(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Charles Darwin

“In a long voyage… the map of the world ceases to be a blank”*…




One of the first-known maps of the Pacific, shown above, was a collaboration between the crew of Captain Cook’s Endeavour and a Tahitian man named Tupaia in 1769.

In the book Sea People, Christina Thompson tells the story behind the map. Cook and his crew wanted a chart to navigate the South Seas, so they questioned Tupaia (“a tall, impressive man of about forty, with the bearing and tattoos of a member of the chiefly class“) and tried to transcribe what he told them, on their coordinate system of north–south and east–west.

From Sea People:

“It is a truly remarkable artifact: a translation of Tahitian geographical knowledge into European cartographic terms at the very first moment in history when such a thing might have been possible; a collaboration between two brilliant navigators coming from geographical traditions with essentially no overlap; a fusion of completely different sets of ideas. There was no precedent for it; it has no known equal; and, with the benefit of hindsight, it looks like something of a miracle that it was ever created at all.”

But she continues:

“Unfortunately for Cook—though interestingly for us—Tupaia’s chart is ‘opaque with trans-cultural confusion.'”

In a more literal way than Korzybski meant, “the map is not the territory“: “Tupaia’s Map.”

(Many thanks to MK)

* Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle


As we get lost in translation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1826 that the HMS Beagle set sail from Plymouth on its first voyage, an expedition to conduct a hydrographic survey of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego in support of the larger ship HMS Adventure,

The Beagle‘s second voyage (1831-1836) is rather better remembered, as it was on that expedition that the ship’s naturalist, a young Charles Darwin (whose published journal of the journey, quoted above, earned him early fame as a writer) made the observations that led him to even greater fame for his theory of evolution.

300px-PSM_V57_D097_Hms_beagle_in_the_straits_of_magellan source



Written by LW

May 22, 2020 at 1:01 am

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.



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).


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

%d bloggers like this: