Sunday, August 20, 2017


The anticipation of the eclipse on August 21, 2017 made me reflect upon the intersection of objects orbiting in our solar system.  The nearest star to our Sun is about 18 trillion miles away.  Beyond that, and in all directions, are trillions of other stars.  A lot has happened in our 13.7 billion year old universe.  But I want to consider asteroids found in our solar system.


1.  Stirring the pot for chemical evolution.

Whether they formed from condensation in the gaseous cloud giving rise to the sun and its protoplantary disk, or via collision(s) of orbiting planets, moons, and satellites, they exist in abundance, orbiting in a belt extending from the orbit of Mars to the orbit of Jupiter.  Smaller numbers have orbits intersecting earth's orbit; many have probably already been cleared by the earth and the moon from our orbit.  Some evidence of a peak in asteroid strikes a few hundred million years before the Cambrian has been claimed.

The early strikes may have contributed two things.  Elements and some simple organic compounds, the latter formed in the protoplanetary cloud before liquids and solids condensed, added to the chemicals available for early chemical evolution leading to living systems.  Larger asterioids may have made depression of various sizes in locations, some of which were favorable to the process described in earlier posts.  In addition to the delivery or useful chemicals, the mixing affect of material ejected around the impact area may have enabled useful different products to be combined.

2.  The origin of sex.   is a post including a view of how asteroid extincton events may have spurred the origin of sex.
"The starvation of protists during the early life extinction events meant degrowth to eventual fatal levels if they could not eat another protist or, better yet, fuse with another to make a viable mass.  Perhaps the reductions during degrowth resulted in a reduced genome lacking essential genes.  Or continued reduction after fusion made the survival of only the normal genome [haploid set of chromosomes] an outcome that over time developed the needed stable genetic controls." (my 2010 Evolution Insights ms. p. 89)

3.  Making room for new species.

Reduction or extinction of dominant species may have enabled diversity to develop with less threat to survival in early poorly adapted stages of evolutionary lines.

The Pre-Cambrian/Cambrian unconformity may have been due to an intense period of asteroid bombardment opening up reduced predation which allowed pogonophorans to adapt to shallow seas as they gave rise to the hemichordates.

The end of the Paleozoic ended the dominance of trilobites and some other very successful groups.

The end of the Mesozoic Era with the demise of the dinosaurs simplified the success and rise of birds and mammals.

4.  Asteroid collisions were a probable cause of the abyssal region of the ocean serving as a refugium, or shelter, for some ancient animals, most importantly, the pogonophorans.  Pogonophoran adaptation to the deep sea allowed them to survive extinction events and repopulate, not only shallow water but portions of the ocean abyss that became anoxic, after oxygenated water currents from polar seas to abyssal regions was reestablished.


The space between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter is about 205,000,000 miles.  That is more than two time the 93,000,000 miles distance of the earth from the sun.  The dwarf planet, Ceres, wanders around the sun in a path using up about one-tenth the space between Mars and Jupiter orbits.  Craters exist on all the planets as well as many moons and larger asteroids.

Daytime surface temperatures on planets beyond earth are below freezing.  But Venus and Mercury are closer to the Sun and have temperatures much higher than boiling.  The extreme cold of outer reaches of the solar system means that many of the orbiting objects may be ice or other frozen gases.  The density of meteorites and/or asteroids may be high enough to suggest that their origin was closer to Earth and Mars.  Along with the gap in presence of planets in the asteroid belt, it suggests to me that collision of planet(s) and other large objects were the origin of much of the debris in the asteroid belt.

The reduced spacing and high orbital speed of the planets closer to the Sun would seem to be conducive to more asteroid inducing collisions.The orbital speed in miles per second for Earth is 18.5.  Speed decreases to 3.37 miles per second for Neptune which is about 30 times further from the Sun than Earth.  While we take a year to go around the Sun, it takes 165 of years for Neptune do so.

The rocky composition of planets nearer the sun is more like rocky asteroids than the gaseous planets beyond the asteroid belt.

The above factors would seem to indicate one or more collisions, involving one or more planets shattering, was a major source of asteroids.

Joe Engemann      Kalamzoo, Michigan    August 20, 2017

Monday, August 7, 2017



The chance of having nuclear war seem to be increasing.  Threat of mutually assured destruction  is unlikely to dissuade doctrinily inspired terrorists from annihialating those not sharing their views.  That particular threat seems to be diminishing since most countries with nuclear capacity seem to be less inclined to provide necessary materials to terrorist groups.

