Chapter 2. Skill F.

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√ History.
√ Ecology.
√ Campus Life.
√ Biology.
√ Astronomy

1 History.

2 Ecology.

M: So, many of you have sent me emails or visited me during office
hours to complain about the material on systems theory. Some
of your complaints are partly correct. The theory is vague, and
it can be applied to almost anything. Rather than being frustrated
by this fact, though, I want you to understand that this universality
is the beauty of systems theory. Don’t you see? Scientists need a
tool that can be easily applied and adapted to describe any group
of variables that interact in a predictable and recurring pattern.
This tool is systems theory. Let’s go over it again, because it will
be on the exam. Who can tell me just what a system is? Anyone?
W: Isn’t a system like the actual things in a relationship, and, like,
what the things do together?
M: OK, that’s a pretty accurate description, but let me just tighten
up your definition a little. A system is defined as a process that
is a result of its parts and their interactions. We call these parts
“elements.” So, every system has elements. Each element in the
system has certain characteristics that are relevant to the functioning
of the system. We call these “attributes.” So, every element has
attributes. Now, these elements and attributes have a cause and
effect relationship with respect to one another. So, every system
features relationships. Now, we have the three things that make
up the system. We have the elements, the attributes, and the
relationships. Now, what example did we discuss last time?
W: It was the food chain, right?
M: Right! OK, let’s go through the example and apply these terms.
The food chain system is the system of energy moving around in
the ecosystem. So, the food chain has elements. We can distinguish
four major ones: the sun, plants, herbivores, and carnivores.
Those are the four elements of our system.
These elements have attributes, right? In this case, the attribute
is energy. We start off with the sun, which has, say, 100,000 units
of energy. The sun radiates this energy onto the Earth, where the
plants are. Plants can then absorb this energy via photosynthesis.
Who remembers what photosynthesis is?
W: That’s the process that plants use to make food, I think. They
breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen, right? The
opposite of us.
M: Good, that’s right. Oxygen is indeed a waste product of
photosynthesis. That, in fact, is another attribute in a larger
system, but I don’t want us to think about oxygen or carbon
dioxide now. Let’s stick to energy as our attribute.
OK, so we now have a relationship between the sun and plants
on Earth. In photosynthesis, a plant takes light energy, water,
and carbon dioxide and converts them into simple sugars and
oxygen. These simple sugars are the plants’ food and, thus, its
source of energy. Plants can capture about one percent of the
radiated energy from the sun. That one percent of energy is the
plants’ attribute. So, one percent of the sun’s 100,000 units of
energy leaves us with 1,000 units of energy being absorbed by
the plants.
The next element in our system is the herbivores. This term means
“plant eaters” in Latin, so these are plant-eating animals. The
herbivores eat the plants --- here we have another relationship
--- and from this, the herbivores are able to absorb 10 percent
of the plants’ energy. Remember, we started with 100,000 units
of energy from the sun. The plants absorbed one percent, or 1,000
units of this energy. So, now we have the herbivores eating the
plants and taking 10 percent of these 1,000 units of energy,
which leaves 100 units of energy left at the herbivore level.
The final level is the carnivores, which is Latin for “meat eaters.”
These animals, in turn, can consume 10 percent of the energy
from the herbivores. Remember, the herbivores ended up with
100 units of energy, therefore, we are finally left with 10 units
of energy at the level of the carnivores. They make up the level
furthest from the sun. So, this is our system, the attribute we
followed is the energy starting from nuclear reactions in the
sun and passing through the four elements in the system, from
the sun, to the plants, and finally ending with the consumption
of herbivores by carnivores.

