Tanya Bub: Things My Father Taught Me (quantum edition)

Totally Random is a comic for the serious reader who wants to really understand the central mystery of quantum mechanics–entanglement: what it is, what it means, and what you can do with it.  In honor of father’s day, we asked author Tanya Bub to reflect on some “totally random” memories with her dad, theoretical physicist and co-author Jeffrey Bub. 

BubOne of the earliest memories I have of my father is of playing “the limerick game”. I think we came up with it when I was about six or seven years old. We’d play in the car. One of us would throw down an opening line like a gauntlet. Then the other had to repeat it back and follow up with the next invented line of the poem. For example:

Quoin landings are totally random.
They nevertheless land in tandem.

Then the ball is back in the opener’s court for the third and fourth lines, ideally punchy five to six syllable zingers. Bonus points for gratuitous rhyming, double meanings and clever silliness.

Quoin landings are totally random.
They nevertheless land in tandem.
What gives us pause,
is the laws have no cause.

The last line, always the hardest, had to rhyme with the first two and tie everything together. The best would add something new or surprising to the theme.

Quoin landings are totally random
they nevertheless land in tandem.
What gives us pause,
is the laws have no cause.

Einstein for one couldn’t stand ’em.

We might be driving down some icy Ontario road as we played, but really we were somewhere else. Traffic lights, snow drifts and pedestrians had to be respected of course, but only in the most perfunctory way. Because all the action was elsewhere. We were together in a far more exciting place playing with words, extending their meanings. I always had the feeling that that world, the one outside the world we see, smell, touch and taste was more important and maybe even more real to my Dad than the one in which you tie your shoes, take out the garbage and walk the dog. That was where all the really fantastic and important stuff happened.

And in fact my Dad, a theoretical physicist, has spent the better part of a lifetime thinking about things that can’t be seen or touched or even easily imagined. He has “lived” much of his life in the quantum world, exploring the reality that underlies the everyday one we perceive.  Growing up with a father like that makes an impression.

So this father’s day, I decided to reflect on the ways my Dad’s unusual relationship with reality has influenced me, by creating a Things My Father Taught Me (quantum edition) list.

Here are my top three.

1. The world is stranger than you can possibly imagine.
Be willing to change your ideas if the evidence demands it. But not without a fight.

2.  Follow the Rabbit.
Should you be so lucky to be invited down a conceptual rabbit hole, go! You may be in for the adventure of a lifetime.

3. Don’t be afraid to think.
You have just as much of a right as anyone to wrestle with life’s mysteries. Do it well! The rewards are incalculable.

Now, as a fully-fledged adult and mother, I find myself a steward of two fresh, bright and curious minds, passing on these very same values and ideas.

And we also play the limerick game.

Curious about the meaning of the limerick in this article? Then pick up a copy of Totally Random, the book my Dad and I wrote together. It’s a graphic interpretation of my Dad’s life work and an extension of our lifelong collaborative exploration of reality in all it’s delightfully impossible and sometimes hilarious presentations.

Tanya Bub is founder of 48th Ave Productions, a web development company. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia. Jeffrey Bub is Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the Institute for Physical Science and Technology at the University of Maryland, where he is also a fellow of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science. His books include Bananaworld: Quantum Mechanics for Primates. He lives in Washington, DC.

David Grazian: A Sociologist at the zoo, Father’s Day style

Grazian jacketThis Father’s Day, millions of American families with small children will trek to their local zoos for the pleasures of springtime—afternoons of strolling tree-lined paths, watching lions nap and flamingos dance, hand-feeding elk and free-range peacocks their picnic lunch leftovers on the sly, warning signs—DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS!—be damned. Zoos are not only great places to observe orangutans and chimpanzees but human primates as well, especially when the weather warms and they emerge from their winter hibernation to join the masses seeking to commune with nature in the city’s outdoor public spaces: its waterfronts, public squares, bird sanctuaries, botanical gardens, nature preserves, and of course, its aquariums and animal parks.

