Monday, April 10, 2017

On Reports Of Putative Relict Pterosaurs: A Reappraisal

While I have written about reports of alleged surviving relict pterosaurs on this blog before, I took a mostly critical and sceptical perspective, in which I pointed out that, as the reports do not seem to describe what is now known about pterosaur anatomy from the fossil record, I deem the said reports unlikely to actually be describing living pterosaurs. At the time, I wrote that misidentifications of known animals, such as bats and birds, are likely the main culprits, with perhaps some reports possibly representing encounters with unknown species of birds and bats. However, a recent reappraisal of the situation, spurred by my becoming aware of some more reports that seem to be describing morphological features known in pterosaurs from the fossil record, and that, additionally, are obscure features not known to the average layperson, has inspired me to revisit this topic and reconsider my thoughts on the issue of these purported mystery animals.

On an article ( on the weblog Mysterious Universe, the following report is detailed:

"In 2012, another witness claimed to have seen what appeared to be a baby pterodactyl under a bridge in Tucson, Arizona. The winged creature was said to have a wingspan of around 8 feet, and to be covered in whitish fur, with a head sporting a "top knot" that appeared to be molting. The strange creature was apparently quite aggressive towards the intruders, spreading its wings, hissing, and assuming an attack stance."

What immediately stood out to me from this report is that the putative juvenile pterosaur is described as being covered with "whitish fur," much like the pycnofibres (fur-like integumentary structures) that fossils of pterosaurs from the Mesozoic Era show them to have possessed. This is in stark contrast to the other reports which seem to describe scaly- or leathery-skinned winged monsters, with nary a semblance to the actual prehistoric ornithodiran, or avemetatarsalian, archosaurian winged reptiles of the Mesozoic Era. Not only is this feature of the report anatomically accurate, but, notably, pycnofibres are also a relatively obscure anatomical feature that the average layperson, exposed to naked-skinned Flintstones-esque inaccurate portrayals of pterosaurs, would not be overtly familiar with.
This renders the above report more impelling, in my eyes, than most.

Yet another realization I have had is that, as pterosaurs' bones tended to be relatively hollow and lightweight, like those of birds (an adaptation to flight), it would seem less implausible for them to have a 66-million-year-long ghost lineage between the end of the Cretaceous Period and the present-day. The criticism of the idea that surviving prehistoric species might explain cryptozoological encounters has been made that many of the proposed candidates were in possession of large, dense, bones resistant to erosion, whose fossils would not easily leave a ghost lineage. (However, it shall be noted that even this is not necessarily a tightly-binding rule, as there exists a group of ichthyosaurs -- marine reptiles with large, dense, erosion-resistant bones -- for which a 66-million-year-long ghost lineage exists, the same length of time as has elapsed between the end of the Cretaceous Period and now).
As pterosaurs' bones were relatively light, hollow, and fragile, the idea of them leaving a considerable ghost lineage seems to be, on the face of it, by no means absurd.

So I decided it was time for a reappraisal of my views on the matter. I now view the idea of surviving relict populations of the clade Pterosauria, as, by no means confirmed or likely, but not overly implausible or far-fetched, and a possibility that, while ought still to be parsed skeptically, should be considered, rather than rejected outright, when analyzing cryptozoological reports said to describe creatures similar to them.

Swancer, Brent. 22 July 2016. "Mysterious Living Dinosaurs of the Wild West". Mysterious Universe.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A New Combined Many Worlds/Multiverse–Quantum Entanglement–Wormhole Model

Once again, I am posting an article that is unrelated to palaeontology, zoology, or biology, but, instead, covers topics in physics and cosmology that, likewise, fascinate me.

In this article, I present my own hypothesis regarding several aspects of quantum physics and cosmology. Here, I propose my own hypothetical model which attempts to combine the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics, the numerous Hubble volumes multiverse model, quantum entanglement, ER=EPR/wormholes, and retrocausality/time travel to the past into one unified, elegant model. You might have heard of the concept of a multiverse. If not, I will now proceed to explicate it. A multiverse is a hypothesized plurality of universes that exist. In other words, just as there are planets besides Earth, solar systems besides the one that contains Earth, and galaxies besides the Milky Way, there could, likewise, be other universes besides the one we are inhabiting. Quantum entanglement refers to a process wherein two or more particles are described using the same wave function. This means that anything that happens to one particle will instantly be responded to by the other, regardless of how far apart the particles happen to be. Quantum entanglement was criticized by Albert Einstein, who referred to it as “spooky action at a distance”, as he thought that it was impossible to occur, as it implied the sending of information faster than the speed of light in a vacuum, in contradiction to the postulate of relativity that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum.

