Monday, March 17, 2014

Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey Episode # 2 "Some of the Things That Molecules Do" - Review

Cosmos airs on Fox and National Geographic Channels

The second episode takes a look at the evolution of life on our planet.

The host and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson first explains the differences between artificial selection and natural selection. An example of artificial selection is the domestication of wolves by our human ancestors. The wolves that were more submissive were accepted and the more aggressive ones hunted.

The genes of the domesticated wolves were passed down, leading to the species we call today “Man's Best Friend”: Dogs. This technique is referred to as Selective breeding”.

This practice is still continued today and can be seen in shows like Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Dogs are subject to unnatural grooming and sometimes eugenics to promote their chances at winning the title. The show is very similar to the beauty pageants that objectify women. 

Polar Bears have flourished by the Natural Theory of Evolution as explained in Cosmos Some of the Things That Molecules Do

Contrast this with the theory of natural selection proposed by Charles Darwin in 1859. Neil gives the example of how the population of bears evolve over generations.

In the Arctic regions, Polar bears enjoyed a distinct advantage over other bears with non-white colored bodies. This coloring helped polar bears camouflage themselves better and enjoy higher levels of success in hunting their prey. This led to the slow dying out of non-white bears over the passage of time.

Neil then focuses on the fact that that we human beings share a common ancestor with not only apes like chimpanzees and gorillas, but also trees, mushroom, sharks and owls. The only difference is in the DNA. Each and every living being has an unique DNA.

Human beings share a common ancestor with many living things in Cosmos episode Some of the things that molecules do

This is very significant in today's world where the exploitation and abuse of other living beings by humans has become the norm. Man is killing animals indiscriminately for superficial reasons like non-existent health benefits or trophy hunting or for making decorative items.

Take for example, the practice of killing rhinos for their horns or bear bile farming or the dog meat industry. In certain parts of the world, these objects are believed to hold medicinal value. For this reason, dogs are brutally tortured and killed (usually right in front of other dogs). Bears are kept in small cages for their entire life and subject to inhumane farming for their biles.

There is no scientific basis or proof for any health benefits from consuming these products. Rhino horns are made of Keratin, the same substance that constitutes human fingernails.

People need to see this show to realize that all living organisms share the same DNA. We humans need to understand this fact and respect the right of other living beings to live their life to the fullest on our planet.

The tree of life in Cosmos episode Some of the things that molecules do

We are then introduced to the Tree of Life, which represents the beauty of evolution. The trunk represents the common ancestor and each branch represents close relatives. The tree is 3.5 billion years old. The beauty and power of the natural theory of selection evolution is that it can disguise a bird as an animal and vice versa.

Another proof of the natural theory of evolution is the human eye. It is far more complex than any man made device.The show explains how a microbe would have developed the power of sight. Each living being that exists today has a different set of eyes, that provide them distinct advantages for survival.

The episode then takes a look at the natural calamities that have resulted in widespread destruction of life. There are five Halls of Extinction”: Ordovician, Devonian, Triassic, Cretaceous and Permian. Each of these has led to mass extinction of life on earth, a process Neil refers to as The Great Dying”.

Tardigrades Waterbears have survived all five mass extinctions in Cosmos episode Some of the things that molecules do

Neil then introduces us to the Tardigrade or the Waterbear. This amazing organism is about the size of a pin head and can live in boiling water and solid ice. It can survive for ten years without a drop of water. It can travel naked in the cold vacuum or intense radiation. The Waterbear has survived all five mass extinctions.

The final part of the episode explores the possibility of life on Titan, Saturn's giant moon. Titan has a nitrogen rich atmosphere, similar to earth but is four times denser. But the atmosphere has no oxygen and is much more cooler than any parts of earth.

Using the Ship of the Imagination, Neil is able to visit Titan. Titan is so cold that rivers are frozen solid and are made of ethane and methane. These two elements form natural gas on our planet.

Titan, Saturn's moon has rain composed of ethane and methane in Cosmos episode

Life on earth depends on liquid water. We earthlings inhale oxygen and give out carbon dioxide. Neil theorizes that living beings on Titan would inhale hydrogen and exhale methane.