It’s all quite a hoot. I even I wrote a whole book about it—American Zoo—to which I have fatherhood itself to thank. As a cultural sociologist and urban ethnographer by training, I had earlier in my career written two books about urban nightlife, the first on Chica­go’s blues scene, the second on the growing social world of res­taurants, nightclubs, and cocktail lounges in and around downtown Philadelphia. These projects required me to spend long hours at late-night music venues, corner taverns, nouveau-fusion eateries, martini bars, high-end speakeasies, dance palaces, and corner taverns from dusk until dawn—until the wee morning hours of April 22, 2006, when my wife gave birth to our son (in the book I call him Scott). Suddenly this nocturnal, free-for-all lifestyle no longer seemed all that tenable. (I would joke that I still hoisted a bottle at 2:30am every morning, but it was a bottle of baby formula, not Budweiser.)

During his infant and toddler days, Scott developed an acute fondness for our neighborhood’s menagerie of leashed puppies, wandering house cats, and (somewhat illegal) backyard chickens. This enthusiasm eventually brought us to the local Philadelphia Zoo nearly every weekend to take in its far more exotic elephants, red pandas, marmosets, pumas, and gorillas. From the helium-filled Channel 6 Zoo Balloon that rose hun­dreds of feet up into the sky to its intricate naked mole-rat exhibit down below, we took it all in: the unforgettable sights, sounds, and smells of the nation’s oldest zoo. (The smells were the most difficult to forget.) With each visit, our curiosity grew about the zoo’s strange creatures, and what makes them tick—and chirp, moo, growl, honk, quack, roar, and squeal.

Yet as Scott and I continued our father-son visits to the zoo, the sociologist in me couldn’t help but wonder about its strange allure, so I spent four years volunteering at two different metropolitan zoos. At one institution I worked primarily in an outdoor children’s zoo where I cleaned enclosures and exhibits, prepared and distributed zoo-prescribed diets to birds of prey and small mammals, managed children in a petting yard filled with goats and sheep, and provided behavioral enrichment to a variety of animals. Along the way I shoveled cow manure and chicken dung, goat pellets and duck droppings. I scrubbed owl and macaw cages and lined them with old issues of USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, clipped a ferret’s toenails, and once got locked inside a bird’s double-caged enclosure. I picked horse and donkey hooves, stuffed frozen feeder mice with vitamin E capsules, bathed tortoises, and exercised overweight rabbits.

At a second zoo, I worked as a docent, or volun­teer educator. I handled and presented a variety of small live animals to a range of zoo audiences, including families, school groups on field trips, children’s birthday parties, and busloads of local nursing-home residents. I learned to handle red-tailed boa constrictors, fat-tailed geckos, black vultures, and an American alligator. (Fortunately, no animals were ever seriously harmed on my watch, although I myself endured bites, scratches, and other humiliations from several domestic rabbits, a bearded dragon, an African gray parrot, and at least one goat.) I also regularly helped prepare diets for most of the animals in the zoo’s collection, which in­cluded giraffes, jaguars, howler monkeys, river otters, peccaries, and Jamaican fruit bats. Much of the food was expired (but still safe) meat, fish, and produce donated by local supermarkets and grocery stores, including whole strip loins, boxes of oranges and kale, and odds and ends of raw salmon and squid for the otters.

The best part about my zoo job was how much I absolutely crushed it on Career Day in Scott’s kindergarten class—unless one of his classmates’ parents turned out to be a firefighter or astronaut, my reputation as the Dad with the Coolest Job was super safe. Of course, when I wasn’t in uniform Scott needed to accompany me on all my zoo visits, since a grown man walking around animal exhibits while taking notes and photographs of other people’s children tends to attract the wrong kind of attention. That was the other highlight of writing the book—trekking across the country to 27 different zoos and aquariums, all with Scott in tow. The only downside is that the repetition of our visits made him immune to the charms of zoos altogether. (“Oh, another Siberian tiger? Yawn.”) It’s a good thing the book came out by the time he turned nine, since he is no longer as susceptible to being bought off by bribes of stuffed animals from the zoo gift shop.

