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Dinosaurs and Other Beasties

Dropping the Big Gay Bomb

Initiating detonation sequence in 5…4…3…2…1….

So, the Gay Marriage debate.

*flees for the hills*

Yeah, folks, this one is a doozy. The problem is, it really shouldn’t be. But the human trend of being overly emotional, irrational, and just plain nuts rules the day on Planet Earth, and so we have this fracas that, as Marc Barnes so eloquently put it, has all the sense and reason of a Snorlax who just snorted his weight in high quality crack cocaine (Note: They weigh about 1,000 Ilbs).

Which is to say, NONE.

RESPECT MY OPINIONS, YOU BIGOT!!!

With the recent reviewing of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 by the Supreme Court, and the surrounding media mess, I figure that it might as well be time to put up my thoughts on the entire situation, from same-sex marriage itself to the origins of homosexuality.

See, I happen to think that this whole “Gay” movement has only gotten as far as it has due to misinformation, misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and general falsehood, intentionally or unintentionally pursued and promoted by either side of the debate. Well, that and a toxic mix of hypercharged fear and misplaced compassion.

So now that I am dropping this multi-megaton bomb on y’all, I might as well lay out how I intend to go about it. My position, and the subject itself, is far too nuanced and complex to cover in a single post without addling the brain. Because of this, I will be covering it in many, many parts.

Part 1: The Big Gay Dance-Introducing the Gay Rights movement and why they have the power they have. Part of this is the Opposition’s fault.

Part 2: In Which I Rip the APA and Kinsey a New One- You know, for being scientifically unprofessional and intellectually inconsistent. Because, you know, they were just enlightened and so far ahead of the rest of us…

Part 3: You Sold Me Queer Giraffes-Dealing with homosexuality in the Animal Kingdom and how it pertains to the debate.

Part 4:  Starscream, Shine on You Crazy Diamond-Breaking down homosexuality into its base components. Also, pertaining analysis of the transgender issue.

Part 5: Putting Together the Rainbow-Final thoughts and a conclusive message on where we should go from here.

I reserve the right to extend various parts into multiple posts if I have to. Get ready, because it has begun!

I also reserve the right to interrupt this flow with anything I find cool enough to write about. ‘Cause it’s my blog.


The Problem With Pain

So, one day, around a year ago, I was in my basement, fiddling around, multi-tasking (well, really, being easily distracted is more accurate, but I’ll make myself sound diligent and focused) a number of things like cleaning up trash, working out, organizing my large dinosaur model collection, and futzing with my Sci-fi and Fantasy miniatures. I do these things a lot.

I also happened to be thinking about something completely different from any of those things when I managed to stub my bare toes. I ought to have learned by now to protect them better, but I am from Cain-tuck-ee and therefore must go barefoot in my own home, and other places when permissible. State Law.

This, of course, hurt.

A lot.

Yes. It was this bad.

After snarling some choice incoherent half-swears and staring furiously at my foot for being so clumsy as to injure me, my gaze then burned its way into the old metal bed frame that had caused the damage.

Then suddenly, it hit me. Not the bed, that already happened when it threw itself maliciously into the path of my perfectly-balanced-with-just-the-right-amount-of-hair foot. We had a little discussion. It knows not to mess with me again.

Anyway, I had realized something tremendous. I had been going about my own personal Philosophy of the Mind all wrong.

See, I was having a problem justifying what I had been taught, and felt to be true, all my life, from the first time we ever discussed anatomy in school and beyond.

For the life of me, I could not, and still do not, understand how my nervous system transmits pain.

Please bear with me, as I am fully aware of how thick-headed and uneducated this sounds.

Let us look at our bodies and minds as anyone of the Reductionist Materialist persuasion does, especially in relation to the Universe at large. It starts out with a particle, whether quark or neutrino, or for the sake of the aforementioned neural transmission, electrons or hormones or other such things. Try this on for size:

Every particle in the universe can be represented by a ball. It may have certain properties that allow it to react in specific ways with another ball of a different variety, but it is still, all in all, just a ball. (Please forgive my intentional atrocious, purposeless rhyming. I didn’t want to throw off our timing…and now I’m quoting Yugi-oh the Abridged Series…will my tangents ever cease?)

