Monday 5 July 2021

Picture Post #65 The Cell

'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t what they seemed to be
neither will they become what they might appear to become.'

Posted by Martin Cohen

‘Cellular landscape cross-section through a eukaryotic cell’
by Evan Ingersoll and Gael McGill. 
I was struck by the artificial, even ‘mathematical’ nature of this image, which is, on the contrary, a glimpse into something entirely natural and, if it is mathematical, it is a very strange kind of mathematics. It is in fact, a human cell at some fabulous magnification (maybe the colours have been added). It is, in other words, something both quite natural and yet completely unnatural – for human beings were never supposed to see such details. Or were we? There the philosophers might wrangle…

For what it's worth, the creators of the image used “X-ray, nuclear magnetic resonance, and cryo-electron microscopy datasets” for all of its “molecular actors”. And it is apparently less complex than a real cell. And one other detail is interesting about the image: it was inspired by the stunning art of David Goodsell, an Associate Professor in the Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology, where he says that he currently divides his time between research and science outreach… the outreach centred on the power of these other-worldly images.


Tessa den Uyl said...

Piranesi comes to mind when talking about art and (archeological) representation, maybe David Goodsell is heading for that direction in the world of cells? What the eye should or shouldn't see is a huge question, isn't it? Usually art is the art of leaving out...

In regard to the picture, maybe what we couldn't truly see before has nonetheless always been a part of us and was 'seen', only without the proof. Especially in older drawings, (f.e. Indian, Aboriginal) we can recognise similarities with the picture of the cellular landscape above in the picture. Maybe highlighting how we are constructed on a sophisticated microscopic level might change the perception of human being to recognise that we ourselves are landscapes?

Keith said...

I greatly like this image! I fall into the camp of those who do believe we’re ‘supposed to see such detail’. The human species is innately a toolmaker, from its beginning. We’re compelled to poke around us, to understand. That predisposition won’t change, no matter the passage of time; it may well accelerate as tools conceive tools. I’m awed by how, at one end of the magnification scale, we can see this extraordinary level of detail within a human cell (similar to what particle accelerators reveal about fundamental physical reality). While at the other end of the magnification scale, our space-based eyes allow us to see the vastness of the farthest reaches of the universe. And, of course, everything between. These instincts are made possible by the convergences between human curiosity, the yearn to learn and build theories and knowledge, imagination as to what’s possible over the horizon, and the irresistible urge to stretch our minds designing clever tools that further pull back the universe’s veil.

docmartincohen said...

Yes, now Tessa mentions it, the image does remind me of some Australian aboriginal art in particular too… and yes, Keith is right that "patterns" play out at the cosmic level as well, also in ways that we can only see with the aid of our most powerful inventions…

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

‘if it is mathematical is a big question about our reality.’

• Science writer Kitty Ferguson wrote, ‘A deeper understanding of nature ... lies in recognising that much of it will never reduce to simplicity and linearity.’
• Science historian Naomi Oreskes wrote, ‘Verification and validation of numerical models of natural systems is impossible.’
• Science writer Natalie Wolchover summed it up, ‘Space-time may be a translation of some other description of reality’.

There seems to be a growing sense that our reality may not, in fact, be mathematical.

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