Now Scott is thirteen, and the other day he picked up a copy of American Zoo lying around the house, and he read the whole thing. He asked if we could go back to the zoo one last time, just to double-check my findings in the book against the real thing. Sign me up; I think we’ll go on Father’s Day.  

David Grazian is associate professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of American Zoo: A Sociological Safari, Blue Chicago: The Search for Authenticity in Urban Blues ClubsOn the Make: The Hustle of Urban Nightlife, and Mix It Up: Popular Culture, Mass Media, and Society.

Steven and Ben Nadler: Happy Father’s Day

by Ben Nadler

Nadler

It’s now been two years since I began a collaboration with my dad, a philosophy professor, on a graphic book. He was wanting to do a philosophy book that would reach a wide readership, especially high school and college students, and I was fresh out of art school and looking for something big to do. When he suggested we do a project together, I didn’t hesitate at all. With his knowledge of seventeenth-century philosophy and my training in illustration, we could do something really original and exciting. Although he was in Madison, Wisconsin, and I was living in Seattle, we were able to work through hundreds of emails and phone calls. He would send me the text for the book, and I’d give him some comments and suggestions on what seemed to work and what didn’t. Then I would send him my pencil sketches and he would give me feedback as I tried to make these philosophers and their abstract ideas into a visually engaging and philosophically and historically informative story. Now, when people ask me what it was like working with my dad, it is hard to come up with even one example of friction or disagreement that took place during the process. We are both really happy with the final result, a 200-page graphic book that makes seventeenth-century philosophy—perhaps the most important and fascinating period in the history of philosophy—accessible and entertaining. In addition to having this book to show for our work, which I am incredibly proud of, I now have a far greater understanding of what my dad does for a living. And because he has an understanding of what it is about comics I find so compelling, we’re even closer now than before we worked together.

 

NadlerSteven Nadler is the William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy and Evjue-Bascom Professor in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His books include Spinoza: A Life, which won the Koret Jewish Book Award, and Rembrandt’s Jews, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Madison. Ben Nadler is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and an illustrator. He lives in Chicago. Follow him on Instagram at @bennadlercomics. They are the author and illustrator of Heretics!: The Wondrous (and Dangerous) Beginnings of Modern Philosophy.

Happy Father’s Day with Donald Kroodsma

In Listening to a Continent Sing, Donald Kroodsma tells the story of the ten-week, ten-state cross-country bike tour he took with his son, David, to listen to the different birds that live all over the United States. In celebration of Father’s Day, here is a sampling of one of the many entries. Be sure to visit the author’s companion website to hear the birds for yourself.

Pacific

On July 7, Day 65 of the journey, Kroodsma and his son prepared to leave Dixie Summit for Dayville, Oregon.

Back at the campsite I find David eating breakfast. I join him, and we gradually pack up and ready our departure. “July 7, 7:52 a.m.,” I announce into my recorder. “We’re about the drop down off Dixie Pass, biking downhill for 53 easy miles beside the John Day River, dropping almost 2000 feet to where we’ll spend the night as guests at the Presbyterian church in Dayville.” To David’s playful, muted strains of “happy birthday to you,” we mount our bikes, aim them west, and begin coasting…. All around us are those exhumed bits and pieces of oceanic islands that were scraped off the Pacific plate…. Dayville arrives quickly, and with permission kindly granted we’re soon camped inside the church. After a quick visit to the nearby general store, David prepares a feast fit for any birthday, topped off with two brownies laden with 57 candles, enough to create a conflagration (wisely, I note, he has a bucket of water nearby, just in case). “Happy birthday, Pops,” smiles David as he unveils my birthday present: a second Super Soaker water cannon to match my Father’s Day present, which David still carries, but this new one is entrusted to me. p. 252-253

31-94_SilhouettesAtPacific

To learn more about the book, check out a Q&A with the author at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology blog, All About Birds.

