Thursday, November 11, 2010

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? Turns Out Simon and Garfunkle Were Right

[Audio from 4Shared]

A winter's day
In a deep and dark December
I am alone
Gazing from my window
To the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow
I am a rock
I am an island
[from Piratebay]

This blog's utopian goal is to get people to see things from different perspectives, to get people to question what they know. For me, this morning's interview with Neil Krulwich on NPR's Morning Edition did that.

Rocks aren't alive. Life is.

So think of them as separate. Rocks over here; life over there.

Then along come Robert Hazen and his colleagues with their study, "Mineral Evolution," published in the American Mineralogist and all of a sudden categories shatter. I'm amazed. I hadn't thought of this, even remotely. . .
But life is a great sculptor. One very early form of pond scum figured out how to exhale oxygen into the air, and soon (well, not THAT soon, but soon enough) our atmosphere had enough oxygen to create rust, to combine with organic chemicals to make creatures with shells and bones and those creatures died and became rocks. What is coral but a clump of dead skeletons? Look at the White Cliffs of Dover — that's a heap of dead plankton.  
You can read the whole piece at NPR.  It's mind-blowing as the 20 Questions "Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?" categories are obliterated.  And it should remind us that all of our categories are human constructions, our best attempts to make sense of the world we live in.  But hardly "reality."  Just our temporary realities until we find a better way of conceptualizing that aspect of the universe.

We all know that living things need minerals. When you eat a raisin, you are putting iron in your blood. We drink milk to put calcium in our bones. So we need minerals. What I didn't know is that minerals, in some sense, need us. The presence of life on Earth nearly tripled the rock population.

Don't just read it, listen to the Krulwich piece here. He tells it very entertainingly.

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