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What a lovely toy.

My job is to find and then understand the pieces left behind by one-celled life in "deep time", which means that they are from a long, long, LONG time ago, before there were any living things that had more than one cell.  All of these pieces were left behind in the rocks that the cells lived in, so I spend a lot of my time coming up with new ways to find things in those rocks.  Sometimes this means that I have to spend a long time adding up all the different types of things that I see, so that I can look at what it's like when all of them get put together.  Other times, it means that I try to use a type of water to burn away the outside of the rock, so that I can see what is on the inside.  

The other way to understand these old cells is to grow young cells that are just like the old ones (or at least, as close as we can get), and then see how they are like the pieces I find in the rocks.  That way, I don't have to just guess about what some of those pieces are.  Here's one way to do that: we think that the old cells lived in water, so I can put the young cells in water too.  Then I can change how fast the water is moving, and see what sort of changes happen to the cells that would stay in the rocks for us to see.  Then, when I see the same thing in the rocks, I can understand what the water was doing a long time ago when the old cells were living.

Some of the old cells ate strange things, like different kinds of rocks.  I care about how they used these weird foods to keep living, and to make more living things like them.  Because a whole lot of these cells all ate the same weird thing, all this eating all at the same time changed the air all over the whole world.  And when the air changed, the living things in it changed too.  The world we live on has very different rocks and air than the other worlds we know about, and these cells and their weird foods are a big part of the reason why.  So, knowing about the ways that these cells are allowed to eat and grow can help me and other people look for other cells on other worlds.

I love doing this job because it helps me know about what it means to live on a world that living things help to build.  Whether we have a whole mind made of lots of cells that are hard to understand, or just one really simple cell, we change the world every time we do things to it.  But the world also changes us.  So what we do (and what we don't do) can change what we are in big ways, even if we're not so good at learning.  Even the really simple cells turned in to something like us!  We are way past what they could understand, but it couldn't have happened if they hadn't done the things they did as really simple cells.  So knowing what life does in "deep time", means knowing how some simple things can act on the world and one another to build something that is bigger and more beautiful than any of them could have meant to build.

I'm just gonna leave this here

Blame rax mostly.  It has an impressive style of chaotic comedy that works best if you have experience with adventure games ranging from Zork to Monkey Island, an appreciation for the literary possibilities of noir-style mysteries, and the ability to be deeply unsettled by existential discontinuities.  Especially intended (on L's advice) for rushthatspeaks


We Believe

The Setting:  A hybrid conference room/office, with a big square table littered with papers, a floor-to-ceiling whiteboard, many books, and a desk with a humming computer.  The screen-saver shows the process of cell division.

Dramatis Personae:  Five graduate students and two professors, sitting around the table, reading up on biochemical signatures preserved in the Death Valley rock shortly before the emergence of multicellular life.  They are learning about an ice age that extended so deeply that the whole surface of the Earth froze solid, and about the world-spanning destruction that followed when the sun finally broke through.

The Conflict:  "Okay, look on page 73," says one of the professors.  "Look for a word there.  If any of you ever use that word in one of my papers...  Do you see it?  'Believe!'"  He snorts.  "'We believe that this interpretation is favored by...'  Don't you dare use that word around me as a scientist.  You don't believe, believing is what you do when you don't have any evidence."

At this point the other professor speaks, the quiet one.  "More to the point, why should your belief influence my belief?"

The graduate students nod.

Hello World

I guess this is my first official LiveJournal entry!  I just joined, largely through the efforts of gaudior, because she is that sort of person and I am that sort of person.

When I post, it will tend to involve subjects like robots, climatology, roleplaying games, statistics, rocks, science fiction, microbiology, gay rights, religion, poetry, nanomachines, nuclear decay, genetics, books, network theory, and so on.  Somewhere in here is a worldview that hangs it all together.  It will also involve a lot of my dear friends and loved ones.

That said, I'm still struggling to find a voice for this particular creative style of writing- blogs are more developed than status updates, more self-directed than debate, and more free than a professional work, and I do not have the soul of an artist.  I guess we'll see.



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February 2013


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