First, it is necessary to clarify some basics of quantum mechanics. In quantum mechanics, entities such as light and electrons are in possession of both a particle nature, as well as a wave nature. In other words, they can sometimes behave like particles, and sometimes like waves, depending upon how they are being experimented upon. For example, electrons sent through a sheet containing a pair of slits show interference, like waves, while light is made up of tiny particles, or corpuscles, known as photons, as well as showing wave phenomena such as interference. This means that, just as a mathematical equation can be used to describe the state of a wave at a particular time, as all particles have a wave nature, a wave equation can be used to describe them, as well. In quantum mechanics, the wave equation that is utilized for subatomic particles is referred to as the Schrödinger equation, named after physicist Erwin Schrödinger, who formulated it. A solution to this equation is referred to as a wave function.

Strangely, however, the wave function does not describe exactly where the particle’s location is, but, rather, the probabilities that its location will be in various places. It was once thought by many physicists, including Einstein, that this uncertainness entailed that scientists were unaware of certain information, and that, once this information was to be filled in, the wave function would be able to tell us the particle’s exact location with certainty. In other words, physicists thought that this probability at such tiny scales was no different from the probability we encounter in everyday life, for example, if someone trapped inside a building who has no idea what the weather is outside were to say “There is a 60% probability that it is rainy right now, and a 40% probability that it is sunny right now”. In reality, it would be either rainy or sunny outside right now, but the individual stuck in the building does not currently possess enough information to make the determination as to which one happens to be the case.

More experimental evidence showed that this was, alas, not the case. Rather than merely reflecting scientists’ lack of knowledge, it was shown that the probability at the quantum scale is inherent, meaning that, prior to measurement, a particle really does lack a precise location, and that it subsequently restricts itself to a particular location once it is measured. This baffled physicists profoundly. Many found themselves incredulous, and started searching for explanations. Some of the explanations have included the one that the consciousness of the observer, when observing and measuring the particle, forces it to become restricted to one particular location. Some others have included the process known as quantum decoherence, in which interaction with the environment causes a superposition of states to break down, in a sense, into what appears to be a single state, as the smaller quantum system under observation coagulates into a larger quantum system composed of itself and parts of its environment.

The interpretation of the probabilities of quantum mechanics that this article focuses its attention on, however, is the Many Worlds Interpretation, originally formulated by physicist Hugh Everett III in the year 1957 of the decimal Gregorian calendar. This interpretation states that the probabilities described by the wave function represent a superposition of all of the copies of the object being measured that exist in parallel universes, and that, when the measurement is performed, the observer can only observe the particle that exists in the universe that they are in.

Meanwhile, leaving the realm of quantum mechanics altogether and entering the realm of cosmology, the study of the origins, evolution, and large-scale structure of the universe, and reality, as a whole, it is thought that the amount of space in the universe beyond that which we can detect, due to the light from there not having had sufficient time to reach us yet, might be infinite, or finite, but very large. If so, then, as there are a finite number of ways that particles can be arranged to form objects, this would entail that any possible scenario would be able to occur in some region of space. This has led to the formulation of another multiverse theory, known as the cosmological or spatial multiverse model. This model postulates that, in the regions of space beyond that from which light has had sufficient time to reach us, known as our Hubble volume, if you were to travel far enough, by the pure laws of chance and probability, you would eventually come across numerous other Milky Way Galaxies, numerous other Solar Systems like ours within them, and numerous other Earths within them, but each one would be slightly different from ours, in some ways.

For example, on some of these other Earths, situations and characters that are part of fiction in our own Hubble volume would actually be real. There could be a Jurassic Park Universe in which Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna exist, and a company called InGen actually cloned dinosaurs and placed them on the islands, a Full House and Family Matters Universe in which these shows and the characters within them are real (these shows must take place in the same universe, as Steve Urkel from Family Matters once made a cameo appearance on Full House), even a Land Before Time Universe in which dinosaurs' neurological and throats anatomy evolved in such a way that allowed them to evolve the ability to speak, and the characters and situations from that series are real.

