042816 – Simple Design, Simple Minds

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Many of the objects seen here today look like they just got scooped up on a recent trip to the beach. Rather, they are marine invertebrate fossils that, if memory serves me correctly, range in age from six to twenty million years old.

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It seemed like a good idea to present this group (all from the collection of the Museum of Natural History in Florence, Italy) in black and white.

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These wonderful designs of Nature display well in a most simple fashion.

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Last week’s topic on the sophistication of non-human minds drew an interesting variety of response. And with it still fresh in my mind I now keep running into similar types of articles. So let me share a couple of new ones with you.

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“Brain scans of insects appear to indicate that they have the capacity to be conscious and show egocentrico, apparently indicating that they have such a thing as subjective experience.” That’s the finding of study written by Andrew B Barron and Colin Klein, and published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/19/science/honeybees-insects-consciousness-brains.html?_r=0

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And here’s one on slime mold:

“…But that view has been changing in recent years as scientists have been confronted with the astounding abilities of brainless creatures. Take the slime mold, for example. It’s an amoeba-like, single-celled organism filled with multiple nuclei, part of a primitive lineage that’s been munching on bacteria, fungi and other forest detritus for hundreds of millions of years. And yet, this very simple living thing manages all kinds of intellectual feats.”

http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-slime-mold-brain-learning-20160426-story.html

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It’s amazing what we continue to learn on the subject.

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And one last note on the general subject of intelligence, the brainiacs over at NASA are celebrating twenty five years of Hubble images with this video. Take a moment to view these astonishing images.

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Thanks as always for the visit.

0421: Anecdotes and Anthropomorphism

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Today’s title comes from a fascinating article in the latest issue of Atlantic Magazine. Entitled “How Animals Think,” the article refers to the work of primatologist Frans de Waal who makes “… a passionate and convincing case for the sophistication of nonhuman minds.” Like many of you, I grew up being taught that the non-human version of thinking was “instinct” and nothing more. And, despite the various anecdotes of animal behavior suggesting otherwise, and despite being told that it was our need sometimes to imagine human traits in animals, there was no truth to any of it.

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Rather, thanks to advances in technology and scientific research, we are beginning to see that “As de Waal recognizes, a better way to think about other creatures would be to ask ourselves how different species have developed different kinds of minds to solve different adaptive problems.”

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In fact, in many cases those particular kinds of minds can be quite astounding. Last Sunday’s NY Times ran an article entitled “A Conversation With Whales,” in which the following statement is made:

Sperm whales’ brains are the largest ever known, around six times the size of humans’. They have an oversize neocortex and a profusion of highly developed neurons called spindle cells that, in humans, govern things like emotional suffering, compassion and speech.

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Times have changed. Most phones these days have video capability, Youtube and Facebook now exist and abound with examples of animal behavior that previously had rarely been seen (those anecdotes that that had been so easily dismissed in the past).

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Whether it be a chimp hugging Jane Goodall goodbye or the mourning rituals of elephants, these and many other examples are helping us to evolve to a greater understanding of the world around us and, perhaps, our own place within it.

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So I had  a mix of emotions when I took these images recently in the back rooms of La Specola, the noted natural history museum in Florence, Italy. It was simultaneously compelling and repelling. While this taxidermy in the pursuit of science and research served its purpose in the past I assume that more enlightened minds now see that such practices are no longer appropriate.

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And, after having spent many Sunday afternoons visiting the Bronx Zoo as a kid, I can hardly approve of the caged displays of animals anymore.

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Despite this long history of misunderstanding, attitudes are changing. Animal sentience has been codified into law in New Zealand and France recently. In August of 2012 an international group of prominent scientists (including Dr. Stephen Hawking) signed “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness” declaring animal sentience as real.

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It is certainly something worth considering.

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Let me make a switch now to perhaps the other end of the “consciousness” spectrum – lichen! Not a lot of brain activity around here.  But an interesting organism nonetheless.

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Thanks for the visit.

0414: Birds

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Shortly after returning from our recent trip both Cindy and I each found these two interesting objects – bird skulls. Not an everyday occurrence for sure but it seemed appropriate after having just spent so much time in the Ornithology Department of La Specola in Florence.

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What immediately came to mind as I was setting up this last one was the pterodactyl (below) that I photographed in the Fossil Department. Certainly birdlike but apparently there is much discussion as to just how “birdlike” or how “reptile-like” it actually is. From what I was able to discern, the pterodactyl was a “flying reptile.” Its all a bit confusing to me. All I know for sure is that the images all work well with each other.