This ball collides with another ball, and they move off in different directions, or snuggle quietly together and have some cocoa in front of a fire. Maybe even have a weekend of it and wind up with an unplanned Metaphorical Ball Jr. after nine months.

I apologize, I will stop diverting from the point for little humorous asides.

Merida has nothing to do with this post…she’s just sooooo adorable!

Anyway, those two balls collide. Do either of those balls consciously register what has just happened? No. Of course not. Now, keep in mind that everything in the Universe is made of ball-equivalents. Including your brain and the rest of your nervous system. So how, with a neurochemical message of pain traveling along what can be likened to a series of balls bumping into one another in a definite pattern, do you actually feel anything?

Some might say that the physical center of consciousness in your brain recognizes what has occurred. But, whatever part of the brain is doing the sensing is ALSO made of balls bumping together. So by the fact that matter and energy interact the way they do, YOU SHOULD NOT FEEL. EVER.

In fact, neither should you be able to think, or dream, or build a wicked looking castle, or throw your worst enemy off a cliff. Because there should be no YOU. A member of the species Homo Sapiens should do what a computer does, which is react and interact with an environment based upon the mechanisms of its construction. Granted, it might look like it actually possesses a mind, as various persons, who are usually disciples of the misguided Alan Turing, would suggest. They would state that as long as it can pass a Turing Test, which consists of basically convincing a human being (or an insert sentient being here) that the machine is likewise sentient, than the apparatus or contraption my be officially classified as sentient.

I have to admit, that logic is a bit foggy for my tastes.

Dr. John Searle, who remains a practiced materialist to this day, easily rips that concept in half with his Chinese Room thought experiment. I will attempt to sum this up below in plainer language than official sources present.

You stand outside a room. You are fluent in Mandarin Chinese, which is no small feat of linguistics. You are told that there is a man inside that room. The man inside that room has a list of directions in English that do not translate Mandarin, but explain only how to respond to various Mandarin characters thrust under the door. You, speaking Mandarin, decide to show off your knowledge of the language and write down some things in that language and pass them under the door. The man inside uses his set of instructions and responds by placing the results back under the door.

The final effect is that you are fooled into thinking you are having a conversation with a fellow Mandarin-speaker. In reality, your counterpart has no knowledge of the actual exchange taking place. Now, the code for a computer is like the set of instructions the man in the Chinese Room has. No matter how cleverly a computer may appear to respond, it is never actually thinking. It merely follows a pre-ordained set of responses.

This, and the above information I have provided, pretty much demonstrate that there not only might, but MUST be a non-physical component of the mind. This terrifies many Atheists, as Theists like myself of all religions will, and rightly should (especially if they are Catholic, for their Church holds philosophical and theological views that slide in nicely with the information presented here) instantly point to the necessity of a soul for anything we know about sensate and sentient life to make an ounce of sense.

In fact, they become so irate and terrified, that they claim that Science will one day provide them with a Theory of the Mind that can somehow get around the simple, demonstratible fact that no matter how complex a mechanism is, nor how numerous its individual parts, something purely material should never be able to actually feel a darn thing.

This is even more notable in the light of the Theory of Evolution. Mainly because there is not actually any reason for Natural Selection to provide anything with a means to feel hunger, pain, sexual pleasure, or anything else for that matter.

For the second time, bear with me here. On the surface, it sounds like the most asinine statement ever, until you seriously think about it.

I swear I am not this stupid.

If Evolution truly is the process by which various organic compounds are assembled due to inner and outside forces into different compounds until we have the Building Blocks of Life, which then are assembled mechanistically by outside forces, then, as demonstrated, there should never be feeling involved. The most that would happen would be the placement of several trigger mechanisms that caused the production of more copies of the organism, or began gene transfer (what we would call mating), or the ingestion of resources (feeding). There would be no sense of pain, only a reaction to system damage. There would be no seeing the color blue, there would be a reaction to and absorption of data that recorded a certain wavelength of light reflected off of something. I could go on and on, but judging by the fact that we see a blueness of blue, feel the sting of pain, the gnawing of an empty stomach…well, Evolution is either actively working in conjunction with a nonphysical soul, or, well, is complete and utter bunk.

