Friday, June 26, 2009
Currently, Iran is undergoing a crisis of identity, with a large dissatisfied segment of the population upset at the landslide victory that they see as stolen by Ahmedinajad. As with the Islamic Revolution of the late 70's, this current revolution for greater access to freedom is spurned by students and women, and has met a great deal more resistance. Iranians, regardless of the West's attempts at painting a singular picture are a variable and proud people with a history that rivals any nation in the world. Throughout Iranian history, changes have come and gone, and the people know the power of revolt and uprising. This is not for Americans to dictate, or Europeans, but for Iranians alone. We have no right to involve ourselves in Iranian politics, because they do not want our support. The demonstrators want to absolve their nation of tyranny, and they do not look for foreign support. There may be a few disparate segments who may, but in general, most Iranians, even those who expect an overturning revolution, want it from within. The US has shown its unreliability when they deposed the democratically elected Iranian government, headed by Prime minister Mosaddeq in 1953. Their expected exploitation of Iranian resources backfired with the revolution of 1979. This was Iran's answer to US involvement in politics. The same mistakes must not be made again.
The neo-Conservative cry to support Iran's dissatisfied masses has little to do for empathy towards Iranians, and everything to do with quelling Iran's growing economic potential. By destabilizing Iran in this manner, two possible outcomes are expected. In one, the demonstrations grow to a point where a new revolution is made. With supposed international support, those newly elected in power may be more willing to allow Iran's economic resources to be exploited. A second, far more likely scenario, is the continued demonstrations, and crack-downs, resulting in widespread chaos. With Iran in such turmoil, the Iranian government would have problems developing their economic potential in their own terms. Ultimately, this all comes down to the West's persistent attempt at controlling Iran's growth. The opposition to nuclear technology has little to do with Iran's potential nuclear arsenal, and more to do with their energy needs of the future. With an energy surplus, powering an economy that's basically off the grid of Western control, Iran can move in many different directions. Russia and China may realize that uniting with Iran can create a block against Western interests. Further, the danger that Iran may attack Israel is negligible, when Israel has nuclear weapons that are readily capable of turning Iran dust. Yet, the threat from Israel attacking Iran pre-emptively is quite high. Again, this is directly tied to Iran's separate economic potential. Further, with Iran's large, educated populace, their untapped economic potential is vast. All these indicators point towards every possible means of destabilizing Iran's current progress. Ideology is not as powerful as economics, and sadly, this is what dictates modern thinking. Driving Adam Smith's economic theory into every possible orifice of every possible culture so they can be a known element. Far be it from allowing a theocracy to develop economic potential on their own terms. It must be Western-style democracy and nothing else.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
In science, the more you learn, the better you frame and understand complex problems. Science allows not only answers, but paves the way for asking the right questions. Any faulty reasoning, errors, or questions that don't make sense within a given context can be culled to help form a more comprehensive picture. This constant trimming and hedging is beneficial to scientific understanding. Without questioning results, asking questions, and skeptical analysis, science becomes hampered in error. People must not confuse scientific results with democratic ideals though. The majority opinion can fall to the wayside when a more comprehensive theory comes along that better explains a concept. Some theories are so well articulated that they're as near a fact as is possible with near 100% certainty. Evolution through Natural Selection is one of these theories. It has been shown to explain biological development better than anything one can invent or imagine to explain the diversity of life and its presence in the fossil record. Further, a great theory is able to predict certain results, and without a doubt, knowing the concepts of mutations and evolutionary changes within populations, extrapolations can be made to explain changes in the populations of a given species. Trying to determine why black moths have increased in number, while white moths of the same species have decreased cannot make sense outside of evolutionary thinking. For those who are fully immersed in their field of study, a consensus is often reached the at any given moment demonstrates the apex of scientific understanding. Although many such platforms of thought have overturned as greater data is accrued, generally, better use of bias control, screening protocols, and peer review prevent extensive overreaching. It would be a loud proclamation to claim that nothing in the future will overturn our understanding of the current scientific process, but as our detailed knowledge of the universe increases, we become better at asking questions, discarding false notions, and maintaining our progressive march towards intellectual growth.
