Evolution Science

Question about 25 Big Questions

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With questions so basic as these, why is evolutionary theory taught with such confidence in our textbooks?

THE QUESTIONS
The Top 25
Essays by our news staff on 25 big questions facing science over the next quarter-century.
http://www.sciencemag.org/sciext/125th

> What Is the Universe Made Of?
> What is the Biological Basis of Consciousness?
> Why Do Humans Have So Few Genes?
> To What Extent Are Genetic Variation and Personal Health Linked?
> Can the Laws of Physics Be Unified?
> How Much Can Human Life Span Be Extended?
> What Controls Organ Regeneration?
> How Can a Skin Cell Become a Nerve Cell?
> How Does a Single Somatic Cell Become a Whole Plant?
> How Does Earth’s Interior Work?
> Are We Alone in the Universe?
> How and Where Did Life on Earth Arise?
> What Determines Species Diversity?
> What Genetic Changes Made Us Uniquely Human?
> How Are Memories Stored and Retrieved?
> How Did Cooperative Behavior Evolve?
> How Will Big Pictures Emerge from a Sea of Biological Data?
> How Far Can We Push Chemical Self-Assembly?
> What Are the Limits of Conventional Computing?
> Can We Selectively Shut Off Immune Responses?
> Do Deeper Principles Underlie Quantum Uncertainty and Nonlocality?
> Is an Effective HIV Vaccine Feasible?
> How Hot Will the Greenhouse World Be?
> What Can Replace Cheap Oil — and When?
> Will Malthus Continue to Be Wrong?

9 Replies to “Question about 25 Big Questions

  1. 1
    DaveScot says:

    I answered the one about why humans have so few genes a while ago at the science mag blog. It’s because of what’s called transcription editing. After the gene is lifted from the DNA molecule and before the RNA strand is read by the ribosome there’s a cutting and splicing process that can radically change the sequence of the finished protein. About 66% of our genes are built with transcription editing so the number of coding genes in our DNA is used to make about three times that number of different proteins.

    The answer to the question about what will replace cheap oil appears to be what’s called a fast neutron reactor in combination with pyrometallurgical fuel reprocessing. Slow neutron reactors (the vast majority of current commercial reactors – nuclear submarines use fast reactors) also called thermal reactors, use water for a moderator. Water slows down neutrons. Fast reactors use a moderator like liquid lead or sodium that doesn’t slow down neutrons. Thermal reactors only extract 1% of the energy available in uranium fuel and generate waste that remains highly radioactive for tens of thousands of years. Not only that but they required enriched uranium for fuel (leading to nuclear weapon capability) and the waste is amenable to plutonium extraction (leading to more nuclear weapon capability).

    Fast reactors aren’t new. They’re called “breeder reactors” and are frowned upon because they produce weapons grade plutonium. What’s new is using metal fuel. Current breeder reactors use ceramic oxide fuels from which it’s easy to refine pure plutonium (PUREX). The new fast reactors use metal fuel from which its practically impossible to extract pure plutonium.

    Fast reactors extract over 99% of the energy available in enriched uranium fuel and the pyrometallurgical reprocessing technique is not amenable to manufacture of weapons grade fissile materials. Moreover, the final waste product is only dangerously radioactive for hundreds of years instead of tens of thousands. The input for fast reactors is the waste from thermal reactors. There is already enough thermal reactor waste stored that there won’t be any need to mine more uranium for centuries. Even then, when all the thermal waste is used up, fast reactor fuel doesn’t require enriched uranium at any point, they only require adding more unenriched uranium to the waste products. In other words, enriched uranium fuel is only needed to seed a breeder then the breeder produces its own fuel from there. So uranium enrichment ends forever and with it the production of weapons grade nuclear materials.

    The second part of the question – how long will it take. Under current regulatory environment it takes about 15 years to build a commercial nuclear power plant. Fast reactors are no different. If there was compelling reason I suppose regulations could be relaxed and plants could be built much faster.

  2. 2
    Red Reader says:

    What appear to be presuppositions of some questions:

    > What is the Biological Basis of Consciousness?
    Presup: That there is no point of “irreducible complexity” with respect to consciousness; that consciousness is a product of physical processes and chemistry. (However, since information exists apart from biological systems, it is not unreasonable to suggest that consciousness exists apart from biological systems. Research to fully describe the “machinery” of consciousness–the biological machinery that supports a physical system’s awareness of the physical universe–will be fruitful. Research to describe consciousness as a chemical or mathematical formula will fail.)