Given the nigh-insurmountable wall of evidence for Evolution’s existence, I should think it were not bunk.

And before everyone gets up in arms and begins citing thousands of research papers showing the effects of hormones, the nervous system, and various physical stimuli on thought and consciousness, have no fear. I never said the mind was not influenced by any of these things. There is definitely a physical process that occurs in the brain that affects thought. However, I leave that to more talented men than myself to sort out the nitty-gritty of. That is the realm of neuroscientists and psychologists, and I travel that land only on casual visits.


Dinosaur Meal Time

So recently, a friend of mine posted this on my Facebook wall: http://gizmodo.com/5954779/how-t-rex-ate-a-triceratops-in-four-easy-steps

I will do them one better. Today, you are in going to learn about one of the possible ways in which a T-Rex likely hunted.

You know, epic cinematic fights like this are actually an oddity in the animal kingdom.

Yes, that is correct. Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops very rarely duked it out horn to maw during the normal course of Late Cretaceous events. In fact, the above picture is even less accurate, because instinct would probably drive one away from biting the deadly end of an opponent. Especially when that deadly end has a chance to make your killy parts less killy for the duration of the fight.

It is far closer to reality to picture the scene I am about to describe to you.

Picture yourself in the branches of a large tree at the forest’s edge  during a pleasant Mesozoic evening. Before you is a fairly large migration pathway browsed and trampled by massive herbivorous dinosaurs into low-growing plants. Each of these creatures is at least a ton of muscle and sinew lumbering peacefully along, grazing as they go. Their number is mixed, with drastically different dinosaurs mingling together for mutual benefit. You see triceratops, ceratopsians, dangerous horned animals similar to the mammalian rhino is build and demeanor, lowing and grunting as they shuffle around through the ferns. Edmontosaurus, a hadrosaur, is also present, and these duck-bills pause while eating every so often to raise their heads and glance around them for any sign of danger.  The two work well together, with the hadrosaur’s higher profile allowing for a better vantage point to watch for predators, and the ceratopsians providing the serious defense in  a wall of horns and frills if one should show its face.

I hated how inaccurate so much of this film was. Carnotaurus never even got close to that unbelievably huge…

You see something huge move briefly in the shadows below you. A beast as black as night stands there, barely breathing, and nearly silent despite its gratuitous size. You find it hard to believe that a predator so powerful, so lethal, should be hidden in ambush, doing its best not to be seen until that one, final, critical moment. The bull Tyrannosaurus Rex is waiting for something to happen with all the patience of a Zen master.

And then everything does. All at once.

Looking back on the incident after the dust clears and blood and viscera stop going everywhere, you understand that one of the nearby Triceratops turned its body just a little too far, so that its head was not within 180 degrees of the T-Rex. However, what you saw then was a rush of impossibly fast motion and a horrific roar as the eight-ton carnivore barreled through the trees and into the open. The entire herd panics, bolting or desperately trying to close ranks and fend off this threat. They are too spread out and too terrified to do this effectively. The targeted animal tries to spin and face his attacker, but is not quick enough. If he had been angled just a bit differently, his powerful triceps and pectorals could have easily launched him into a rotating slash with his horns that would have disemboweled the T-Rex. Instead he is hit with freight-train force as the predator’s jaws close down hard on his hip joint and bite the whole thing off, completely removing the bone, muscle and tendons as the mighty fangs come together with the precision of a demonic cookie cutter.

An unstoppable force meets a yielding object.

The Triceratops tries to turn again and strike back, but with one of its rear legs out of commission, all it can do is thrash uselessly and try to land a blow. The second bite comes within moments of the first, separated from it only by the time the T-Rex needs to take a step and a half. When it comes crashing home, a man-sized hole in the ceratopsian’s ribcage is the result. The rest of the herd has realized the futility of rushing to help, and now sits angrily in a protective ring, with horns out and lungs bellowing at top volume. In some cases, they might have then charged the predator in shear rage, but not today. The attack is too sudden, and they are too shocked by what has just occurred. Meanwhile, their compatriot bleeds out rapidly and stops moving. The T-Rex then begins to feed, tearing off the head and limbs and stripping the carcass of flesh.

