Philosophy cartoons – human significance compared to the scale of the universe

human insignificance in a huge universe - cartoon

Cartoon – the insignificance of humans in the universe

A cartoon about the question: does the vast immensity of the universe mean that people are insignificant?
Personally I think that the answer is no, but it’s a thing that a lot of people think (My opinion is that it’s a mistake to judge significance in terms of physical scale – you can find out more about my views on this in my book on related subjects
The cartoon answers critics of science who claim that science strips away the wonder and awe of creation (as in the expression by Keats – unweaving the rainbow – adopted by Richard Dawkins as the title of one of his books)

A cartoon about life, the universe and everything, the cosmos, the human condition, the fallacy of scale, meaning of life, religion, spirituality. A spiral galaxy cartoon, astronomy cartoon
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Anthropocene cartoon – mass extinction events

iridium layer anthropocene cartoon

Anthropocene cartoon
Is the human race heading for a mass extinction event?

A cartoon showing geological rock strata and fossils, including the iridium layer that appeared at the time of the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.

The rock strata also include a layer of manufactured waste that is directly above the layer of rock that contains fossils of humans

The implication is that while the event that created the iridium layer destroyed the dinosaurs, the event that created the layer of anthropogenic waste destroyed the human race.
The current geological era or epoch is sometimes referred to as the anthropocene, as the major influence on the environment is the human race.
An earlier version of this cartoon appeared in my book of environmental cartoons, When Humans Roamed the Earth, published by Earthscan/WWF in 1991

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A (fictitious) interstellar nebula shaped like a question mark – illustration

Interstellar nebula in the form of a question mark

An image of an interstellar nebula shaped like a question mark – illustration created in Photoshop.
Inspired by photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope

The “Question mark nebula” shown here is an astronomical phenomenon of my own invention. See the note below about the ‘real’ Question Mark nebula

The nebula symbolises humanity’s quest for meaning, especially when confronted by the enormity of the cosmos. (Having said that, my own opinion is that the size of the universe is irrelevant to such matters, but that’s another story).

Since creating it I’ve discovered that there is an actual nebula that goes by the same name. The ‘real’ Question Mark Nebula is an area of sky that includes parts of the nebulae NGC 7822, Ced 214, and Sh2-170
An illustration related to philosophy, astronomy, cosmology, science, the meaning of life, the nature of the universe.

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Evolution of man from a single-celled organism in the primordial soup – cartoon

man evolved from single-celled organism cartoon

Man evolving from a single-celled organism – cartoon

Cartoon of single-celled organisms in the primordial soup – with one that looks like a human being.
This cartoon is about the theory that life on earth started as simple unicellular organisms in chemical rich bodies of water

A cartoon about evolution, Darwin, Darwinism, abiogenesis and the origins of life
This cartoon is in a style similar to Gary Larson Far Side cartoons (A style that I’ve used since before Larson).

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Who was the third man to walk on the moon? Cartoon

third man on the moon cartoon

A cartoon about the nature of fame

Who was the third man to walk on the moon?
It was Pete Conrad.

A cartoon about the transience of fame and celebrity, and the judgement of achievement.

Most people know that Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, and that Buzz Aldrin was the second.
But no-one remembers who the third man on the moon was.
Or the fourth.
The fourth man to walk on the moon was Alan Bean.

Pete Conrad and Alan Bean were the lunar landing crew of Apollo 12, the second moon mission to land on the moon.

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Apollo lunar excursion module (lem) design cartoon.

Apollo lunar excursion module design cartoon - so 1960s

Apollo lunar excursion module cartoon – so 1960s

Cartoon showing an Apollo moon mission lem (lunar excursion module) in a museum.
A person is commenting on the seemingly antiquated design, saying that it’s ‘so 1960s!’

It’s a cartoon that comments on the fact that the Apollo moon missions took place in a time that is now history, although when they happened they felt like (and were) a symbol of the modern age – the space age.
In Britain the prime minister used the expression ‘the white heat of technology’ to describe the progress of the era.
It also comments on the fact that in the early 21st century we live in a design obsessed age (look at Apple products), where design is often appreciated before usefulness.

I first drew this cartoon in 1999, when the 1960s weren’t so far in the past!
This is a redrawn version prompted by the death of Neil Armstrong.

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Neil Armstrong dies – cartoon

neil armstrong dies - cartoon

The first man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, dies
Obituary cartoon

To mark the death of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, this cartoon shows the Apollo landing craft coming in to land at the pearly gates of heaven.

