Posted by: Dan | August 1, 2007

Tangled Bank 85 – The Reductionist’s Tale

Duck of Vaucanson

Meet the Digesting Duck, which followed the principles of Descartes’s mechanistic universe. The implication from this is that we’re just machines, but that’s nonsense. What’s explicit in Descartes’ Universe is that we can begin to understand complex things by studying the most fundamental aspects of them – a concept that we’ve come to call reductionism.

Build it up, Tear it down – Jacob gives us the reductionist viewpoint of his own area of interest (i.e. astrobiology), and rather poetically extolls the value of examining fundamentals of the natural world to clarify the bigger picture:

The reductionist units of astrobiology, then, are not concrete physical observables, but are scientific disciplines themselves! Scientists in various disciplines no doubt find immense satisfaction in breaking apart a problem to reach the most fundamental–and perhaps meaningful–level. But in an interdisciplinary field, such as astrobiology, we begin with the fundamentals to build up a multi-faceted picture that can bring greater meaning to the questions we ask.

And with that, I’ll formally welcome you to the 85th rendition of the Tangled Bank science carnival!

Biology – with individual species at its foundation

Car-Eating Termites? – Matt takes notes on the possibility of genetic engineering of those wee little termites to degrade our trash heaps. At the Behavioral Ecology Blog.

The Eye of the Shrimp – Kevin discusses the dorsal eyespot of the hydrothermal vent shrimp, Rimicaris exoculata, the evidence that it detect thermal radiation and the shrimp should care to see glowing stuff in the darkness of the deep. At The Other 95%.

Bee shortage? What bee shortage? – Jeremy discusses two papers on bees and genetic diversity. At the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog.

Handling Birds: Yea or Nay? – Mike helps debunk the notion that birds (and other critters) abandon their young at the slightest human touch. At 10,000 Birds.

Color Me Vermilion – Many birds are named after their plumage, and vermilion is certainly a winner, “reeking of exoticism and antiquity.” From Mike at 10,000 Birds.

Cephalopod Development and Evolution – PZ explains the Evo-Devo of squids, etc., focusing most on the question “What is the evolutionary relationship between the organization of a primitive gastropod and a cephalopod?” At Pharyngula.

The Amplitude Problem – Bora explains the consequence of amplitude on overt biorhythms (activity, sleep-wake cycle, temperature, melatonin, cortisol, etc.), having found a paper revealing how biological oscillators are not like their physics counterparts. At A Blog Around the Clock.

Medicine – the study of patients

Yaakov Stern: Build Your Cognitive Reserve – Alvaro interviews a researcher studying the relationship of Alzheimer’s Disease and the ability to tolerate progressive brain pathology without demonstrating clinical cognitive symptoms in some patients. At Sharp Brains.

Judson Laipply’s Dancing Brain – In response to a comedy clip on YouTube on the Evolution of Dance, Andreas made his own YouTube clip, explaining the relationship between the brain, dancing, and dementia. At Sharp Brains.

Esther Dyson, Genome Enthusiast – Hsien gives us the goods on one woman’s decision for full disclosure on her genome, her health, and her medical records–as part of George Church’s Personal Genome Project (PGP). At Eye on DNA.

Telomere length and the heritability of lifespan – Chris asks “Where are the causal links, if any, between the telomeres a person inherits and their life expectancy?,” after reading a paper correlating telomere length and parental lifespans. At Ouroboros.

Environment – focus on ecosystems

The Waters Prevailed Exceedingly Upon the Earth”; Rupert Fothergill and Operation Noah – Tim presents a historical reprisal of Fothergill’s heroic Operation Noah, which saved thousands of animals from floods in what is today Zimbabwe, from 1959 to 1963. At Walking the Berkshires.

Wild About… is not what you’d think. Actually, it’s about “An Endangered Animal Alphabet,” takes the traditional alphabet book format and turns it into an introduction to 26 animals that are threatened with extinction. From Diane at Science Made Cool.

Geosciences – the motion of the Earth itself

Climate and Doubt: Two birds with one stone – James comments on a paper which touches upon climate change and the uncertainty of predictions (as a function of lead time). At Island of Doubt.

Culture – where social interaction matters

Mathematics, Rules, and SocialityBiotunes asks, “Is mathematics an emergent property of sociality?”

That’s it for this episode. Check in again in two weeks over at Fish Feet for the next Tangled Bank, and be sure to send your contributions for that carnival to


  1. […] crustaceans, etc. in an overstuffed Circus of the Spineless #23 while Dan of Migrations delivers The Reductionist’s Tale, an edition of the Tangled Bank that focuses on fundamentals. […]

  2. […] the current edition of the Tangled Bank, but at least it’s chock full of great posts, now up over at Migrations. Circus of the Spineless is also up at Words and Pictures, and don’t forget that the next […]

  3. […] Tangled Bank 85 – The Reductionist’s Tale is up at Migrations. You have to go check out Dan’s Digesting Duck. […]

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  9. […] July 31st, 2007 in academia, knowledge My contribution to the 85th issue of Tangled Bank hosted at […]


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