Thursday, April 14, 2011

My life on Venus

When I was in elementary school we had to read a story about a bunch of kids living in a colony on a terraformed Venus. The process of altering the climate still had a long way to go, and the weather was nonstop, driving rain. Once every few years the scientists would adjust the conditions so that the rain would dry up for a day.

All but one of the children in the story had been born on Venus; the one exception was a girl who had arrived from Earth and who had experienced the warmth of sunshine on her face.

For some reason that I've long since forgotten, the native Venusians locked the Earth girl in a closet on the day when the rain stopped. They ventured out and enjoyed an afternoon in the open more than they could possibly have imagined. But when the sun set and the rain began again, they remembered the girl and, of course, felt guilty for their actions.

I didn't think about this story much until I moved to Portland. Now I sympathize with that Earth girl a lot. Especially when driving in the rain.

ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, I did run across one thing that gave me a moment of delight today. A scientist has applied techniques developed for genetic analysis to identify patterns in human languages, and he made this fascinating claim:
Quentin D. Atkinson, a biologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, ... has found a simple but striking pattern in some 500 languages spoken throughout the world: a language area uses fewer phonemes the farther that early humans had to travel from Africa to reach it.

Some of the click-using languages of Africa have more than 100 phonemes, whereas Hawaiian, toward the far end of the human migration route out of Africa, has only 13. English has 45 phonemes.

This pattern of decreasing diversity with distance, similar to the well-established decrease in genetic diversity with distance from Africa, implies that the origin of modern human language is in the region of southwestern Africa, Dr. Atkinson says in an article published on Thursday in the journal Science.

Language is at least 50,000 years old, the date that modern humans dispersed from Africa, and some experts say it is at least 100,000 years old. Dr. Atkinson, if his work is correct, is picking up a distant echo from this far back in time.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...


I remember reading that story too, although I remember it differently. In my remembered version -- which was, to me, seemingly written before we really knew what was beneath Venus' clouds -- Venus was naturally a tropical planet, always raining. Also, the lonely girl/boy had *never* experienced sunshine, and was yet locked up on the one day of his/her lifetime when the sun was forecast to shine on Venus. I distinctly remember thinking at such a young age (somewhat editorialized for now), "how can that child *not* become a sociopath?" It was an early lesson in the mutual-occuring dark-side of humanity.

I think about that story every now and again. I'm glad you actually prompted me too today!

And speaking of sociopaths:

Be well,

9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ever the contrarian though, I have to say, not much makes me happier than a rainy day. ;P


9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sociopath... or political genius?

11:23 AM  

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