Sorry for the wait…

Hi everyone,

Ideally, I would have had a blog post up by now. Unfortunately, I was taken unawares by a sudden bout of sickness that left me out of action for the last week.

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While it has been a frustrating experience, being bedridden came with its fair share of perks, namely, a lot of reading, and brainstorming (I was physically out of it, but for some reason, my mental faculties were whizzing as usual).

Now that I have recovered to a good measure, I will have the first of a three-part series of posts discussing “Climate Change” online by next weekend. I intend to use this format such that I may be able to cover a wide spectrum of issues, concerning the topic, within the scientific, political, and socio-economic regimes. The goal is to provide for well-deserved communication, and education on a highly controversial subject that is inherently a simple, but significant, circumstance of our interaction with nature.

I will also post a book review on Luc Ferry’s, A Brief History of Thought, which I finished reading recently. Coupled with my efforts to finish my second book, I’m looking forward to a busy week of writing. I intend to move towards pre-production beginning with the necessary illustrations for the book. The goal is to have it published by the end of this summer (at the latest, fingers crossed).

Meanwhile, I shall continue to fight the good fight as I juggle my temporary term of unemployment with my academic endeavors, and my writing. It is quite difficult to keep a regular working schedule, especially when I’m spread thin over various fronts, but hey that is life! As excited as I am now to publish my second book, I can’t wait to get started on the subsequent writing projects I have in store. Similarly, there is a lot to look forward to in the near future, not to mention “evolving” another year  in two weeks’ time. This post was to just inform all of you that I’m still here. Once again, I apologize for the delay!

I will see you all again next weekend!

Adventures in Drawing – A New Beginning

Previously on “Adventures in Drawing,” I discussed several matters of art. I specifically placed emphasis on the three valuable lessons of learning to actively see thingsthe value of repetition, and drawing what one sees, not what one knows.

The second half of the drawing course followed the application of said rules with a series of projects. I had the wonderful opportunity to test my skills with various mediums from charcoal, graphite, and conté sticks. Along for the ride came an assortment of healthy drawing techniques I had learned earlier involving the use of guidelines, the ability to delineate depth and active perception in objects, as well as blind contour drawing etc. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to test my skills with the various media (Figures 1-2).

Figure 1. Man’s best friend (using charcoal, and graphite). 

 

Having completed the course, I can certainly say that my knowledge, and library of resources pertaining to drawing has grown exponentially. If there is a takeaway message from my experiences so far, it would be the following: simply put, anyone can be an artist. All you need is an HB pencil, a sketchbook, and a little bit of incentive. Most importantly, practice makes perfect.

In my opinion, I view drawing, and art, in general, as a personal interpretation of one’s environment, and imagination; a realm of infinite possibilities. The uniqueness factor of one’s works is dictated not through the judgment of external critics but rather one’s own individuality. Thus, you have nothing to fear in the criticism of your own doodles. We are all artists in our own measure. As Mason Cooley put it, “Art begins with imitation, and ends in innovation.”

Figure 2. Unfinished swimmer (using conté sticks)

With every passing day, I get closer to achieving the same with my artwork. Once again, I’ve learned that practice makes perfect. (On a side note, it also helps to have an encouraging partner, especially one who goes out of their way to buy you a legit Japanese manga kit but I digress.) If I could briefly summarize the steps that I have taken so far in my journey in drawing, and that I wish to share to my fellow aspiring artists, they would be:

(1) Start with doodles, and doodle frequently. Sketch whatever you wish to sketch. Freedom of imagination, and action is important in drawing.

(2) Get a few guide books on the side, or even better, just parse through the overwhelming history of artists, and their works that we can readily find information about on the WWW (world-wide-web).

(3) Trying a short, and supplementary course is highly beneficial too. Learning drawing also involves the communication of ideas, and techniques. (Check out the arts center in your city. If you don’t have one, Udemy is a wonderful online resource for awesome, and cheap courses. And if that doesn’t work, then it’s even more simple, learn from nature, and become your own artist. There’s no limit to human creativity, and imagination.)

(4) Aggregate the lessons you learn in infinitesimal steps, and integrate them toward a full learning experience.

