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[Warning: This post is significantly less structured and coherently written than normal. Read at your own peril]

So it’s 5am and I’ve been awake since 3am because I’ve been reading Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould about the Burgess Shale fossils. Unfortunately, its one of those times when my brain just decides to turn itself on and there’s very little I can do to turn it off again. Occasionally, large amounts of alcohol helps but that renders me somewhat incapable of attending class in a few hours and it doesn’t get me much additional rest anyway. So I guess that large bottle of vodka I got from RBS at Christmas shall remain undrunken for now.

[Hmm I can’t figure out how to make this paragraph connect to the rest of this blog post but it’s somewhat necessary that you know what the Burgess Shale is to make sense of the rest of this post.] The Burgess Shale is the world’s greatest fossil site in the world. In the world, globally, on multiple criteria. Basically, the Burgess Shale is like finding a photograph of an Ancient Egyptian court. The picture is not only a very high resolution picture (ie it manages to preserve soft-bodied organisms when almost all fossils are composed of bones) but it was also taken at a critical place. a picture of an Ancient Egyptian toilet, is I’m sure quite useful to archaeologists, but to have it taken at the centre of power and government in a society is so much more useful. And the Burgess Shale is perfectly positioned in time – at 500mya just before fish evolved. Fish, by the way are the first vertebrates (ie the first animals with bones), and the mere fact of their evolution caused a mass extinction simply because of how much more competent they are than invertebrates.

But more importantly than the fact that it is a photograph is what it reveals. It shows a world vastly different to everything we expected and sort of overturned our picture of what an evolutionary tree looks like. [bleh, I give up, I think you don’t need to know the implications of the Burgess Shale]

But reading the book has just set off a maelstrom of activity in my brain. There are at least 5 different thought streams rushing through me right now. One part is trying to figure out the implications of the Cambrian explosion on how genetics would have worked back then (and also trying to remember my knowledge of how developmental genes work in different phyla). Another part is trying to think of the implications for evolution in general (Gould later writes a brand new variant of evolution called punctuated equilibrium which proposes that major evolutionary change happens in starts and spurts, as opposed to gradualism). A third part is reviving a thought I had about two years ago about the evolution of intelligence which is a very fascinating topic and I may try to write a blog post on it, should I ever find the time. Gahh time. In fact its probably a far more interesting topic than this post, but it’s so complex I know I won’t be able to write it competently this morning and still have time to do other things before going to uni. The fourth part is incredibly angry about creationism, and is fulminating over the fact that there’s all this evidence that evolution exists and works and they insist upon creationism. Urgh. If I have any core belief its that with sufficient evidence, you can figure out how any system works and persuade other rational people of that. That’s why (intelligent) Marxism and creationists annoy me so much. They’re clearly intelligent people, but trying to convince them of anything they don’t believe in is impossible. Urgh. All I can think about when I talk to them is this huge mountain of evidence and the myth where Zeus crushes the Titans with Mt Olympus, crushing them and trapping them forever more.

The fifth thought is thinking about why I started this blog in the first place. Thinking about the evolution of intelligence again is very interesting, because I sort of got distracted from thinking about it by a sudden interest in politics. It’s interesting how I can remember almost none of the conclusions I reached, and just a few strands of thought that I had before. The reason I started this blog (well, one of the reasons, since the primary reason was as a travel blog) was so that I could record my own thoughts. To think that the evolution of intelligence had preoccupied me for the better part of a month and that I can remember almost none of it is a terrible blow to me.

But it made me think about how well this blog has achieved its aims. Does it record my thoughts well? A huge amount gets lost in translation. I have a thousand thoughts that are just so short that to record them properly (along with context enough to explain them) would take forever – but fortunately, most of these are just humourous observations. But there are so many more large theories that I never bother writing down because I know it would take forever to put it into any systematic order that would make sense upon anyone reading it again. For example, I’ve been thinking a lot in the last year about comparative education systems (particularly the US system v the Australian/UK system) but I don’t think I’ve written anything about that at all.

