The Spider-to-Human Ratio

spider to human ratio

Since I like spiders, I was pleased to read a rough estimate of 21 quadrillion for the world’s population of spiders (source: here).

The website gives the current human population as ~7.4 billion. Dividing the estimated spider population by the estimated human population yields Earth’s estimated spider-to-human ratio: 2.8 million.

Yes, your share approaches three million spiders. At least they are good at taking care of themselves!

[Source of the image of the spider above, an adult male phidippus audax:]

Speculation Regarding Future Human Speciation, Part II


[My first post on this subject appeared here.]

In the future, the human race, homo sapiens, will do what all living organisms do when circumstances change, as they always do, sooner or later. We will adapt, migrate, and/or die. Since this is a post about speciation, I’m mentally setting that part of my brain which worries about extinction happening relatively soon to “hopeful,” for the duration of writing this post.

For speciation to happen, two things must happen first: reproductive isolation, and the passage of a lot of time. Migration (to off-earth colonies, for example) can produce reproductive isolation, but so can other things. As for adaptation, this is done in many ways by our species, consciously, as well as unconsciously. Evolution is always happening, but it is the slowest of all human adaptive processes. It is estimated that it has taken us (and everything else) 3.85 billion years to evolve, after all, and that’s roughly the most recent third of the time since the Big Bang.

Extra-terrestrial colonies would definitely be a huge “push” toward speciation, especially colonies with low gravity, relative to that experienced by other people. As well-described in Robert Heinlein’s novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, return to a high-gravity environment, after many years in a low-gravity environment, would carry significant health effects, with serious risks of sever complications, up to, and including, death. If we ever establish colonies outside the solar system, this isolation will become even more extreme, simply due to the enormous distances and travel-times involved.

However, we will speciate, as will all other species, if we stay alive long enough, even if no more of us leave low-Earth orbit.

In my previous post on this subject, I speculated about the emergence of fully-speciated homo lunaris,  homo literaticus, homo illiteraticus, artificially-genetically-modified humans (whom I did not name then, but homo techogeneticus would do nicely), and homo cyberneticus. An increase in the number of infertile offspring between two groups, combined with a falling birthrate between them, persisting over millennia, would be an early warning signal that speciation might be happening — that’s how long this evolutionary process takes.

Given enough time, and increased reproductive isolation from non-“Aspies,” another group which could speciate is the population with Asperger’s, to form homo aspergerus, primarily because of the difficulties each group of people have communicating with the other group. However, I’ve written several posts already which seek to help Aspies and non-Aspies understand, and bridge, the communication-gap. What’s going on here? Simple: evolution is simply a process which happens. It has no ethics. It is neither good nor evil. More to the point, just because I can discern a possible future does not mean I want that possibility to become real.

In what other ways could speciation happen? A widenining gap between the rich and poor certainly seems possible as a “push” towards speciation, at least currently, which could create homo plutocraticus and homo povertus. It is easily possible to imagine this happening along with the emergence of homo cyberneticus.

Another interesting possibility would occur if humanity survived in the North and Southern hemispheres, near the poles, but extreme global warming made tropical regions uninhabitable, and the equator untraversable, or at least very rarely crossed. In this case, it is hard to imagine what direction the changes would take, for they could go in many directions. Names for such Northern and Southern humans could be homo borealis and homo australis, from our point of view. In theirs, of course, as in many of these scenarios, the likely terms each group will use for the other will translate, roughly, as “us” and “them,” unless they somehow manage to shed the primate characteristic of forming rival groups, one which long predates humanity.

How could the maximum number of new species emerge in the least time possible?  This is known: a mass extinction would be needed, one which leaves a small (but large enough) percentage of humanity alive, and fertile. This would open numerous ecological niches which we, and other extant species, would rapidly fill, by rapid speciation, into an amazing variety of forms. Again, this simply happens — that does not mean it is to be desired, and I am certainly not hoping for it to happen soon. I simply realize that it has happened before, and we have no reason to think it will not happen again.

The Human Reaction, When Mathematics No Longer Seems to Make Sense: What Is This Sorcery?

Cubes 5

Unless you understand all of mathematics — and absolutely no one does — there is a point, for each of us, where mathematics no longer makes sense, at least at that moment. Subjectively, this can make the mathematics beyond this point, which always awaits exploration, appear to be some form of sorcery.

Mathematics isn’t supernatural, of course, but this is a reaction humans often have to that which they do not understand. Human reactions do not require logical purpose, and they don’t always make sense — but there is always a reason for them, even if that reason is sometimes simply that one is utterly bewildered.

In my case, this is the history of my own reactions, as I remember them, to various mathematical concepts. The order used is as close as I can remember to the sequence in which I encountered each idea. The list is, of necessity, incomplete.