    > What Genetic Changes Made Us Uniquely Human?
    Presup: that the differences between humans and other animals are the result of genetic changes rather than intelligent design differences. (Research to tinker with the genetics of living systems to try to coax one living system into another “higher” system will fail [but not before numerous hideous dysfunctional systems are created.] Research to understand the unique, fully functional genome of each biological system will generate new treatments for disease.)

    > How Did Cooperative Behavior Evolve?
    Presup: that communications evolved.
    (But, since information exists apart from biological systems, it is not unreasonable to suggest that communications exist apart from biological systems. Communication is necessary for cooperative behavior. Indeed, communication systems appear to be design specifications of all living things, plant or animal. Cooperative behavior appears to be an inherent characteristic of living systems. Related to the consciousness question.)

  3. 3

    […] 25 Big Questions And the 125 in all […]

  4. 4
    cambion says:

    “Presup: that the differences between humans and other animals are the result of genetic changes rather than intelligent design differences.”

    How may I ask, would an intelligent designer create differences between humans and other animals besides through genetic changes? Are you saying that to ‘build’ a human you need more than a human’s genome? If this is the case, I think you will find yourself mistaken…

    In other words, “intelligent design differences” = “genetic changes”

  5. 5
    Red Reader says:

    Yes, there is NO proof, only supposition, that humans became humans by a process of genetic change from “lower” animals. It is my understanding of ID that it does NOT suppose HOW a thing came to be. We look at the thing, molecular machines for example, and say, “This is a machine, a biological machine. It appears to be designed.” ID does not presume to know who or what the designer is or how the designer accomplished construction of the machine. The theory of evolution claims to know to how one thing becomes another, but has not recreated the process in a laboratory (and cannot because the creation or development of living things is not occuring in the present except by intelligent causes).

    But to answer your question “how”….
    An Intelligent Designer builds molecular machines (and advanced compositions of molecular machines such as a human being) the same way an artist creates two painting that look alike: each one from scratch using the same paints and brushes.

    Let you say, “What use is science then?” Science has, can and will be used to study the design, understand it’s parts, describe the design’s physics, chemistry and mathematics–how and why the design works, determine how to duplicate the design for medical purposes, develop applications for all sorts of technologies…. Scientific research based upon the theory of ID is not limited.

  6. 6
    Red Reader says:

    addendum: Scientific research based upon the theory of ID is limited only by preconceived notions such as the one that presupposes that humans differentiate from [unknown] apes by genetic changes.

  7. 7
    cambion says:

    Red Reader,

    Ah, I see the confusion was… I thought you meant “genetic changes” to be synonymous with “genetic differences.” We look around and see plenty of “genetic differences” between humans and other organisms. That these “differences” are the result of random mutation and natural selection is an inference based upon the evidence that we have at the moment. Whether or not this inference is ‘valid’ is another question, but, it is not a presuppition. It is not axiomatic…

  8. 8
    beervolcano says:

    Some of these questions are too vague and open ended to ever be clearly answered.

    >How Far Can We Push Chemical Self-Assembly?

    That’s like asking: How far can we push Chemistry?
    Who the hell knows?

    > What Is the Universe Made Of?

    Come on! Gimme a break. So vague it’s crazy.
    Do they mean “Is there some fundamental component of nature after which there can be no finer division?”
    Who the hell knows?

    > What Controls Organ Regeneration?

    I really thought this question had at least the beginnings of an answer.
    O well.

    > What Determines Species Diversity?

    Now THIS has answers. There’s no one answer, but there are many mechanisms that have been hashed out. Oh, here’s one: Natural Selection.

    > How Hot Will the Greenhouse World Be?

    Huh? First of all we already live on the “Greenhouse World.” I guess they mean “Can we predict the future and tell if one day the Earth will be much hotter than now?”

    > How Are Memories Stored and Retrieved?

    This is answered! Google “Hippocampus”.

    > What Can Replace Cheap Oil — and When?

    Now this is actually the most immediate and important question up there.

    Anyway, most of these questions seem silly.
    Daddy, what’s Vietnam?

  9. 9
    Josh Bozeman says:

    What Determines Species Diversity?

    Now THIS has answers. There’s no one answer, but there are many mechanisms that have been hashed out. Oh, here’s one: Natural Selection.
    ———————

    too bad no one has shown this to be true empirically. in all the lab tests we see, artifical selection itself runs into a barrier where the organism refuses to change and just dies.

    btw, the hippocampus plays ones role in memory and emotion, but no one has any idea how memories are stored or retrieved. in what form the memories take, etc.

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