Thus, it is possible to be too open minded and lose sense of reality. Some may argue that even the concept of reality itself is too difficult to ascribe, but then, if reality is something unattainable in every facet, than there's no point in asking and answering questions. To understand the universe we live in, even if it's a figment of a pan-dimensional being's imagination, we need tools. We need to develop processes that allow us to make informed and rational decisions. Miracles, myths, anecdotal stories are not the best tools to investigate reality. What we know as reality Reality tells us that eggs break, and cannot suddenly reform, just as a dead person cannot come back from the dead, or an amputee suddenly regrowing a limb. Looking through the physical concepts available, we find that this occurs because of entropy, or the increase of disorder in the universe. It is present in everything we do, and everywhere we look. To achieve greater order larger amounts of work must be put into a system. The universe as a closed system is always increasing in disorder, and even the ordered form of a human body required inordinate amounts of energy to maintain. Upon death, when no further work is put into the body, it decays into constituent molecules and atoms that then get dispersed into the universe, further adding to the entropy. Even after death, we continue to contribute to the entropy of the universe. Our very atoms disperse from each other on the moment of death until the end of the universe. Having drifted on a philosophical tangent, it's important to realize that too much imagination can leave us completely untethered from the reality we know of this world. It's great to imagine what it would be like if there was 12 supreme deities, or 3, or one, but the fact is, reality is not dictated by the whims of our imagination. Even if every single person on the planet thought that stars were holes in a celestial sphere, the universe itself would not be different. It is our job, as an inquisitive and industrious species to use the most rigorous and empirical methods of analysis to determine the nature of the universe. We should see this ability as a fortuitous gift, with no deterministic sense of reason. The tunnel with which we view reality must be rigid, and if we wish to express abstract ideas, esoteric thoughts, it's reasonable to breach the walls. Yet, if we're using this tunnel to address the physical nature of the universe, there are only finite ways of viewing that will allow us to proceed. With science, we can make and test predictions based on a slew of accumulated information. This mountain of data, through thousands of years of human ingenuity and reason must not fall prey to whims of fancy, and processes that though comforting to some, do nothing to explain the nature of the world.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Apparently, now that Obama has made his Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day statement, it is clear that Genocide remains an elusive word. G, according the the new Commander-in-Chief is the new N word. The following is Obama's statement regarding the Genocidal massacres that effected the lives of every single Armenian alive today.
Ninety four years ago, one of the great atrocities (Genocide) of the 20th century began. Each year, we pause to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. The Meds Yeghern (Genocide) must live on in our memories, just as it lives on in the hearts of the Armenian people.
History, unresolved, can be a heavy weight. Just as the terrible events (Genocide) of 1915 remind us of the dark prospect of man's inhumanity to man, reckoning with the past holds out the powerful promise of reconciliation. I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts.
The best way to advance that goal right now is for the Armenian and Turkish people to address the facts of the past as a part of their efforts to move forward. I strongly support efforts by the Turkish and Armenian people to work through this painful history in a way that is honest, open, and constructive. To that end, there has been courageous and important dialogue among Armenians and Turks, and within Turkey itself. I also strongly support the efforts by Turkey and Armenia to normalize their bilateral relations. Under Swiss auspices, the two governments have agreed on a framework and roadmap for normalization. I commend this progress, and urge them to fulfill its promise.
Together, Armenia and Turkey can forge a relationship that is peaceful, productive and prosperous. And together, the Armenian and Turkish people will be stronger as they acknowledge their common history and recognize their common humanity.
Nothing can bring back those who were lost in the Meds Yeghern (Genocide). But the contributions that Armenians have made over the last ninety-four years stand as a testament to the talent, dynamism and resilience of the Armenian people, and as the ultimate rebuke to those who tried to destroy them. The United States of America is a far richer country because of the many Americans of Armenian descent who have contributed to our society, many of whom immigrated to this country in the aftermath of 1915. Today, I stand with them and with Armenians everywhere with a sense of friendship, solidarity, and deep respect.
As can be seen, President Obama had every opportunity to mention this crime against humanity as the textbook definition known as Genocide. Although he did use the Armenian phrase, Medz Yeghern, he still avoided that troublesome G word. Further, he used atrocities and terrible events as another descriptive term to what amounts to a Genocide. I guess from now on, we can avoid calling other Genocides as such, but use the native term for those tragedies. It should be noted that this is the closest any president has ever come to acknowledge the atrocities as a Genocide, and yet avoid the term. This is yet another small victory that brings us closer towards achieving justice. However, justice will remain elusive, as long as Turkey continues to deny the past, and the US government functions complicit with this hypocritical lack of recognition. As usual, a president has reneged on his promise of recognition, millions of Armenians are disappointed, and the Turkish government is sighing in relief. Who knew that watching the annual perpetuation of the status quo would be so dramatic?
Considering the continuous disappointment endured by Armenians throughout the world, perhaps the ultimate message to take to heart is that importance of strength and unity in preventing these occurrences in the world. Regardless of the tragic history of our people, and the lack of acceptance by those playing politics, the onus is on Armenians to not only look to the past, but build a future that strengthens our resolve. We have a nation, a country we call our own, and if we truly want to prevent our ancestor's deaths to be in vain, our lofty goals and expectations should be focused on helping Armenia emerge from obscurity and join the technological stage of the future.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Currently, knowing the problematic security situation in the Middle East, and the attempts by the West to continually check Russia's influences, Turkey shall remain a high priority for regional stability. As much as Armenians hope for justice, there is very little practical reason for America to offend Turkish interests. It's one thing to continuously offend a few million Armenians, which is almost a regular event, but another thing to be the first to offend such powerful economic, political, and military interests as Turkey. In addition to this, Turkey is also somewhat of a safeguard for Israel, which finds itself surrounded by hostile neighbors, and the powerful Israeli lobby, regardless of what they vocalize in support of Armenian genocide recognition, will never fully support offending their regional allies. They may speak of justice when the Holocaust is mentioned, but if there's even a suggestion of a possible threat to Israel's stability justice will conveniently become abandoned.
