Monday, April 30, 2007

Math, Nature, and Ethics

In evolution class today, we were barraged by charts and math and theories talking about Genetic Linkage,Quantatative Trait Locus Mapping, and various other mathematical predictive ways to look at evolution. As I was beating my forehead raw banging it against this dry brick of information, I got to thinking (again, I think about this often) about why this type of material doesn't hook my attention. I need to learn this stuff to get a degree in Organismal Biology, but it's definitely not dear to my heart.

Pretty sure the vocation I'm interested in (getting into nature and just observing, gathering practical information and names of the flora and fauna around me along with ethnographic data) is called a Naturalist. But, I wanted a hard science degree, so here we are. As for the folks interested in quantifying nature, I have some observations/theories.

I will use Edward M. East as an example. He revolutionized genetics around the turn of the century, and was deeply interested in the mathmatical side of evolutionary information. He proved that Mendelian models of genetics could be applied to quantitative traits. What's this mean, or how can it be used? Well, you can take two parent crops with crappy genetics, breed them together and all the crappiness is hidden in the first generation of babies -- they perform just great. But when you breed generation 1 together to make babies, the next generation sucks rocks just like both parent generations. This is called inbred strain breeding, and is possible due to overdominance. What this means is that Monsanto and other Bio Tech firms can produce seeds that you as a farmer have to buy all over again every single year, because the seeds naturally produced from your own harvest will produce inferior crops. Great Stuff!! [NOT]

It's often said the highest use of science is to develop theories that are good enough models of reality that one can make predictions of future outcomes from current data. This seems reasonable enough -- humans have needed predictive information for as long as we've been scuffing around on this little planet. Shamans and Astrologers, Philosophers, Oracles and even Orthodox Clergy have been depended upon for millennia to provide predictive information by which important decisions could be made. But, once science and religion/spirituality split -- a code of ethics about the use of this knowledge was lost and we end up with folks like Mr. East figuring out something mind blowing and then turning around and using that information to screw generations of people that succeed him. We get brilliant scientists excitedly working on quantum theory, relativity, and particle physics who end up producing the Atom Bomb.

I guess that leads into a whole 'nuther discussion -- which would have to include the writing and thoughts of Morris Berman, Gary Snyder and others. It's too late at night (oh it's morning actually) to get into that tonight (morning) so I'll let it ride til a later date.




Kate said...

Have you seen "The Corporation"? just reminded me of an interview that was done in that movie with a seed activist =)

Bpaul said...

Yeah I saw that one. I liked it. I don't remember exactly the material on bio tech stuff, I may have to get it again and skim through to find it, thanks for the tip Shady.