The suggestion has been made, and I make it again here, that both of these types of multiverse models -- the one derived from the weird probability superpositions of quantum mechanics, and the one derived from the inferred vastness of space -- might, in fact, be one and the same. In this way, the quantum mechanical superposition of probabilities would constitute a description of all of the copies or versions of an object under measurement, as they exist in separate Hubble volumes, separated by vast expanses of space. The probabilistic nature of the measurement, then, would come about as a result of the mathematical Schrödinger equation and the wave function contained within it not being able to tell you which Hubble volume the observer performing the measurement happens to be situated within.

I find this merging of these two varieties of multiverses to be quite an elegant theory, indeed, and it has the additional benefit of being more parsimonious than proposing two different types of multiverse that contain pretty much largely the same content.

The fact that the same wave function would describe these various particles, in different Hubble volumes of space, would entail that they would be entangled. Entanglement entails some kind of method for the various copies in different Hubble volumes to be able to communicate information with each other nearly instantaneously, regardless of the vastness of the intervening distance. I here propose a solution that has already been proposed by others: namely, that tiny wormholes could connect entangled particles. This conjecture has been termed the ER=EPR model. Here, I put it into the context of the quantum/cosmological-combined multiverse model. In this model, these tiny wormholes would connect different versions of an object in different universes, allowing quantum entanglement to exist between them.

I take it a step further, and propose another, more controversial idea; combining retrocausality and backwards time travel with the ER=EPR model. Other experiments have hypothesized that quantum entanglement could be explained by signals traveling backwards in time to a time when the two entangled particles were closer together, and could thus transmit information easily. I find this an elegant solution, as, even with the addition of the tiny wormholes, the action could not be instantaneous--as nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, all travel through a wormhole would do is considerably shorten the journey needed to be taken by a signal from one particle to reach the other, but that would still only shorten the journey, not make it instantaneous, as is observed in quantum entanglement. Allowing backward causation would explain this seemingly instantaneous action at a distance, as, then, the connection would have already been made in the past, prior to the measurements being performed on the entangled particles.

I propose that, in a standard quantum mechanical experiment described by the Schrödinger equation and its wavefunction, the probabilistic superposition of states represents all of the versions of a particle existing in different Hubble volumes, separated by vast expanses of space. They are, therefore, entangled. These entangled particles would be able to transmit information between each other, and, thus, have the ability to be instantly affected by measurements performed upon their counterparts. A possible explanation for their entanglement is that they are connected by miniature wormholes, which connect back in time to a time period in the past, perhaps very early on in the universe's history, shortly after the Big Bang, when these particles, or the matter that would later go on to become them, were situated close enough to each other that normal signal transmission between them could occur easily. This would mean that the connection between them could be maintained, as, no matter how far apart the particles would have drifted, the signal could always go back to a time when they were close enough through a miniscule wormhole. After a signal from one particle is sent through the wormhole back in time to the other particle in the past, perhaps the other particle could subsequently retain the information from the signal as it travels into the future, meaning that, by the time it is separated by the vast expanses of space between Hubble volumes that not even light has yet been able to traverse, it would retain information about its -- now quite far-away -- counterpart.

My new model combines the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics, the multiverse model containing numerous Hubble volumes, the ER=EPR model of tiny wormholes linking quantum-entangled particles, and retrocausality & backwards time travel into one model that I feel comprehensively explicates both many of the mysteries of quantum mechanics, including probabilities, superpositions, and entanglement, as well as the mysteries of the multiverses.

This hypothesis of mine is by no means confirmed, and is still tentative, but I can only hope that further discoveries and experimentally-obtained evidence in the future might, perhaps, be able to corroborate it. Any constructive criticism or suggestions for improving this model, which I term the Quantum Hubble Volumes Temporal Wormhole Model, would be highly appreciated.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

In Response To Michael L. Woodruff On Bacterial Sentience

Michael L. Woodruff wrote and published an article in the journal Animal Sentience criticizing the idea that sentience exists in bacteria. Woodruff cites two reasons: first, that the processes often cited as showcasing bacterial sentience are not homologous to those thought to control sentience in multicellular neuronal organisms, and second, that aforementioned processes can be explained in terms of purely biochemical interactions, with no need to invoke sentience as an explanation for them. Here, I will respond to both of Woodruff's arguments.

The objection is raised that the genes coding for the chemotaxis system of bacteria are different from those coding for biological sensitivity in multicellular organisms with nervous systems. The bacterial chemotactic systemic genes "do not demonstrate broad species continuity". I fail to see how this has any bearing at all on the question of sentience in bacteria. Convergent evolution is a well-known phenomenon in organismic biology, so why can't it apply to sentience, as well? Why couldn't bacteria and multicellular, neuronal organisms have independently evolved sentience, from different genes?