As a result of this cursory analysis, an attempt at predicting Obama's Armenian Genocide speech should be an interesting exercise. "We are gathered here to commemorate a tragic event in the history of the Armenian people. The fact that the survivors have become so well integrated into American life, and have given so much to the American nation is a hopeful message to the global community. Their children, and their children's children carry the burden of these awful times with hard work, and perseverance. As we have seen in Sudan, the world must be proactive in preventing these occurrences. We have seen how relations lately, between the Armenian and Turkish governments have thawed, and will assist in any way possible to mediate further cooperation. We must not jeopardize the developing relationship, and must be supportive at constructive efforts for regional cooperation and stability. I am extremely thankful for the well meaning support I've received from my Armenian supporters, and wish to express my deepest sympathies to their tragic history. I hope that we can forge a future together of mutual understanding, trust, and peace."
Most of the attempt at guessing the speech is highly speculative, but one thing I believe will be key this year in avoiding the mention of a Genocide is that Obama will indicate that it may hurt the thawing relationship between Turkey and Armenia. It appears that the official position is slowly coalescing into the supposed prevention of meddling in a situation that must be handled by Turkey and Armenia. Never mind the fact that most Armenians effected by the Genocide are now scattered all over the world. Ultimately, we as Armenians must be strong enough to avoid the mentality of victims, and regardless of how the Genocide is actually labeled, should strive to improve the situation of our homeland. Although there is much to be said about carrying on the good fight for Genocide recognition and universal justice, we can equally become energetic towards improving Armenia's condition and situation. What good is Genocide recognition if we don't have a homeland that we can call our own?
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
The Geography of Hurrimontania
Of the various elements contributing to the cultural distinctness of a particular ethnic group, geography plays a substantial role. It ultimately effects the technological sophistication and cultural developments of a given region of the world. Further, It defines the rate at which civilization develops, along with the introduction to agriculture, domestication of animals, migratory patterns of human populations, technological advances such as metal work, the wheel, and many others. The advent of agriculture, animal domestication, and metallurgy helped usher in the exponentially developing technological and cultural explosion of the modern world. We have flourished as a species, due in large part to the geographic serendipity of certain population centers, and our highly evolved social networking skills. The complex ability of human beings to continually reinvent their world, and constantly struggle to improve their condition is a milestone in the history of our species. Knowing that modern human beings have been around for 200,000 years, it wasn't until 50,000 years ago that a cultural awakening took place, in which human development and imagination flourished. Some liken it to a reorganization of the brain that may have lead to an increasingly sophisticated linguistic ability. Regardless of the biological shifts, archaeological records indicate that explosions in artistic expression and cultural relevance occurred that has increased in momentum for every progressive generation. It was at this junction in time that we may consider ourselves as having arrived as modern humans. Yet, all the trappings of our success were still thousands of years away. The agricultural revolution had to wait for the end of the last ice age, when global temperatures uncharacteristically stabilized enough for our expansive growth.
Through luck and circumstance, the land eventually called Armenia was located in a geographically fortuitous zone for rapid cultural growth. The available wild grains, that were soon domesticated, the wild sheep and goats, that were also quickly domesticated, and the surface deposits of copper, tin, and iron truly providing metallurgical richness were all factors in determining one of the world's first centers of sedentary life and the eventual development of civilization. In essence, the lands of Armenia possessed all the latent characteristics to help plant the seeds of modern civilization. Although ancestral populations to the Armenians were slowly discovering ways to tame nature and shape their world, the resource-rich land was highly mountanous and provided many challenges to hospitable life. The extremely unstable continental climate, raging rivers, earthquakes, volcanoes, and constant human migration through the area were all obstacles to a comfortable life. As is common amongst all humans though, these progenitors were adept at using their mental and physical tools to tame even the most difficult environments. Having a thorough understanding of the rugged terrain, their awareness payed off in ways that effected the technological revolution.
As is often the case with geography, maps will provide frames of reference to visually simplify the topics discussed and the areas in question. Generally, the Republic of Armenia today is but a small portion of the eastern end of historic Armenia. There is no simple name for this contentuous area of the world. It is a zone divided by many various names, but none that specifically address the region that was the technological and innovative cradle of civilization. The ancestral lands of the various people that contributed to the ethnogenesis of the Armenians can be further localized. To simplify the nomenclature, I have invented a term for this rugged land; Hurromontania. It will become obvious as we proceed through history that at some point in the late Bronze Age, a people known as the Hurrians culturally dominated this region of the world. Their influence was felt from surrounding empires that developed long after the Hurrian's assimilation and demise. The Hittites, Assyrians, Medians, Phoenecians, and even Egyptians all had their cultures influenced, whether directly or indirectly through contact with the Hurrians.