Apollo 11 reached the moon in summer 1969. Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, followed closely by Buzz Aldrin. Who remembers who the third man to walk on the moon was? (Charles P. (Pete) Conrad, who died in 1999, aged 69, following a motorcycle accident. I don’t recall hearing about it in the news. Such is the measure of achievement).
Just for the pedantic amongst you, I know that the lunar landing craft (or lem – lunar excursion module) would have had Buzz Aldrin in it in real life rather than just Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin hasn’t yet died – but this isn’t real life, it’s a cartoon (There are no pearly gates in real life either).
I’m very pleased to say that one of the first requests to use this cartoon came from NASA. You can see it here.

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Did life come to earth from outer space?

earth as egg with sperm from outer space - illustration

Illustration: did life come to earth from outer space?

A cartoon or illustration showing the earth in space, with sperm approaching the earth

The concept that life was planted on earth by super-intelligent extraterrestrials, a concept known as directed panspermia (popularised by the question, Was God an Astronaut? as written about by Erich von Däniken, amongst others)has been revived recently with the film Prometheus by Ridley Scott, and will no doubt be aired again when the sequel is released.

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Cave painting of aliens – illustration

was god an astronaut? cartoon

Cartoon of cave painting of a ufo or flying saucer
Was God an astronaut? Cartoon

Did life reach earth from outer space?

The ufo in the cartoon is projecting a dna shaped beam of energy down into the water on earth, creating the first life on the planet.
The concept of Was God an Astronaut? (as written about by Erich von Däniken, amongst others)has been revived recently with the film Prometheus by Ridley Scott, and will no doubt be aired again when the sequel is released. In Prometheus there was a scene depicting prehistoric cave paintings, although not humorously as here.

The theory that life may have been planted on Earth billions of years ago by an advanced alien civilization is sometimes known as directed panspermia. This theory was (mischievously?) proposed by Francis Crick (of dna fame) together with biologist Leslie Orgel in 1971. Directed panspermia is sometimes evoked to solve a particular problem in the science of life – science’s current inability to explain life’s origin. Of course the theory simply puts off the explanation, very much in the way that religions do

This cartoon first appeared in BBC Knowledge magazine

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Philosophy cartoon – why do we like sunsets?

Philosophy cartoons - aesthetic values

Cartoon – why do we like sunsets?

Cartoon about evolutionary psychology

Why do we find sunsets spiritually uplifting?
A cartoon about the fact that sensory stimuli that are of a greater than average intensity often evoke profound emotions. This applies to such things as sunsets and flowers, and is also a factor in our appreciation of the arts, from music to cinema. A comment on spirituality and pseudo-spirituallity (I’m a believer in pseudospirituality myself).
This cartoon first appeared in BBC Knowledge magazine

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Medical budget increases – cost of medicine cartoon

health spending increasing graph cartoon

Health spending increasing – cartoon.
Increases in health spending caused by increased use of prescription drugs

Cartoon showing doctors and medical staff rolling a pill or tablet up a graph

A cartoon about the cost of medicine, the burden on the health services of the cost of medical treatment
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Health budget – health spending increases cartoon

health spending rolling pill up graph cartoon

Health spending increasing – cartoon.
Increases in health spending caused by increased use of prescription drugs

Cartoon showing doctors and medical staff rolling a pill up a graph

A cartoon about the cost of medicine, the burden on the health services of the cost of medical treatment
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The invention of agriculture – cartoon

cartoon - stone age invention of agriculture

Cartoon – The invention of agriculture
Stone age man inventing the spade

Showing a caveman holding a new invention – the garden spade.
He is saying that he has invented agriculture

The development of agriculture allowed people to settle down and gave them time to develop and invent new ways of doing things, thus leading to civilisation and other achievements

The invention of agriculture, along with the invention of cooking, were key factors in human evolution and development.
The joke here is that a humble garden implement such as a spade can have such a profound influence on human development.
A cartoon about cavemen, prehistoric society, stone age people and society

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Michelangelo – Hand of God parody. Did life come from outer space?

leonardo hand from ufo - cartoon

Michelangelo – Hand of God cartoon
Sistine Chapel Creation of Man parody

Parody of Michelangelo’s Hand of God painting in the Sistine Chapel, being used to illustrate the concept that live on earth could have been deliberately brought to earth from outer space by aliens.

The cartoon could be linked to theories such as the ones offered in books such as Erich von Daniken’s “Chariots of the Gods”, although personally I’d rather be disassociated with such theories (if that’s what such sensationalist speculation can be called).

The concept of Was God an Astronaut? has been revived recently with the film Prometheus by Ridley Scott, and will no doubt be aired again when the sequel is released.