Moving on from here, I intend to eagerly pursue my dream of becoming a mangaka in the future. For those among my readers who are avid comic fans, and are particularly interested in making their own comics, I highly suggest the constructive anatomy, and figure drawing books written by Burne Hogarth, and George Bridgman (shown below) to get you started.

But after all is said, and done, remember to relax, and just have fun with it!

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Transitions

Life is all about transitions. One moment, we find ourselves latched on to something, and the next instant there is something new around the corner that catches our attention. I have had to deal with my fair share of minute, but influential transitions owing to my absence over the last few weeks; ranging from decisions I have had to make on my academic career in pursuit of a PhD (which has incidentally become a wild-goose chase for funding opportunities), to my exodus in obtaining a driver’s license, and all the way to alighting upon the final stages of content editing my second book (Agent X)!

All of which brings me here today, back to my pensive reverie, during a stormy overcast in Edmonton that beckons me to take up the “keyboard” again, and get back to the blog posts I have been planning for a while. So without further ado, this is what we have to look forward to in the coming days!

Beginning with another recap of my “Adventures in Drawing” I will come full-circle as I complete my Drawing 101 course, and present a few more tricks I have learned over the past month.

Following this, we will shift gears, and in lieu with the current political “climate” (particularly with reference to the recent proceedings at the Paris Accords), I will provide a report on climate change, approaching the topic from a scientific, political, and socio-economic perspective.

I will also add another chapter to my review of Carl Sagan’s “Dragons of Eden,” as we explore the mechanisms of the human brain including the R-complex, the Limbic System, and the Neocortex.

Lastly, following up on a request from a reader, I will provide a learner’s review of Bitcoins, a crypto-currency, and modern digital payment system!

So, all in all, look forward to a good number of updates on the blog, and some healthy reading over the coming days everyone!

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A Walk In The Spring Rain

With winter’s departure at my doorstep, I alight upon the memory of a day in a rainfall that caressed me with the soothing warmth of your touch.

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Falling upon the blankets of water that condensed from the gray skies, I clung to you, slipping amid the warmth of your skin.

Time awaits no one, and in a moment that carried me away in the bliss of a cool breeze, you walked by my side.

Ripples in the ponds of life stemmed forth in our every step together, your smile, a reflection amid the mirrors that coalesced at every turn.

Observing our progress along the white of clouds that brushed our feet, gently ascending, leading us to where the stars lay hidden, and our spirits flew free.

In a story that is to be told, your eyes reflected the words of my heart, our laughter resonating amid the silent melodies of the world.

A beautiful blossom, you remained, weathering the winds of time that passed our wake, embracing me into the petals of your life.

Into a stillness that resounded in the minute strikes of my heart, my eyes met yours, the cold moisture of the crystals giving way to the warmth of your lips.4b9b99b1_o

Serenaded by the orchestral pitter-patter of the rainfall surrounding our feet, I indulged in the moment, falling and rising about your heartbeat.

Carried by the whims of nature, our shadows basking in the gentle ray of sunshine that awakens the distant horizon, in an adventure to continue, with the coming of spring.

The Dragons of Eden-Chapter 2- Genes and Brains

 

Introduction

Biological evolution accompanies a linear increase in complexity. Look around you, it doesn’t take much time for us to realize that our world is quite complicated. The Earth hosts a variety of taxa (species, subspecies, and races), with the major taxa, which have evolved most recently, being the most complex. Humans, or homo sapiens, are in this bracket.

It is easy for us to identify, on the basis of our physical and mental attributes, functions and behaviors, factors that may set us apart from others, and contribute to our unique identity. By doing so, we have merely partaken in a significant evolutionary behavior, namely the ability to identify differences among ourselves, as opposed to other species, including members of our own taxa. Most often, we relegate our comparisons to distinctions based on the quantity, and quality of characteristics.

In this chapter, Sagan uses this notion as a medium towards the deeper understanding of our evolutionary history as a species by addressing the history of life in the gradual dominance of brains over genes.

The Book of Life

While a primitive notion on the complexity of an organism can be obtained by considering its behavior, and functions, we can do the same by considering the minimum amount of information contained within said organism. In other words, how much genetic material does the organism hold?

The book of life is written in the language of four alphabets, consisting of complex molecular structures called the nucleotides. DNA (Figure 1), or Deoxyribonucleic acid, the primary hereditary molecule, consists of about five billion pairs of nucleotides. In the nucleus of each cell, the DNA molecule is packaged into thread-like structures called chromosomes.

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Figure 1. The four alphabets of DNA, the nucleotides: Thymine, Adenine, Guanine, and Cytosine.

All the organisms on Earth share this genetic language composed of four alphabets, leading to the theory that we are all descended from a single ancestor, or a single instance of life some billion years ago.

“If there are approximately six letters in an average word, the information content of a human chromosome corresponds to five hundred million words. If there are about three hundred words on an ordinary page of printed type, this corresponds to about two million pages. If a typical book contains five hundred such pages, the information content of a single chromosome corresponds to four thousand volumes.” – Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden

Brains vs. Genes

The gradual dominance of brains over genes, the premise of this chapter, is shown to follow a practical necessity in the evolution, and survival of various species. The main working materials of evolution are mutations (Figure 2), heritable changes in the nucleotide sequences of our DNA.

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Figure 2. Well, not exactly…but you get the point. 

Most mutations/genetic changes are too slow for any practical benefit (occurring over millions of years). Most mutations are also harmful, and in some cases recessive. In the end, what really counts are mutations in the gametes, the eggs and sperm cells, the agents of sexual reproduction.

“Large organisms such as human beings average about one mutation per ten gametes-that is, there is a 10 percent chance that any given sperm or egg cell produced will have a new and inheritable change in the genetic instructions that determine the makeup of the next generation.” –  Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden

With such a high mutation rate to already cope with, a greater complement of DNA could suggestively result in unacceptably high mutation rates. Too much would go wrong, for anything to stay right! As Sagan postulates, there must be a practical upper limit to the amount of genetic information that the DNA of larger organisms can accommodate, thus by the same instance, necessitating the existence of substantial resources of extragenetic information to allow for their survival, and growth. Such information is contained in all “higher” organisms, except humans (who have invented extrasomatic knowledge, or information stored outside our bodies, like writing), exclusively in the brain.

Peering Into The Brain

The remainder of the chapter an exclusive tour de force of the brain. The corresponding questions, and their central arguments can be summarized as follows,

What is the information content of the brain?

There are two extreme opinions on brain function:

(a) The brain or the cerebral cortex (its outer layers) are considered to be equipotent; there is no localization of function, such that any part of the brain can substitute for another.

(b) The brain is completely hard-wired, and specific cognitive functions are localized in specific parts of the brain.

The actual answer lies somewhere between the two as has been portrayed by various experiments over the years. Modern-day neuroscience continues to address this question.

Is there a correlation between brain mass, and intelligence?

There isn’t a one-to-one between brain mass or size and intelligence in human beings, but there remains a statistical correlation nonetheless (namely in that there are upper and lower limits which may correspond to normal adult human brain function). It has been found that the correlation between brain size, and intelligence is much better than the correlation between intelligence, and adult body weight. Sagan presents the criterion of brain mass to body mass, with no consideration of behavior to provide an acceptable first approximation for intelligence.

What is the structure of the brain, or how is it packed?

The human brain contains about ten billion switching elements called neurons. There is contention among neurobiologists that neurons are the active elements in the brain, as evidence has been provided that specific memories and other cognitive functions are contained in certain molecules in the brain, like RNA or small proteins. An average neuron in a human brain is said to have been 1000-10,000 synapses. If we were to consider each synapse as equivalent to a on-off state, then the number of different states of a human brain is far greater than the total number of elementary particles in the entire universe. We are all truly unique!

The brain is basically a system of microcircuits, and a very dense on at that with an information content of ten billion bits per cubic centimeter. As Sagan points out, a modern computer able to process the information in the human brain would have to be about ten thousand times larger in volume than the human brain. Though the processing speed of a computer is far higher than the brain, the fact that our brain can do so many significant tasks so much better than the best computer is a testament to how tightly packed, and well-organized it is. We have yet to break this mystery, and come to a complete understanding of the brain, and its functions.