The threat from North Korea, controlled by a seemingly megalomaniacal dictator, is greater with the increasing nuclear and missle capacity they are developing.  Their limited capacity would seem to make it certain they would not be able to hold the whole world hostage, but that might not prevent them from eliminating South Korea from the face of the earth if the dictator thinks the rest of the world will not come to South Korea's aid.


The horrendous destruction dealt Hiroshima with a relatively small atomic bomb stuck fear into the world as it helped bring a rapid end to World War II.  Perhaps it saved far more lives that would have been taken in a prolonged continuation with conventional warfare.  But few today are likely to think it is morally acceptable to be the first to use a nuclear bomb under any circumstances.  Perhaps the overwhelming capacities both Russia and the United States have to detroy civilization have been a factor detering nuclear war as well as conventional wars that might escalate to comparable detruction.


As high school students enrolled in a science class when the world was jolted by the atomic bomb, our knowledge of nuclear physics and heredity was insufficient to make us comfortable entering the atomic age.   Chain reactions were thought to possibly trigger explosion of the whole earth.  If the explosion didn't get us, perhaps new mutant animals would take over and destroy us.

We eventually realized chain reactions would not have enough fissile material in the environment to engulf the earth.  Genetists realized radioactive contaminant caused mutations would most likely cause the death of those with too high a mutation load, and the mutations are likely to be similar to already existing mutations which are mostly detrimental for organisms by causing the failure of function of genes.  The few good mutations may only duplicate other already existing ones.

Unfortunately, fears of radioactive contamination were realistically based on continuing pollution porpotional to the half-life of the radioactive elements involved.  Radioactive iodine in milk and dairy products had a short half life so it is greatly diminished by months of storage.  Plutionium, produced by fission of uranium 238, is more of an extreme danger because of its long half-life.  Airbourne debris from nuclear testing reached far distant places around the globe, laplanders in northern Europe had their food chain receive greater loads of radioactivity than many intermediate locations.  Strontium 90 is a radioactive isotope with a half life of about 28 years, it is metabolized much like calcium in biological systems, so it persists in milk and bone for a long time.


In a perhaps delusional self-satisfied moment, after completing a manuscript on creativity, I thought, "If I'm so damned smart, why don't I try to solve the world's biggest problem".  Atomic war popped to the top of the list.  The technology was already in the hands of several countrys, including the Soviet Union, considered the greatest threat by many.  Mutually assured destruction, a capacity resulting from a race between the United States and the Soviet Union, made a recognized first strike an unacceptable solution for both.  But what about an irrational leader in a group able to steal or otherwise get nuclear capability?

The best hope, I thought, if some level of rationality exists in the rogue nation or group, is beyond the control of the strongest country.  I thought the United Nations could publicize a policy that any and all deploying nuclear weapons against others will be subject to prosecution and punishment, regardless of lack of existing legislation, and any who stop such deployment will have the protection of the rest of the world.

Our United Nations ambassador sent me some literature of what the U.N. was doing, I think I got notes from our senator's offices, and one of Representative Wolpe's staffer's sent me a quite enthuiastic reply.

Why its imperfect

Today, the concept does not seem an effective solution for dealing with terrorists willing and able to recruit and mislead followers into blowing themselves up along with innocent civilians.  The phenomenon of North Korea's Kim Jong Un making brutality and lack of freedom a normal life is making the rest of the world uncomfortable.  I suspect he is smart enough to know it will be his end if he initiates a nuclear attack.  I hope our leader is smart enough to not initiate a premptive strike.  I think a lot of prayers are in order for a world cure beyond our capability.

It would be very difficult to penetrate the strict control in North Korean with a glimpse of a personal right or authority philosophy to take action against rash decisions of their leader.  Isolated terrorist groups brain-washed by aberrant spiritual leaders are unlikely to be persuaded to prevent nuclear terrorist actions by any action of the rest of the world.  Their actions may be terrible, but world-wide destruction seems unlikely; conventional international cooperation will hopefully prevent their potential strikes.

Go green and

Just remember that wars, violence, dictators, disease, famine, eruptions, earthquakes, floods and all sorts of disasters have been around as long as civilization has existed.  But so has the sun, the moon, and the stars.  Vist with friends, family, and neighbors; take a walk in the woods or a park, sit on the beach and watch the waves and the seabirds; look at the stars at night; and consider the billions of years since rhe dawn of creation and realize that the love of God is with you and billions of others, along with a few deep breaths, it should make you feel better.