 

 


A Certain Flaw

Many folk out and about in the high and mighty halls of academia today, and a handful here and there not quite so educated but willing to throw their lot in the same communal pot, have come to the conclusion that Science is the be all and end all of Humanity, and that it shall eventually solve all human problems. They claim that it needs no aide from any other school of thought to accomplish this goal. I will not bother to discuss whether this is actually possible or not, there are many lengthy arguments for or against this concept, and none of them have any bearing on what I am about to say.

There is a problem present in this worldview that is not readily present to the eye of the public, or even the eye of those men and women, myself included, that consider themselves students of the School of Scientific Thought. There is a potential and potent danger in removing Science from the constraints of Philosophical or Religious Ethics. Now, one could easily turn this argumentative thrust aside by remarking that many scientists do not desire the removal of Philosophy, or even Religion from the minds and hearts of the human race. I would be happily inclined to agree, as I am one of those people, despite my “in-training” status. Yet there is a growing faction within the Intellectual Community that holds this to be true. Part of what these men and women have forgotten is that Science is a wonderful tool, but that from its conception was never intended as a master. There is a very strong reason for that.

Who are Scientists, anyway? The general public today thinks of several things when that word comes to mind. It conjures up images of staunch, possibly socially awkward and shy men in lab coats and glasses, pontificating on various subjects with a cold, alien self-assurance that they know exactly what it is they speak of. On occasion, they are envisioned as hyper-critical, rationalist men with a flair for keeping absolutely calm and detached positions even in the most heated debates, sometimes stoically like the stone-faced Mr. Spock, or with a face painted in some sort of clever little smirk and a dash of twinkle in their eye. Very rarely, they are cruel and unforgiving folk with an acidic tongue and a distinct hatred for any kind of thought they find wanting in intelligence, lacking in wit, or from someone who dares to oppose their intellect.  The general idea of all of these conceptions boils down to extreme intelligence and a nearly absolute knowledge of their field, almost to the point of infallibility.

This is not only false, it is dangerous. When you give any one group of men, or any school of thought, for that matter, total domination over a society’s way of thinking, history shall show you that bad things will most certainly happen. What I am willing to bet that a large portion of the world, America included, has forgotten, is that Science is not an absolute. That Scientists are not perfectly logical machine-men who only serve Humanity or Science or Truth itself. We have this problem of image where we see the men of Science as people who live austere lives, almost as separated from the rest of us as Trappist monks are in their monasteries. We look and find a supreme superhuman dedication to rational thought and the betterment their own field which consequently betters the lives of our species. The title PhD has become as significant and respected as the title Rev. or Fr., which, in itself, is nothing wrong. What is wrong is awarding those possessing such titles the same sort of confidence and devotional respect. What is wrong is that to many I have met, the white lab coat a Professor may wear is viewed in a like way to the raven cassock of the Roman Catholic Church.

At this point you might begin to feel that I am taking things a tad too far; I assure you, I am not. As a man of Faith myself, I can recognize it quite clearly in others, even others who are so wrapped up in their own thinking that they fail to notice where they have left rationality behind for, strangely enough, the sake of rational thought. I can guarantee that those of the secular mindset, especially those raised in that manner of thinking, have a much harder time recognizing their own pseudo-religious behavior or thought. We, who live and breathe such things, can see it as plain as the nose on their faces.

Any man who has attacked Religion or expressed the dangers that come with it, and even as a practicing Catholic I assure you that I acknowledge some of those dangers myself, for they do exist, can tell you that such a view of men in the sort of financial, political, intellectual, and governmental positions is no good thing. Like Priests, and Bishops, and even Popes, contrary to what some Protestants would have you believe, Scientists are flawed, fallible, and human. Unless guided by some outside source (I.E., in the cases of Church Council or Papal Infallibility, which relate only to Church Teachings and not personal thought or behavior, basically, no Church Council or Pope can order me to jump off of the Empire State Building, or shoot a heretic, for that matter, and claim that it is the direct Will of God that I do so), they will continue to be flawed, fallible, and human. And still, I cannot count the number of times I have voiced a disparate opinion or hypothesis regarding some bit of evidence or data and been told that Science has decreed that this or that Theory is absolute and final. Any proper Scientist should scoff and deride such madness. The very way Theories are given life is by the interpretation of data. All because we have begun to view Science and its practitioners as a strange sort of secular priesthood.