Woodruff then states that, as the chemotaxis process in bacteria is carried out by a series of biochemical processes and interactions, it is unnecessary to "admit sentience as an explanatory variable to explain" it. But is this not true of even human neurological processes and interactions? After all, is not the indubitably sentient decision, by a human, to open a door merely sensory nerves in the skin communicating with neurons in the brain, and those neurons in the brain then communicating with muscles in the hand, using action potentials (electrical signals) and chemical neurotransmitters? The process of a human opening a door involves touch nerve receptors, which communicate the touch to the brain, which then sends a signal to the muscles in the hand to open the door. Likewise, ligands (chemicals that bond to other chemicals) in a bacterium's environment are sensed by the externally-protruding domains of its sensory proteins, which sends a chemical signal – a protein termed CheY – to bind to a rotor of the flagellum, and, thus, control the flagellar, and, in turn, the bacterium's, direction of motion.

After all, even in humans, such processes as thought and emotion are thought to be mediated by neurotransmitters, including dopamine and glutamate, and electrical signals. One could easily invoke Occam's Razor to claim that human behaviour, being, as it is, controlled by the transmission of electrical and chemical signals between neurons, can be sufficiently explicated without inferring the presence of sentience. Just as a human opening a door occurs through neurons in the hand, after sensing the environment, sending electrical signals and chemicals to the brain, which then sends those aforementioned signals to the muscles in the hand, ordering them to move and open the door, likewise, a bacterium's tumbling occurs through external sensory protein domains, after sensing the environment, sending a CheW chemical signal to the CheA protein, which, in turn, sends a CheY chemical signal, across the cytoplasm, to the protein that controls the direction of rotation of the flagellum, FLiM. Once CheY binds to the flagellar rotor, it induces the bacterium to tumble and to change its direction of motion. Notice the similarities? In both the human's case and the bacterium's case, the actions of opening a door and reversing swimming direction, respectively, can be adequately and satisfactorily explained with molecular processes and signal transmissions. What Woodruff said about the bacterium's case applies just as well to the human's case.

In both cases, however, there still lies the question of "why?" Why, in the human's case, did the brain, after processing the information about the external environment from the sensory nerves, decide to send signals to the muscles telling them to move? And why, in the bacterium's case, did CheA, after receiving the information about the external environment from the sensory protein domains, decide to send CheY to the flagellum, instructing it to modify its direction of movement? I propose, here, that, in both organisms' cases, the fact that a decision to initiate a behavior was made upon retrieval of and processing of cues from the external environment could, perhaps, be indicative of conscious sentience being a factor in the neurotransmitter and action potential-mediated interneuronal interactions of multicellular neuronal organisms, as well as the chemical and enzyme-mediated intermolecular interactions of unicellular organisms, respectively.

Woodruff, Michael L. (2016) "Bacteria and the cellular basis of consciousness: Commentary on Reber on Origins of Mind". Animal Sentience, 126. (

Friday, March 17, 2017

Sasquatch Habitat And Population Size: Some Calculations

While I wrote an article that was skeptical about Sasquatches, as well as Yetis, quite recently, by no means does that entail that I blindly accept all arguments offered by skeptics against the existence of these creatures. One argument that I have been thinking about lately is the argument that, as large mammals require a large home range that is proportional to their body mass, and there is little forest habitat in the Pacific Northwest of Northwestern North America, this means that Sasquatch would have either been discovered long ago, or does not exist, as there is not sufficient forest to allow a breeding population of these creatures to remain hidden until now. This has spurred me to carry out my own calculations to determine how capable the forest habitat of the Pacific Northwest really is of supporting a viable breeding population of these hypothetical animals. Never content to just accept whatever information I read without subjecting it to some critical analysis and skeptical scientific scrutiny, I decided to test this claim made by critics of Sasquatch's putative existence.

The correlation between an animal's body mass and the size of its home range is furnished by the following formula: Home Range = 0.024 * Body Mass^1.38. I was not able to find, in any sources, the answer to the question nagging me: Does this formula refer to the kilometers and kilograms of the metric system, or to the miles and pounds of the imperial system? In any case, as miles are larger than kilometers and pounds are smaller than kilograms, utilizing miles and pounds would have the effect that the area of the home range would be represented by a smaller number, and the mass of the animal would be represented by a larger number. Therefore, this would make the calculated plausibility of Sasquatch lower than if kilometers and kilograms had been utilized in their stead.

