11 JUN 2012 by ideonexus

 We Must Become Comfortable with Large Numbers

Borel makes the amusing supposition of a million monkeys allowed to play upon the keys of a million typewriters. What is the chance that this wanton activity should reproduce exactly all of the volumes which are contained in the library of the British Museum? It certainly is not a large chance, but it may be roughly calculated, and proves in fact to be considerably larger than the chance that a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen will separate into the two pure constituents. After we have learned ...
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In order to understand why a million monkey on a million typewriters might produce a great work of art.

08 JUN 2012 by ideonexus

 Are Humans Parasites?

A lot of people ask, 'Do you think humans are parasites?' It's an interesting idea and one worth thinking about. People casually refer to humanity as a virus spreading across the earth. In fact, we do look like some strange kind of bio-film spreading across the landscape. A good metaphor? If the biosphere is our host, we do use it up for our own benefit. We do manipulate it. We alter the flows and fluxes of elements like carbon and nitrogen to benefit ourselves—often at the expense of the b...
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If so, then we are very bad at it since we appear to be killing our only host.

09 JUN 2011 by ideonexus

 The Uselessness of Nitrogen in the Atmosphere

My 165-pound body consists of about 110 pounds of oxygen, 30 pounds of carbon, 16 pounds of hydrogen, 6 pounds of nitrogen, and 3 pounds of everything else. Basic stuff, mostly, the stuff of water and air. You'd think we could get almost everything we need to build our bodies by taking deep breaths and gulps of water. But it's not quite that simple. Consider those 6 pounds of nitrogen in my body. Our cells build proteins by stringing together chemical units called amino acids, and every amino...
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Raymo describes how many pounds of each element there are in his body, and why, despite them mostly all existing in the air we breath, they are bound up in molecules so that we cannot access them.