  • Counting numbers: no problem, but what do I call the next one after [last one I knew at that time]? And the next one? And the next? Next? Next? [Repeat, until everyone within earshot flees.]
  • Zero exists: well, duh. That’s how much of whatever I’m snacking on is left, after I’ve eaten it all.
  • Arithmetic: oh, I’m glad to have words for this stuff I’ve been doing, but couldn’t talk about before.
  • Negative numbers: um, of course those must exist. No, I don’t want to hear them explained; I’ve got this already. What, you want me to demonstrate that I understand it? Ok, can I borrow a dollar? Oh, sure, I’ll return it at some point, but not until after I’ve spent it.
  • Multiple digits, the decimal point, decimal places, place value: got it; let’s move on, please. (I’ve never been patient with efforts to get me to review things, once I understand them, on the grounds that review, under such conditions, is a useless activity.)
  • Pi: love at first sight.
  • Fractions: that bar means you divide, so it all follows from that. Got it. Say, with these wonderful things, why, exactly, do we need decimals, again? Oh, yeah, pi — ok, we keep using decimals in order to help us better-understand the number pi. That makes sense.
  • “Improper” fractions: these are cool! I need never use “mixed numbers” again (or so I thought). Also, “improper” sounds much more fun than its logical opposite, and I never liked the term “mixed numbers,” nor the way those ugly things look.
  • Algebra: ok, you turned that little box we used before into an “x” — got it. Why didn’t we just use an “x” to begin with? Oh, and you can do the same stuff to both sides of equations, and that’s our primary tool to solve these cool puzzles. Ok. Got it.
  • Algebra I class: why am I here when I already know all this stuff?
  • Inequality symbols: I’m glad they made the little end point at the smaller number, and the larger side face the larger number, since that will be pretty much impossible to forget.
  • Scientific notation: well, I’m glad I get to skip writing all those zeroes now. If only I knew about this before learning number-names, up to, and beyond, a centillion. Oh well, knowing those names won’t hurt me.
  • Exponents: um, I did this already, with scientific notation. Do not torture me with review of stuff I already know!
  • Don’t divide by zero: why not? [Tries, with a calculator]: say, is this thing broken? [Tries dividing by smaller and smaller decimals, only slightly larger than zero]: ok, the value of the fraction “blows up” as the denominator approaches zero, so it can’t actually get all the way there. Got it.
  • Nonzero numbers raised to the power of zero equal one: say what? [Sits, bewildered, until thinking of it in terms of writing the number one, using scientific notation: 1 x 10º.] Ok, got it now, but that was weird, not instantly understanding it.
  • Sine and cosine functions: got it, and I’m glad to know what those buttons on the calculator do, now, but how does the calculator know the answers? It can’t possibly have answers memorized for every millionth of a degree.
  • Tangent: what is this madness that happens at ninety degrees? Oh, right, triangles can’t have two right angles. Function “blows up.” Got it.
  • Infinity: this is obviously linked to what happens when dividing by ever-smaller numbers, and taking the tangent of angles approaching a right angle. I don’t have to call it “blowing up” any more. Ok, cool.
  • Factoring polynomials: I have no patience for this activity, and you can’t stop me from simply throwing the quadratic formula at every second-order equation I see.
  • Geometry (of the type studied in high school): speed this up, and stop stating the obvious all the time!
  • Radicals: oh, I was wondering what an anti-exponent would look like.
  • Imaginary numbers: well, it’s only fair that the negative numbers should also get square roots. Got it. However, Ms. _____________, I’d like to know what the square root of i is, and I’d like to know this as quickly as possible. (It took this teacher and myself two or three days to find the answer to this question, but find it we did, in the days before calculators would help with problems like this.)
  • The phrase “mental math” . . . um, isn’t all math mental? Even if I’m using a calculator, my mind is telling my fingers which buttons to press on that gadget, so that’s still a mental activity. (I have not yielded from this position, and therefore do not use the now-despised “mental math” phrase, and, each time I have heard it, to date, my irritation with the term has increased.)
  • 0.99999… (if repeated forever) is exactly equal to one: I finally understood this, but it took attacks from several different directions to get there, with headaches resulting. The key to my eventual understanding it was to use fractions: ninths, specifically.
  • The number e, raised to the power of i‏π, equals -1: this is sorcery, as far as I can see. [Listens to, and attempts to read, explanations of this identity.] This still seems like sorcery!
  • What it means to take the derivative of an expression: am I just supposed to memorize this procedure? Is no one going to explain to me why this works?
  • Taking the derivative of a polynomial: ok, I can do this, but I don’t have the foggiest idea why I’m doing it, nor why these particular manipulations of one function give you a new function which is, at all points along the x-axis, the slope of the previous function. Memorizing a definition does not create comprehension.
  • Integral calculus: this gives me headaches.
  • Being handed a sheet of integration formulas, and told to memorize them: hey, this isn’t even slightly fun anymore. =(
  • Studying polyhedra: I finally found the “sweet spot” where I can handle some, but not all, of the puzzles, and I even get to try to find solutions in ways different from those used by others, without being chastised. Yay! Math is fun again! =)
  • Realizing, while starting to write this blog-post, that you can take the volume of a sphere, in terms of the radius, (4/3)πr³, take its derivative, and you get the surface area of the same sphere, 4πr²: what is this sorcery known as calculus, and how does it work, so it can stop looking like sorcery to me?

