Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The evolution of automobiles

Ford T-model 1908 was a significant step in the evolution of cars
Any color as long as it is black
The vocabulary of biological evolution can and has been used also in other fields of research, for example calling the life-cycle of stars "stellar evolution". The following pseudo-report tries to use evolutionary concepts and terminology in describing changes taking place through time in inanimate objects.

Using evolutionary terminology is quite appropriate also when talking about latest changes in digital technology and devices; see for example Tom Chatfield's BBC-Future Technology article August 30, 2012 where he correctly writes "Rather, the combination of blistering pace with brutally Darwinian levels of competition exerts a considerable pressure towards its inverse: homogenization."

Autologists (sometimes called carlogists) study the history, present state and future of automobiles. The word is derived from auto (by itself, as in automatic) and mobile (to move), i.e. something that moves by itself. The name automobile thus underlines the difference between various carriage species that move on wheels but are being pulled (or pushed) by animals or people and the car and motorcycle species that move themselves powered by some sort of engine (not by wind). See below about the definition and evolution of locomotives and bicycles.

Planet Earth has been experiencing such a great radiation of different automobile types that we can speak of autodiversity. The great variety of types and categories can be scientifically explained evolutionary theory focusing on environmental and other factors in human selection and survival of the fittest. The deeper forces are operational in the merciless competition for success in a complex network involving environmental change, impact of various automobile species on the environment, influence of social change in the human society with which car evolution is tightly related, fluctuations in market forces and even such hard to define aspects as the impact of unpredictable human fashions and tastes on the market and thus the survival or failure of different automobile models.

Origin of automobiles
Two horsepower Alpine Horse and Carriage model
Lake Tekapo - New Zealand 
Scientists divide the history into two major eras, the Equidae era and the Automobile era. Little is known about the earliest prehistoric periods before the arrival of the species equidae, such as donkey (Equus asinus) and horse (Equus ferus caballus) in ancient societies. Other means of animal driven transport evolved in special environments, for example, camel (Camelus)in the desert, llama (Lama glama) in the high mountains or dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) pulling sledges in Arctic regions.

The Equidae era ends in a rapid mass-extinction of all horse and carriage types as well as a sharp decline in the horse and rider type of transport. These are not totally extinct, however, but lost their prominence within only a few decades after the evolution of locomotive and automobile species.

There is general consensus that automobiles evolved from the background of Equidae period types.  This is shown already by the nomenclature reflecting similarities - wheel, brakes, carriage, cart, even the word automobile which emphasizes difference to vehicles pulled by animals but involves the same category of transport. The use of the archaic term "horse power" supports the commonly held view that the evolution of cars is closely related to the horse and carriage type.

Origin of bicycles and motorcycles 

Penny-farthing is not part of the automobile evolutionary tree
Researches have different opinions about the origins of bicycles and motorcycles. According to minority view, these have organic roots in horse and rider as they usually lack cabin (some motorcycles have evolved a side-cabin allowing for transportation of another rider) and the rider sits on the vehicle.

According to the majority view, however, the evolution of bicycles and motorbykes is not linked to the Equasterian period forms. Furthermore, these scholars tend to separate the evolution of man-powered bicycles and engine powered motorcycles into two different lines. Many experts consider motorcycle as a two-wheel species that actually evolved from or parallel with the four-wheeled engine driven car.

Three-wheeled motorized vehicles have also evolved but are fairly rare. They are classified somewhere between motorcycles and automobiles depending of specific features that have evolved during the time, especially the presence or absence of a driving wheel.(Three-wheeled bicycles are another species.)

Engine mutations 

Evolution of internal combustion engines
Benz Patent Motorwagen Engine wikimedia
Evolutionary autologists generally agree on the importance of innovation that mutates the genetic chains in car development. But they put the emphasis on the importance of selective processes that determine which variation will flourish and which wither and disappear from the world.

For example, the invention of engine types has had deep impact on the evolution of means of transportation. The mutated motor types strongly influence the properties and Sitz im Leben, place in llife, of the products.

Steam engines are heavy and required a constant source of water, wood and coal fuel to heat the water. This led to the evolution of railroads and locomotives as a significant communal effort that changed the world, for example the future of Northern America where distances are vast and locomotives required peace from buffalo herds, the main means of subsistence to many Native American tribes. Locomotive evolution and mutations in the engines are a different branch of evolutionary science.

Combustion engines using natural oil products created during the Mesozoic era are smaller than steam engines and the fuel can be stored in convenient portable tanks. This led to the origins of automobiles and a parallel evolution to railroads, government level creation and maintenance of road network and chains of gasoline stations that made long distance travel on automobiles possible.

The mutation caused by the invention of Diesel has caused evolutionary changes in automobiles. Only recently have diesel engines evolved to efficiency and size that offer significant competition to gasoline engines. In fact, in some cases only those with serious interest in autology can spot the difference between diesel and gasoline species as they look so similar despite of the differences under the hood.