The theory that life may have been planted on Earth billions of years ago by an advanced alien civilization is sometimes known as directed panspermia. This theory was (mischievously?) proposed by Francis Crick (of dna fame) together with biologist Leslie Orgel in 1971. Directed panspermia is sometimes evoked to solve a particular problem in the science of life – science’s current inability to explain life’s origin. Of course the theory simply puts off the explanation, very much in the way that religions do – hence my use of Michelangelo’s hand of God creating Adam in the cartoon

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Are women more intelligent than men?

Women demonstrate superior intelligence - gag cartoon

Cartoon based on a study showing that women are more intelligent than men

Cartoon about gender differences

Recent scientific studies show that in some ways women may be more intelligent than men
The cartoon shows a man trying to prove that men are more intelligent than women by asking a woman a question that the woman doesn’t know the answer to.
The implication is that the fact that the woman doesn’t know the answer to the question (about football) proves that she is cleverer than the man – yet the man doesn’t realise this.
The F.A. (Football Association) cup is a cup awarded to the winners of a particular football (soccer) championship.
A joke about IQ, intelligence differences, evolutionary psychology and feminism.

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Phone cartoon. Study shows that women are more intelligent than men

Women demonstrate superior intelligence cartoon

Cartoon: are women more intelligent than men?

Recent scientific studies show that in some ways women may be more intelligent than men

Cartoon about gender differences

The comic shows a man using a complicated mobile phone. He is obviously very attracted to the complexity of the technology involved. A woman is saying that she’d rather just use a simpler phone.
The implication is that both approaches are valid, although the superficial interpretation is that the woman’s attitude is the more intelligent. It’s meant to be ambiguous, and for people to fall into accepting the interpretation of the cartoon that they first perceive (for instance, many women will think that the cartoon is a straightforward criticism of the male obsession with technology, and most men will either think that the cartoon is just plain wrong or that it is being ironic in showing a woman thinking that she’s superior to men).

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Turing test cartoon

turing test failed by human cartoon

Turing test cartoon

Showing a person testing a computer’s intelligence using the Turing test.
The computer passes the Turing test but the tester fails

The Turing test is a test devised by Alan Turing to test a machine’s intelligent behaviour, and to test whether it could pass as human.

A cartoon about sentience, sentient lifeforms and artificial intelligence (AI)

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Turing test cartoon – a robot testing a baby using the Turing test

turing test cartoon - robot and baby

Turing test cartoon

Cartoon showing a robot using the Turing test to see if a human baby is sentient

The Turing test is a test devised by Alan Turing to test a machine’s intelligent behaviour, and to test whether it could pass as human.

A cartoon about sentience, morals, sentient lifeforms, sentient computers, sentience, intelligent computers, AI, artificial intelligence, Turing test

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Gene doping cartoon or illustration. Will gene doping occur in the 2012 Olympics?

dna gene doping syringe illustration

Gene doping cartoon or illustration

A cartoon about gene doping in sport, Olympics gene doping. Genetic manipulation in competitive sport.

The illustration shows a hypodermic syringe with a double helix strand of dna inside it

Gene doping is defined by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as the non-therapeutic use of cells, genes, or genetic elements to improve athletic performance.
Gene manipulation for muscle enhancement in athletics and other sport has bioethical implications similar to those involved in chemical doping and other methods of gaining an unfair advantage over sporting competitors.
Genetic manipulation in athletics and other sport may include ways of increasing muscle growth, altering blood characteristics, increasing endurance, enhancing oxygen dispersal and reducing pain perception.
A cartoon or illustration about gene therapy, genetic manipulation, ethics of gene doping

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Gene doping in sport. Genetic testing of athletes

genetic testing of athletes - cartoon

Sports and Olympics cartoon. Genetic manipulation in competitive sport.

Sports cartoon or illustration. Gene doping in sport. Is genetic testing of athletes needed?

An illustration of the bulging biceps of a GMA (genetically modified athlete).
This illustration is particularly pertinent due to the approaching London Olympic Games.
The illustration shows a muscular arm (possibly of a weightlifter or shot putter) holding a gold medal signifying that the athlete has come first in an event at the Olympic Games or a similar competitive sporting event.
The bulging biceps on the arm display an armband type tattoo in the form of a dna double helix.
The implication is that the athlete’s genes (modified or not) have influenced the fact that he has won the gold medal in the competition.

