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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Darwin

Lower head, insert into sand…

 

Exhibit at the Creation Museum:  humans and dinosaurs existing together peacefully…

From Talking Points Memo:

[In a vote in Congress last week] thirty-one Republicans on the House Energy And Commerce Committee — the entire Republican contingent on the panel — declined on Tuesday to vote in support of the very idea that climate change exists.

Democrats on the panel had suggested three amendments that said climate change is a real thing, is caused by humans and has potentially dire consequences for the future. The amendments came on a Republican bill to block the EPA from offering regulations to mitigate the results of global climate shifts. The global scientific community is in near unanimous agreement that climate change is real, and that humans contribute to it…

One appreciates that the dialectic machinery of partisan politics was at work here; still…

Read the full report, including the “offending” language in the proposed amendments, here.

As we prepare for an(other) epic flood, we might recall that it was on this date in 1827 that Charles Darwin made his earliest scientific discovery, at age 18. He dissected some specimens of a barnacle-like marine organism, the polyzoan Flustra… Thus beginning what became a lifelong commitment to natural history.

Young Darwin (source)

So many books! So little time!…

Daniel Rourke– a contributor to the terrific Three Quarks Daily, and proprietor of the equally-nifty MachineMacine— reminds us that the problems of coping with information overload are nothing new…

Agostino Ramelli’s Rotary Reader

In 1588, the Italian Engineer Agostino Ramelli described a novel invention to facilitate the reading of multiple books at once:

A beautiful and ingenious machine, which is very useful and convenient to every person who takes pleasure in study, especially those who are suffering from indisposition or are subject to gout: for with this sort of machine a man can see and read a great quantity of books, without moving his place: besides, it has this fine convenience, which is, of occupying a little space in the place where it is set, as any person of understanding can appreciate from the drawing.

The precursor, no doubt, to internet surfing… Gout beget Carpal Tunnel Syndrome beget Muscle Atrophy beget Internet Addiction Disorder. Will mankind stop at nothing in the pursuit of pure information?!?

As we meditate on multi-tasking, we might wish an admiring and grateful Happy Birthday to one of the most accomplished multi-taskers of all time, the mathematician, biologist, historian of science, literary critic, poet and inventor Jacob Bronowski; he was born on this date in 1908.  Bronowski is probably best remembered as the writer (and host) of the epochal 1973 BBC television documentary series (and accompanying book), The Ascent of Man (the title of which was a play on the title of Darwin’s second book on evolution, The Descent of Man)… the thirteen-part series (which is available at libraries, on DVD, or Netflix), a survey of the history of science–  from rock tools to relativity– and its place in civilizations, is still an extraordinary treat.

Bronowski

 

It’s a Bard! it’s a plain (Jane)! It’s…

Literary Action Figures!  Shakespeare, Ms. Austen, plus Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allan Poe, and Charles Dickens

Order now, and as a special bonus receive:

(TotH to Brainpickings)

As we save up our allowance, we might recall that it was on this date in 1881 that Charles Darwin published The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms-– the work he considered a more important accomplishment than The Origin of Species (1859).

source

Well that changes everything…

source: Imperial College, London

As all of one’s assumptions about the future (and thus the past) seem to be weakening, two dispatches from the world of science are genuinely foundation-shaking…

First, from New Scientist (and though NS doesn’t mention it, earlier from Freeman Dyson in NYRB):

Just suppose that Darwin’s ideas were only a part of the story of evolution. Suppose that a process he never wrote about, and never even imagined, has been controlling the evolution of life throughout most of the Earth’s history. It may sound preposterous, but this is exactly what microbiologist Carl Woese and physicist Nigel Goldenfeld, both at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, believe. Darwin’s explanation of evolution, they argue, even in its sophisticated modern form, applies only to a recent phase of life on Earth.

