Life in Color is arranged by colour in a rainbow of beauty. Each chapter, devoted to a colour, begins with a short, inspiring essay that explores the qualities, meaning, and symbolism of that colour. Colour chapters include photographs that are predominantly blue, orange, green, yellow, purple and red. Smaller sections present images in silver, brown, black, gold, white, and “unseen colour”—not seen with the naked eye, such as laser, the universe, and microscopic images. Throughout, interesting quotes and surprising short insights in the captions give the reader an entirely new look at the colour in the world around us.
Let’s start with a bizarre thought: the discipline of neuroscience is actually the brain coming to understand itself. To try and understand the folded, overlapping, brilliant mess of the structure of the brain, biologist Paul MacLean developed the famous triune brain theory based on the evolutionary processes that formed it. According to the theory, the brain was built from the inside out, with three main parts layering on top of each other over time: the reptilian, the limbic, and the neocortex. The reptilian brain is the oldest and most primal, first emerging in fish nearly 500 million years ago. It controls basic but vital biological functions such as heart rate, breathing, and temperature, and it’s also responsible for aggressive territorial behaviours and social heirarchies. The limbic brain emerged next, 150 million years ago with the first mammals—it’s the major source of human emotions, moods, judgements, self-awareness, and concern for our young. Lastly, the necortex evolved with the primates (and the genus Homo) just 2–3 million years ago. It is this outer layer that truly makes us human. It’s responsible for the development of language, imagination, astract thought, and consciousness, and is the reason human culture developed—the reason poetry and mathematics and music and science exist. The three parts don’t operate independently, but instead have developed trillions of neural connections in a complex network. It’s like the brain is an ancient city that has expanded and developed over time, but roads and tunnels have sprung up to connect the old to the new.
Visualization of stimulation in the brain with scans taken over a seven minute sequence - via The Visual MD:
The human brain can be separated into regions based on structure and function - vision, audition, body sensation, etc, known as Brodmann’s area map.
This animation shows the functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, brain data of a participant experiencing an orgasm and the corresponding relationships seen within these different regions based on utilization of oxygen levels in the blood. 20 snapshots in time of the fMRI data are taken from a 7 minute sequence. Over the course of the 7 minutes the participant approaches orgasm, reaches orgasm and then enters a quiet period.
Oxygen utilization levels are displayed on a spectrum from dark red (lowest activity) to yellow/white (highest). As can be observed, an orgasm leads to almost the entire brain illuminating yellow, indicating that most brain systems become active at orgasm.
3D printed shoes by footwear design student Janina Alleyne takes inspiration from biological structures:
Exoskeleton - Inspiration drawn from the architectural structure and silhouettes of external skeletons of marine invertebrates, creatures and insects. Using the advanced technology of 3D Printing these fluid anatomical shapes will not only be translated visually but also in the design process.
Biological systems depend on membrane receptors to communicate, while technology relies on electric fields and currents to transmit data—but scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have created a transistor modelled on living cells that it might allow electronic devices to be hooked directly to the nervous system. The transistor consists of two metal electrodes connected by a carbon nanotube, which acts as a semiconductor. The nanotube is layered with both an insulating polymer and a lipid bi-layer that mimics the structure around cell membranes, and the transistor is then powered by adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—the energy currency of living cells. When exposed to ATP, a protein in the lipid bi-layer acts as an ion pump, shuttling sodium and potassium ions across the membrane—so when both a voltage and an ATP solution (including the ions) are applied to the device, a current flows through the electrodes. The transistor is the first example of an integrated bioelectric system; a hybrid, half-man half-machine. The technology could be used to construct seamless bioelectronic interfaces, and even help human consciousness merge with technology—imagine being mentally linked to your laptop!
The incredibly beautiful, incredibly intricate Leafy Sea Dragon (Phycodurus eques) lives amongst the rocky reefs, seaweed beds and seagrass meadows of Australia’s southern waters. They are given a fragile appearance by their gossamer, leafy appendages, which actually evolved as camouflage to blend in with floating pieces of seaweed, and their movements mimic the swaying of seaweed and kelp—they’re one of the few species that actually hide from predators by moving. They also have long sharp spines along the side of their body, and can grow to a length of 35 centimetres. Curiously, males are the child bearers, incubating the eggs on a spongy brood patch on their tail. They’re currently listed as a threatened species because pollution threatens their habitat, and also because they’re frequently (and illegally) taken by divers to keep as pets.
For hundreds of thousands of years, megafauna dominated the Australian ecosystem. The three-tonne, two metre tall Diprotodon optatum roamed Australia and Papua New Guinea from 1.6 million years ago until their extinction 40,000–25000 years ago—the time that humans arrived in Australia. The most complete skeleton ever found has a hole in one rib, which is tentatively identified as being caused by a spear, suggesting the Diprotodon were hunted to extinction. Human landscape modification such as controlled burning also would have damaged the Diprotodon’s ecosystems, but either way, humans played a crucial role in their disappearance. Today, its closest living relatives are the wombat and the koala. The Diprotodon looks terrifyingly ferocious compared to them, with build of a modern-day rhinoceros, tusk-like front teeth and fist-sized molars—but they were actually herbivores, using their teeth to search for and crush vegetation like a giant wombat. They moved at the speed of a camel on their pillar-like legs, and in 2007, well-preserved tracks were found across the bottom of a drying lake in Victoria, Australia. They were made when one of these enormous creatures crossed the volcanic plain 100,000 years ago—before humans had even left Africa.
Just 5 millimetres wide, the tiny Turritopsis dohrnii has discovered how to cheat death. More commonly known as the immortal jellyfish, it has been silently invading oceans all over the world with its ever-increasing population—due to the fact it can age backwards. The jellyfish’s reproduction cycle involves the meeting of free-floating sperm and eggs, which then settle on a hard surface and form a blob-like polyp, which slowly matures. Most mature jellyfish species die soon after reproducing, but the Turritopsis is able to transform from back into a polyp and restart life anew, inverting their ‘umbrella’ and absorbing their tentacles. This can only be done in an emergency such as starvation, physical damage, or temperature or salinity change, but the cycle can be repeated indefinitely, rendering the Turritopsis immortal. Remarkably, their cells are completely transformed in the process. Biologist Stefano Piraino thinks that they’re able to “switch off some genes and switch on [others], reactivating genetic programs that were used in earlier stages of the life cycle.” However, researchers have dismissed ideas that the species could hold the key to anti-aging drugs—and maybe that’s for the best. If the Turritopsis can spread this rapidly through the world’s oceans, then I don’t think immortality would very healthy for humans.