Archive for May 8, 2010

SCIENTIFIC TUNNEL VISION

Posted in Buddha Dharma and Chan on May 8, 2010 by secretchan

Science is considered to be a discipline producing solutions in some problem domain and a scientist is supposedly someone who works for that end.

However, sometimes one must wonder if the production of a solution may not be counter-productive, if not absolutely absurd.

Take the case of the simple clam. What is so special about this creature?

Did you know that there are  over 2,000 varieties of clam. There is the hard-shell (Mercenaria mercenaria, and soft-shell (Mya arenaria), but here we wish to speak about the hard shell type that lives in deep water, not tidal flats.

Apart from being eaten since prehistoric times, what is its life like?

Can you imagine simply drifting along or swimming at the mercy of the currents or sitting on the ocean floor simply ingesting?

Clams drift along on the ocean floor, doing nothing more than extend their siphon to suck debris that may contain food off the sandy ground.

It has a thick tan shell, usually egg-shaped, with concentric growth lines on the surface. Its white interior has a deep purple stain surrounding its muscle scar, and its hinge has three white cardinal teeth.

Its natural enemies are few… several species of ray, the Atlantic blue crab and of course, the enemy of all living creatures, including itself, the human creature.

Their life cycle includes a pelagic larval phase, a sedentary benthic juvenile phase and, as an adult, begins as a male with functional male gonads during the first couple of years, often becoming female with greater maturity. Their reproduction method is spawning and female fecundity is high, releasing up to 24 million eggs with each spawning.

Once the clam settles to the bottom, it sinks the siphon into the sand and at the same time secretes chemicals to build a carbonate shell that increases in size as the clam’s internal organs grow.

Now that becomes the interesting part, for like a tree, a cross-section of a hard clam’s shell usually reveals a clam’s age.

Traditionally hard clams live for about 40 years, but occasionally an exception is found.

Now as a scientist you might wonder how old clams can get before being destroyed naturally, and of course you cannot wait for an answer, because you may yourself fade away, others may find the answer before you or you may require tenure and maybe get an ounce of fame.

Patience is not always the virtue of a scientist of folly.

So what do you do when you get a remarkable and very unusual looking clam with a very dense shell? This is the dilemma.

Do you sacrifice the clam? After all it is only a remarkable “clam”. Or alternatively do you let it live out its life with careful observation so that its final life span can be determined?

Remember that science is considered to be the discipline that produces solutions in some problem domain and a scientist is supposedly someone who works for that end.  So if the question is the life potential of the clam, you clearly report the find and let that glorious life continue its development.

If you were bored, you could let it reproduce and even enjoy the fruits of that special clam’s life work if you were not a vegetarian.

Maybe you could open a restaurant while you were waiting or write a book or two on the “sex life” of a clam (probably not a best seller).

Now we come to the point of demonstrating scientific folly. While dredging the waters north of Iceland, a rather unusual specimen of the clam species, Arctica islandica, was found in waters about 250 feet deep.

With scientific innocence or is it ignorance… or plain careless stupidity… they decided to open it (thus sacrificing the creature) to find out how old it was. Who knows what they were actually thinking?

Only after researchers cut through its shell, which made it more of an ex-clam, and counted its growth rings, did they realize how old it had been — between 405 and 410 years old.

This “ex clam” just happened to be more than 406 years old, which makes the common life span insignificant.

To take a living creature and kill it to find out how old it was may be part of scientific discipline, but it fails to answer the question of how long a clam’s life potential might be. Of course, this is a typical error of asking the wrong question.

Okay, we can call it an accident, or was it the foolish ego excitement of discovering a clam that might beat the previous records of 220 years and 374 years?

A spokesman declared, “Its death is an unfortunate aspect of this work, but we hope to derive lots of information from it,” and another declared, “For our work, it’s a bonus, but it wasn’t good for this particular animal.”

If the human creature did not have proof of birth in the form of legal certificates, I wonder if scientists might be tempted to “sacrifice” human creatures to determine how old they had become.

A Nobel prize I consider doubtful, but the Guinness book of Records might be interested in mentioning the man who killed the oldest living clam to find out how old they get.

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