3 Campus Life.

M: Hey there, Betty.
W: Hi, John. What’s up?
M: I wanted to talk to you. I’m having trouble with my computer,
and you know more about computers than anyone I know.
W: You don’t need to butter me up. I’d be glad to help you out.
What seems to be the problem?
M: Well, ever since I got it hooked up to the Internet a month ago
or so, it’s been really slow, and sometimes, it just shuts down
without warning. I lost half of a term paper the other week!
W: Aha, the Internet! A marvelous thing, don’t you agree? We can
now access a wealth of information from our homes, schools,
and businesses, but, like any good thing, it has its problems.
M: Right. It’s a great help for researching information for papers...
and for downloading music files.
W: Anytime you surf the Web, your computer could get a virus,
which might be a minor inconvenience, or it could pick up a
virus that does serious damage. Hackers might get into your
computer and delete important information, crash your computer,
or even steal your credit card information.
M: Wow, do you think I might have a virus, then?
W: Yeah, that could be your problem. I’m sure you’ve heard news
reports of computer viruses being spread through email. The
two more serious types of viruses are worms and Trojan horses.
M: Worms?
W: Yeah, sounds funny, I know, but worms are a sophisticated type
of virus that replicates itself and spreads to other computers
without the user knowing what’s going on. A Trojan horse is a
type of virus that gets in to your computer by disguising itself
as something useful or desirable, like a music file for example.
M: Uh oh.
W: Yeah. You also have to worry about spyware. As the name implies,
it is a software program that basically spies on you. It gets into
your computer and then gathers information about your activities
that can then be sold to advertisers. Spyware can really use up
your memory and bandwidth. This is probably what’s slowing
down your computer so much. Spyware can also lead to crashes.
M: Oh man! What should I do?
W: Don’t worry, there is protection. One security device is called a
“firewall.” It sits between the computer and Internet, allowing
the user to access the Internet, while preventing outside users
from accessing your computer. So, basically, the firewall allows
wanted traffic but stops unwanted traffic. It can be either a
piece of hardware or a software program.
M: Great, so a firewall will solve my problems?
W: No. It will prevent you from getting problems in the future. You
will also need an anti-virus program to prevent you from getting
M: I see.
W: I also have some programs that will search your computer for
viruses and spyware and clean them from your hard drive.
That’s what we’ll need to do first.
M: Wow, thanks a million!

4 Biology.

M: Quick question: how many of you have children? Hmm, nobody
yet, eh? All right then: how many of you have parents? (laughs)
Right, you all have parents, of course. Today, we’ll be looking
at the bond that forms between parents and their children, or
offspring. So, why do parents bond with their children?
W: I think they need to bond so parents will protect their children...
you know, so the species will survive, right?
M: Very good. It is essential for the survival of the family and the
species. But what actually happens when animals procreate?
Well, there are a lot of hormones involved, and the bonding
starts long before the baby is born.
The first phase of parental response is the preparatory phase.
The fertilization of an egg signals the beginning of a series of
hormonal changes in pregnant mothers. These hormonal changes
cause lactation. Who can define “lactation” for me?
W: Isn’t that when the mother starts making milk for the babies to
M: Correct. Lactation is the production of milk in the mother. These
hormones that trigger lactation also prepare the uterus for labor.
The hormones also initiate changes in the prospective mother’s
behavior. Depending on the species, the mother might build a nest
or otherwise find or prepare a safe space for the expected offspring.
Pregnant mothers also tend to limit their social interactions
when they are expecting, thereby limiting chances of trauma to
herself and the babies she is carrying.
So, the first phase is the preparatory phase, and the second
phase is the delivery. When the mother goes into labor, she has
contractions. None of you have had your own children yet, but
perhaps you know about contractions. What are they?
W: Aren’t contractions when the mother’s muscles start contracting,
or flexing I guess, before the baby comes out?
M: Yes, that’s right. When these muscles start contracting, a signal
is sent to the brain that induces arousal, lactation, and maternal
behavior. They also trigger the release of chemicals to reduce
anxiety and mute pain responses. What all this does, hopefully,
is cause an intense connection between mother and baby at
birth. It is important that this occurs, because if the mother
does not instantly bond with the baby, she may not take proper
care of it.
Now, this brings us to the next phase: the parents’ response
following the birth. You might be surprised to discover that most
mammals don’t like babies. I see some surprised and skepticallooking
faces. It’s quite a counterintuitive concept, isn’t it? This
is, however, another reason why the parent-child bond is so
important. When an adult is exposed to a baby, one of two things
can happen. More often than not, the adult will care for the
baby. However, if the parents can’t handle it, they have another
option... it may be unthinkable, but it does happen... that second
option is killing the baby. It’s not very common, but sometimes
parents will actually eat their young.
That’s a rare occurrence, though. Usually, moms will care for their
young and prepare them for adulthood. But what about the
dads? We’ve seen how the body signals mothers to be nurturing,
but what makes fathers help out? Well, the truth is that, among
most species, they don’t. In some species, however, fathers do
help, and it turns out that among birds and mammals whose
males engage in paternal behavior, the males actually have
higher levels of blood prolactin, just like mothers. We also see
changes in blood testosterone levels in these fathers.
Animals that have fewer children (for example bears) tend to be
more committed to them than are animals that have litters (for
example rats). Because mammals with fewer offspring procreate
less, the survival of each one of their offspring is that much more
important. It is also interesting to note that a species with fewer
offspring can more easily influence the behavior of those offspring
through reward and punishment to bring about desirable behavior.
Of course, it’s biologically important for parents and offspring
to create a bond. That way, parents will support and protect the
young so that they can grow to reproductive age and continue
the species into the future. So, there are three basic phases that
lead to this bonding. The first phase is the preparatory phase in
which the mother’s body prepares to nourish the child. The second
phase is the delivery phase in which the mother’s body prepares
itself for the trauma of giving birth and the baby is actually
delivered. The third phase is the parental response after birth in
which emotional bonds are made between parents and offspring.
It’s also important to note that the fewer the offspring produced,
the stronger the bond.

