The Universe Within: Neil Shubin

The Francis Parker auditorium created an impressive atmosphere for Neil Shubin, professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago. With clever humor and plenty of enthusiasm Shubin began to explain his first love –rocks. He went on to explain how rocks are the ideal candidates to explore fossils and to make connections. But, rocks are not our only connections to our pasts and to history, we have only to look in the mirror and inside ourselves to see our connection to the rest of the universe. Beginning from the Big Bang, Shubin makes note of the connection between all the elements that make up the universe and our own bodily composition and the fact that our bodies are merely recycling centers for the periodic table. Our physical anatomy also sheds light on evolution and the history of past organisms. While studying how organisms first moved from water to land, we see their transformation in our own bodies as we focus on our lungs and limbs and see the development from fins and gills. Focusing on the makeup of our physical surroundings, our geography, also show a connection with the past. He presents to us the world before and after the ice age and how it was changed by an immense glacier, but the movement of this glacier might in fact be correlated with the movement of the other planets in our solar system as described by the Ice Age Theory. All these examples and theories only serve to change a previous ideology, it has only served to move ourselves as humans away from the center of things, from considering ourselves as the most important beings. It has changed our perspective and should make us realize how small we really are but it also should make us realize that science has allowed us to see how connected we are to the rest of the world and its past, through our genes, anatomy and even behavior.

Considering one of the most important aspects of biology is evolution I thought Shubin’s presentation was only fitting for our class. I really enjoyed the enthusiasm that he had right from the beginning of the presentation until the very end. The witty comments and explicit love of the field made the presentation just that much more engaging. Yet much of the content being presented were things that as a class we had already discussed, such as the importance of comparative anatomy in the field of evolutionary study, such as the stories that vestigial structures may give on the transition and development of life. But even though we had covered much of evolutionary concepts in class, I felt that this only made the presentation much easier to follow as he also presented new thoughts and theories that were easily connected to the main focus of evolution since we already have a primary basis of understanding. It was interesting to see how he brought about connecting geology and geography with the Ice Age example and it does exemplify the fact that everything is connected and we are only a small fraction of the equation.

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