Daniel Dennett on making mistakes as a hallmark of human intelligence.
Joe Hanson examines the sciences of what it is about music that makes us feel all those feelings. Pair with 7 essential books about music, emotion, and the brain.
The original letter in which Charles Darwin worked out his theory of evolution.
The universal truths about vultures are, as every schoolchild knows, as follows: they have a bare head, a hooked beak, and long, broad wings, and they eat things they find dead. … So when, in the 1980s, the newly developed techniques for hybridizing strands of DNA revealed that the New World vultures may not be vultures at all but close relatives of the storks, it created something of a sensation.
What is perhaps most remarkable, however, is not that New and Old World vultures may not be related but that two possibly unrelated groups of birds have come to look so alike.
This similarity is the result of a process called convergent evolution. It’s the selective pressures of the lifestyle that shape an animal, not the shape of an animal that dictates the lifestyle — given sufficient time, that is. So when different animal groups share the same ecological niche independently of one another there is a tendency for them to reinvent the wheel, finding the same solutions to the same challenges and ultimately coming to look very much alike.
The Unfeathered Bird – remarkable anatomical illustrations of avians, contextualizing their equally remarkable evolution.
It makes sense because some researchers … speculate that wolves first became domesticated when people settled down and started farming.
The hungry wolves would have been attracted by their garbage dumps full of food scraps. But…to take advantage of this convenient new food supply, the wolves would have to adapt not just to being near people, but also to eating their food, which now included starchy grains and vegetables.
So any wolves who could digest starch would have had an advantage [and] today’s domesticated dogs are probably descended from them.
…novel adaptations allowing the early ancestors of modern dogs to thrive on a diet rich in starch, relative to the carnivorous diet of wolves, constituted a crucial step in the early domestication of dogs.
Complement with how to run right.
How life came to land, with some breathtaking imagery and footage of sea creatures.
A team of Yale evolutionary ornithologists has drawn the first complete family tree for all known modern bird species, demonstrating an important and controversial new idea about biodiversity. Joe Hanson explains:
It was thought that any given species would expand and diversify quickly into subspecies (like the many different kinds of honeybees), soon maxing out its environment and filling all the ecological “niches”. Then, competition over limited resources would thin that down to the few most adaptable species. This tree says the opposite, that birds are continuing to diversify even today, and fast.
The center of this tree, anchoring branches built using fossil and DNA sequence data, reaches back nearly 50 million years, to the earliest days of birds branching off of dinosaurs.
Also see this visual history of diagraming evolution.
Hummingbird and elephant bird’s femur, 1951, from LIFE magazine’s archival photos of bones by the great Andrewas Feininger.
Also see Patrick Gries and Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu’s stunning black-and-white images of animal skeletons.
The Great Tree of Life – giant infographic lets you trace any branch back through time to see how it connects to any other of life’s major branches. More on the history of using tree-like diagrams to depict evolution.