An eclectic day today with biology, psychology, mathematics and Bill Bryson. I started with Victoria Herridge’s talk on insular dwarfism and gigantism. It was a very interesting talk with visual aids and lots of audience participation. We looked at how dwarfism evolves when otherwise large animals are isolated by changes in sea levels. The fossil evidence for her talk was mainly from the Mediterranean especially from Sicily and Crete. One interesting fact I learned was that elephants are good swimmers and do so with their trucks held above water. As elephants were often taken across the UK, one of these sightings of an elephant swimming in a lake might have given rise to the Loch Ness monster myth.
Next it was one of the most interesting talks I’ve seen this week: “The Amazing Brain.” We had lots of fun with psychological experiments, which were simple enough to try at home but gave an insight into the most complex thing in the known universe. While the brain contributes towards only 2% of our body weight, it uses up almost 20% of our energy. While the illusion of consciousness deceives us into thinking that we are aware of everything at every waking moment, this is an illusion.
Then it was a fascinating talk by John Barrow on how we can understand expanding universes, rotating universes, inflationary universes, accelerating universes and multiverses. We finally arrived at the latest conclusion, which is an inflationary universe, but did it have a cyclic beginning? We’ll just have to wait and see what will be discovered in the future.
The crème de la crème of the day was an audience with Bill Bryson. As might be expected, it was an hour of hilarity diffused with enlightening remarks on science, human nature and society. I was luck enough to meet him and get my copy of “A short history of nearly everything” signed!