Since I am trying to stay as conservative and critical as I can possibly be (for reasons I will state at the end of this post), I decided to plug in the numbers that would render it the least likely that a viable Sasquatch population could exist in the Pacific Northwest, meaning that I decided to use miles and pounds as units. Additionally, while there are varying hypothetical speculations about the body mass of Sasquatch in the literature, I decided to go with 1,000 pounds, reportedly the highest end of the range, according to a Bigfoot research group.

Meanwhile, according to the World Wildlife Fund, also known as the Worldwide Fund For Nature, there are 114,000 square miles of forest in the Pacific Northwest.

I then plugged 1,000 pounds and 114,000 square miles into the equation relating home range to body mass:

HR = 0.0024 x 1,000^1.38
1,000^1.38 = 13,803.8426
HR = 0.0024 x 13,803.8426

HR = 331.29222 m.^2

So I got the result that the home range for one 1,000-pound Sasquatch would be 331.29222 square miles.

Then, I divided this number by the estimated number of square miles of forest in the Pacific Northwest, about 114,000 miles, to get the estimated population of Sasquatches that could inhabit this region.

Pop. = 114,000/331.29222
Pop. = 344.1070826 individuals

My calculated result was that there is a population of about 344 Sasquatches in the Pacific Northwest. Now the question arises: Is even this estimate, which I tried to lowball as much as I could, enough to constitute a viable breeding population of animals? Well, considering the fact that many species and subspecies of large-bodied mammals are currently so endangered that their populations are far smaller than this estimate, the South China Tiger offering just one example, I would say yes. Indeed, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a general rule of thumb is that 50 is a minimum number of individuals needed for a genetically viable breeding population. Sasquatch, according to my calculations, would be well over 300 individuals. Whether or not that population is large enough to furnish enough genetic diversity to sustain the population for long periods of time into the future in a world in which the effects of human activity run rampant throughout the biosphere is a different story. Indeed, if Sasquatch exists, it may be that their population was once higher in the past, and has now declined as a result of human encroachment onto their habitats, in which case, if it is ever discovered, it would likely be classified as an endangered species and enjoy the full protection of the law.

And now I come to the reason why I intentionally tried to lowball the estimates as much as I could. And that is to demonstrate that, even in the "worst-case" scenario for Sasquatch's existence/"best-case" scenario for its non-existence, the calculations would still permit a viable breeding population of Sasquatches to exist in the Pacific Northwest of North America. It may very well be that Sasquatch weighs far less than 1,000 pounds, or that this formula is in the context of using metric units of measure, rather than imperial ones (indeed, considering that metric units tend to be far more often utilized as the standard units of measure in the sciences, I think the latter is actually quite likely).

Now, keeping the body mass of the animal constant, I will calculate the estimated viable population size using the aforementioned metric units. In metric units, 1,000 pounds gets converted to 453,592 kilograms, while 114,000 square miles gets converted into 295,258.645 square kilometers.

HR = 0.024 x 453.592^1.38
453.592^138 = 4,636.585077
HR = 0.024 x 4,636.585077
HR = 111.27804185 km.^2

Now, I, once again, divide this number by the area of forests in the Pacific Northwest to get an estimated viable population size.

Pop. = 295,258.645/111.27804185
Pop. = 2,653.3414867 individuals

See how much of a difference that made? Now we have a population of over 2,000 individuals, close to 3,000. This is roughly comparable to what is thought to be the population of remaining wild tigers in the entire world.

So, to recap: Am I a believer in Bigfoot? No. I do not have belief or faith in cryptids, and I go where my evidence, calculations, and logic lead me. And my calculations lead me to the conclusion that, despite the paucity of scientific evidence that withstands the scientific criteria for proving the existence of a given species beyond reasonable doubt, the argument against the possible existence of these creatures from the ecological body size to home range ratio can be safely ruled out.

References/Works Cited:
• du Toit, J.T. December 1990. "Home range – body mass relations: a field study on African browsing ruminants". Oecologia.
• Vath, Carrie L. and Robinson, Scott K. 9 December 2015. "Minimum viable population (MVP)". Encyclopedia Britannica.
• Parker, Edward. "Pacific Temperate Rainforests". World Wildlife Fund/Worldwide Fund For Nature.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A "Nanobrain" For Unicellular Organisms Via A System Of Interconnected Signal-Transducing Proteins

I mentioned earlier that some studies are starting to show evidence of cognition in unicellular organisms, including slime molds and bacteria, that lack brains or nervous systems. However, there perhaps exists an alternative plausible mechanism explaining how these attributes could exist in these brainless creatures.

