March 10th, 2006


Time for Science!

Just an assortment of cool stuff I wanted to mention before I crawl away to bed. First, the discovery of what is apparently a new species (and perhaps genus) of sauropod dinosaur from the Late Jurassic Morrison Formation of the Little Snowy Mountains of Montana, a hundred miles north of Billings, brought to my attention by sclerotic_rings. Just about any vertebrate palaeontologist can tell you how very rare sauropod skulls are, and during the excavation of this specimen, a gorgeous skull was uncovered at the end of an articulated series of cervical vertebrae. Here's a photo, with the specimen still partly encased in its plaster field jacket. To me, it looks like a new member of the Camarasauridae:

Right side of skull.

Second, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is now on its final approach. Read more here, and catch the Science Channel's special on the mission, Mars Revealed, tomorrow night at 9 p.m. (EST).

And finally, and also courtesy sclerotic_rings, news that the Cassini orbiter has revealed that Saturn's moon Enceladus is still tectonically active, its south polar landscape marked by evidence of cryovulcanism and fresh snowfall. Just don't tell the Republicans about any of this...
new chi

Mars Ho!

I think I may have had an epiphany or sorts. I've referred to myself as a transhumanist since sometime in 1997. It's even on the dust jacket copy of To Charles Fort, With Love. But now I'm beginning to see that when I say "transhumanist" I mean something quite different from what most people mean when they they "transhumanist." By transhumanism I didn't mean "an intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of new sciences and technologies to increase human physical and cognitive abilities and improve the human condition in unprecedented ways." It was never about becoming more machine and less human (or if it was, it isn't anymore), or even about becoming a better human. Rather, it was about becoming less human and more something else biological. I do see how technology (gene therapy, etc.) might someday make that a reality, but I still don't think that the transhumanist label applies to me. For one thing, there seems to be something inherently optimistic and anti-Nature in the ideas of transhumansim, and, perhaps (and someone's gonna yell at me for saying this, but I'm saying it anyway) anti-feminine. Transhumanism seems somehow very patrifocal, almost Apollonian to me, this attempt to escape the nasty, squishy flesh and replace it with nice clean mechanical bits. What's been happening all these years in my head is distinctly Dionysian. And it's never really been about becoming better, just different. Maybe "posthuman" or "parahuman" would be a more appropriate term. Oh, frell. I don't know what I'm trying to say. I should have thought on this more before speaking.

Anyway...yesterday was nice. Cloudy and warm and blustery with moments of bright sunshine (today is just sunny and warm). Spooky and I had a nice walk, lunch at Fellini's in Candler Park, then caught a 4:30 matinee of Timur Bekmambetov's Nightwatch (Nochnoi Dozor) over at Tara. I've been waiting ages, it seems, to see this film, and I wasn't disappointed. This is the movie that the two Underworld films would have liked to have been. Beautiful, haunting, epic, with an unexpected sense of humour. Later, after dinner, we finally saw Walk the LIne, which also gets two thumbs up. I thought both Witherspoon and Phoenix were absolutely superb. So, yeah, I used most of my day off to indulge in movies. Oh, I also saw a fairly silly something on the National Geographic Channel about Loch Ness. I'm becoming annoyed with the endless parade of Loch Ness documentaries. At this point, there remain no significant unanswered questions about the existence of "Nessie." No evidence now exists to justify further efforts and expeditures to search the loch for extant plesiosaurs (or whatever). The "surgeon's photo" was a hoax. Dinsdale mistakenly filmed a boat. The underwater photos published in Nature in the '70s were computer-enhanced shots of the bottom of the lake and a waterlogged stump. The lake simply doesn't have the necessary biomass to support a population of large predators. End of story. Loch Ness is a truly marvelous place, but Nessie belongs to the realm of Faerie, not science.

Here are a few photos from yesterday, behind the cut. I look disturbingly buff. I don't know what's up with that:

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