Until and unless I experience the demystification of calculus, this blog will continue to be utterly useless as a resource in that subfield of mathematics. (You’ve been warned.) The primary reason this is so unlikely is that I haven’t finished studying (read: playing with) polyhedra yet, using non-calculus tools I already have at my disposal. If I knew I would live to be 200 years old, or older, I’d make learning calculus right now a priority, for I’m sure my current tools’ usefulness will become inadequate in a century or so, and learning calculus now, at age 47, would likely be easier than learning it later. As things are, though, it’s on the other side of the wall between that which I understand, and that which I do not: the stuff that, at least for now, looks like magic — to me.

Please don’t misunderstand, though: I don’t “believe in” magic, but use it simply as a label of convenience. It’s a name for the “box ,” in my mind, where ideas are stored, but only if I don’t understand those ideas on first exposure. They remain there until I understand them, whether by figuring the ideas out myself, or hearing them explained, and successfully understanding the explanation, at which point the ideas are no longer thought of, on any level, as “magic.”

To empty this box, the first thing I would need would be an infinite amount of time. Once I accepted the inevitability of the heat death of the universe, I was then able to accept the fact that my “box of magic” would never be completely emptied, for I will not get an infinite amount of time.

[Image credit: I made a rainbow-colored version of the compound of five cubes for the “magic box” picture at the top of this post, using Stella 4d, a program you may try here.]

Speculation Regarding Future Human Speciation, Part I


If human beings survive long enough, the unstoppable process of evolution will cause us to speciate again, as has happened many times before. Many millenia from now, there could be several different species of human being, with any hybrids which exist being infertile. What follows is speculation regarding some possible details of this entire process.

Speciation happens because of genetic drift, aided by reproductive isolation, which can happen in several different ways. For example, suppose humans establish extraterrestrial colonies. This would produce reproductive isolation by simple geographical isolation. The first such colony will likely be on the moon, and, once the colonists grow accustomed to such weak gravity, returning to earth would be extremely dangerous. Just imagine weighing six times as much as you are used to weighing, suddenly — that’s just what it would be like for a lunar colonist to return to earth. This danger would be even more severe for those actually born on the moon.

If speciation happened in this way, those back on earth would probably still be called homo sapiens, with a new name given to the off-world humans, such as homo lunaris for “moon people.” As colonization moves outward, to Mars, Jovian moons, etc., other new species could form in the same way, each with an astronomically-derived species-name, and characteristics shaped by their new environment.

However, back to earth. What happens here, while these new types of people are forming off-world? Well, no species lasts forever. Either homo sapiens are the last people on earth — human extinction — or we have one or more successor species here, eventually.

Reproductive isolation does not require geographical isolation. Another pathway to reproductive isolation involves differences in behavior. One example is the activity of reading. You’re reading this right now, which means that you not only can read, but actually choose to do so. Do all people have this ability, or make this choice? Certainly not. What’s more, many non-readers dislike readers (otherwise, the insult “bookworm” would not exist), and, often, the feeling is mutual. Obviously, reproduction is more likely to happen between those who like each other, rather than between those who don’t.

This particular split, based on literacy, has not yet produced new species. Why not? Simple:  there hasn’t been enough time (yet). Writing has only existed for ~5,000 years, and education has been widespread for a far shorter time. Given many more thousand years, though, two successor species, homo literaticus and homo illiteraticus, could well emerge.

Advances in medicine and computer science, combined with continuing inequality in wealth and income, could also produce variant humans another way:  deliberate modification (for those who can afford it). Such modification could happen in multiple ways:  manipulation of the human genome, for example, or the creation of cyborgs with organic brains, and silicon-based computers, fully interconnected (homo cyberneticus, perhaps). Such projects would be rife with controversy and ethical dilemmas, of course, but that, by itself, will not stop experimentation, any more than ethical concerns prevented humans from constructing the thousands of nuclear warheads we still have (and have, for the most part, avoided using — so far). The fact that a change would cause a lot of problems is not, by itself, sufficient to prevent that change from happening.

