You're All Grown Up, But Never Stop Experimenting
Try a few new things and yeah, sometimes it will be embarrassing. But maybe that is not such a bad thing. Maybe it’s worth it.
Tim Harford has been called “Britain’s Malcolm Gladwell.” He is the well-known “Undercover Economist” for the Financial Times. His new book is called "ADAPT: Why Success Always Starts with Failure."
We need to experiment more. We need more trial and error. I started thinking "Well so what are you doing Tim? Are you experimenting with your own life?" And I thought back to one of the times when I’d been happiest - when I was a college student. I think the reason so many people enjoy being college students is think about it, you’re experimenting. You’re experimenting with everything.
You’ve got new friends, a new place, new ideas. Maybe you’re experimenting with some things you shouldn’t be experimenting with, but you’re doing all this experimentation and it’s in a safe space. Nothing can really go wrong. And at the end of three years you’ll sit for your exams and you’ll graduate and off you’ll go and get a job. It’s just a wonderful time of life despite the fact that you’ll fail and you’ll screw up. You’ll embarrass yourself. You’ll have those moments that make you cringe. It’s actually tremendously fulfilling.
I then think about what happened to me the year after college. I stopped experimenting. I put on a suit. I put on a tie. I got a job in management consulting and I tried to figure out exactly how that job was done and I stopped experimenting. My world shrank. I became very conservative and afraid of failure and I think it was probably the worst year of my life.
I think a lot of people have had that experience and we spend much of our adult lives thinking back and harking back to a time when we felt freer to experiment. So I'm not saying you should start smoking dope and get a really terrible haircut and all the things you used to do as a student. But maybe you should recapture some of that willingness to fail a little, to try a few new things and yeah, sometimes it will be embarrassing. But maybe that is not such a bad thing. Maybe it’s worth it.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
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