Archive for the ‘Biology’ Category

The Sun God

July 14, 2007

If you read in a science fiction story about a planet where its sun was so destructive that if the animals or people on that planet looked at it, they would go blind.. well, you would probably think: “What a scary place to live… How frightening it must be to constantly avert your gaze to protect yourself!”

And yet that is where you live, and you probably don’t think like that very often, and neither does your cat, your dog, or probably even that mosquito zipping around.

That’s a pretty neat trick!

Our sun basically is THE force which allows us to live (we will give it credit for providing oxygen as well, indirectly, through photosynthesis, but more about plants later).  It is also the force which dooms us. 

Which I think means if you were of a mind to believe in a Nature God, then the Sun would be a pretty strong candidate.  You definitely would rather not piss the sun off, if that turned out to be possible.  We know it’s going to destroy the planet completely in five billion years or so, but like a sputtering candle that occasionally gutters (ice ages) and flares (global warming), you just know it’s going to zap us with a sterilizing blast of radiation much sooner than that.  With luck it will only sterilize the half of the planet facing the sun at that time, (the other side, we all hope.. bringing new meaning to “God is (not) on our side.”

Anyway, the reason animals on our planet do not go blind is because we have learned to feel pain when looking at the sun, and to take action to minimize the feeling of pain.  In the case of the eyeball, it shrinks the iris sphincter and closes the eyelids.

Now here is my crackpot theory that links humans and plants (I mean our evolutionary shared heritage with plants).  Imagine your body as a collection of ‘organs’ and each organ has roots (its sensory and motor nerves) which grow down into the fertile loam of your brain.  In fact, the brain is the intermingling of the ‘roots’ of all your organs.  And neurons are formed at the intersections.  Now some organs are like an ear of corn (did you know that the ‘tassle’ on an ear of corn is a set of filaments where each one connects to a single kernel of corn.  and only when an individual tassle is pollenated does its kernel.. um.. ‘pop’ (if you open a corn husk, you can see the unfertilzed kernels)).  Anyway, the eyeball is largely like that (with the individual photoreceptor rods and cones having their own ‘tassle’ filaments)  Other organs are simpler in their root system.

Anyway, it is this intermingling of the roots which allows something like the massive firing of all the eye ‘tassles’ (when looking directly at the bright sun) to cause an ‘out’ signal on the motor nerves to the eyelids (which are part of a completely separate organ, but whose roots mingle with the eye roots).

In this way, all your organs are constantly ‘voting’ on what you should do, with some wirings operating at a higher priority level than others.  This is why, even though you are a sentient creature and fully aware of the concept of balance between calorie intake and exercise burning those calories, you can still catch your hands in the act of shoving food in your face that you specifically cautioned yourself against only a minute ago.  But you were distracted and the roots won.

This is also how babies are made, more or less.

By which I mean this is how cell specialization works.  We start off as a single fertilized cell (let’s call it a stem cell) which subdivides a few zillion times until al of a sudden we are a bunch of different kinds of specialty cells.

Here is the non-magical explanation for how that works (warning, I am going to say ‘poop’ a lot below.  I hope it is not a word which your find automatically offensive.  I really just mean “inoffensive chemical collection of a specific nature”:

A cell is a little engine which eats things, and poops things.  The things it eats, come from the outside through a filtering membrane which is letting in certain kinds of things.  The things it poops go out.  Two cells which are physically adjacent (and let’s start with them being in the womb) are connected by a sticky ‘goo’ which transports materials from mom, as well as the poop from one cell into contact with nearby cells.

I claim each cell starts off with its dna strand and starts to read it left to right (ok, some magical hand waving there, bear with me) and the first instruction it sees is “be a X cell” and so it follows the rules for being an X cell, eating what an X cell eats, and pooping what an X cell poops.  However, if there is already too much X poop in the area, then that influences the reading of the dna to skip that bit and the cell tries to be a Y cell instead.

Hence it is the chemical surroundings a cell is ‘born into’ which control what sort of cell it will be.  The early cell types are very vague “be a human” while later we get more specific (‘liver’).  There is no central control panel issuing directives to the cells like a construction crew boss, there is just each little cell, thinking only in terms of maximizing its own fun, competing with other cells to be the first to poop the best poop.  The goo stickiness is important both in holding cells ‘in place’ and in conveying poop ‘just the right distance’ (if all poop were able to migrate with an even distribution throughout the cell mass, the system wouldn’t work.)

The stickiness of the goo is also what allows us to have twins (some cells split off early due to non-sticky goo, soon enough that the goo poop was still allowing highly general ‘be a person’ cells, so you get two whole creatures (though they have lost some number of maximum cell generations maybe… if that is strongly counted) instead of an upper half and a lower half creature.

Goo also can result in extra fingers, arms and other birth defects by getting a bubble in the goo which separates one arm bud from its natural neighbors, and you get ‘partial twins’

If one were clever, one could probably do this on purpose in a petry dish to make all sorts of interesting birth defects.  Which would be sick, and I mention it here only for scientific purposes (science being allowed to at least speak aloud the atrocities which religion cannot).

OK, I admit that was a sort of weak way of pulling it back to religion at the end. I blame my roots.

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