There are many other possibilities as well. One thing is certain:  we won’t simply stay like we are forever.

My Favorite Passage from the Bible, and How One Atheist Thinks We Just Might Use It to Avoid Extinction.


You may already know I am an atheist, and may be unaware that some of us have favorite passages from the Bible which were not selected for purposes of ridicule, nor of criticism of the Bible, nor because of dislike of any religion. This is my favorite passage because it contains excellent advice. I do not need “faith,” as that word is commonly understood, nor a literal belief in the devil, to recognize, and appreciate, good advice.

What’s not to like about self-control? Or being alert? Those things can keep us all alive. They are important. I used to only cite the first sentence here as my favorite part of the Bible, but have decided to include two complete verses, for context, and elaboration through metaphor, as I interpret this passage. I see no reason not to.

Atheists (only capitalized at the beginning of a sentence, by the way) don’t have denominations, nor creeds, and there are as many different types of atheist as there are atheists. Atheism isn’t a religion — the word simply describes existence without religion. Everyone is born an atheist, albeit an unconscious one. Also, those who remain, or return to, atheism, change, during the course of our lives, just as theists do. The only people who do not change are the dead.

In defiance of stereotype, we are not all angry and bitter, although some of us, it must be admitted, are. (I used to be far more bitter than I am now, although I am working hard to change that.) Many of us even believe in non-theistic ideas which make absolutely no sense, such as, for example, 9/11 conspiracy theories. We only have one thing in common: we lack belief in deities. You almost certainly lack belief in at least some deities, ones which others fervently believe in. If you are a theist, well, atheists just take things a bit further than you — that’s all. We don’t all hate theists, and (thankfully) not all theists hate us. The ability to respectfully disagree is at least one of the keys to peaceful coexistence. Universal agreement among humans simply will not happen (and would be horribly boring, anyway), until the death of the penultimate person, at least. Even if there is a “last person alive” scenario in the (hopefully very distant) future, this unknown last human being will still have internal disagreements, and will almost certainly disagree with remembered ideas of the dead. In fact, given human nature, and history, such a disagreement might even be the cause of the next-to-last person’s death, at the hands of the last man, or woman, ever to live.

I do not want homo sapiens to end this way.  I’d like us to continue, for many generations, until evolution, and speciation, replace us with successor species, a long time from now — still people, but different, in ways we cannot now know, and, hopefully, people who have long ago learned to live without constantly killing each other.  Isn’t it about time we left this nasty habit called “war” behind, along with murder, rape, and the rest of the litany of human horror?

I’m a big fan of John Lennon, but I’d far rather imagine no war than “imagine no religion,” and I no longer accept the idea, common among atheists, that the second is a prerequisite for the first.

Since we have, as a species, figured out several ways to self-destruct, we cannot afford to wait for evolution to “teach” us how to coexist peacefully.  Evolution is far more efficient at destruction than creation, after all, being a random process.  Far more species have gone extinct than exist today, and the process of evolution simply does not care whether we live or die.  Entropy happens.  It took 3.85 billion years of natural selection to get here, and we will not get a second chance to get it right.

We must figure out effective ways to live with our differences now.  I do not mean that we should somehow erase our differences, for I have no desire to live in a world of clones of myself, and I doubt you want to live in your version of such a world, either.  We do, however, need to come to terms, as a world-wide society, with the inescapable fact that people are different.  We have a right to be different, it’s good that we are, and the fact that we vary so much is certainly is no excuse for killing, nor even hating, anyone.

There is another part of human nature that is on our side in our struggle for survival, and this is the hopeful part of this essay. We are good at figuring things out. We actually enjoy trying our best to solve puzzles. We pay hard-earned money for them constantly! Some of us absolutely obsess over single problems, for days — or years — at a time. Well, this is the best, most important problem we have ever faced, with the highest stakes imaginable:  how to avoid our own extinction. The world isn’t a casino with no exit, though.  It has been mostly a game of chance, so far — and we’ve been lucky to have made it to the present.  However, it doesn’t have to be the way it has been, with us stumbling through history, like drunk monkeys in a minefield — which we pretty much are, right now.

We have minds, and it’s time to use them. We can stop playing roulette, especially the Russian variety, and sit down at the table to play chess, instead. We can figure this out.

If this Big Problem isn’t solved soon, though, there may not be a long wait for extinction.  It could very well be later than you think.  Therefore, I encourage everyone to, in the words of the Bible, “Be self-controlled and alert.” That’s a good place to start.