Scientists are subject to great pressures in their daily lives, which increase or decrease depending on their field. One such pressure which remains ubiquitous for all of us is the need to find funding for research, or even just to support ourselves. We are not humble hermits working in secluded labs for the betterment of all, while what we do might involve that. Like any other lay (as in not of a religious order) person, we work to feed ourselves and keep our families afloat. Now, because I am a Papist, I will take this moment to congratulate the Church for creating a class of men and women freed from that grind by providing them a reasonable amount of food and shelter while removing their need to provide for a family. It was a stroke of immense brilliance, though part of the celibacy issue is Divinely given and the credit belongs to God, not us. You see, Priests and Nuns and all the rest can go about their work completely out of a desire to help others, as opposed to worrying over keeping themselves and their loved ones taken care of.

I have already witnessed firsthand the sort of jockeying that can occur over funding. I have been edging closer to it as my undergraduate research becomes more important and meaningful to the field of Paleontology at large. I have not liked what I have seen, and had several ugly realizations that shattered my own false imaginings of who and what scientists were. We are anything but intellectual ascetics. My experiences, I am told, are still not fully what “things are really like” in Academia. Aside from all the ego-fanning, fame-mongering, and political jockeying within the Universities and other institutions that put clothing on our backs, food in our mouths, and our names into magazines and newspapers, there is even the monetary angle to consider. I am a mere meddler in things long dead that at best bring media attention, that, while valuable, can also be drawn in by other more lucrative research. Can you comprehend the pressure placed squarely upon the shoulders of researchers in genetics, pharmacology, or any number of other fields where they are by nature part of a multi-billion/trillion dollar industry? Especially in an environment where the University has in many ways become more of a business than a place of learning, such things are rife with temptations and all manner of corporate espionage/backbiting/assorted treachery. Or consider yourself as a member of the American Psychological(or Psychiatric) Association, both of which have ties to our Government and the Pharmaceutical Industry. The point is, just because a nice man with the looks expected of his profession says something, you should not immediately consider it to be the truth and nothing but.

With all of that said about those who are in the Sciences, it is time to move on to Science itself. I would say that the best description of the purpose of Science is to explain the how the Universe works through Empirical study. This is a good and wholesome thing. However, left unshackled, what was once a blessing can become a curse. The logical progression which leads to the End Goal of Science is one very few have bothered to give more than a cursory glance at. This End Goal is Omniscience. For man to understand the Universe, completely and with certainty, man’s knowledge must become virtually Omniscient. And it follows that man would then be virtually Omnipotent. The other “Omni’s” follow as part of that first goal, likewise in a virtual manner. Plain and simply, Science with no outside guide is the pursuit of ultimate knowledge and therefore ultimate power. It does not take a Religious man to feel a bit of trepidation when confronted with the idea of Man attempting to become as many view God. This has even more weight to it when you consider that by many philosophical definitions, mine own included, it is impossible for Man to reach that state of perfection (hence the use of the word virtual). What horrors would a demi-god race wreak upon the stars and themselves in their search for ever-more growth and perfection? Considering our own herky-jerky chaotic advancement thus far in our history, we have little to hope for and much to fear as far as this is concerned.

In closing, Science is one of the greatest tools of Man. But any object or tool pursued for its own sake becomes an unforgiving slave-driver of a master, one more likely to consume its wielder than bring about anything good.


WHAT THE CRAP IT’S A T-REX GET IN THE CAR!!!!

And now for some multi-ton Dinosaurian predators.
Awhile ago I had a bright and sunny afternoon completely free. So I did what any sane person would do. I estimated the movement speeds of four large carnivorous dinosaurs. The nasties in question are as follows:

The Tyrant King

Allosaurus Fragilis

Giganotosaurus Carolinii

Suchomimus Tenerensis

First, I measured my hip height, which turns out to be pretty much exactly three feet tall. Then I gathered some data on the hip heights of each animal, and calculated a ratio of our respective hip sizes.