The episode concludes with a beautiful montage of how life evolved from an one celled organism to the most dominant species on our planet: Humans.

Dogs are my favorite animals and I enjoyed understanding the process of domestication. I also found the section on Titan very enlightening. I often read reports of UFOs and the possibility of extra-terrestrial life has always intrigued me.

But the most revealing part of the episode was the information about Tardigrade, the organism that has survived so many natural catastrophes and still continues to thrive.

As I mentioned earlier, the ending montage has been executed very well.

A very informative episode and a must watch for everyone.

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Image Sources: Cosmos Studios, Fuzzy Door Productions, National Geographic Channel, Six Point Harness, Fox Network

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

CBS Elementary Season 2 Episode # 17 "Ears To You" – Review

Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson in CBS Elementary Season 2 Episode 17 Ears To You

The opening scenes show Sherlock Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller) practicing his bomb defusion skills. Gareth Lestrade (Sean Pertwee) is not enamored with the fighting cocks, Romulus and Remus.

Sarah Cushing, wife of Gordon Cushing was abducted four years back. Gordon is widely believed to have been the perpetrator, despite receiving ransom demands for her return.

The latest ransom demand is serious enough to involve the NYPD and of course, the two consulting detectives.

Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) oversees a meeting between Gordon and the person who sent the ransom note. But things go south, when the man tries to take off with the money. Captain Gregson arrives on the scene only to find the unknown man dead and Gordon holding a bloodied weapon.

Sherlock and Joan (Lucy Liu) track down the dead man to an alcoholics anonymous meeting. Sherlock observes a woman joining the meeting and sees through her disguise. She turns out to be the missing woman, Sarah Cushing.

Sean Pertwee guest stars as Gareth Lestrade with Lucy Liu as Joan Watson in CBS Elementary Season 2 Episode 17 Ears To You

The customary subplot involves Gareth figuring out the man who mugged him.

I recommend the viewers to check out the episode to find out the resolution to the mystery.

Canonical References

1. Gordon Cushing receives a package containing a pair of severed human ears. The attached message claims that the ears belong to his abducted wife, Sarah Cushing. - In The Adventure of The Cardboard Box, a Sarah Cushing receives a cardboard box, containing the severed ears of her sister, Mary Cushing and her boyfriend, Alec Fairbairn.

2. Sherlock mentions the case of a man who tried to sexually molest two ostriches at a zoo. He also mentions earlier that he keeps himself informed of county crimes. - Dr John Watson mentions about Sherlock Holmes' knowledge in A Study in Scarlet: “Sensational Literature - Immense. He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century.”

3. Sherlock makes deductions about Jim Browner's occupation based on his calluses and fingernails - Sherlock Holmes explains to Dr John Watson in A Study in Scarlet: “By a man's finger nails, by his coat-sleeve, by his boot, by his trouser knees, by the callosities of his forefinger and thumb, by his expression, by his shirt cuffs—by each of these things a man's calling is plainly revealed. That all united should fail to enlighten the competent enquirer in any case is almost inconceivable.”

Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes in CBS Elementary Season 2 Episode 17 Ears To You

4. The character of Jim Browner, the man who was blackmailing Sarah Cushing and unsuccessfully tried to extract ransom money from Gordon - In The Adventure of The Cardboard Box, Jim Browner cuts off the ears of his wife Mary Cushing and her lover, Alec Fairbairn.

It seems everyone in the world of Elementary is addicted to one thing or the other. Sherlock is a drug addict. Lestrade is an alcoholic. Even Sarah Cushing is a recovering alcoholic.

I did enjoy the discussion about Alphonse Bertillon and his observation about the uniqueness of human ears, much like fingerprints.

Recommended only to die-hard fans of the show.


The song “Confidence” by The Dodos is played in the closing scene of the episode.

Click here to read all my posts about CBS Elementary. 

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Image Source: CBS 

© 2014 - All rights reserved. No part of the content or the blog may be reproduced without prior written permission.

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