The geography of Hurrimontania, therefore, is of prime importance in understanding the Ethnogenesis of the Armenian people. Before proceeding into any historical or archeological context, we must familiarize ourselves with the stage in which this history is set. To simplify the geographic concepts, I have provided many relevant maps, some of which may be somewhat difficult to decipher. Yet, they are all critical in our exploration of a people and culture.
Relief maps of Hurrimontania with modern day political boundaries
The maps above represent the modern political boundaries, as well as the geographic relief of the region I call Hurrimontania. The reason for the need to create a new geographic designation is that as of today, there is no cohesive name for this region of the world. The Northeast part is called the Caucases and Transcaucasia, while the Western part, entirely encompassed by Turkey is known from the ancient Greek designation as Anatolia. The Northwestern part of Iran, within the Zagros Mountains is also known as the Northwestern Iranian Plateau. As for the elevated regions of central Turkey, the geographic designation is known as the Anatolian Plateau. The central region East of the Anatolian Pleateau, where the Lakes of Van, Urmia, and Sevan are located is also known as the Armenian Highlands, or Armenian Plateau. Beyond the detailed geographic descriptions, the area has also been called the Near East, the Middle East, and West Asia (although it's only a small part of those regions). Yet, The Caucasus, although politically and historically tied to the history of the Northern Middle East is left out.
Boundaries of Hurrimontania
In this map, I have illustrated the approximate geographic boundaries of Hurrimontania. The reason for the nomenclature of Hurrimontania will become apparent when we examine the history of the region. In short however, the area in red represents the extent that the people known as Hurrians spread their influence (before the establishment of the Hurrian State of Mitanni in orange). Thus, in Latin, Hurrimontania means "mountains of the Hurrians". The outline in orange represents the only known Hurrian state that spoke the Hurrian Language. However, the people of Hurrian stock eventually came to speak many widely divergent languages, and the boundries represent those facts.
Significant Mountain Ranges of Hurrimontania
In this map, the many prominent mountain ranges that make up and generally outline the peripheral area of Hurrimontania are crudely color coded. There are numerous mountain ranges, plateaus, valleys, and other landmarks that are within the boundaries of the above map. Of the ranges that form the boundaries, the Caucausus to the Northeast (North border of Georgia and Azerbaijan) in dark blue, the Zagros in the Southwest (in Northern Iran) in green, the Taurus mountains to the Southwest in brown, and the Pontic mountains (labelled as Dogukaradenis) in the Northwest in orange, the West ranges have generally been within what's called Anatolia. Other ranges that are within the boundaries include the Lesser Caucasus in light blue, and the anti-Taurus in red. Since most of these ranges lie in east-west geographic lines, people's migratory patterns will naturally occur between the corresponding ranges. This east-west migration of people could very well account for the spread of the indo-European group once agriculture was established in Hurrimontania. Further, having an east-west association allows for migrants to take their agricultural discoveries to completely different locations still within the same latitude. Since even Southern Mesopotamia occurs within similar latitudes, crops were transferred rather easily. There was no need to allow generations of acclimatization for certain crops to thrive.
Significant Waterways of Hurrimontania
This map highlights the historically important waterways that have effected the development of the region. The area between the lakes of Van, Sevan, and Urmia, and the northern reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is called the Armenian Highlands and is probably within the ancestral boundaries of the Hurrian people. The Arax and Kura Rivers which must also be included in this map are significant to the ethnogenesis of the Hurrian's Bronze Age Ancestors.
Plate Techtonics and the Geographic Development of Hurrimontania
Having highlighted the modern geography of the region, it would be incomplete without an explanation as to the reason for the extremely rugged terrain and the high elevations that produce the snows which rivers and mountains are dependent on for aquatic nourishment.
The following two maps show the active fault lines and the movement of the crust in relation to the Hurrimontania region. In general, the theory of Plate Technotics dictates that the top layer of the Earth, known as the Crust is composed of many large plates that move against each other. As the continents and sea floors spread and crash together, new lands are created, and others destroyed. This constant movement of the crust is fueled by the warmth that's trapped within the Earth. The internal heat in the deeper layers provides the energy with which these massive areas move. Hurrimontania is situated in a very active techtonic region.
From the map below, the two most significant plate movements are the Arabian Plate that's slowly moving Northward in relation to the Anatolian Plate, and the Anatolian Plate moving Westward in relation to the Eastward moving Eurasian plate. These techtonic movements produce fault lines, which can indicate the location of these plate movements. The North Anatolian Fault is the boundary between the Anatolian Plate and the Eurasian Plate. This is a very active seismic area, because as the crust slowly moves, usually about the same rate as a fingernail, pressures build and when they're released, large and damaging earthquakes can occur. This whole region, due to the boundary between so many plates is highly susceptible to earthquakes, and in the recent past, was home to many active volcanoes. In fact, there are many volcanoes that are currently dormant, where the potential for a future explosive episode is almost certain. The most recent active volcano is found on the Eastern shore of Lake Van, known as Nemrut Dagh. In fact, this region was known to the locals as the land of Fire and Ice, due to the mountains, and the active volcanoes.
