What’s This? No. 24
- Being Human
- Being Outside
- Boston Globe
- Earth and Sky
- Photography and Optics
- What's This?
Perhaps we have a neural pathway here or maybe a remarkable, coincidental pattern on the wing of a butterfly.
In any event, name it and be eligible to win $5 off any of my nature outings or workshops. I’ll draw a winner at random — and will publish all your correct answers — on Thursday.
Enter in the comments section below.
Added February 12, 2015: We have a winner. Well, we’re all winners today: Charles Darwin’s Birthday. But Elizabeth Jaffe was selected at random among those of you who correctly identified this as the evolutionary tree that Darwin sketched in one of his notebooks.
Among the correct answers listed in the comments below are the customary whimsical and creative replies — this time from Sara Backer, Brian Willson and Ricka M.
Charles Darwin’s law of evolution is a gift for the ages — a foundation and a perspective to help us understand nothing less than life on Earth: from where we all came and how we relate to everthing else alive (or even extinct).
Unlike most other branches of science, which tend to experiment with the empirical, or what’s in front of us now, Darwinism enables us to look backward through time, to map a journey of events — survival and extinction, mostly — that took place over the course of this planet’s existence. Darwin brought science to history and history to science.
That would have been enough. But following Darwinism’s illuminated path was a new branch of philosophy. It espoused that the condition of life on Earth could be explained through the lens of evolution. Supernaturalism, the essentialism of Plato, the creationism of religion, became unnecessary to explain how and why we’re here. The evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr described all this beautifully in a speech and later in an essay on Darwin’s philosophy of science. Determinism is repudiated, he said, which places our fate nowhere else but in our own evolved hands.
“To borrow Darwin’s phase, there is grandeur in this view of life,” Mayr said. “New modes of thinking have been, and are being, evolved. Almost every component in modern man’s belief system is somehow affected by Darwinian principles.”
In 1837, 22 years before he published On the Origin of Species, Darwin drew in one of his notebooks a simple diagram: the shape of a tree with forked branches, with the most ancient forms at its base and descendents branching in various ways. This was Darwin’s draft roadmap to how life on the planet, at any point through history, could be described as descending from a single common ancestor. Brilliance in a sketch.
And above all on the drawing, Darwin wrote the words: “I think.”
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