This is the fact that, in every unicellular organism, the transmission of signals between components within the cell occurs regularly. There is a network of proteins that constitute the medium through which these signals are conveyed, with each protein assuming the same role as a neuron in an organism with a nervous system, and the ends of proteins, referred to as structural domains, assuming the same role as the ends of neurons, with both the structural domains of proteins and the ends of neurons transmitting and receiving signals to and from other proteins and neurons, respectively.

We know that the phenomenon of convergent evolution, in which different biological approaches to the same function arise in disparate taxa, is a common aspect of the evolutionary landscape. I find it plausible that a system of proteins through which signal transuction occurs, forming the equivalent of a "nanobrain" which is analagous to the brains of multicellular organisms, has allowed unicellular microorganisms to evolve the same functions of cognition, communication, and possibly consciousness, sentience, and self-awareness, as well as multicellular neuronal organisms.

Marks, Friedrichs; Klingmüller, Ursula; Müller-Decker, Karen. Cellular Signal Processing: An Introduction to the Molecular Mechanisms of Signal Transduction. Garland Science, Taylor and Francis Group, LLC. Print. (

No, Tetragametic Chimerism Poses No Threat To The Individuality Of Early Embryos

In addition to the twinning argument, one additional argument sometimes utilized to deny the individuality of early embryos is the fact that two embryos are capable of fusing together to form a single organism. This process is known as tetragametic chimerism, and the resulting individual is referred to as a tetragametic chimera, or simply a chimera. They are called tetragametic because they originated from four gametes, twice the number as someone who is not a chimera.

The argument asserts that, as two embryos have the potential to become one individual, this means that, before fusion, each embryo cannot be regarded as a single individual in its own right. However, I find this argument to be as jejune and flawed as the twinning objection, and I will elucidate why I think so.

Just like how I mentioned that the twinning argument is rendered absurd by the fact that any adult animal could potentially be cloned, which is basically delayed monozygotic twinning, and, in fact, has even been referred to as such in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, as shown in the example cited below, I think that the chimerism argument is rendered absurd by the fact that organ transplants between adult animals are, in fact, not just theoretically possible, but already happen quite routinely.

As a hypothetical gedankenexperiment, let us envision a scenario wherein half of one adult human's organs are defective, and urgently need to be replaced. Now let us say that half of the organs from another adult human's body are removed, killing the unfortunate donor in the process, and transplanted into the recipient, with the result that the recipient now has half of the organs in their body originating from someone else, and comprised of cells with a different genome, rendering them a postnatally-derived tetragametic chimera.
In this scenario, no one would deny that, prior to the fusion, there existed two distinct individual adult organisms. Likewise, the same would hold when this process occurs involving a pair of early embryos coalescing into a singleton.

While, for ethical reasons, such a scenario is obviously unlikely to happen, it still means that, at least in principle, it is possible to form tetragametic chimeras in adulthood via the process of organ transplantation, just as, at least in principle, it is possible to form monozygotic twins in adulthood via the process of cloning.

Therefore, just as the fact that cloning is hypothetically possible at any age of postnatal life renders the argument that the ability of a single embryo to split into twins during the process of monozygotic twinning means it is not yet an individual absurd, so, too, does the fact that extensive organ transplantation is hypothetically possible at any age of postnatal life render the argument that the ability of more than one embryo to combine into one during the process of tetragametic chimerism means that neither are yet individuals absurd.

Med Wieku Rozwoj. "Human clone or a delayed twin?" 2001;5(1 Suppl 1):39-43. (

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Review Of The Nessie Chapter In Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and other famous cryptids by Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero

I just finished reading the chapter about the Loch Ness Monster in the skeptical cryptozoology book Abominable Science! by Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero. I will review it here.

Overall, the chapter makes a decent analysis of several of the evidence marshaled to support the existence of the Loch Ness cryptid, including the Surgeon's Photo taken by Dr. Robert Kenneth Wilson, who was really a gynaecologist, rather than a surgeon, but, hey, I guess most people don't think of the Loch Ness Monster, but something else entirely, when they hear the phrase "Gynaecologist's Photo". I agree with the chapter's conclusions that the Surgeon's Photo is likely to be a hoax, although I am still open to the possibility that it shows either a bird or an otter, as well as the same conclusion with regard to the Stuart Photo. I should note that when I first set eyes on both of these pictures as a child, they looked off to me, in some way. I suppose my intuition wasn't too far off the mark.