Joe Engemann     Kalamazoo, Michigan   August 7, 2017

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


The July, 2017, issue of Scientific American cover featured an article on "Our Memories" by Alcino J. Silva about advances in learning and memory.  His lab "had shown that the CREB gene was needed to form long-term memories.  . . . . by encoding a protein that regulates expression of other genes needed for memory."  The assignment of emotional memories as well as linking of memories are among things discussed.

The July-August, 2017, issue of AARP BULLETIN has a news item about an "electrical brain stimulation" research team, led by Michael Kahana, of "Neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania" who "have shown for the first time that stimulating the brain when it's foggy can significantly boost memory function.  Conversely, stimulating the brain when it's sharp can impair thinking skills."

Panel discussions on TV news shows remind me of both stimulation and impairment when one persons comments stimulate another to interrupt and make it difficult for the first person to complete their statement clearly.


Linked memories are undoubtedly part of the difficulties some veterans with post traumatic stress disorder experience, such as terror-filled memories triggered by loud noises.  Emotionally charged memories may be linked with memories formed at the same time and may include visual, auditory, olfactory, and tactile stimuli that can later have a role in recollection of the associated memory.

Such linkage may be a factor in the use of mnemonics for remembering sequential  or associated items. Since newly forming memories may be linked sequentially in a physical sequence in the brain, activation of one item in the list may aide recovery of others in the sequence.  It isn't just harried mothers that use the name of the wrong child and then sometimes go through the list of all their kids before getting the right name.  Anyone with an overloaded schedule is likely to do something similar without it being a mental defect.


The structure of the brain with memory and thinking intensive areas having several layers of neurons, with multiple fibers (dendrites and the axon with its branches) make it practically impossible to map or solve exact storage patterns.  The tangle of fibers is only one part of the complexity.  At the synapse, or gap at the junction of a fiber with the next neuron, the impulse (depolarization wave) results in the release of a neurotransmitter.  There are neurotransmitters with various functions, some that stimulate, some that inhibit, and others with a range of speed of action or persistence.

The neurotransmitter at the neuro-muscular junction is typically acetyl choline.  It causes the muscle cell membrane to send a depolarization wave along its length, causing contraction of the muscle.  Choline esterase is an enzyme in the gap that breaks down the acetyl choline allowing its constituents to be recycled into acetyl choline in the original fiber.  Because neuro-muscular junctions of other animals use the same process some of the most rapid acting insecticides are choline esterase inhibitors.  Our large size makes it more likely to kill insects before the concentration we are exposed to kills us.  I had a student who would come back for the Fall Semester, after working fogging for mosquito control in Northern Michigan resorts most of the summer, with obvious twitchiness.  He survived it and was an effective biology teacher for many years.


I have made the point in an earlier post that honesty is beneficial in developing creativity of a beneficial sort.  It may be that a liar has more linked memories on a topic, perhaps half of them untrue.  Does it then become impossible for them to distinguish truth from fiction?  An hour or so ago a panel on CNN was discussing our president's blend of fact and fiction had an early expression in his noting his marvelous home run to his classmate who reminded him it was just a single.  Apparently he was oblivious to the fact and repeated his recollection of his magnificent home run.

Scientists try to be honest and truthful in their work.  But complications due to complexity and sometimes relying on opinions of leading scientists, who have unintentionally given erroneous views credibility, can perpetuate and increase errors.  My early evolution blogs focused on one particular instance in the calculation of the ancestral tree of animals in which the pogonophora should be recognized as a remarkable link.


   for memory
Learn a bunch of connected things in uninterrupted fashion.
Multi-tasking is an interruption.
Its all important.
Repetition may help, especially if your mind wandered.

    for recall
Activate the appropriate regions of the brain by thinking about related things, locations, functions, people, times.
Be rested, fed, happy and comfortable or relaxed (don't be bothered if it doesn't come immediately)

   long-term preparation
Read, listen to music, play games, socialize, exercise, eat a balanced diet, sleep, meditate, appreciate nature and the world around you, and it certainly wouldn't hurt to pray, love God, your neighbors, and yourself.

Joe Engemann     Kalamazoo, Michigan  August 2, 2017