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Flat Earth Academy- Science

Biology Homepage

This is a work in progress... please bear with me, come back and watch it grow? Send constructive suggestions?

What you see below might be seen as an outline for what will eventually be spread across multiple pages.


To split some material off into a chapter called "Biology" is misleading... but necessary.

When a plant turns water and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen, is that biology or chemistry?

Try to remember that even though we study things in "separate" disciplines, The Real World is an integrated entity.


Biology: The study of living things.

If you wanted to write a book called "All We Know About Biology", you would have two choices for the table of contents.

(I am just about to talk about the types of living things. If you want to skip over that to the Problems, you can.

So, in this section of the Flat Earth Academy, we will start by looking at those two great organizing schemes.

Thanks for all the fish....

... and all the other living things, too.

Take a piece of scrap paper... or a text editor window!... and make a list of as many living things as you can in 60 seconds.

Try to make them as different from one another as possible. As much as I love dogs, your list won't score many points if it is... Border collie, German shepherd, golden retriever....

Don't scroll down below here before completing your 60 second list. Try to make the living things on your list as different as possible, remember....

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Now! Before we score your list, let's stop using this clumsy "living things" phrase. "Organisms" is the word. Use your words, as Mother said.

Why didn't I use that before? I didn't want to put plants in your mind. You do have some plants on your list, don't you?? They are, actually, more important than the animals on many measures.

The "scoring" process I am about to set out for you may or may not interest you. If you are in the latter, you can skim through what follows... but do at least that, and try to see what the point of the scoring process was. It doesn't matter if at the end of it you don't know exactly what your score should have been.

Give yourself 5 points for the first animal on your list, and 5 points for the first plant. Also 5 points for the first fungus, first bacterium, and for the first virus.

Professional biologists no longer split up organisms the way I am going to split them up... there are new ideas about how to split up things that can only be seen with a microscope. But for many years, professional biologists did split things up as I will, and I believe it is a helpful way, still. And if you go on to be a professional, you won't have much re-learning to do.

So... the first great "sorting" is into....

(Each of those will open in a new tab or window for you, to make it easy to get back to this list.)

There is a page telling you what you Need To Know about the groups and naming of living things.

These are the "kingdoms" into which living things are sorted. The kingdoms are then broken down into smaller groups. They are broken down, etc. Someday, have a look at my page about naming organisms and the way they are split up into groups. That will open in a new tab or window, as I suspect you may want to peek at it now, but you really should finish the page you're on soon.

Not the first time you read this page, but at some point, please read my disclaimer about the groups into which I have split all living things.

If you have a second plant, and if you have a flowering plant (this includes most trees, by the way!) and an alga (e.g. seaweed) or a fern, or a cone bearing tree and a non-cone bearing tree, give yourself 3 points for the second plant.

If you have a third, fourth or fifth plant, and each is from one of the groups given above, give yourself 3 points for each different group represented. Give yourself 1 point for each of any other plants.

Do a similar exercise with the animals on your list...

3 points for the first...

Not only can you have 3 points for your first insect, you can have 3 points each for three more insects, if they are really different from one another!

Vertebrates: You probably have a vertebrate, even if you don't know what one is! (Please, by the way, never use the work "invertebrate" around me. You might as well say that the color of grass is "not-red".)

Did you have an organism from any of these groups?

(Someday, not on your first reading of this page, read my disclaimer about the categories proposed above.)

You did? Well then... you had a vertebrate. Give yourself 3 points for the first vertebrate in your list. And 2 points for the first example of each of the other groups.

And finally, give yourself 1 point for any animal that didn't get a point any other way.

So... two lists, and their scores.... Each organism's individual score shown in brackets on its line....

First list... long!

Those seem like quite different organisms, don't they? And it is "long"! But you were told to try to think of different organisms. The list above gets a score of 10.

Second list... half as long... and much more diverse

Half as many organisms, and 12 points instead of only 10.

We're going to leave the question of how organisms are sorted into categories for now, and turn to the other great scheme for organizing the study of biology. If the Flat Earth Academy seems to be of interest to people, I will do some pages looking at why the groupings given above make sense.


The other great scheme

The Problems of Life solved by all organisms

Is a grasshopper alive? A rock? A computer? A tree?

I trust you said "yes, no, no, yes".....

... but could you say how you know? We "just know" what is alive, and what isn't, don't we. But could you give a rule that works for all living things.

How about this for a rule: "If it moves, it is alive"? Many would say trees don't, and they are alive. (They'd be wrong, but that's another story!) Cars do, and they aren't. Bad rule.

The Great Trick of all living things is that they can reproduce. You have to add some bits and pieces, to rule out some strained attempts to include non-living thing which sort of reproduce, but Reproduction is Life's great accomplishment.

Note that it is not enough just to "make things". There are machines which make, for instance, bottles of Coke. To be a living thing, that machine would have to make the machine for making bottles of Coke. A fly makes more flies. That makes the fly a living thing.

Note that many, many things reproduce without sex. You can have one without the other.


The challenges overcome by all living things are....

(The links will open in new tabs or windows, so you can get back here easily.)

Twenty-five years after beginning to teach that list to people, I still can't rattle it off without having to think. Start by learning that there are seven great challenges in the list. Then you will know whether you've got them all when you try to list them.

Some of those challenges, by those names, will not mean quite what you may think they do. But learn the list, and you will have made a start to knowing "all about biology".

When what some of the challenges are about is explained, you may think that some of them are "pretty obvious". But when you really think about the challenges, they are not simple at all. Everything anyone has ever discovered about biology can be put under those headings. If everything is "pretty obvious", then maybe the Great Challenges are "obvious"... but I don't think they are.

The next step is to study how different organisms solve the different challenges. That is why it is important for you to have a clear idea about the full range of living things.

You can start with something simple like the similarities and differences in the ways mice and fish (rather similar organisms) manage excretion. It isn't as simple as you might think!.... I'll try to add an essay about it to the Flat Earth Academy soon, and show you.

Then move on to something harder: Excretion in oak trees compared with excretion in mice. Yes! Oak trees do excrete!

If you work through the separate pages for the Seven Great Challenges they should help you with thinking about how different organisms overcome those challenges. But don't let that put you off. It won't be so very tedious... I hope. Get through those, and you will have made a good start in a study that many find fascinate them for a lifetime.

If, earlier, you skipped over the discussion of Types Of Living Thing, at the top of the page, you can skip back to that now, if you want to.)



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