Tyrannosaurus Rex: 14.44 ft/ ratio of .2273

Allosaurus: 9.84 ft/ ratio of .3333

Giganotosaurus: 16.4 ft/ ratio of .2

Suchomimus: 12 ft/ ratio of .2732

Then I measured my speed over a measured distance of level ground, and averaged it across several trials, for four different types of movement.

Walking: 2.84 miles per hour

Rapid Walking(For when you’re late to class): 4.49 miles per hour

Jogging: 6.29 miles per hour

Sprinting: 9.13 miles per hour

After which I used the ratios calculated previously to gauge roughly how fast the predators would be at those four types of movement. The basic idea is that stride length for bipeds will be generally comparable, although it is obvious human anatomy and that of a theropod is not exactly parallel by any stretch of the word. Taking that into consideration, I would think that the ratio of hip height would fit about equally with the ratio of stride size, and therefore general speed. I also figured that a fairly bulky person, like myself, as a opposed to an actual sprinter, would better serve as far as general physical ability in comparison. We are talking about some of the largest carnivores to ever walk the earth. Keep in mind, this is not exactly publishable material. There are many, many factors influencing the speed of the animals in this “experiment”, not the least of which involves what would undoubtedly be the superior muscle power in the hind limbs of the beasts.

Tyrannosaurus Rex

Walking: 12.49 miles per hour

Rapid Walking: 19.75 miles per hour

Jogging: 27.67 miles per hour

Sprinting: 40.17 miles per hour

Allosaurus Fragilis

Walking: 8.52 miles per hour

Rapid Walking: 13.48 miles per hour

Jogging: 18.87 miles per hour

Sprinting: 27.39 miles per hour

Giganotosaurus Carolinii

Walking: 14.2 miles per hour

Rapid Walking: 22.45 miles per hour

Jogging: 31.45 miles per hour

Sprinting: 45.65 miles per hour

Suchomimus Tenerensis

Walking: 10.40 miles per hour

Rapid Walking: 16.43 miles per hour

Jogging: 23.02 miles per hour

Sprinting: 33.42 miles per hour

Only in relation to Allosaurus are all the different speeds viable, because of the physique of all the other animals.  Allosaurus was more gracile than the other creatures, at least relatively, and the most likely to be able to pull off a full sprint without causing itself bodily harm. Its arms were more robust than the others, excepting Suchomimus, and it was only several tons, as compared to the larger weight of the others. One of the serious dangers for a multi-ton biped when running is tripping. The bigger you are, the harder, and more devastating, your fall. This is where the arms and smaller size come in handy. Allosaurus had a far better chance of catching itself, and if it did not, its ribs had a much better chance of not cracking under its own bulk.

Suchomimus is a different case. While a good deal heavier, anywhere from 4-5 tons, it had far longer and more powerful arms, like its relative Baryonyx, which it most likely used to catch fish in conjunction with its crocodile-like jaws. It is theorized that it and its relatives might have been quadrupedal at least part of the time. This semi-bipedal stance, similar to that of Hadrosaurs and Iguanodonts, would have allowed for occasional bursts of speed. It is not conducive, however, to the kind of sprinting tested here. Therefore, I do not think it could have reached the listed top speed in that case.

Tyrannosaurus Rex and Giganotosaurus are both at great risk of grievous injury due to a fall while running. At a heft of 7-8 tons for the Tyrant King, and 8-9 tons for Giganotosaurus, and smaller arms combined with a much larger head than Allosaurus, any trip might result in a completely snapped neck, shattered jaw, or any number of horrors visited upon the ribcage. At that momentum, the risk is just too great. It is also completely reasonable to think that their limbs may not have been able to push them forward that fast. Taking their respective anatomies into account, at the very most, T-Rex could hit a normal run, but not for long, and Giganotosaurus, with its far thicker legs, could probably not pull off more than a rapid walk.

This makes all the carnivores seem slower than they actually are, for each one can amble along faster than I can sprint. Their massive stride length makes them as fast, if not faster, than most modern terrestrial animals. Allosaurus and T-Rex were almost able to reach 30 mph, and are on par with the fastest man ever recorded, with Suchomimus not far behind. Giganotosaurus walked rapidly nearly as fast as Suchomimus could run.