Honorary Wizard of Unseen University & my family’s webbed toes
Who do you look like? Have you ‘inherited’ your Uncle’s ears or your grandmother’s smile? In my case it is webbed toes – and before you ask, no, I’m a lousy swimmer.
It seems obvious that children look like their parents, but this is worth much more thought than many of us give it, and that’s where New Optimist contributor and Science of Discworld author, the reproductive biologist Professor Jack Cohen comes in.
In The New Optimists Jack writes about how we might soon understand the complexity of the apparently obvious.
If I can return to feet. My daughter’s are also webbed but otherwise don’t look much like mine. My granddaughter Zoe has, to date, the chunky foot of her dad plus ‘my’ family webbed-toe-bit.
On the left here is an image of my great-grandmother (not the webbed-toe side of the family).
Do I have her ‘look’? I’m actually more like t’other side of the family though I suspect those of you who know me will search and find similarities between this Victorian face staring out at you and your memory of mine. (But you would, wouldn’t you!)
My aunt, my dad’s cousin, my nephew and my son all have her look staring up at me from family photographs.
My daughter is much less like her while the newest generation (her daughter, little Zoe) is like her.
What is going on? We notice all these similarities, we remark on them quite casually. But how is it happening? For all the insights Darwin gave us, for all that Mendel‘s experiments illustrated, for all the research in genetics since Crick et al gave us the image of the double helix, we just don’t yet know.
This is what Professor Cohen believes we are now close to unpicking. He thinks about us and our (Roundworld) Science from many different perspectives. He’s not just a reproductive biologist and an Honorary Professor of Mathematics, he is also an Honorary Wizard of Unseen University through his co-authorship with Terry Pratchett and the mathematician Ian Stewart of The Science of Discworld series.
These bestsellers are not typical fantasy books. Skepticnews describes them as explaining:
science concepts by comparing them to the decidedly different physical laws of the Discworld series.
Jack also advises science fiction authors and film makers on aliens, how they might evolve, how they might behave. It is partly through solving these problems that he is able to give fresh insight to who we are and how we pass on and pick up traits.