5 Campus Life.

W: Yes, how can I assist you?
M: Hi. Ummm... I want to get some information.
W: OK, what kind of information would you like?
M: About the campus counseling. I think I might need some help.
W: I see. Well, that’s what we are here for, to help students like you.
M: Good.
W: Now, I just need to ask you a few questions.
M: Sure, like what?
W: Well, first, what is the nature of your problem? Is it mainly
academic? Is it a health issue? Is it financial, or is it perhaps related
to a relationship problem?
M: Oh, OK. Hmmm. Well, it’s kind of everything together.
W: OK. Let me ask some more specific questions.
M: All right.
W: Are your grades suffering? I mean, have they recently taken a
nose dive?
M: Umm, yeah, in some classes they have.
W: OK, but not all classes?
M: No, not all.
W: OK, well that’s a good sign. In how many classes have you noticed
the change?
M: Two of the five I’m in now.
W: Well, that’s not so bad.
M: Except that I’m now failing those classes miserably.
W: I see. Now, what about health problems? Are you feeling a specific
pain or illness in some specific area, or is it more of a general
M: It’s nothing specific really. It just seems that I never have any
energy anymore. I never want to do anything. I don’t want to
talk to anyone or go out, and I sure don’t want to hit the books
when I should be. I can’t even bring myself to go to classes much
these days.
W: Aha. Those are actually really common symptoms at this time
of year.
M: Really?
W: Oh yeah. The cold weather and short days can affect people that
way, especially when combined with end-of-semester stress.
M: Wow. That’s good to know.
W: Yeah. It’s important for you to know that you’re not alone in
this --- not by a long shot. Now, you also mentioned financial
M: Yeah, well that’s not the biggest problem, but I did quit my
part-time job at the student union.
W: Do you have enough money for your basic necessities, like
food, books, tuition?
M: Yeah. I just don’t have enough to go out much anymore, which isn’t
such a big deal because I don’t feel like going out much anymore.
W: All right, well hopefully we can turn that around. We can
probably help you get your job back, too, if you so choose.
M: OK.
W: And what about your relationship problem?
M: Well, the problem is I don’t have any relationships, though that’s
not a new thing. It’s been like that for quite a while.
W: I see. OK, the next thing I need is your name and student number.
Then, I can arrange an appointment to see a counselor for you.
The counselor with talk more with you about your problems
and will try to come up with a plan of action to get you back
on track. He or she may even refer you to a medical doctor if
they think you need medication. Any questions?
M: Umm, no, I guess not. Here’s my student card.