Gene doping is defined by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as the non-therapeutic use of cells, genes, or genetic elements to improve athletic performance.
Gene manipulation for muscle enhancement in athletics and other sport has bioethical implications similar to those involved in chemical doping and other methods of gaining an unfair advantage over sporting competitors.
Genetic manipulation in athletics and other sport may include ways of increasing muscle growth, altering blood characteristics, increasing endurance, enhancing oxygen dispersal and reducing pain perception.
A cartoon or illustration about gene therapy, genetic manipulation, ethics of gene doping

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Cartoon/illustration: God, creation myths and the nature of the universe

God reading about the true nature of the universe

Cartoon about God and the creation of the universe

Illustration showing a creation myth

Part of the joke in the cartoon is that the god figure is reading a book that explains the origins of the universe.
A cartoon about creation myths, intelligent design, genesis
The cartoon is an updated version of an illustration that I produced in the 1980s for the Guardian newspaper.
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Child development cartoon – small boys are interested in dinosaurs, older boys are interested in girls

child development cartoon - dinosaurs are for kids

Child development cartoon – a small child looking at a picture of a dinosaur, and an older child looking at a photo of a naked young woman.

Child development cartoon. Cartoon showing how children’s interests change as they get older, especially as they enter puberty and adolescence.
The younger boy in the cartoon is looking at a picture of a dinosaur (as almost all young boys are interested in dinosaurs). The older (adolescent) boy is looking at a photograph of a naked young woman, and is dismissively looking down on the ‘childish’ interest in dinosaurs exhibited by the younger child. The older child is acting ‘grown up’.

A cartoon about child development, adolescence, puberty, emerging sexuality, childhood innocence, testosterone, hormones kicking in.
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Dinosaur extinction cartoon. How an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs

Dinosaurs-Ark-asteroid-2-cjmadden

Why Are We?

Cartoon. How an asteroid struck the earth and wiped out the dinosaurs

Cartoon. How an asteroid made the dinosaurs extinct.

The dinosaurs in this cartoon are in an ark similar to Noah’s ark. It is in fact a second ark constructed by Noah. He put the mammals, birds and so on in one ark and the dinosaurs in the other. The asteroid hurtled towards the earth and destroyed the ark carrying the dinosaurs, rendering them extinct.
This is an absurdist cartoon. The cartoon has some similarities to the Far Side cartoons of Gary Larson.

See my book about our place in the universe here

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Charles Darwin caricature and Alfred Russel Wallace caricature

darwin as ape russel wallace caricature

Charles Darwin caricature and Alfred Russel Wallace caricature

Charles Darwin caricature as a cartoon ape, with an Alfred Russel Wallace cartoon ape in the background, based on the famous Darwin ‘monkey’ caricature of 1871.

This illustration is based on a redrawn version of a famous caricature of Charles Darwin – however I’ve added in the background the figure of Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace thought of the theory of evolution by natural selection independently of Darwin, however he gets little credit for it, with Darwin’s name being the only one in general public awareness.
The hundredth anniversary of Alfred Russel Wallace’s death in 1913 is to be marked by events under the umbrella title of Wallace100, with events at the Natural History Museum, London, and elsewhere
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Illustration. A walking brain

walking brain illustration

Cartoon/illustration. A walking brian with legs and a head

Cartoon/illustration. A walking brian with legs and a head

I’m not sure what this drawing means. I suppose it’s something to do with the importance of the human brain’s contribution to what it means to be human. I don’t really know – it just popped into my head.
It’s probably a cartoon about psychiatry, neuroscience, neurology, how the mind works, how the brain works, cognition, the self.
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Cartoon. A Stargazing Live cameraman and a Springwatch cameraman filming the same scene

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springwatch and stargazing live cartoon

Cartoon. A cameraman filming the moon for Stargazing Live and a cameraman filming an owl for Springwatch.

Cartoon. The popular science tv programme Stargazing Live and the popular nature programme Springwatch have similar formats – a mixture of banter, audience participation and interesting information. In this cartoon both programmes are being filmed simultaneously to highlight their similarity.

Stargazing Live is filming the moon, while Springwatch is filming an owl.
Stargazing Live owes some of its popularity to one of its presenters, professor Brian Cox.
Both television programmes are produced by the BBC
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Cartoon about statistics, statistical probability and statistical bias

statistics cartoon - probability

Cartoon about statistics, statistical probability, statistical bias and unreliable statistical surveys.

A cartoon showing a person collecting statistics but deliberately ignoring a statistic that doesn’t fit with his preconceived bias as to what the results should be.

A cartoon about unreliable statistical analysis, including such things as self-selecting groups, observer bias, prejudice.
A cartoon about statistical data collection and biased analysis.
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Higgs boson cartoon

higgs boson signature discovered - cartoon

Higgs boson cartoon
The Higgs boson is popularly known as the God particle

The large hadron collider at CERN is searching for the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle that is in theory responsible for giving the phenomenon of mass to other particles (and thus to everything in the universe that has mass).

