Posts filed under ‘History and Origins’
By Erica Geiger
Almost everyone has heard of evolution and most of us have a vague idea of what it means. Animals with useful traits survive and pass on their genes. Over time, these positive traits become more common and a species evolves. Most of us aren’t scientists, though, and a number of evolution myths have popped up over time.
Myth #1: Evolution is “just” a theory
We usually think of theories as being possibilities, not facts. A “theory” in science, though, takes on a different meaning. I personally like this definition from the National Academy of Sciences:
“a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses”
In other words, a scientific theory is an explanation that has been backed up by many studies and a substantial amount of evidence. We don’t call it a “fact” because science can always change as we learn new information. We’re all pretty sure the Earth rotates around the Sun yet that concept is called the heliocentric theory. It’s pretty unlikely we’ll find any evidence that goes against this “theory” but scientists still don’t call it a fact.
Myth #2: Humans evolved from monkeys
This is a common one and often used in an attempt to discredit evolutionary theories. It’s also not true; humans did not evolve from monkeys. We did share an ancestor with African apes (note that “apes” aren’t monkeys) about 8 million years ago but that doesn’t mean we evolved from them. Instead, there was a great ancestor that eventually gave rise to humans and apes. We’re most closely related to chimpanzees because of this ancestor but there were two distinct evolutionary paths.
When the human species began to evolve, the chimpanzee species was evolving separately. We’re related, we didn’t directly evolve from any modern primate species. We do share over 90% of our DNA with non-human primates, including gorillas and other great apes. On the other hand, humans also share 90% of their DNA with mice! That doesn’t mean humans evolved from mice, it’s just a result of most mammals sharing genes.
Myth #3: Survival of the fittest means the strongest will survive
Sometimes people will use the term “survival of the fittest” to excuse a behavior. I’ve unfortunately overheard someone say that we shouldn’t help those weaker than us because “it’s survival of the fittest!” The average person interprets this idea, originally thought up by Charles Darwin, as meaning that the very strongest will survive. The problem is that “fitness” has an entirely different meaning in biology. It doesn’t refer to strength, health, or physical fitness at all. Instead, biological “fitness” refers to the ability to pass on your genes, generally by having offspring.
In evolution, the end goal is to pass on your genes to the next generation. That doesn’t necessarily require being the strongest, however. In fact, animals that get into too many fights might become injured or killed. Even if they won most of those fights and were the strongest in their group, death means they won’t be passing on their genes. Those animals would therefore be considered to have low fitness. On the other hand, a somewhat weaker animal that stays out of danger might be able to successfully raise several offspring. That animal would be said to have high fitness. In primates, including humans, being a good parent will often raise fitness more than being strong. From an evolutionary standpoint, being able to lift heavy weights means nothing if you never settle down and raise children.
If you want to learn more about how evolution works, the University of California in Berkeley (among others) have put together great evolution resources: click here.
Photo: Wellcome Images UK
By Chad Upton | Editor-in-chief
King Harald Gormsson ruled Denmark from c. 958 until his death in 985 or 986 (sources vary). He also dabbled in ruling Norway for a few years starting in roughly c. 970.
He is known for building the first bridge in southern Scandinavia. It was a huge bridge for the time at 5 meters (5.5 yards) wide and 760 meters (831 yards) long. Bridges were of course useful, and this was the longest known bridge in the Viking era — a prestigious symbol for the builder. (more…)
By Chad Upton | Editor
Happy New Year’s Eve!
Even if you’ve never heard of Auld Lang Syne, you’d likely recognize the melody — it’s commonly played and sung at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, not to mention its presence in many Films and TV shows when reminiscing about old times or celebrating new ones.
Play this youtube clip to refresh your memory:
Although the melody is instantly recognizable, it was actually a poem (with no melody) before it was ever a song. The poem was written by Robert Burns in 1788. It was originally written in Scots, a variety of German localized in Lowland Scotland and Ulster, Ireland. (more…)
By Chad Upton | Editor
Telephones have been around in some capacity since the mid to late 19th century, depending on who you credit with the invention.
Early dialing was accomplished by inserting your finger in the rotary disk adjacent to the number you wanted and rotating the dial to the stopping point, then you would remove your finger and the dial would rotate back to its default position. Each number it passed on its way back would induce a pulse — a short variance in current — on the phone line. This pulse communicated the number to the phone system. (more…)
By Chad Upton | Editor
The modern Olympics are all about athletics, but from 1912 to 1948 they also included competitions in art and science.
The main categories were as follows:
Some of the events included “town planning”, “Epic works” (long poems), “Drawings and water colors”, “Medals”. Yes, medals were given out for creating the best medals. (more…)
By Chad Upton
It will only take you a minute to read this post.
Although a minute is a precise amount of time, we often use it to mean a short amount of time. The same goes for “moment”; the difference being that most people don’t know that a moment is a precise measure of time.
Technically, a moment is 90 seconds.
The first reference comes from 1398, found in the Oxford English Dictionary. Cornish writer John of Trevisa wrote that there are 40 moments in an hour (hence 90 seconds each). Oxford has since replaced it with, “a very brief period of time.”
So go on, continue using it as a casual measure of time — now you know the real meaning.
Photo: Peter Pearson (cc)
By Chad Upton | Editor
Trick or treating can be traced back to European “guising” traditions where children would travel from home to home, reciting songs, jokes or poems. They didn’t say “trick or treat” back then, it was “please help the guisers” — a reference to the groups who performed plays to ward off evil spirits during Samhain, the Celtic celebration we now know as Halloween.
The children were often given fruit, nuts, sweets or even money. Trick or treating started to take hold in North America during the middle of the 19th century, although it was put on hold for sugar rationing during World War II.
The Celts believed spirits of the dead would walk the earth on Halloween. Costumes were worn to help blend in with and hide from the real spirits who were thought to be walking among them.
The traditional colors of halloween, Black and orange, have meaning too. Black is the typical color of death in many cultures and orange symbolizes strength in Celtic legend, which was important for weathering a harsh winter. They burned large bonfires, believing this would bring the heat of the sun back after winter. Animal bones were often thrown into the fires and some believe these “bone fires” spawned the term bonfire.
Photo: José Luis Murillo (cc)