The East Anatolian fault, which starts as the Southern boundary of the Anatolian plate is a result of the pressure from the Arabian plate. In addition, the Segment of the Eurasian plate that lies in the Caucasus (Northeast area) is slowly moving south, compressing the Armenian highlands even further, producing the Greater and Lesser Caucasus thrust and fold belts. The region, centered between the lakes of Van, Urmia, and Sevan is known geographically as the East Anatolian Collision Zone. It is in this part of the world where the ancestral stock of the Hurrians developed and spread. The northern boundary of the East Anatolian Collision Zone is where the devastating 1988 Spitak Armenian earthquake occurred.
With an understanding of the present day geographic appearance of Hurrimontania, we can extrapolate the composition of the landform in the past, as well as what it may look like in the future. We know that the whole Mediterranean, as well Hurrimontania, Central Asia, and the Himalayas where once, hundreds of millions of years in the past, a large ocean basin. This was called the Tethys sea, and over time, as the plates pressed together, the land between was squeezed into mountain ranges (the third map illustrates the continents of the world as of 95 million years ago, and the red hash marks indicate the part of the Tethys Sea that eventually collided to form Hurrimontania). The Himalayas, being the most elevated mountains in the world were created when most of India, which was once an island, collided with Asia. In the case of Hurrimontania, the Arabian plate collided with the Eurasian plate, creating the central Anatolian micro-plate (since compared to other plates that can be the size of continents and even oceans is much smaller), and a region of rubble and elevated tortuous land that is called the East Anatolian Collision Zone, entirely within the boundaries of the Armenian Highlands. This then is the heart of ethnographic heart of Hurrimontanea. As will become apparent, the Hurrians initial origins are thought to have occurred within the East Anatolian Collision Zone. .
The future of Hurrmintania will look even more dramatic as the Arabian plate continues to push North and squeeze the mountains to greater and greater elevations. In addition, as the African plate also moves North, it will shrink the Eastern Mediterranean ocean, until mountain ranges are formed where the Mediterranean once exited. Ultimately, most of what we know as the Middle East will be a highly elevated region like the Himalayas, with Hurromontania (since it's already well elevated) at its peak.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Determining how languages are related to each other, either through common descent, known unsurprisingly as genetic links, or through shared contact, known as phonetic similarities, is instrumental in understanding human migrational patterns, cultural activity, and oft unrecorded history. The analysis of the contents and structure of language, known as morphology, has its analog in biology, which again unsurprisingly is called morphology (in this case, it's the formative structure, or physical appearance, of the given organism.) To provide an example that I shall endeavor to elaborate on in the next post, is the morphology of the Armenian language. Phonetically, the Armenian language is most similar to those of the Caucases (such as Georgian). In other words, the Armenian language sounds very similar to the South Caucasian languages. Superficially, this seems obvious, considering the proximity between the two. Yet, despite the phonetic similarity, genetically, Armenian is actually an Indo-European language with murky origins that date back over 5000 years. Digging further, one discovers that many Armenian words are actually Iranian in origin. To be more specific, they are loan words that were absorbed into the Armenian language during the Parthian conquest of Armenia in the 6th century BCE. This middle Iranian language of Parthian, has long since become extinct, but its influence in modern Armenian, Farsi, and other regionally effected languages is prevalent. It must be noted that although the Iranian languages also have an Indo-European genetic link, they branched long after Armenian was already an independent language. Attempting to determine which language group within the Indo-European family Armenian is most related to is even harder, because the time for changes has been so extensive, and there are sparse records that attest to early Armenian. It's only when Armenian was recorded, once an alphabet was established in the 5th century CE, that we can understand the modern changes that have been effected by subsequent migrations by Arabs, Turks, modern Persians, and Russians. As mentioned, the details of this will be further elaborated in the next post. To determine the changes that Armenian has undergone, one must look at the mutations that have resulted in pronunciation, which eventually changes the written form as well. Before the creation of a written system, languages were able to more readily change, but as literacy increased, a more conservative echo remained in linguistic features. Due to inherent migrations and proximal influences by other languages, the morphology of spoken language shifted as those of the written remained. It took a considerable amount of effort to change the literary language, and as can be attested by early languages still used in churches (such as Grabar Armenian, or in the case of Roman Catholics, Latin), some institutions were able to retain the most conservative elements. Although the early phonetics of Armenian, as it was retained by the creation of the Armenian alphabet, is used by Eastern Armenians, those in the West, mostly through proximal contact, have become phonetically aligned much more closely with Turkish. It's interesting to note then that Armenian is phonetically influenced by both Georgian and Turkish, neither of which are Indo-European languages. Morphologically, Turkish has more influence in modern Armenian, when compared to early Armenian, because of the near millennium of contact between the two. Any morphological changes to Armenian outside of phonetics due to the Caucasian languages has long since disappeared. Through this, it appears that perhaps phonetic changes are more conserved when compared to other morphological features.