Environmental concerns - combustion engines produce significant amounts of pollution - and the fact that natural oil supply is limited and expensive has directed the evolution of automobiles towards alternative energy sources to provide the power for movement. Electricity requires a network of loading stations which is expensive to build and maintain and solar power is so far not practical. Tiny nuclear engines could revive the steam engine also in automobiles but at the moment there are natural and human forces resisting such mutations of car engines.

IQ theorists
A group of scientists is proposing that observing the evolution of automobiles (and locomotives and motorcycles) and deducting explanations from the distribution patterns and survival rates of various species is not enough. They stress the role of human innovation, that we can call the IQ factor, in pushing car evolution forward. It is not just a blind set of natural laws combined with chance changes and selection of the fittest.

Evolutionary autologists do agree that human innovation, the IQ factor, has been significant in the same way the mutation of genes is important in biological evolution. However, they emphasize that the input of change is part of the system that is in general regulated and guided by the deeper forces of selection of the fittest. The IQ factor is, according to these scholars, not an incidental element in the process but we gain a better and more accurate model by concentrating on the selection process that decides the success or failure of the variations brought in to the auto industry by human engineers and designers.


Autodiversity in Beiing today
Evolutionary theory can satisfactorily explain the rise of the immense diversity of cars, autodiversity, we are witnessing today. Currently there are more automobiles in the world than every before and it is difficult to see when and how the mass-extinction of these things will happen so prevalent they are today.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Gregor Mendel and genetic heritage

Gregor Mendel (1822-1884)

The scientific theory of origins of the species through natural selection was very fruitful as a hypothesis as it opened up significant new lines of inquiry for the study of living organisms. However, at the time of the publication of his seminal book in 1859 neither Charles Darwin nor any of his colleagues had understanding of the possible mechanisms at work. The insight Darwin gained about life came from careful observation of living creatures such as the variations in species living in separated locations in Galapagos Islands. Darwin was also observing fossils as a history book of life that was now understood in timed sequences according to Lyell's uniform theory on the formation of geological layers.

Gregor Mendel
The next step in humanity's quest for knowledge about life came from an unexpected direction: the silence of a monastery and its gardens - the Augustinian Abbey of St Thomas in Brno. Mendel knew nothing of the know about the intrigue mechanisms on cellular and even molecular level that are involved in the processes. In the same way as Charles Darwin and George Lyell, he worked on accurate observation, careful long-term recording of facts that could be verified and mapped details of natural phenomena. Deeper explanations to the observations of these world-famous students of God's creation was to come generations later but would have not been possible without their contributions.

Gregor Johann Mendel (1822 – 1884) was an Austrian scientist and Augustinian friar who gained posthumous fame as the founder of the new science of genetics.

Mendel demonstrated that the inheritance of certain traits in pea plants follows particular patterns, now referred to as the laws of Mendelian inheritance. Although the significance of Mendel's work was not recognized until the turn of the 20th century, the independent rediscovery of these laws formed the foundation of the modern science of genetics.

Christian monks and science?
I think it is good for the ardent religious opponents of evolutionary biology to notice that some of the scholars who have greatly advanced the study of the origins of species and contributed to the theory of evolution were in fact Christians. Including Charles Darwin himself.

For the study of God's creation is not just a matter of ideology or religious ideas how things should be but humble quest for Truth, how things were and are.

There may be a popular idea that friars are so separated from life and so deep in religion that they have not much interest, knowledge or understanding of modern science. Such a notion is, of course, false. For example Gregor Mendel had quite an illustrious academic record in several branches of science of his time and wrote extensively especially about meteorology.

During his childhood, Mendel worked as a gardener, studied beekeeping, and as a young man attended Gymnasium (school) in Opava. From 1840 to 1843, he studied practical and theoretical philosophy as well as physics at the University of Olomouc Faculty of Philosophy, taking a year off because of illness.

When Mendel entered the Faculty of Philosophy, the Department of Natural History and Agriculture was headed by Johann Karl Nestler, who conducted extensive research of hereditary traits of plants and animals, especially sheep. In 1843 Mendel began his training as a priest. Upon recommendation of his physics teacher Friedrich Franz, he entered the Augustinian Abbey of St Thomas in Brno in 1843.

Born Johann Mendel, he took the name Gregor upon entering religious life. In 1851 he was sent to the University of Vienna to study under the sponsorship of Abbot C. F. Napp. At Vienna, his professor of physics was Christian Doppler. Mendel returned to his abbey in 1853 as a teacher, principally of physics, and by 1867, he had replaced Napp as abbot of the monastery.

Besides his work on plant breeding while at St Thomas's Abbey, Mendel also bred bees in a bee house that was built for him, using bee hives that he designed. He also studied astronomy and meteorology, founding the 'Austrian Meteorological Society' in 1865. The majority of his published works were related to meteorology.