Cartoon showing the discovery of the signature of the Higgs boson, Higgs particle or God particle as it is popularly known in the press.

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The search for the Higgs boson (God particle) – cartoon

search for higgs boson

Cartoon about finding the Higgs boson (or God particle).

The large hadron collider at CERN is searching for the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle that is in theory responsible for giving the phenomenon of mass to other particles (and thus to everything in the universe that has mass).

Cartoon showing the discovery of the Higgs boson, Higgs particle or God particle as it is popularly known in the press.

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Was Einstein wrong? Cartoon – can neutrinos travel faster than light?

Faster than light time travel cartoon

Neutrino cartoon
Faster than light travel cartoon
Time travel cartoon

A cartoon about the announcement that neutrinos may be capable of traveling faster than the speed of light, disproving Einstein’s theory of relativity (which states that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light).
Einstein and the Theory of Relativity have been questioned recently due to the reported observation of neutrinos travelling faster than light – a phenomenon that is impossible under Einstein’s theory – in experiments carried out by the Opera collaboration (short for Oscillation Project with Emulsion (T)racking Apparatus). The experiments have been done several times with similar results

A strip cartoon related to faster than light travel, neutrinos, e=mc squared wrong, e=mc2 wrong, CERN, the Large Hadron Collider, LHC, e=mc squared flawed

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Cartoon – evolution of the giraffe’s neck

Evolution cartoon - the giraffe's neck

Evolution cartoon
The evolution of the giraffe’s neck

A cartoon showing a giraffe standing beside a tall tree. A monkey (or ape) in the tree is speaking to the giraffe. The monkey (or ape) is asking the giraffe why it spent so many years evolving such a long neck in order to reach the leaves in the tree when all it needed to do was to climb the tree

A cartoon about evolution, Charles Darwin, Just So stories

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Smoking health statistics cartoon

Smoking health cartoon. Mortality statistics for smoking-related illness

Smoking health cartoon
Cigarette cartoon

Caption: “If you smoke you’re less likely to die of an age-related illness”.
A cartoon showing a research laboratory doing medical research into the medical and health related effects of smoking cigarettes. The rerearch laboratory belongs to an organisation called “The Tobacco Industry Research Centre”, indicating that it’s sponsored by the tobacco industry.
The results of the research are given a positive spin by announcing that they show that statistically cigarette smokers are less likely to die of age-related illnesses.
This is of course because smokers are statistically more likely to die before they get old enough to suffer from the diseases of old age

A cartoon about vested interests, research bias, statistical misrepresentation, medical research, misleading health statistics

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We are stardust – cartoon. Everything is made of stardust

Cartoon. Everything is made of star dust

Stardust cartoon
We are stardust – everything is stardust

An illustration of the idea that we are made of stardust. This is a nice idea, but the problem is that it’s more mundane than it sounds, as everything is made of stardust, including unpleasant things.
It’s a phrase that is given spiritual and pseudo-spiritual layers of meaning, but it is in fact just a statement of fact about the general nature, construction and evolution of the universe.
The fact that it’s just a fact doesn’t actually make it less that incredible though. It’s just that everything is incredible about the universe, even without pseudo-spiritual overtones

The phrase “We are stardust” first gained popularity in the song by Joni Mitchell. It is popular again now because it is used by scientists such as professor Brian Cox (who is the scientific equivalent of a pop star)

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Philosophy of science illustration. A strand of dna as a tightrope

Illustration. A strand of dna as a tightrope

DNA cartoon or illustration
DNA tightrope as a metaphor for life

A strand of dna depicted as a tightrope, with the double helix creating the strands of the rope. A person is walking along the strand.
The strand of dna is a metaphor for life and its precariousness

The ilustration also suggests existential vertigo – the dizzy feeling that can come about when contemplating the precarious nature of existence and reality

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Contemporary illustration. A man with a stylised fish as an eye

Illustration. Man with fish eye

Contemporary illustration
A silhouette of a man with a stylised fish as an eye

This conceptual illustration may be about the fact that because we are evolved from fish we still see the world through our animal sensibilities.
Or maybe, because the fish eye is similar to the fish symbol used by some Christian groups, is this man looking at the world through the eyes of someone with a religious outlook?
Maybe it’s an illustration about the way that people generally see the world in the way that they want to see it, interpreting it through their own preconceived ideas and prejudices.
To be honest, the image just came to me one day, so the meaning is somewhere in my own subconscious

A cartoon about human evolution, vision, religion, bias, sight, insight, eye sight

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