The similarity between language and biology is probably related to the fact that both languages and organisms evolve through incremental changes, otherwise known as mutations. As is typical with human, large or even small populations may migrate so far, that their initial contact with their group of origin may be completely severed. In this instance, the isolated group is suddenly free to evolve their own features. The simplest example of this would be the Polynesian migrations. Each group eventually radiated across the habitable islands of Polynesia, and by analyzing the morphology of each language, whether it's Tahitian, Hawaiian, Tongan, or Maori, a common link can be determined. Further, by observing the archaeological record, as far as human inhabitation, one can correlate the changes in the language over the given time required. Similarly, in biology, by correlating the fossil record with that of the genetic differences, a greater precision is uncovered, and each discipline is further sharpened. When Charles Darwin observed the various finches in the Galapagos Islands, he noted how similar they were in appearance, only differing in the shape of their beaks. This appearance then is what's known as the phenotype of the finch. Darwin rightfully deduced that all these similar birds must have evolved from a common ancestor. Knowing that the nearest landmass was South America, he compared these finches to those of the mainland, and a key moment in biology was forged. Once molecular genetics developed, a new tool was found that was able to analyze the genetic differences between the finches and even determine how, and approximately when, they migrated between the islands. Looking at another species, it's possible that minimal differences in genotype (within the genes) can lead to significant differences in phenotype. In this example, the variable appearance of the domestic dog shows how large phenotypical differences can appear when genotype is minimally effected. Although all dogs evolved from the wolf, they vary in appearance from the teacup Chihuahua to the great Dane. These changes are a result of humans selectively breeding dogs for thousands of years, hoping to enhance their aesthetic appeal, productivity, obedience, task oriented goals, stamina, power, aggression, or any number of traits. In nature, it's the natural environment that acts as a sieve, allowing only those animals that are best suited to survive and reproduce. In human languages, a close genetic relationship can occasionally lead to significant changes in phonetic expression. In mountainous areas of the world, significant variation of dialects occur, rendering them nearly unintelligible. To continue using the Armenian language as an example, the local dialect of Armenians living in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) is so different from standard Eastern Armenian that it's mostly unintelligible. Looking at Europe, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French all have their common origins in Vulgar Latin. Initially dialects of common, or Vulgar Latin within the Roman Empire, they became increasingly divergent upon the Empire's collapse. The seemingly profound phonetic differences are muted by the orthographic similarities in the written languages. Thus, once again, one can see that phonetic changes are less conserved than those that occur in the orthographic, or written language.
In biology, convergent evolution occurs when two species, from completely different origins (distantly they're all related, but once their ancestral species radiated to form new species, they are now distinct) resemble each other superficially. Bats and birds both evolved wings to help them defy gravity and achieve powered flight. How they actually developed wings occurred in completely different ways, dependent on their inherent genetic structure. Whereas birds evolved from fast moving dinosaurs, with proto-wings that perhaps assisted them in short bursts of flight, bats evolved from small mammals that were probably able to glide from tree to tree by membranes that extended across their arms and legs. Over time, these separate species were able to reach the skies. This convergent evolution then has almost no analog with language. It is possible that two completely unrelated languages may merge, but organisms that are unrelated cannot merge together. They may exchange a few genes through retro viral elements, but for the most part, they do not have the flexibility of language. Yet, before languages come in such proximal contact that they become absorbed, some qualities of an unrelated language may become adapted. Perhaps through extended linguistic contact, the cadence of the two unrelated languages may come to resemble each other. Although phonetically, Armenian and Farsi have distinct sounds, their rhythm and cadence can be quite similar. Especially with Eastern-Armenians, the extended contact with the Persian languages has come to probably effect some qualities in the flow of pronunciation. It's similar to the cadence of Dutch and English, with a resemblance that can be uncanny at times.
Ultimately, the link between biological and linguistic evolution has an all together deeper level of prominence. If it wasn't for the evolution of our species, we wouldn't have the language ability to explain these concepts to each other. Ultimately, all language is best understood with an underlying acceptance of the importance of evolutionary biology. No respectful philologist will ever come to believe that language and evolution are two unrelated fields. Beyond this deep level of semblance, as demonstrated, languages and biological evolution share traits that can lead to mutual understanding and useful analogies for comprehending each system.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Through luck and circumstance, the land that was eventually called Armenia was located in a geographically fortuitous zone for rapid cultural growth. The available wild grains, that were soon domesticated, the wild sheep and goats, that were also quickly domesticated, and the surface deposits of copper, tin, and iron truly providing metallurgical richness were all factors in determining one of the world's first centers of sedentary life and the eventual development of civilization. In essence, the lands of Armenia possessed all the latent characteristics to help plant the seeds of modern civilization. Although ancestral populations to the Armenians were slowly discovering ways to tame nature and shape their world, the resource-rich land was highly mountanous and provided many challenges to hospitable life. The extremely unstable continental climate, raging rivers, earthquakes, volcanoes, and constant human migration through the area were all obstacles to a comfortable life. As is common amongst all humans though, these progenitors were adept at using their mental and physical tools to tame even the most difficult environments. Having a thorough understanding of the rugged terrain, their awareness payed off in ways that effected the technological revolution.