And what I do write down gets changed beyond recognition. My mind is like a field of lightning rods and all these thoughts constantly flash about and in the shadow cast by their brief light is the theory that I’ve created. But a blog post is so different a structure from that. It requires giving context. It requires making it interesting to read (though usually, I hope the content of the post is interesting enough, I know people are easily bored). It requires giving people a sense of the magnitude of the implications. I can look at the Burgess Shale and realise its huge implications for what evolution is and means. Plus it has to be linear which is the worst thing. It’s like turning a wild savannah into an open plains zoo (like Dubbo Zoo or San Diego Wild Animal Park). It’s necessary to preserve things, but by imposing order and changing things, you basically destroy what you preserve. Actually, the very writing down of my thoughts distracts me from creating new thoughts.

But equally, I think this blog does a world of good. Even if I lose as much as I keep, I’d love to find the time to re-read this blog some day. Amazingly, I don’t think I’ve ever done that, or even thought about why I keep it. I think it helps give structure to my thoughts, which is good because having a maelstrom of thoughts in my head is quite tiring. I sometimes wonder if my thoughts are as brilliant as I thought they were in my head. When I write them down they sometimes seem so mundane, but when I thought of them they seemed so revolutionary. Am I not writing enough paragraphs on their implications and their context? Have I left something out? Or is it like when you have a dream? When I dream (and I may dream differently to you), I have a field of vision and a sense of atmosphere. The atmosphere is like a thought being pushed into my brain that tells me how to interpret that field of vision. A nightmare might be the vague impression that I’m in a forest and that I’m afraid. I see a vague blur behind me and another thought gets pushed into my brain and tells me its a velociraptor. Then sometimes I wake up, and that thought of fear lingers in my brain and I just can’t dislodge it. Are my thoughts like that? Is my perception that my thoughts are monumentous no more real than my perception of fear?

So its certainly very interesting to look at my blog from that perspective. I like to think that it does offer a different point of view from what’s normally written elsewhere. And perhaps that is monumental in itself – it takes a lot of effort to be different, whilst still being a cogent field of thought. And my blog serves a much stronger educational goal than I thought. Every now and again, someone mentions to me that they read a blog post and I’m frankly incredibly astounded. Whilst I write my blog so that I have an audience, I always thought it was like a legal fiction. They’re necessary to make things work and so you have a structure, but you never really think its true. Plus, its driven me to read more and understand more as well, so it educates me. Plus, being forced to write in a certain way and style has improved my ability to write in that style and I’ve noticed that my ability to write essays and communicate complicated ideas has much improved (it was always the weakest link in my academic skills, so I’m very glad its improved). And my advocacy skills have improved.

So all in all, I’m quite happy with my blog. Actually, I’m terribly surprised I haven’t ever thought about the utility of it before. My personality type is such that I usually examine every one of my activities for its utility, the time spent on it and the cost-benefit of keeping it. Then try to improve on how I do things. It’s especially surprising considering how long I spend on this blog. Most posts take about an hour to write and to source. It’s why I rarely bother editing my posts – if I did, it’d take twice as long. Instead I try to keep a coherent structure as I write the post, which prevents the need to re-write entire paragraphs. This post is about 1600 words long, so that’s actually a more impressive typing speed than I thought I had. Why the hell does it take me so long to write law assignments if I can type that quickly? I have a type speed of 122 characters per minute (including time taken to pause and think about what to write and error-fixing).

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2 Comments

  1. While you’re discussing your blog as an entity and assessing its utility, I thought I’d just take the opportunity to post a comment of appreciation in the hopes that you’ll continue blogging (although I have no doubt that you will). I’ve been following it for a long time, and as sad as it sounds, reading your blog is one of the few things that makes me feel like I’m being intellectual, and it keeps me up to date with politics and the like. All while being entertaining to read. So thankyou.

    On a side note, reading your blog (and subsequently your thought processes) it gives me great confidence that you will be very successful in your career. So here’s a shout for you to remember me when you buy your yacht and/or private jet =P

    • w00t, my blog has reached Melbourne 🙂 (or whatever rural part of Victoria you were temporarily banished to)

      Thanks Jason, it does mean a lot to me. I had no idea you were reading it too!


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