The End Game

Thus, having considered the quality and quantity of genetic material, and brain information in organisms, Sagan is able to compare the gradual increase through evolutionary time of both the genetic, and brain information of organisms, showing that somewhere around the Carboniferous period, a few hundred million years ago, there first emerged an organism with more information in its brain than in its genes. While Sagan refers this organism to be an early reptile, conflicting theories exist today in contention of this statement, and our earliest ancestor.

In conclusion, the evolution of the brain is a symbolic event in the history of life. The consequent bursts of brain evolution would result in the emergence of mammals, and of manlike primates. Nevertheless, there still remains much to the story.

“Mankind is poised midway between the gods and the beasts.”- Plotinus

As we will see in the following chapters, humankind’s naivety rests in its pride as the summit of the biological cycle, but while our authority on this Earth may be justified by the repeated insistence of our higher intelligence, and brain function, we are yet to realize that we are not so completely removed from the “beasts” themselves.

“…with all these exalted powers- Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.” – Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man

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Happy Birthday Sis!

Having a younger sibling isn’t always easy. One moment you find yourself the center of attention, and then all of a sudden, your thunder seems stolen when all everyone talks about is the newest member of the family. At least, that’s how it seemed to me when you entered my life. Little did I know it would be the beginning of a wonderful, and life-long journey of friendship to follow.

I can never forget the day when I first met you. You were the most beautiful baby I had ever seen in my life (you still are, for me). Approaching on my tip-toes, I had come to your side, looking down with great intrigue as you lay fast asleep, your deep breaths coming with the gentle rise, and fall of your full-sized tummy.

You eventually opened your eyes, closing them almost immediately into a narrow slit. The light must have hurt you, but you didn’t give up, as you opened your eyes a bit wider, struggling before they tuned in to focus on my own. It was then you pulled back your lips, your face radiant with a fleeting smile that left me speechless, and overwhelmed. There was no doubt whatsoever. I knew then that this was my baby sister smiling at me, and in  a moment that tied me to you forever, I was utterly, and irrevocably smitten.

You would soon become my best-friend, and my greatest nemesis. You would have my back whenever I needed it the most, and also turned out to be the best partner in crime I could ever ask for. You brought the best in me, and still do so to this very day. Over the twenty-years of our journey together, there is not a moment that I would want to change. While our dreams, and ambitions may take us to different destinations, I can never forget our beginning,  a moment that will always bring us together.

Happy Birthday Annie. On this day, I want you to know, I love you, and will do so forever. Nothing will ever change that. To me, you are and will always be the light in our family, a vibrant flame I wish to protect, and hold dear for all my life.

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HAPPY EASTER!!

Hello everyone, it’s been a while since my last post. Life has kept me busy but what better occasion to return to my pensive reverie than Resurrection Sunday.

The past two weeks leading up to this day have involved a lot of work at my end as I have been gearing up for a productive summer of writing, publishing, and studying (Doctor of Philosophy in Robotics doesn’t sound bad). I’m now teeming with various concepts for discussion as blog posts in the near future. I can’t wait to get them all out soon enough, but for now, I will begin with a long overdue report on my read-along of Carl Sagan’s The Dragons of Eden. I finished the book a while back, and have brainstormed the ideas I wish to present on the blog.

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We will begin our next course on Sagan’s dragons by considering the dominance of brains over genes!

Apart from this, I’m embarking on a grand new stage of adventure in my life as I immerse myself in the world of manga. I hope to retire as a writer one day, and my enormous interest in anime has motivated me to explore, and exploit the manga medium for my stories. With that in mind, I have begun my study of the arts, namely DRAWING! After a preliminary investigation of my neighbourhood, and a long haul at Michaels Arts & Crafts with a surplus list of required arts supplies, I’m ready to put pen to the paper, and crank out some really amateurish illustrations (which I may post on this blog too, as a beacon of my progress).

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It may take a while, actually a few years, but it’s going to be worth it. 

For anyone out there in my shoes, a great start would be the book by Bert Dodson, Keys to Drawing.

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I was lucky to come across this book in the local library. It is a great read to get your imagination churning with an intuitive, and realistic approach to drawing. 

That’s all I have for today, and so I shall now take my leave, but before I forget, on this day of joy, celebration, new life, and a heck of a load of chocolate eggs, I wish everyone an amazing, and wonderful Easter.

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