As is often the case with geography, maps will provide frames of reference to visually simplify the topics discussed and the areas in question. Generally, the Republic of Armenia today is but a small portion of the eastern end of historic Armenia. There is no simple name for this contentuous area of the world. It is a zone divided by many various names, but none that simply describe the region that was the technological and innovative cradle of civilization. The following map indicates the present-day political boundries of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, centered on the Western Asia peninsula known alternately as Asia Minor, Anatolia, or Asian Turkey.
The ancestral lands of the various people that contributed to the ethnogenesis of the Armenians can be further localized. To simplify the nomenclature, I have invented a term for this rugged land; Hurromontania. It will become obvious as we proceed through history that at some point in the late Bronze Age, a people known as the Hurrians culturally dominated this region of the world. Their influence was felt from surrounding empires that developed long after the Hurrian's assimilation and demise. The Hittites, Assyrians, Medians, Phoenecians, and even Egyptians all had their cultures influenced, whether directly or indirectly through contact with the Hurrians. Thus, due to their widespread and lasting influence, and the fact that almost all the territory that was Hurrian was eventually populated at one time or another by their semi-descendants, the Armenians, I have named this region in their honor (marked in Red, with the orange area representing the largely Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni).
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
With all the vile, and irrational criticism directed against the theory of Natural Selection, it must be stated that evolution is a fact, no less true than gravity, thermodynamics, nuclear force, human language, etc. Charles Darwin's greatest contribution to evolution was uncovering the mechanism for it. The mechanism that results in the evolution of species is what he called Natural Selection. He uses this term to contrast the artificial selection that humans have used to help domesticate the natural world around us. He often referenced pigeons, because their shorter life-span compared to ours, and their reproductive fecundity allows a pigeon fancier/breeder to understand the ever-shifting role that selection plays in their external appearance. For example, if a breeder found a pigeon with a novel feature, such as feathery tufts that extended a few millimeters onto the leg, he may choose to continuously breed and cross-breed pigeons of similar appearance until one that has feathery tufts that extend all the way down to the lower legs. He can do this, not only within his lifetime, but within a few years, and thus, relate to the role that selection plays. Likewise, most of the existing breeds of dogs that are represented today have, for the most part, appeared in only the last 200 years, through artificial selection. All the agriculture that we have, has been modified from plants that were collected in the wild. The appearance of wild grapes or strawberries is quite different from the cultivated varieties. Anyone who has ever gathered wild strawberries can attest to their small size, whereas there are artificially selected varieties that are nearly as large as one's hand. There is no controversy when it comes to artificial selection because for the most part, these processes occur within a comprehensible time frame. Yet, the controversy over Natural Selection results because of its implication for the non-existence of God, or a prime directional force. Some people are so clouded with the belief of the existence of a meddling deity, that they're willing to reject a mountain of evidence against it. Since Darwin's time, we have come to realize that natural processes account for all the diversity we see in life today. Before Newton's discovery of the Law of gravity, it was thought by some that God (or insert your chosen deity) kept everything somehow tethered to the Earth. Before the discovery of the Periodic Table of Elements, it was thought by some that all the elements on Earth were composed of a few primary ones, or infused with the essence of something that was created by a creator. Now that we have natural processes to explain physics, and chemistry, Darwin came by, along with Alfred Russel Wallace, to help biology into its rightful place. The concept of natural selection has been the hardest to accept partly because anthropocentric views continue to dominate human thinking. We believe that somehow, we are different from all the other animals. That if we accept that human beings are a complete result of natural processes, with no input from a supernatural entity, we somehow do a disservice to our species. Basically, it's our egos that convince us that we are something special in the eyes of an imaginary entity that we create to feel comfortable in a universe that is apathetic to our needs. The ultimate implication that Darwin's theory of Natural Selection has, outside the sphere of since, is the continued lessening of the role that supernatural entities we create with our imaginations have on life. Philosophically, the eventuality is to accept that the natural processes that govern and dictate the universe are enough to explain everything around us. It is this fear that has resulted in so much unnecessary controversy.
One of Darwin's great weaknesses was the lack of an agent that dictated the heritable changes that are passed on from one generation to the next. Having explained natural selection as the mechanism for evolution, an agent is needed that leads to these heritable changes. In other words, what did mutation act upon so that changes occurred in speciation? Other questions Darwin asked was how did species from vastly separate continents have a common origin? If humans descended from apes, where is all the fossil evidence for it? How many species die and are fossilized in conditions to help preserve them? How does speciation occur when isolation is not involved? These questions were not enough to deter Darwin, but did result in his hesitation in publishing his work for nearly two decades. The impetus for Darwin's eventual publication was Alfred Russel Wallace, another great British naturalist, who had concurrently also discovered Natural Selection as the mechanism for evolution. Although Darwin's insights had come before Wallace, having taken two decades to thoroughly analyze all the collected specimens and attempt at correlating it with other fields, Wallace was ready to publish his data. He further felt that because he lacked the notion of heritable characteristics, which eventually was discovered to be genes, in the form of DNA, his work could become prey to indefensible criticism. Being a considerate researcher, Darwin agreed to publish his work along side Wallace's, and together, they unequivocally established evolution through natural selection as a theory of nature. What had allowed Wallace to publish his findings so quickly was that he was already a supporter of the transmutation of species before his expeditions to the Brazilian Amazon and the Malay Archipelago. What Darwin had observed in the radiation of Galapagos finches, Wallace had observed in the various closely related butterfly species in what's now Malaysia. Darwin needed an extra leap, in which he would have to independently discover the transmutation of species through his own extensive field observations. Eventually, with both fathers of evolutionary biology in agreement, other scientists where able to help further our understanding of biology.
