Vote for Shelley Batts!

Shelley Batts at Retrospectacle is one of 20 finalists for a blogging scholarship!
The competition is fierce, and Shelley needs help from readers of The Flying Trilobite. Please take a moment to cast your vote. You can do it anonymously, or leave a message encouraging others to vote for Shelley. You'll find the voting site here.

I mean who else writes about knitting teratomas, special nerdy cakes, parrot comprehension, the neuroscience of ADHD, and puts up more pictures of brains than a zombie. (If Jared Leto is reading this, please contact her directly). Besides, she is the only blogger I know studying her PhD, and has wings on the side of her head.

Cast a vote for Shelley Batts!

Trilobite's out of the bag

I've made a couple of vague statements about being hard at work on something in my last couple of posts. Well, for fans of ScienceBlogger Shelley Batts over at Retrospectacle: a neuroscience blog, they know what it is. She made the announcement here.

Shelley approached me about making a new banner for her blog, so she could have a few to rotate through. The other new one is already up, a beautiful and sleek piece by professional scientific illustrator Carl Buell. It's the banner with the shell and African Grey parrot. Be sure to check out his detailed and fascinating work at Olduvai George!

My banner is almost done and ready, and I'll be sure to post a link when it's up.

I started this blog to promote my artwork; I have been exceedingly pleased with the people I have met online, and what a rich community there is out there for artists and scientists. And I thank Shelley Batts for the opportunity.

Alex, Scientific Luminary, passes away at age 31

Image used without permission, but with the deepest respect & appreciation.

Alex, the African Grey parrot who taught the world so much about animal cognition, passed away at the end of last week. He leaves behind his friend and co-scientist, Dr. Irene Pepperberg, as well as The Alex Foundation.

As a former parrot owner, I was always feeling a slight bit of awe toward my own avian friend after reading about Alex. There was so much clearly happening inside his mind. And 'mind' is what it is for these intelligent, curious, and vocal animals. Alex showed the world that it was possible for parrots to comprehend and not merely mimic.

As usual, some of the best stories that have been posted about Alex come from members of the community.

Shelley Batts at Retrospectacle has re-posted previous entries about Alex, including an interview with Dr. Pepperberg.

At A Blog Around the Clock, you can find a brief but eloquent obituary by Coturnix.

There is a typical and hilarious story showing just how much Alex understood what he was saying over at Neurontic.

There is a tribute on the Alex Foundation site as well, by Elaine Hutchison.

I do not have a lot more to add, having always been an interested spectator in Alex's accomplishments. I will say that I have always thought of Alex and Dr. pepperberg's contributions will resonate further down through history, for centuries to come.

In David Brin's Uplift science fiction novels, in the far-flung future, humanity becomes lonely enough in the universe that a process called 'Uplift' begins. Chimpanzees and dolphins are selected to receive genetic tinkering and a slow process to become as intelligent as humans, and integrate into Earthly culture. This may sound far-fetched, and I only mean this with the utmost respect, but I often looked at Alex and Dr. Pepperberg's contributions to science as something similar: a true attempt to bridge the species gap in understanding. As has been said when talking about speaking to alien life should we ever encounter it, how will we be able to understand aliens if we cannot yet understand what other species on our own Earth are saying? Alex went further than we did, by speaking in our own language on topics humans asked him about.

Alex's work continues with Wart and Griffin, and all those at the foundation. My deepest sympathies to all those who knew him.

-Glendon Mellow

Knowledge Pupates Part 2: how I left paganism for science

Part 2
(Read Part 1 here if you want to know about me as an arrogant youth).
I call this drawing Anthropomorphic Gestation. The caterpillars are gathered around the central one who seems to be coming out of human clothes. I feel it represents the mixed-up sense of the world of my early twenties: if I was an arrogant teenager, I was busy trying to be a very unusual university student, in a Fine Art faculty of many others all trying to be weird and unusual also.

I love books, and the ones I love I read over and over again. University was a heady time for me, and I was trying to soak the world in like a sponge, and figure myself out with each gem of fact that came my way. While taking a history of western art, a history of scientific discovery, and a humanities course of the renaissance, I was almost overwhelmed by the leaps and bounds of that age, in art, writing and science.

I was coming up against walls in magic I believed worked. Some of the coincidences still had me fooled, sure, (a popular book on astrology showed Gemini with a blue-fronted Amazon parrot, and I had one...) but I was finding holes. I had been impressing myself and other friends with The Celtic Book of the Dead cards for a number of years. I am no cold-reader, and sometimes it was almost eerie what the cards said. (Fantastic artwork on those things too.) Every once and a while though, I'd by stymied. Couldn't read the cards so they would make sense of the situation. And then I discovered one of my favourite artists, Brian Froud, had made a Tarot-style deck of his own. Anyone could make a deck. I simultaneously began to doubt diviniation by card-reading and wanted to make some of my own, with my own designs based on my renewed interest in science.

"(Percy) Shelley had been an inadmissable mix of species, like a baby bird who has been handled by humans and now carries their smell; ...His heart still embodied the appalling mix, and was therefore a tangible offense against the inherent separateness of the two forms of life."
Tim Powers, The Stress of Her Regard, 1989

Tim Powers is an author who writes about the historical, magical events that were never recorded. He does it incredibly convincingly. He uses pseudo-scientific concepts for magic to explain how Shelley, Keats & Byron could be plagued by lamia-vampires, and each of his books is a well-researched, historically accurate work of fantasy. Absolute dynamite. I thought this was great, reading about magic, and he explains things. The artistry of his writing left an indelible stamp on my thinking. I know it sounds very basic, but from these stories of Powers' vivid imagination, I realised that things could be figured out.

As I say, it was a heady time. I was studying Symbolist Art like Jan Toorop ("O Grave..." pictured below), Fernand Knopff, & Odilon Redon, the influences of which can be seen in my drawing above, (the Symbolist eye on the left chrysalis looking inward toward the soul, and the maiden soul erupting out of the weird rock-moon thing). I was reading David Brin's Earth and saying it changed my life, (even though I spent about 6 weeks pronouncing the word "paradigm" with a soft-g.) I was living with a blue-fronted Amazon. I was speaking fluent sign language. The martian meteorite ALH 8001 was being scrutinized. I began drawing trilobites.

Enter Richard Dawkins.

River out of Eden by Richard Dawkins slowly grew on me, "doing good by stealth". I began drawing images of Mitochondrial Eve, and re-read chapters again and again. The prose was so beautiful, and so clear at the same time. "...we shall follow it back through a time scale incommensurably older than the legendary Eve's thousands of years and African Eve's hundreds of thousands. The river of DNA has been has been flowing through our ancestors in an unbroken line that spans not less than three thousand million years."

Beautiful concepts, inspiring ones, and the best part is they are true. My mind was pupating.

In Part Three of Knowledge Pupates: A new painting! Fashion crimes!