At the root of this idea is overwhelming recent evidence for horizontal gene transfer – in which organisms acquire genetic material “horizontally” from other organisms around them, rather than vertically from their parents or ancestors. The donor organisms may not even be the same species. This mechanism is already known to play a huge role in the evolution of microbial genomes, but its consequences have hardly been explored. According to Woese and Goldenfeld, they are profound, and horizontal gene transfer alters the evolutionary process itself. Since micro-organisms represented most of life on Earth for most of the time that life has existed – billions of years, in fact – the most ancient and prevalent form of evolution probably wasn’t Darwinian at all, Woese and Goldenfeld say…

Woese can’t put a date on when the transition to Darwinian evolution happened, but he suspects it occurred at different times in each of the three main branches of the tree of life, with bacteria likely to have changed first…

As we remember that what has changed can change again, we can read the whole story here.

Second, from ArXiv and ITWire, a suggestion that we might not have as long to figure this out as we have been thinking:  entropy in the universe is much higher than previously expected; thus the “heat death” of existence as we’ve known it, much closer. As Tapecutter observes in Slashdot,

In a paper soon to be published in the Astrophysical Journal [ArXiv link, above], Australian researchers have estimated the entropy of the universe is about 30 times higher than previous estimates. According to their research, super-massive black holes “are the largest contributor to the entropy of the observable universe, contributing at least an order of magnitude more entropy than previously estimated.” For those of us who like their science in the form of a car analogy, Dr. Lineweaver compared their results to a car’s gas tank. He states, ‘It’s a bit like looking at your gas gauge and saying “I thought I had half a gas tank, but I only have a quarter of a tank.”

Happily a quarter of a tank should be good for hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of years.

As we regain our bearings, we might note that this was a bad day for revolutionaries of another stripe:  it was on this date in 1606 that Guy Fawkes was executed for his role in the Catholic Restorationist “Gunpowder Plot.”

Guy Fawkes

Our Town…

In 1885, Charles Van Schaick opened a photography studio in his wife’s home town, Black River Falls, Wisconsin, where he served as “town photographer” for the next fifty-seven years.  The Wisconsin Historical Society (along with the Jackson County Historical Society) have collected over 5,600 of Van Schaick’s glass plates, and are in the process of moving them to WHS’ web site.

Van Schaick’s photos from 1890-1910 were the basis of Michael Lesy’s 1973 book Wisconsin Death Trip.  Readers can find a selection of the portraits and “small town life candids” in the Wisconsin Death Trip Flickr Pool

More, here.

As we engage our inner Thornton Wilder, we might consider just how far we have– and haven’t– come, as it was on this date in 1859 that Charles Darwin published The Origin of the Species.  Actually, on that day he published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life; the title was shortened to the one we know with the sixth edition in 1872.

Title page of the 1859 edition

Got you covered…

With thanks to reader RS, a terrific post from STWALLSKULL, in honor of Banned Book Week (celebrated here), highlighting the covers of a number of comic books called out by Frederic Wertham in his inflamatory book Seduction of the Innocent, which led to the “Comics Code”– and the banning of several series.

There are some not-so-surprising entries, e.g.:

… and then, some real stoppers:

Read the entire post for the cautionary tale that it is.

As we rinse the ink from our fingers, we might spare a thought for Charles Darwin, who reached James Island (now better known as Santiago Island) in the Galapagos Archipelago on the H.M.S. Beagle on this date in 1835…

James Island as it might have appeared to Darwin as he approached

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Evidence of the epistolary kind…

Letters of Note is an array of “correspondence deserving of a wider audience.”  Updated every weekday, it showcases letters, postcards, faxes, and telegrams of particular interest (and/or poignancy).  The collection contains notes from Mark Twain (complaining about the telephone), Elvis (offering his services as a “Federal Agent at Large” to Richard Nixon) , and Winston Churchill (praising his wife); and notes to Sid Vicious (offering redemption after Nancy Spungeon’s death), FDR (from the Commissioner of Baseball, asking if America’s Pastime should continue after the outbreak of WWII), and Hauptmann’s ransom note to Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  By way of example, this letter from Charles Darwin:

11th January, 1844: Charles Darwin, in a letter to renowned botanist and great friend Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, begins to reveal the idea of Natural Selection (or “the simple way”). He says of the revelation, “It is like confessing a murder.” His theory would not become common knowledge for another 15 years with the publication of On the Origin of Species.

