Accepting the null

It’s not miraculous. Or surprising, amazing, or startling. Nature is, in my own view, awesome. But not in the negative sense of causing either fear or apprehension. Nature engenders awe, admiration, and wonder. Awe and Admiration, in the sense of respect. And wonder, expressed as an unending series of questions. For example.

I have always wondered why many organisms are so brightly colored. Surely they display to identify and to attract mates. But why would a fungus, living deep within a layer of woodland debris, be so boldly pigmented? Warning coloration, perhaps, and quite likely in this case. But what about lovely and luminescent Chaetopterus, a worm which lives within a parchment tube buried in ocean sediment? Or the opalescent layer of shimmering nacre found on the inside of a snail’s shell? I think rather than hasten to assign adaptive value to the ways of nature, it may be helpful to remember that it may not always be possible to do so. In some cases science is not able to tease and to discern the myriad connections between and among forces of causation. They may be indivisible and, therefore, unknowable.

Fungus

21 thoughts on “Accepting the null

  1. Oooooh! This would be one to frame. Fungi often have a bad reputation, like snakes or insects … they’re a bit slimy, they live in the dirt, they feed on dead things, they can be poisonous … but I often think they can be so beautiful. Thanks for bringing that out!

  2. While common scientific sense says (loosely) that all things in nature happen for a reason related to survival and procreation, there is no natural law that I have heard about that says nature can’t happen just to confound you scientists. 🙂 It is possible that things can happen for no reason other than they just did.
    Your possible (it looks like one but others resemble it) Vermillion waxcap (Hygrocybe miniata) is glowing beautifully against that monochrome background.

    1. Thanks for the identification. I know none of the taxonomy of the fungi and have never even learned to identify the common forms I often come across. I like putting names to things though and Waxcap will, I’m sure, be easy to remember. Thanks.

    2. “It is possible that things can happen for no reason other than they just did.” I had the same thought.

      As one answer to the question of why colorful things exist in places where they can’t be seen, consider this portion of Emerson’s poem “The Rhodora”:

      Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
      This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
      Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,
      Then Beauty is its own excuse for being

      The full sixteen-line poem is at

      http://www.bartleby.com/370/15.html

  3. I agree. Sometimes, you just have to accept what is and not kill yourself trying to figure out WHY. This fungus appears to be glowing from within. An almost magical quality. Too beautiful to be called a fungus! Mother Nature is indeed amazing.

  4. “I think rather than hasten to assign adaptive value to the ways of nature, it may be helpful to remember that it may not always be possible to do so. In some cases science is not able to tease and to discern the myriad connections between and among forces of causation. They may be indivisible and, therefore, unknowable.”

    I like this. A lot. Students always asks “Why?” which is my favorite question for a myriad of reasons. 1. Because I get to say evolution! and 2. Because most of the time I say “I don’t know” or we, as scientists, don’t know. It’s the beauty, at least to me, of life.

    1. Yup … Darwin himself wrote (as the very last sentence of the Origin of Species) … There is grandeur in this view of life … you are I surely agree! Thanks for checking in today!

  5. Excellent work – as usual. Why are deep water (125 – 175 feet down) starfish bright red in color? The red wavelengths of light do not penetrate that far.

    1. You must be psychic … I had thought about expanding the list of examples to include marine species living in a light environment seemingly inappropriate for viewing their colorful displays. Certainly starfish provide a prime example. I remember Mrs. Howell (I never learned her first name, was it Marion?) from BHS … my homeroom teacher … working to get across to us the idea that there were plenty of questions still out there in the world that had yet to be answered. I was stunned! When she told us that, as a graduate student, she had addressed a question that had yet to be asked … my jaw dropped. Who was I to think that all the questions had already been thought of? Perhaps (in addition to your good influence, of course) she provided some of the spark which resulted in my work at Syracuse? Perhaps you two were the reason I went on to address questions concerning radular biomechanics and population structure in freshwater gastropod molluscs?

      1. I think you should start to address these questions. Your mind is young and you are so smart. I could see a major scientific paper coming forth from your computer.

        And her name was Marilyn. She was a good and thoughtful teacher.

        Jim

  6. Reminds me of the line in Terry Pratchetts Reaper Man about the brilliantly colored worm in the deepest part of the sea where nothing has eyes. As Death said, the profligacy of life in these matters never ceased to amaze 🙂

    1. Thanks Anonymous. Although in many such cases we can’t answer the ‘why’ … and even, as I suggested, there may be no particular reason why … I still can’t help but think that the things of this planet are because of the powerful and directing force of selection. So, I’m not sure that brilliant coloration should be viewed as profligate … if we could know that which is unknowable I like to think we might understand the logic of such expenditure. Thanks for checking in.

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