Thursday, June 14, 2012

Bruce Hood on Darwin and Redwoods

We're rockin' the cognitive science circuit this week. Today's guest is Dr. Bruce Hood.1  Dr. Hood is the director of the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre at the University of Bristol.  He's authored three popular science books: SuperSense: Why We Believe in the UnbelievableThe Science of Superstition: How the Developing Brain Creates Supernatural Beliefs, and his most recent Self Illusion: Why There Is No 'You' Inside Your Head.

Dr. Hood writes,

How many copies of Darwin's On the Origin of Species could be made from the largest Californian Redwood?

In addition to being some of the world's largest trees, sequoia or redwoods can support vast ecosystems of their own, so relating them to Darwin's Origin of Species is particularly appropriate.

Redwoods can grow to over 110 meters tall with widths broad enough to drive a car through. From the linked image, we can estimate the width as roughly 6 meters.  This would give redwoods a volume of roughly 4000 cubic meters.  

Paper making is a fairly complex process.  According to at least one source,
A cord of wood is approximately 8 feet wide, 4 feet deep, and 4 feet high...It has been estimated that one cord of this wood will yield...1,000-2,000 pounds of paper (depending on the process)....
From this, we can estimate the number of number of pounds of paper produced

(2000 lbs) × (4000 m3) / ( 8 ft × 4 ft × 4 ft )
= 1100 tons.

Amazon lists the The Origin of Species shipping weight as 1.5 pounds, which means you could create roughly 1.5 million copies.  That's enough copies to send to half the people in Kansas.

Thanks for a great question, Dr. Hood.

[1] You can check out some of Dr. Hood's cool talks here and here.

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