Transcript

Down. Bromley Kent

Thursday

My dear Sir

I must write to thank you for your last letter; I to tell you how much all your views and facts interest me. I must be allowed to put my own interpretation on what you say of “not being a good arranger of extended views”  which is, that you do not indulge in the loose speculations so easily started by every smatterer & wandering collector. I look at a strong tendency to generalize as an entire evil.

What limit shall you take on the Patagonian side – has d’Orbigny published, I believe he made a large collection at the R. Negro, where Patagonia retains its usual forlorn appearance; at Bahia Blanca & northward the features of Patagonia insensibly blend into the savannahs of La Plata. The Botany of S. Patagonia (& I collected every plant in flower at the season when there) would be worth comparison with the N. Patagonian collection by d’Orbigny. I do not know anything about King’s plants, but his birds were so inaccurately habitated, that I have seen specimen from Brazil, Tierra del & the Cape de Verde Isd all said to come from the St. Magellan. What you say of Mr Brown is humiliating; I had suspected it, but cd not allow myself to believe in such heresy. FitzRoy gave him a rap in his Preface, & made me very indignant, but it seems a much harder one wd not have been wasted. My crptogamic collection was sent to Berkeley; it was not large; I do not believe he has yet published an account, but he wrote to me some year ago that he had described & mislaid all his descriptions. Wd it not be well for you to put yourself in communication with him; as otherwise some things will perhaps be twice laboured over. My best (though poor) collection of the Crptogam. was from the Chonos Islands.

Would you kindly observe one little fact for me, whether any species of plant, peculiar to any isld, as Galapagos, St. Helena or New Zealand, where there are no large quadrupeds, have hooked seeds, such hooks as if observed here would be thought with justness to be adapted to catch into wool of animals.

Would you further oblige me some time by informing me (though I forget this will certainly appear in your Antarctic Flora) whether in isld like St. Helena, Galapagos, & New Zealand, the number of families & genera are large compared with the number of species, as happens in coral-isld, & as I believe? in the extreme Arctic land. Certainly this is case with Marine shells in extreme Arctic seas. Do you suppose the fewness of species in proportion to number of large groups in Coral-islets., is owing to the chance of seeds from all orders, getting drifted to such new spots? as I have supposed.

Did you collect sea-shells in Kerguelen land, I shd like to know their character.?

Your interesting letters tempt me to be very unreasonable in asking you questions; but you must not give yourself any trouble about them, for I know how fully & worthily you are employed.

Besides a general interest about the Southern lands, I have been now ever since my return engaged in a very presumptuous work & which I know no one individual who wd not say a very foolish one. I was so struck with distribution of Galapagos organisms &c &c & with the character of the American fossil mammifers, &c &c that I determined to collect blindly every sort of fact, which cd bear any way on what are species. I have read heaps of agricultural & horticultural books, & have never ceased collecting facts – At last gleams of light have come, & I am almost convinced (quite contrary to opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable. Heaven forfend me from Lamarck nonsense of a “tendency to progression” “adaptations from the slow willing of animals” &c, – but the conclusions I am led to are not widely different from his – though the means of change are wholly so – I think I have found out (here’s presumption!) the simple way by which species become exquisitely adapted to various ends. You will now groan, & think to yourself ‘on what a man have I been wasting my time in writing to.’ – I shd, five years ago, have thought so. I fear you will also groan at the length of this letter—excuse me, I did not begin with malice prepense.

Believe me my dear Sir

Very truly your’s

C. Darwin

As we read other peoples’ mail, we might recall that on this date in 1859, Norton I distributed letters to the newspapers of San Francisco proclaiming himself Emperor of North America…

At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last 9 years and 10 months past of S. F., Cal., declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these U. S.; and in virtue of the authority thereby in me vested, do hereby order and direct the representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in Musical Hall, of this city, on the 1st day of Feb. next, then and there to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, in our stability and integrity.

– NORTON I, Emperor of the United States.

source: Wikimedia

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