I also found the connection drawn between King Kong and the sighting by the Spicers enlightening, and I am inclined to think that this is quite a plausible suggestion. I think it is quite plausible that the release of the movie King Kong created an atmosphere during the time of the Great Depression which made prospective witnesses more likely to interpret sightings of common animals and disturbances of water in the loch in the light of the film, causing it to morph into a sauropod- or plesiosaur-like entity. I might opine here that the Spicer sighting could have been a group of otters seen crossing the road, which they interpreted as a sauropod-like beast since they might have been driving home groggily after seeing the movie.

These are the good parts of this chapter, in my opinion. Overall, I found the analysis of evidence, such as photos and videos, to be mostly rational and cogent, with one exception. The digital enhancement of the Rines flipper photograph was emphasized, and the original, unenhanced version was shown next to the enhanced version, in an attempt to show how a plesiosaur-like flipper was detectable in the enhanced version, but not in the unenhanced version. However, with me, this juxtaposition of the images had the exact opposite effect as that which was intended. Indeed, I could still clearly make out the shape of a flipper, even in the original, unenhanced version, and it is much too clear to me, I think, to be a case of pareidolia on my part.

But when it came to the evaluation of the plesiosaur hypothesis and the possible entry of prospective Nessies into the loch from the ocean, I was left somewhat disappointed. I did not find the argument put forth against a plesiosaur identity being a possible one for a prospective unknown creature in Loch Ness convincing. This is because the argument overlooked key fossil finds and paleontological studies, overlooked possibilities for plesiosaur behavior and physiology which seem plausible in light of those of relatives known to be extant, and flatly contradicted other portions of the same chapter on the issue of entry into Loch Ness from the sea.

It is stated that "They [plesiosaurs] were tropical animals, unsuited for the cold waters of the loch—and most plesiosaurs were marine animals, unsuited for freshwater in general". Yet a study published three years prior to this book found evidence that plesiosaurs likely were in possession of endothermy, colloquially referred to as "warm-bloodedness". And the claim that plesiosaurs were "tropical animals" is just false. Indeed, plesiosaur fossils have been found in several Upper Cretaceous formations in Antarctica. And while it is true that Antarctica in the Upper Cretaceous was warmer than it is today, it still had a climate not too dissimilar to Southern South America today, as one article covering an Antarctic plesiosaur fossil find noted. Considering the southern tip of South America, Tierra del Fuego, lies at a latitude that is more southerly than Loch Ness is northerly, I doubt that a plesiosaur adapted to the cold climate of Late Cretaceous Antarctic waters would have much difficulty adapting to the cold climate of Holocene Loch Ness waters.

And plesiosaur fossils have also been found in regions indicative of them having lived in a freshwater environment. Indeed, considering that numerous modern species which spend some or much of their life in marine environments, ranging from seals to cetaceans to Bull sharks to both saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) and American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus), have been known to inhabit freshwater environments, as well as saltwater environments, it seems rather dogmatic to me to state that plesiosaurs could not have done the same.

It is also stated that "Finally, plesiosaurs were air breathers. Any plesiosaurs in Loch Ness could be photographed several times an hour, each time they surfaced to breathe." This argument is stating that, as plesiosaurs were air-breathers, they would be regularly seen far more often breaking the surface of the water to take a breathe, rendering it unlikely that they would be able to remain inconspicuous for long in a lake such as Loch Ness. However, the idea has been previously brought forth that plesiosaurs might have evolved snorkel-like appendages on their heads that they might protrude above the surface of the water to take a breathe, which would not be as conspicuous. And while it is argued  that such snorkels would, nevertheless, still be detected, another option awaits in the wings. And that is the aquatic cutaneous diffusion method of respiration.

Whether plesiosaurs were entirely air-breathers, or whether they respired through water, is not something that can be directly ascertained from the fossil evidence at hand. It is, in fact, entirely plausible that plesiosaurs could have been able to supplement their oxygen intake by aquatic cutaneous diffusion of oxygen -- i.e., absorbing molecules of oxygen directly from the water through their skin. Indeed, some turtles are known to respire in this way nowadays, and it is worth noting that, additionally, all humans once respired in this manner, as well, in utero, prior to their birth. If plesiosaurs were able to respire in such a manner, it would render them far more adapted to an aquatic lifestyle and ecological niche. Indeed, considering that extant turtles, which are less aquatic than plesiosaurs probably were (there is evidence that plesiosaurs were viviparous, giving birth at sea, constituting evidence that they were supremely adapted to a nearly completely aquatic existence), have evolved this ability, it would be surprising if plesiosaurs did not, likewise, do the same. A plesiosaur respiring through water via cutaneous diffusion of oxygen would not have a pressing or urgent need to routinely come to the surface to breathe air, meaning that it could conceivably remain hidden in a freshwater lake for a long stretch of time.

