memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for the ‘natural history’ Category

Insects Rule, OK

BLUE BUTTERFLY – PAINTING by OCTAVIA MILNER

Ants rule the earth.

All the myrmecologists (ant-experts to you and me) say so. They tell us that if you add up the weights of all the ants in the world, they would weigh about the same as the total weight of all the humans in the world. When you consider that an individual ant is about one millionth the size of a human being – give or take a few hundred thousand – that’s a lot of ants (that’s a hell of a lot of ants; that’s a mind-bogglingly gynormous amount of ants; I surely take my hat off to all those ants; let’s hear it for the ants).

MOSQUITO IN RED – PAINTING by OCTAVIA MILNER

Many people cite this Associated Press article:

(what weirdo geeks work on these stats? I mean how can people actually know these things? Oh well, I suppose it takes all sorts …)

Scientists say that about 15 percentage of the Earth’s total biomass – the

combined weight of all living things – is composed of ants. Another 17

percentage is taken up by termites. The combined weight of all ants on

earth is more than the weight of all humans.

And now, about these termites

WHITE BEETLES – PAINTING BY OCTAVIA MILNER

Note: Post illustrated by my kind painter-sister Octavia: http://www.octaviamilner.co.uk

Quote of the day

Man is descended from a hairy, tailed quadruped, probably arboreal in its habits.

Charles Darwin

CHARLES DARWIN

Galileo Galilei (2)

Among the copious foot-notes of one the volumes was a full account of the trial of Galileo in front of the holy inquisition in 1633, which were to be found in the records of the British Library. I quote from the actual accusation:

GALILEO FACING THE ROMAN INQUISITION

We, Carpar Borgia, Saint Croix de Jerusalem,

Friar Felix Centino d’Ascoli, of St. Anastatia,

Guido Bentivoglio, of St. Mary del Populo,

Friar Desiderius seaglia di Cremona, of St. Charles,

Friar Anthony Barberini, called Mesroy,

Lewis Zachia, of St. Austin,

Fabritius Verospius, called Prespiter, of St. Lawrence, of in pane perna,

Franciscus Barberini of St. Lawrence in Damaso, and

Martius Ginetus, St. Mary Nuova, deacons, by the mercy of God, Cardinals of the holy  Roman church, and specially deputed, by the holy apostolic see, to be inquisitors against heretical wickedness throughout the whole Christian republic.

Whereas, you Galileus, son of the late Vincentius Galileus, of Florence, aged seventy, were informed against in the year 1615, in this holy office, for maintaining as true, a certain false doctrine held by many, viz. that the sun is in the centre of the world, and immoveable, and the earth moves round it with a daily motion. Likewise, that you have had certain scholars to whom you have taught the same doctrine. Likewise, that you have kept up a correspondence with certain German mathematicians concerning the same. Likewise, that you have published certain letters concerning the solar spots, in which you have explained the same doctrine as true, and that you have answered the objections which in several places were made against you, from the authority of the holy scriptures, by construing or glossing over the said scriptures, according to your own opinions. And finally, whereas the copy of a writing under the form of a letter, reported to been written by you to him who was formerly your scholar, has been shown to us, in which you have followed the hypothesis of Copernicus, which contains certain propositions contrary to the true sense and authority of the holy scriptures.

There follows a point by point refutation, by the inquisitors, of Galileo’s heresy and his attempt to teach it to others, but that he should be absolved:

 Provided that you do first, with sincere heart, and with true faith, abjure, curse, and detest before us the aforesaid errors and heresies, and every other error and heresy contrary to the catholic and apostolic Roman church, in the form which will be prescribed to you by us.

                But that your grievous and pernicious errors and transgressions may not pass altogether unpunished, that you yourself may be rendered more cautious for the future, and that your example may induce others to abstain from similar crimes, we decree that the book of dialogues by Galileus Galilei, shall be prohibited by a public edict, and we formally condemn you to be imprisoned in this holy office for a time determinable by our pleasure; and we enjoin you, as a salutary penance, that, for the  three years next ensuing, you repeat, once a week, the seven penitential psalms, with the reservation, nevertheless, to ourselves with the power to modify, alter, or remove, either wholly, or in part, the aforesaid penalties and penances.

And so this man, who has been called the Father of modern observational astronomy and the Father of modern physics and even, according to Stephen Hawking, Galileo, perhaps more than any single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science, this man, I repeat, had to eat dirt and to grovel in front of a tribunal of fanatical and reactionary bigots.

The abjuration of Galileus

I, Galileus, son of the late Vincentius Galileus, a Florentine, aged 70, being personally upon my trial, and on my knees before you, the most eminent and reverend the Lords Cardinals, inquisitors-general of the Universal Christian Commonwealth, against heretical wickedness, and having before my eyes the most holy gospels, I touch with my proper hand, do swear that I always have believed, and do now believe, and by the aid of God I will in future believe everything which the holy and apostolic Roman church doth hold, preach and teach. But whereas, notwithstanding, after I had been legally enjoined and commanded by this holy office, to abandon wholly that false opinion, which maintains that the sun is the centre of the universe and immoveable, and I should not hold, defend, or in any way, either by word or writing, teach the aforesaid false doctrine; and whereas also, after it had been notified to me, that the aforesaid doctrine was contrary to the holy scriptures, I wrote and published a book, in which I treated of the doctrine that had been condemned, and produced reasons of great force in favour of it, without giving any answers to them, for which I have been judged by the holy office to have incurred a strong suspicion of heresy, viz. that the sun is the centre of the world, and that the earth is not the centre, but moves…

I, the above-mentioned Galileus Galilei, have abjured, sworn, promised, and bound myself as above, and in testimony of these things I have subscribed, with my own proper hand, this instrument of my abjuration, and repeated word by word at Rome, in the convent of Minerva, this 22nd day of July, anno 1633. I, Galileus Galilei, have abjured, as above, with my own proper hand.