6 Astronomy.

M: You all now, of course, what astronomy is; this is Astronomy
205 after all, but do you know what “cosmology” is?
W: Hmmm. I know the Russians called “astronauts” “cosmonauts.”
Is cosmology just the Russian word for astronomy?
M: I like your reasoning on that, but no, I’m afraid you’re not exactly
correct. Cosmology is, in fact, quite similar to astronomy, but
more specifically, cosmology is the study of the universe and its
components. This includes how the universe was formed, how
it has evolved, its future, and, by extension, man’s place in it.
You can think of cosmology in macro terms. Where astronomy
also looks at every little planet and asteroid, cosmology is only
concerned with the larger things, the cosmos as we say. Modern
cosmology grew from the beliefs of ancient man and his ideas
about the origin of the universe. Ever since people could think,
they’ve sought to explain the existence and nature of the world
around them. The search continues today for answers to the
“big three” questions of life. One, where did we come from?
Two, why are we here? Three, where are we going?
This quest has split cosmology into three main disciplines: religious
cosmology, physical cosmology, and metaphysical cosmology.
In religious cosmology, beliefs about the creation and destruction
of the universe provide a framework for understanding man’s
role in the universe and his relationship to the creator of that
universe --- a god or gods, depending on the belief system. This
view holds that the universe was consciously created, and that the
creator has some purpose or design for everything in it, including
man. In many cases, religious cosmologies also foretell the end
of the universe. Many religions accept the findings of physical
cosmology, arguing that science supports their conceptions.
After religious cosmology, we have physical cosmology. Physical
cosmology deals with the study of the physical origins of the
universe and the nature of the universe on its very largest scale. It
seeks to understand the universe through scientific observation
and experiment. Modern scientific cosmology uses physics,
astronomy, and mathematics to explain how the universe began
and how it is growing. For hundreds of years, scientists thought the
universe was static and unchanging, but in 1964, they confirmed
that the universe began with an explosion, coined the “Big Bang.”
Recent technological advances in telescopes and space observatories
have provided a wealth of new information about physical cosmology.
We now have a much better understanding of not only what
makes up the universe, but also its overall architecture. At the
core of modern physical cosmology is an idea developed by the
ancient Greeks, called geometric cosmology. Geometric cosmology
is the belief that the underlying order of the universe can be
expressed in mathematical form... but is mathematics a human
invention, or does it have an independent existence?
W: Math is pure; it has an independent existence, doesn’t it?
M: Well, that’s what many people believe, but it’s hard to prove. It’s
like the whole “if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there
to hear it, does it make a sound” conundrum. Mathematics may
indeed have an existence independent from human invention, but
as humans, we can only experience math as humans. This can
be a tough concept to grasp, but let’s move on now to the third
type of cosmology: metaphysical cosmology. Who can tell me
what metaphysics is? Any philosophy majors out there?
W: Yeah, metaphysics is the study of reality and the ways in which
we can perceive it.
M: Very good, you must have taken a philosophy class or two. Thank
you. So, metaphysical cosmology stands in between religious
and physical cosmology. Metaphysical cosmology seeks to draw
logical conclusions about the nature of the universe and man’s
place in it, addressing questions that are beyond the scope of
science. Unlike religious cosmology, it approaches these questions
using philosophical methods, such as dialectics, that is, examining
opposite arguments in coming to a conclusion. For example,
metaphysical cosmology might borrow presumed facts from
religion or observation and compare it with scientific facts. One
example is the cosmological argument, which is an argument
for the existence of God based primarily on the point of view
that the mere existence of a universe demands a creator.
So, just to review, the three types of cosmology are religious,
physical, and metaphysical. Religious cosmology relies on religious
texts and beliefs, physical cosmology uses science and math,
and metaphysical cosmology uses philosophy to bridge the gap
between religious and physical cosmology.

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