4: Whether ID [Intelligent Design] Is Science. (2004) It was found that ID isn’t science. (Also see PBS show.)

Quoting from the trail transcript published on Wikipedia:

Irreducible complexity as defined by Professor Behe [Pro ID] in his book ‘Darwin’s Black Box’ and subsequently modified in his 2001 article entitled “Reply to My Critics,” appears as follows:

By irreducibly complex I mean a single system which is composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional . . . Since natural selection can only choose systems that are already working, then if a biological system cannot be produced gradually it would have to arise as an integrated unit, in one fell swoop, for natural selection to have anything to act on. P-647 at 39; P-718 at 694.

One looks at all the going ons inside a cell and the question ‘what are the chances?’ is likely to come up. Can you calculate the odds? It is possible, but very difficult… or maybe tedious would be more accurate.

I find the trial interesting because it deals with logic and reason. It also sets several standards for deciding what is and isn’t science. Here Prof. Behe and Dover Schools tried to prove evolution was impossible using the idea of irreducible complexity. The tactic doesn’t work because their thinking was upside down. I’ll explain.

For the uninformed non-lawyer the invisible logic long established by logisticians and legal minds is at play: a negative cannot be proved. Most people immediately miss the self-defeating nature of that statement. Since the statement is a negative, cannot, it cannot be proven according to itself.  It is self-contradictory. Logic gets tricky and people using it often make self-defeating statements without realizing it.

In law a defendant proves he was NOT there by proving he was somewhere else. That is proving a positive, I was at this location at this time and here is the time stamped receipt or surveillance video to prove it. It isn’t that I proved I wan’t someplace else. I proved I was somewhere else and that PROOF is accepted as proof I wasn’t someplace else. It is a ‘doing’ verses ‘is’ thing.

We agree that people cannot be in two substantially different places at the same time. This is based on how we believe the universe works. Any Sci-Fi buff knows about the supposed paradox of time travel breaking that rule. But, not being able to put the same object in two different places at the same time is NOT proof it is impossible. It is proof you/we don’t know how to do it, your failure is considered a proof positive in regard to your ABILITY. It is NOT a proof you won’t someday learn how to do it or that time travel is impossible.

There are some seemingly valid negative proofs. But, so far those I’ve seen proposing them have to shift from a definitive proof statement to one of reasonable doubt. We consistently do that in legal cases. Using for your defense that a victim was run over by a unicorn rather than the defendant doesn’t work. It is ‘unreasonable’, so it doesn’t cast ‘reasonable’ doubt. Showing that Fred was there, had a similar car, and it is damaged as it would be if he ran over the victim does cast ‘reasonable’ doubt. It does NOT prove the defendant didn’t, but further consideration might. Doubt.

We cannot prove there are no unicorns, never have been, and never will be. Do, you believe in unicorns? Other than as an imaginary creature in stories, I don’t. So, I would need considerable proof they DO exist before I would believe any such claim by a defendant. Fred, not so much.

So, at the level of what is reasonable and plausible I can say I can prove there never have been, are, or will be unicorns and have a clear meaning most people will understand. But, I see such a statement as a miss use of the term prove for scientific endeavor.

Proof gets complicated when someone wants to deny a fact. An example Stephen Law, Ph.D, uses is dinosaurs. Do you think you can prove they existed beyond all doubt? We have mountains, literal mountains, of evidence for their existence. Seem easy?

Here is the legal trick lawyers try. In debate we see it as pulling in extraneous points, straw-men. So, claiming it was mischievous aliens that came to Earth long ago and planted those skeletons puts the opponent in the place of having to prove a negative, no aliens or they wouldn’t. Insane? No. Legally and in logic it is considered a valid tactic. A jury is unlikely to believe aliens planted dinosaur skeletons, if a judge allowed it to even be considered. But, as a purely logical exercise it is reasonable as law requires a decision based on facts. Are there or aren’t there aliens?

Part of the judge’s duty is to limit the range of facts to be considered. It is a matter of what a judge believes is pertinent and reasonable for proof of guilt.

So, people have to wind their way through a long, tedious arguments to decide important issues. Humans use the ideas of what is reasonable and plausible to shorten the process. What we think is probable comes into play, warranted or not. It is what we do.

Our ability to accurately evaluate events and observations is questionable. Sci-Fi writer Isaac Asimov also wrote science essays. In the 1950’s, I think 50’s, he wrote The Planet that Wasn’t. The point was to show the long chain of coincidences between mythology and the scientific discovery process in regard to the suspected planet Vulcan, which math lead leading scientific minds to believe existed inside Mercury’s orbit. The main point being humans are way prone to miss reading what is and is not coincidence and ‘intuitively’ evaluating probabilities incorrectly. We assign meaning to events when there is only coincidence and no meaning or connection.

To put this in perspective, consider Asimov’s use of Roman and Greek mythology, they are similar, to accurately describe events paralleled by scientists in the early 1900’s. The god of fire, Vulcan (Roman) or Hephaestus (Greek), is; rejected, crippled, comes back, wins favor, loses favor, and is ultimately killed. There is more to the story I’m abbreviating. Asimov pulls both the Roman and Greek version together to form a longer more complex story. Then matches those steps in the story to the discovery process regarding the search for planet Vulcan.

In mythology Vulcan is killed with a stone. In real life the math and observations that suggested a planet inside Mercury’s orbit are explained thus killing the hypotheses for planet Vulcan. The scientific information providing the explanation was Einstein’s theory explaining light being bent by gravity and an equivalence between energy and gravity not just mass and gravity. Einstein is German for: a stone. So, is the parallel in mythology to science a proof early Romans and Greeks knew all this stuff was going to happen a couple thousand years in the future? Or is it a coincidence? Think you could prove your answer either way?

Asimov’s point is coincidences can be quite extraordinary and complex, beyond what most people accept as plausible. So, while the truth is out there (according to Mulder) it is really hard to get to in any convincing way.

Whatever one believes the videos are neat.

One thought on “Inside a Single Cell

  1. yes what a wonder. The infinit small at the door of the infinitly big and in between a dreamworld made of pixels and 101010101 bites.

    This one too is very interresting from BBC

    I saw the above in french as part of a scientific documentary

    Hope you find it interesting.
    On an other subject coming back to lumiere noir and tower of prim I just learned that both lumiere noir and his compagnion Tosha Tyran had made a opensim version of the tower of prim I believe you should visit if you did not by turning your osgrid avatar to region Ivory City


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