Friday, April 25, 2008

Wilson/Kolbert/feathers of a bird

Last night, I joined Bee Girl Gerry for an NRDC-sponsored presentation: E.O. Wilson in conversation with Elizabeth Kolbert at Town Hall. Topics ranged loosely over biodiversity, the sixth mass extinction we’re currently living through (and responsible for, unlike the earlier ones), global warming, evolution, the appalling state of scientific education, and, of course, ants. Wilson, an avuncular Southern gentleman somewhat hard of hearing (“Harvard technology” he called his hearing aid), was mellowness at large, while Kolbert, probably still spooked by her research into rapid and disastrous global climate change, was anguished-urban, a contrast both BGG & I thought marked.

Check out the Encyclopedia of Life…racing against time. Wilson’s of the opinion that we only know about 10% of the world’s species. Isn’t that amazing? After all, there’s a whole crowd of fantasists eager to blast off into space because they think the earth is so over. (It might well be, but that’s our fault, perhaps particularly those of us who worship technology, putting all faith in it.) The complexity of ecological systems far surpasses anything we can come up with. After all, its millions of years of evolution at work. And yet, somehow, I am reminded of that old story about all the names of god. Either Clark or Asimov, those stalwarts of the s/f of my youth, wrote it: a computer is crunching the names, and when the machine finally spits them all out, the world begins to end, because it is done.

Sociobiology did not rear its reactionary head, thankfully; he seems to have moved beyond that.

Speaking of the world’s wonders, look at these feathers, and click for closer details. I’m still trying to figure out what species they are. (Let me know if you can ID them.) I found them at a kill-site in the Vale of Cashmere this morning. BTW, it’s illegal to possess such things, so after laying them out on the back of a recipe printout (N’s flourless chocolate cake that was so damned tasty last Sunday), I returned them to the still somewhat bloody ground.

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