Monday, December 28, 2015

Dark benediction

Walter M. Miller Jr.
Walter M. Miller Jr. was an American author of science fiction, known for a single book that has become a classic: A Canticle for Leibowitz, possibly one of the best science fiction novels of all time, at least among those in the apocalyptic sub-genre, which describes what might happen after a total nuclear war.
The novel is divided into three parts: In the first, Fiat Homo, the world is just beginning to recover from the disaster. As in the centuries following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Catholic Church takes the responsibility for saving what little remains of classical culture (ours) through the monks of an order founded by one man, Leibowitz, who before the nuclear conflagration was an electrical engineer. In the second part, Fiat Lux, several centuries have gone by, a new civilization has emerged and the world is entering a new Renaissance. In the third, Fiat Voluntas Tua, this civilization has reached its peak, materialism comes back, and history threatens to repeat itself. But this time Miller leaves a possible escape open: the colonization of the galaxy.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The phenomenon of man

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
We know from experience that man has a mind and consciousness. It is also evident that animals seem to have more mental activities the closer they are to us. Thus, mammals have more minds that reptiles, reptiles more than fish, fish more than invertebrates (possibly excluding cephalopods). All animals except sponges have a nervous system, although some have very little: the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans has only 300 neurons. Plants do not have a nervous system, but they have some sensitivity and are able to move slowly. And when Antonie van Leeuwenhoek discovered microorganisms in the seventeenth century, no one doubted that these tiny creatures were alive. True, biologists have not yet agreed on whether viruses, even more tiny beings, are alive or not. I have written about this in another post in this blog.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

How insect societies arose

Solitary bee (Megachile) and social bee (Apis)
Among the insect order Hymenoptera there are many species that live independently, but there are also many others who live together in societies. Social life has evolved several times, both among ants (all of which are social) and between bees and wasps, many of which live alone. This fact should be explained: why is social life so prevalent among these insects, and how could it have evolved? In other words, did it provide any evolutionary advantage? In which way?
In insect societies, most individuals renounce reproduction and dedicate their lives to care for the queen (the only member of the society who lays eggs) and for their brothers and sisters, while they are larvae. Normally there are at least two separate castes: those who are sexually active (male and female) and those who are not (usually asexual females). The differences between active and neutral females come from the type of food they receive during their larval stage.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Malthus’s mistake

Thomas Robert Malthus
Since the end of the eighteenth century, apocalyptic warnings as regards the unstoppable increase of the world population have followed one another. In 1798, Thomas Robert Malthus published An essay on the principle of population, as it affects the future improvement of society, with remarks on the speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet, and other writers. This essay includes the famous quotation:
Assuming then my postulata as granted, I say, that the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.
Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will shew the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second.

In 1838, as a reaction against Malthus and his alarmism, Pierre Fran├žois Verhoult asserted in his Note on the law of population growth that this growth is not a geometric progression, but follows a logistic curve (see figure). This curve appears frequently in many natural growth processes.
In spite of this, the first report of the Club of Rome (The limits of growth, 1974) insisted again on an alarmist position by keeping to the previsions of Malthus (an exponential growth) without taking into account the study by Verhoult. In this context, several political and social movements have presented contraceptives and abortion as inevitable measures to save humanity from the disaster of overpopulation.
However, current forecasts are very different. In 2012 the UN published its data about the growth of the world population from 1950-2010, which showed that the growth rate has declined, and that the turning point of the curve (which is looking more and more like the logistic curve) was gone through around 1985. Based on these data, the UN have made several estimates of the future growth of the world population, the most optimistic of which predicts that a maximum of some 8300 million people will be reached by 2050.
Based on these data, and other less detailed covering the period between 1900 and 1950, the authors of this post have approximated the real growth of the world population and its extrapolation till 2050 by the following mathematical expression:
The figure at the left compares the U.N. data (real and predicted, in red) with those generated by the previous equation (in blue). Next we have estimated the development of the world population if anti-natalist policies had not been implemented around the seventies. We have obtained the following results: the turning point would have been delayed until 1990, just five years later. And by 2075 the population would have reached a maximum of 9 billion: 700 million more people, about twenty five years later.
The inevitable conclusion is that anti-natalist policies do not give the expected results. This is now so obvious in China, that it has led them to put an end to their one-child policy. The hundreds of millions of children sacrificed on the altar to Moloch have not been killed to save humanity, but so that we can share a little more for a little longer. It won’t be surprising if posterity accuses us of barbarism for allowing abortion against all scientific evidence, just as we accuse our ancestors for allowing slavery.

Manuel Alfonseca

Julio A. Gonzalo