From “rolling stone” to World’s Best Dad: Richard Bribiescas on fathers

How Men Age jacketWhy is paternal investment so rare in the animal world? Why do some human fathers choose the caring route, while others don’t? Biological anthropologist Richard Bribiescas, author of How Men Age: What Evolution Reveals About Male Health and Mortality, reveals how many of the physical and behavioral changes that we negatively associate with male aging may have actually facilitated the emergence of positive traits. These traits, including how we parent, have been crucial to our success as a species. We caught up with Richard for a special Father’s Day Q&A.

Many in the animal kingdom aren’t noted for being the best fathers. What’s the evolutionary significance?

Chimps aren’t very good fathers. They just aren’t. They don’t care for their offspring, provide food, or offer any assistance to moms. Don’t get me wrong, chimpanzees are noble creatures who merit our stewardship as well as the common courtesy of not destroying their forests. They’re just not the fatherly type. In fairness to our great ape cousins, most males in the natural world won’t be earning waffles in bed. With a few exceptions such as certain South American monkeys 1, most mammalian males are unlikely to earn a “World’s Best Dad” coffee mug on Father’s Day. Men however can be terrific dads with paternal care being one of the hallmarks of our species. Human males often invest significant amounts of time and resources in their offspring. This is true in modern industrialized societies as well as hunter/gatherer groups. Pass the butter and maple syrup.

Why is paternal investment so rare in the animal world? There are several evolutionary reasons but one especially salient explanation is that caring for offspring requires knowing who your offspring are. This is known as paternal uncertainty and is evident in all species that have internal fertilization. In humans, estimates of paternal misidentification when asking individuals to identify their fathers and then testing that assumption genetically ranges from one to around ten percent, depending on the study and population 2. Conservatively that means for every hundred readers, at least one of you was fathered by a man who is not the recipient of your Father’s Day card. But don’t freak out. This simply means that women are just as likely as men to evolve a range of reproductive strategies. Plus the odds are still in your favor of being correct so there’s no need to forward the mail.

A recent finding that illustrates the evolutionary significance of paternal investment is the capacity for men to display different reproductive states. This has long been observed in women since non-pregnant, pregnant, and lactating states are readily visible with numerous associated hormone changes. In men, different reproductive states are less obvious but evident when you look at reproductive hormones such as testosterone. Anthropologists Peter Gray and Lee Gettler have demonstrated this in numerous cross-cultural studies that show testosterone declines in response to fatherhood 3,4. This is more evident when men are in paired relationships with women.

Then what about male/male relationships and gay fathers?

Good question. We’ll get to that in a bit. So what is the significance of lower testosterone in association with fatherhood? It is still unclear but declines in testosterone may have behavioral, immunological, or metabolic effects that promote paternal investment. Stay tuned.

But fathering children is not the same as being fatherly. Again, hormones provide a spiffy way of getting at this subtle but important point. Anthropologist Martin Muller and colleagues looked at testosterone levels in association with fatherhood in two African societies, the Datoga who are cattle herding people in which the men do not commonly engage in childcare and the Hadza, an adjacent population of hunter/gatherers in which the men regularly hold and care for their children. Testosterone levels were not significantly different between the two populations even when looking at paternal status. But when Muller and colleagues looked at within group testosterone levels in association with having their children close by, interesting differences emerged. When their children were around, Hadza men were much more engaged with them compared to Datoga men who do not pay much attention to their children. Among the Hadza testosterone levels were significantly lower when children were in their household compared to when they were not around. The presence or absence of children among the Datoga had no influence on testosterone levels 5. This suggests that paternal engagement is important to any changes in testosterone. Caring and engagement makes a difference.