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And so this week’s selection is quite literally for the birds!

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One final note – Today I’d like to take a moment to wish a most warm and happy birthday to Cindy, the love of my life.

Happy Birthday my dear Cindy!!!

0407: An Odd Mix

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This time last week I was hurrying to get the blog posted. It was 72 degrees out with a bright sun – easily the best day of this early Spring. The rest of the day was spent at my favorite quarry where I eventually filled the trunk of my car with fossil laden rocks.

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Fresh material to explore and photograph. Material enough, I was sure, to fill several of these posts. Most particularly today’s.

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But two days later, my plans changed when a Spring surprise arrived in the form of six inches of snow. And that pile of rocks sits waiting for me.

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So, in search of a  new topic for today, I decided to browse one of my photo libraries from a few years ago. Often, I can find many images that I had originally passed over (for whatever reason). And, with fresh eyes and a different perspective, they all becomes new material to explore.

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What you see today is this rather odd mix of images that seemed to beckon to me – no criteria other than that.

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This next set of images is from the Florence Museum of Natural History – this time the subject is bones.

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And, finally, a nice piece of news – The image above, which I had shared with you a few weeks ago, has been selected for “Far & Wide”, the 8th Annual Woodstock Regional Exhibition. Entitled “Natural History – Mushrooms,” it was taken at the Botanical Division of the aforementioned museum. Opening and reception is set for May 7 from 4-6 pm.

Thanks for the visit.

0331: Natural History

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Today I have more from the Florence Museum of Natural History – mammals, entomology and paleontology in particular.

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Last Fall a friend gave me a couple of hornets’ nests. They had been hanging in her barn for years. She thought I might find them interesting (which I did) and passed them along to me to explore (which I am). These are my first attempts. (Thanks Dorian).

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This last image is a mixed media piece of mine entitled “Primordia.” I have been working on a drawing project for the past nine months or so and this will be the first time one will be displayed. It hangs at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum in the active members show opening this Saturday 4-6 pm.

Thanks as always for the visit.

0324: A Spring Break

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Another walk starts off this week’s post. It was an overcast early Spring afternoon that got me up and away from the computer – a break from all the Florence images that have had me tied up lately. A need for nature not pixels! The lichen was a good start.

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The garden showed me some things new…

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…and some things old.

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Some shapes reminded me of other shapes.

Some images reminded me of other images.

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And that brought me back to the computer – which led to this mix.

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Crustacean 1, La Specola

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Crustacean 2, La Specola

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Stairwell, Bardini Gardens

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Tools of Mosaic Artist

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Jupiter and Saturn, Orrery, Galileo Museum

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Gastropod, Florence Museum of Natural History

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Santa Maria della Spina, Pisa

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San Miniato al Monte, Florence

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Virgin with Child and Bicycles, Florence

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Vasari’s Vision of Hell, Duomo, Florence

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Thanks for the visit.

0317: Walking around Florence

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The visual delights of Florence are legendary – the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria, etc. The artwork, both inside the many museums and outside in the many piazzas, are certainly an eyeful. But so too is almost every small side street. Graffiti and street art is often clever and thoughtful (There is also, unfortunately, plenty of awful spray paint graffiti).IMG_9372_01_LR_12

Turning a corner might yield the sight of a Renaissance mural juxtaposed against modern life. Peeking in a window near the Duomo shows a workshop where artisans keep up centuries old traditions.

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A stroll through a graveyard (San Miniato al Monte) showed unique headstones…

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…and a most interesting crypt.

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And then there is a very clever artist (or artists) at work who turns simple traffic signs into amusing and sometimes provocative statements…

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…little visual asides that you catch out of the corner of your eye…

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…but linger in your head…

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…along with a smile lingering on your face!

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I had to include some fossils today, so I thought this little selection would work nicely.

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These are gastropods from the fossil collection of the Paleontology section of the Florence Museum of Natural History.

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They relate to an upcoming exhibition that will open at the museum in May. More on that as the date approaches.

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I did manage to take a break from working all of my Florence files to come up with something new at the studio. Ironically, new shooting began with my Moroccan trilobite (above) which I found in a Florence flea market! And, below, something I brought back from a walk in the woods yesterday.

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Thanks for the visit.