According to popular legend, after recanting his theory that the Earth moved round the Sun, Galileo allegedly muttered the rebellious phrase … and yet it moves.

All these words, all those ideas – geocentric doctrine versus heliocentric heresy, are reduced to almost irrelevance by the images brought to us by the HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE in orbit around the earth, peering into each sector of the universe and affording us a glimpse of the wonders of the cosmos in all its glory.

Amazing images of nebulae, thousands of light-years away, fantastic explosions of light and colour, a fabulous chaos of cosmic energy; symmetrical and asymmetrical shapes of galaxies and constellations, bubbling oceans of hydrogen, oxygen and other elements – the cradles of stars.

TARANTULA NEBULA – HST

Towards the end of July 2010 we learnt on the news that astronomers in Britain had discovered the largest star in the universe to date, situated in the system next to ours, the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Consider this: our sun is twice the size of the average star – this new star is a staggering 320 times the size of the sun and burns a million times more brightly. This monster star, dubbed VY Canis Majoris (Red Hypergiant) has a diameter of about 2.800.000.000 km and yet it is only a tiny dot among the several hundred billion stars that form our galaxy.

And there are a hundred billion galaxies out there!

Could all of this have been a single deliberate act of creation? (I’m with Stephen Hawking on this one – I somehow doubt it).

THE PILLARS OF CREATION – HBS

Oh, and by the way here is a message for that medieval Inquisitionno, we are not the centre of the universe.

PERIMITER

Out there on the perimeter there are no stars … out there we is stoned … immaculate.

Jim Morrison of The Doors

Eels

ATLANTIC EEL

Here is a fable about eels. Imagine that all the eels in the western hemisphere are born in the same place – that still heart of the Atlantic currents known as the Bermuda Triangle, the floating seaweed islands of the dark Saragossa sea.

Nature is full of such curiosities. All north American bats, for example, every year answer the call and congregate in their tens of thousands above Manhattan, dark clouds of bats swooping above the plains, momentarily obscuring the Florida sun, all heading for the same giant caves in Montana, Texas or Ontario, there to cling precariously to the roofs in their millions and produce their young, who in turn cling desperately to their parents, trying to evade the various predators crawling far below them in their own white alkaline excrement. From time to time a baby bat loses its grip on its parent and plummets to the floor of the cave – splat!

Back to the eels – they spawn their young silently in the misty floating islands and then wait, brooding.

The holocaust of the eels is about to begin. It all hinges on which direction they take to launch out on their odyssey: to the left lies life – to the right lies ARBEIT MACHT FREI and ultimate death. Let’s follow the fortunes of the latter – the European eels.

They swim, wriggling and gliding on the friendly currents of the Atlantic gulf-stream until they arrive at the coasts of Europe and penetrate the rivers and lakes, marshes and fenlands of the western sea-board. From the marshes of Friesland to the lagoons of Portugal, they burrow into the mud, transforming from sea-water to fresh-water creatures.

Some of the eels succumb to the toxicity of the waters, others fall foul of fishermen’s nets, yet others form the fish-course in restaurants for aficionados. But most of the eels survive the summer and emerge from their muddy ponds to make their way down-stream and congregate at the mouths of rivers all along the Atlantic coast. They brace themselves for the great swim back to the ancestral breeding grounds in the Saragossa Sea.

None of eels will make it!

The Atlantic currents, so favourable for the outward migration, are too hostile for the return journey. There are few things in nature as poignant as the thought of those eels valiantly swimming homewards and one by one, overcome by exhaustion, dying silently in the cold dark waters of the ungenerous ocean.

DROWNING EELS

Eels

Here is a fable about eels. Imagine that all the eels in the western hemisphere are born in the same place – that still heart of the Atlantic currents known as the Bermuda Triangle, the floating seaweed islands of the dark Saragossa sea.

Nature is full of such curiosities. All north American bats, for example, every year answer the call and congregate in their tens of thousands above Manhattan, dark clouds of bats swooping above the plains, momentarily obscuring the Florida sun, all heading for the same giant caves in Montana, Texas or Ontario, there to cling precariously to the roofs in their millions and produce their young, who in turn cling desperately to their parents, trying to evade the various predators crawling far below them in their own white alkaline excrement. From time to time a baby bat loses its grip on its parent and plummets to the floor of the cave – splat!

painting of eggs by Thomas Milner

Painting - Eggs - by Thomas Milner

Back to the eels – they spawn their young silently in the misty floating islands and then wait, brooding.

The holocaust of the eels is about to begin. It all hinges on which direction they take to launch out on their odyssey: to the left lies life – to the right lies ARBEIT MACHT FREI and ultimate death. Let’s follow the fortunes of the latter – the European eels.

They swim, wriggling and gliding on the friendly currents of the Atlantic gulf-stream until they arrive at the coasts of Europe and penetrate the rivers and lakes, marshes and fenlands of the western sea-board. From the marshes of Friesland to the lagoons of Portugal, they burrow into the mud, transforming from sea-water to fresh-water creatures.

Some of the eels succumb to the toxicity of the waters, others fall foul of fishermen’s nets, yet others form the fish-course in restaurants for aficionados. But most of the eels survive the summer and emerge from their muddy ponds to make their way down-stream and congregate at the mouths of rivers all along the Atlantic coast. They brace themselves for the great swim back to the ancestral breeding grounds in the Saragossa Sea.

None of eels will make it!

The Atlantic currents, so favourable for the outward migration, are too hostile for the return journey. There are few things in nature as poignant as the thought of those eels valiantly swimming homewards and one by one, overcome by exhaustion, dying silently in the cold dark waters of the ungenerous ocean.

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