What does it mean to be a good father?

While human males are unique in their potential to be doting fathers, they also exhibit a much broader spectrum of paternal behaviors compared to other primates and mammals. Men can be extremely caring to simply providing food to being infanticidal. As a boy growing up in the Watts area of south central Los Angeles in the ‘60’s and 70’s, my friends and I listened to a lot of The Temptations. Among their hits was “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”, a song that tells the story of children asking their mother about their estranged, wandering father. “Papa was never much on thinkin’, spent much of his time chasing women and drinkin’…” Why some men choose the caring route while others do not is unclear. Evolutionary theory suggests that in environments with lots of hazards and a low probability of living a long life, caring for offspring may take a backseat to more risky reproductive strategies such as seeking out additional mates in lieu of investing in family. This is true of both men and women 6. Since humans have evolved the ability to thrive in a broad range of ecological and social settings, it makes sense that behavioral biology of fatherhood would be broad and malleable7,8.

Let’s go back to the question of gay dads. There is no reason to assume that caring for children should be limited to straight men but adding the variable of sexual orientation is an interesting question given the range of variability in reproductive behavior in humans. Researchers examined brain scans of gay men in association with interactions with their children. They found that areas of the brain that are commonly activated in mothers and heterosexual fathers in response to children were also evident in gay fathers suggesting that the neurobiological mechanisms associated with childcare transcend gender or sexual orientation 9. Compared to other mammals and certainly other great apes, humans seem to be biologically predisposed to care for children. Do gay fathers exhibit the same hormonal changes as heterosexual dads? We don’t know yet although Yale anthropology Ph.D. candidate Erin Burke, Dr. Pasquale Patrizio of Yale Medical School and I are hot on the trail of this question 10. There are many ways to be a dad and we’re only beginning to understand that fatherhood is as varied as the colors and patterns on a homemade necktie.

Richard G. Bribiescas is professor of anthropology and ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, where he also serves as deputy provost for faculty development and diversity. He is the author of Men: Evolutionary and Life History. He lives in Hamden, Connecticut.

References and Endnotes

 

1          Fernandez-Duque, E., Valeggia, C. R. & Mendoza, S. P. The biology of paternal care in human and nonhuman primates. Annual Review of Anthropology 38, 115–130, doi:10.1146/annurev-anthro-091908-164334 (2009).

2          Anderson, K. G. How well does paternity confidence match actual paternity? Evidence from worldwide nonpaternity rates. Curr Anthropol 47, 513-520, doi:Doi 10.1086/504167 (2006).

3          Gray, P. B. & Anderson, K. G. Fatherhood : evolution and human paternal behavior. (Harvard University Press, 2010).

4          Gettler, L. T., McDade, T. W., Feranil, A. B. & Kuzawa, C. W. Longitudinal evidence that fatherhood decreases testosterone in human males. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 108, 16194-16199, doi:10.1073/pnas.1105403108 (2011).

5          Muller, M. N., Marlow, F. W., Bugumba, R. & Ellison, P. T. Testosterone and paternal care in East African foragers and pastoralists. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences 276, 347-354 (2009).

6          Quinlan, R. J. Human parental effort and environmental risk. Proc Biol Sci 274, 121-125, doi:10.1098/rspb.2006.3690 (2007).

7          Bribiescas, R. G. Men: Evolutionary and Life History. (Harvard University Press, 2006).

8          Bribiescas, R. G. How Men Age: What Evolution Reveals about Male Health and Mortality. (Princeton University Press, 2016).

9          Abraham, E. et al. Father’s brain is sensitive to childcare experiences. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 111, 9792-9797, doi:10.1073/pnas.1402569111 (2014).

10        Burke, E. E. & Bribiescas, R. G. Hormones and behavior in same-sex male parents: implications for the evolution of paternal care in humans. Am J Phys Anthropol 159, 105 (2016).