Once James Watson and Francis Crick had discovered the agent for natural selection, molecular biology became to once again prove Charles Darwin correct. In Darwin's time, unbeknownst to him, Gregor Mendel had already explained the process of genetics through the inheritance of certain traits. It wasn't until after Darwin's death, in the early 20th century that Mendel's work was able to become widespread enough for biologists to form a solid link between genetics and evolution. Some of the eventual discoveries have befuddled scientists for generations. Even today, we are constantly reminded of how complex genetics and natural selection can be. We can't afford to become complacent and take our discoveries for granted. Of the various new discoveries which have truly altered the field of genetics and evolutionary biology within the last few generations are horizontal gene transfer, self organization (cellular), endosymbiosis, and epigenetics. I will probably discuss these new processes in another post. What's important however is that we now have irrefutable evidence for the validity of Darwin's theory of Evolution through Natural Selection. We know that mutations are caused by changes to the DNA, either directly to the sequence, or indirectly, effecting the signaling processes. Eventually, these changes are great enough for speciation to occur. Critics often use micro-evolution and macro-evolution in a pathetic attempt at generating artificial categories for species' changes. The truth is that evolutionary radiation is an incremental mutational process that may seem small in human time scales (as micro-evolution), but multiplied by a factor closer to geological scales, seems significant (macro-evolution). When selection is left to the environment, and not an intelligent agent, then the time required for observable and measurable changes often takes much longer than human time scales. This is when fossil evidence from the geological record is used to identify various species anatomically. If every single organism that ever lived on earth was preserved, and we had the fossil record complete, we wouldn't see different species. For example, if we were to follow modern human beings, back to the last common ancestor of us and chimpanzees, and then back to the earliest primates, we would see negligible changes between each generation. If we decided to skip back every 5,000 generations we would see small but noticeable changes. Skipping back every 50,000 generations, these changes would look even greater. Finally, if we skipped back every 5 million generations, the species would hardly look related to the one before (in fact, to do this, we would have to include the earliest tetrapods). Richard Dawkins calls this concept the "genomic library." Thus, observing evolution is often based on the perspective of time. We can't very well observe living changes every one thousand years, but we can observe the geological record and the fossils that have been left in the past. Knowing this, we can perhaps use the models developed through observing the past, to analyzing the possibilities of evolutionary changes into the future.
Embracing Darwin's concept of evolution through natural selection, and extending it to the modern synthesis we've developed in the various different fields of biology, allows us to philosophically examine the impact this theory has on our place in the world, and ultimately, in the universe. In the most basic ways, we are no different then all the other living organisms. Yet, what defines a species of organism is their unique adaptations that differentiate them from other ones. We, as human beings, have acquired many traits through lucky chance, that makes us unique, and does in some way separate us from other animals. We have advanced language, intelligence (most of us), problem solving ability, social cooperation, and even the possible ability to create artificial life. The process of natural selection, does not require a natural environment, but one that applies selective pressures from the environment. The changes that have occurred in species on Earth are non-directed, which again is controversial to some irrational people. They go through fits and loops in an attempt at explaining evolution as a non-random directed process. The evidence however, indicates that evolutionary changes in organisms are completely constrained by the environment, but not dictated by a hidden "directed" force. This is yet another futile attempt at injecting a supernatural conscience to something that does not in any way indicate it. Regardless of all the anti-evolutionary noise, we stand here, on the eve of Darwin's 200th birth day, with the technological sophistication that puts us well on the path towards creating life that was not a product of random changes in the natural world, but may still come to be a product of random changes within the algorithm of programs. Understanding evolution, especially our place in it, does not make us egotistical, but on the contrary, allows us to maintain some humility. We are after all, a product of our natural environment, and hold within us the power to truly change the world. We can either look at the world as our dominion (the Biblical belief) in which we have tyrannical reign over all organisms, or see ourselves as a vital part of the planet, with the unique ability to analyze our impact and address the problems that we cause. Further, we must strive to help our fellow human beings with more than just self-comforting, but ineffective prayers. We must indicate with our actions and deeds, our talents and our abilities, our desire to help further humanities and the planet's best interest. What Darwin has taught us is that we are but one of the many lucky inheritors of the ever changing world. How we choose to deal with this understanding is what ultimately defines our species.