When discussing possible entry of the unidentified animals into Loch Ness from the ocean, it is stated, as well, that "The rivers and canals that flow into Loch Ness can be confidently ruled out as commuter routes for large monsters, broken up by shipping locks, or some combination." While it is true that, past a certain upper limit on size, an oceangoing creature would encounter considerable difficulty in navigating these pathways to the loch, it is worth noting that it is a confirmed fact that animals as substantially-sized as seals and porpoises have managed to do so. Indeed, it strikes me as rather perplexing that the author(s) spent so much of the rest of the chapter emphasizing the fact that these known marine animals have been known to make their way into Loch Ness previously with the purpose of using their presence in the loch to explain Nessie sightings. So why the double standard here? If porpoises and seals can swim into Loch Ness from the Moray Firth through the River Ness or the Caledonian Canal, why not putative Nessies, as well?

The statement about "large monsters" not being able to enter the loch is a red herring, as it is by no means a prerequisite that the creatures must already be large at the time that they enter the loch. The creatures could have made their way into the loch from the ocean when they were juveniles, perhaps no larger than salmon, or even smaller, and remained in the loch until they grew larger, rendering them trapped in the loch.

Indeed, this allows me to segue into another issue brought up in this chapter, that of the need to maintain a breeding population of creatures in the loch for eons. It is asserted that, to have a population large enough to breed, it would necessarily follow that there would not be enough food in the loch to sustain them, and the population would be too large for them to be able to remain hidden.

However, it is entirely possible that, rather than a breeding population of creatures having been extant in Loch Ness since the end of the Pleistocene, occasional vagrants have navigated their way into the loch from the ocean, and remained trapped there for a generation or two, before dying out. This would have the additional advantage of explaining why sightings seem to pique in some years in comparison with others. This hypothesis has come to be referred to as the 'Rogue Nessie' hypothesis, and it is covered delightfully well by writer Kurt Burchfiel in this article for StrangeMag magazine:

Finally, it is stated repeatedly that there were no sightings of a strange, unidentified creature in the same vein as Nessie at Loch Ness prior to the 1930s in the decimal Gregorian calendar. Yet this, too, is demonstrably false. Indeed, a newspaper report from the 19th century of the decimal Gregorian calendar reporting on a sighting of what seemed to the locals to be an anomalous large fish in Loch Ness stated that the locals had been inclined to think of the existence of such a besst in the loch as a reality for years, indicating that there was already a tradition of reported sightings of strange creatures in Loch Ness by this time.
And, even if it were true that Nessie sightings made their debut in the 1930s, this would not be a big deal, as, with the Rogue Nessie hypothesis, which postulates that Nessie is an oceangoing creature which occasionally swims into the loch from the open ocean, it is entirely plausible that a small population of these creatures could have entered the loch for the first time in the 1930s.

Overall, the chapter on Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, the fourth chapter of Abominable Science!, contributes a decent analysis of much of the evidence purported to support this alleged cryptid, while having some deficiencies in the theoretical realms, in particular, when it comes to the arguments presented against a plesiosaur identity for Nessie and those presented against the creatures being able to remain undiscovered in Loch Ness.

The truth is that the palaeontological evidence from peer-reviewed scientific journals is, at worst, indifferent to the question of whether or not a plesiosaur identity is plausible for lake monsters in general, and the Rogue Nessie hypothesis shows that the objections with regard to population size and detectability can be surmounted by certain scenarios, the plausibility of which has been borne out by documented cases of marine animals making the switch to freshwater habitats.

It is worth noting at this juncture that all of the evidence and reasoning presented here applies to most reported lake cryptids, such as Champ of Lake Champlain, Ogopogo of Lake Okanagan, Storsjoodjuret or Storsie of Lake Storsjon, Selma of Lake Seljordsvatnet or Lake Seljord, Nahuelito of Lake Nahuel Huapi, etc.

References/External Links:

Endothermy in Plesiosaurs:

Polar Plesiosaurs:

Freshwater Plesiosaurs: