darwin

Way Off The Lamarck

“If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare that I am a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German and Germany will declare that I am a Jew.”

Albert Einstein

I was lucky enough to get 6 hours in Paris the other day and went for a wander around Notre Dame. Before you get there though there is the Jardin Des Plantes and I thought I would take a walk around. Didn’t have enough money on me to go into the evolution museum even though I wanted to but this statue caught my eye I was a little taken aback. Take a look…

When I first saw the statue my first thought, a little unfairly, was that Lamarck was responsible for the theory of evolution in the same way that cheese was responsible for the great train robbery – not at all (actually that was my second thought, my first was “wait a f**king minute!”). However, on thinking it over maybe a fairer way to look at it might be like da Vinci and the helicopter in that although their ideas would not have worked, they were among the first attempts to solve certain problems.

I’m fairly sure if you asked a French person now who was responsible for the theory of evolution they would say Darwin. It is highly probable that the trumpeting of Lamarck in France represented part of the battle between the British and French empires, the two major powers of that era, in that they were trying also to be perceived to be intellectually and culturally dominant. A similar stooshie went on over who discovered Neptune with the British trying to claim it from the French.

Although this is intellectually dishonest behaviour, I suppose it would be preferable to the kind of thing that the Americans are putting out these days to show their cultural dominance.

The Jardins Des Plantes is a nice place though, and there are a few more pictures if you click on the READ MORE below.

(more…)

Alfred Wegener

Rita: You think Einstein walked around thinkin’ everyone was a bunch of dumb shits?

Pvt. Joe Bowers: Yeah. Hadn’t thought of that.

Rita: Now you know why he built that bomb.

(From the film Idiocracy)

We have all heard often about how Darwin was right and not many understood what he was saying whilst others wished to attack him for religious or political motives. It must have been truly difficult for him and it is a sad story but at least in his lifetime he managed to see that the majority were beginning to accept his ideas.

One poor soul who never got to have that final pleasure was Alfred Wegener (1880-1930) and his story is in some ways, but not all, similar to that of Darwin. Wegener was the man who proposed the theory of plate tectonics and was ridiculed for it.

One of the similarities with Darwin are that “Wegener was not the first to suggest that the continents had once been connected, but he was the first to present extensive evidence from several fields”. Darwin wasn’t the first to suggest that some from of evolution was taking place but he provided mountains of evidence for it.

Another of the similarities is that although both of them had the right idea, they were missing or wrong about part of the mechanism. In Darwin’s case his method of natural selection is true but missed the role of genes, which he had no way of knowing about. In Wegener’s case he believed the continents “plow through the ocean floor”. He may have believed that  as studies of the earth’s crust under the ocean had not been done at the time.

A third similarity is that while they were being attacked for their theories, they also had some supporters who tried to explain their theories.

The major difference, and why I am writing this, is that  I’ve always found it a sad thought that someone who understood first (though not completely) one of the major things about how the planet works, never lived to see the world catch up with him and Wegener didn’t live to see himself vindicated .

I’ll let him finish…

“Scientists still do not appear to understand sufficiently that all earth sciences must contribute evidence toward unveiling the state of our planet in earlier times, and that the truth of the matter can only be reached by combing all this evidence. . . It is only by combing the information furnished by all the earth sciences that we can hope to determine ‘truth’ here, that is to say, to find the picture that sets out all the known facts in the best arrangement and that therefore has the highest degree of probability. Further, we have to be prepared always for the possibility that each new discovery, no matter what science furnishes it, may modify the conclusions we draw.”

Alfred Wegener. The Origins of Continents and Oceans (4th edition)

THE BIG ONES – MY UNABASHED POST

Where are we? – A question that has been ever more accurately answered by a long stretch of people from Aristarchus of Samos to Edwin Hubble and many many before, between and after. Suffice to say we have a very good idea now.

Who are we and what are we? – I would posit that both of these have been satisfactorily answered by Darwin but not in the sense that many people who seek to misrepresent Darwin for right-wing political ends would suggest. Let us not forget that one of the reasons that Darwin got time to study  his science more was that he fell out with the ship’s captain (whom he was employed to talk to…he wasn’t employed to be ship’s naturalist) because the captain agreed with slavery and Darwin vehemently did not.

How are we and/or how should we be? – This one is the province of the philosophers ie all of us.

Why are we? – Probably unanswerable question.

When are we? – This has also been convincingly answered. Look it up yourself – you have the time.

And today we got a lot closer to another one…

Are we alone? – I know that this is not a definitive answer but the odds just changed considerably. It is possible that over time this will become one of the biggest stories in history. If it isn’t this one, there is a high possibility it will be another one… and soon.

Check it out. I am completely unashamed to say that the fact we are attaining such a level of understanding is one of the great things about being alive in this time. The tragedy, as it has been pointed out before, is that just as we are on the point of getting it we are also on the point of fucking our little corner of it up beyond repair.

Here is what won’t help…

BROTHER GORILLA [Part 1]

This is the first part of an only tangentially related two-part post.

There is a famous song by French anarchist George De Brassens that will be part two, but in this first part I just want to post a little film I made to show that the term “Brother Gorilla” is not actually that far from the truth.

The audio is Douglas Adams and comes from probably his best book which is Last Chance to See. I haven’t actually seen any of the more recent TV series with Stephen Fry but I am sure I will get around to watching it soon enough.

Speaking of Stephen Fry, I recently watched a debate on youtube featuring him that you could watch and some of the things in that debate I wrote about a while ago in a slightly different way and got a little bit of abuse for.

Anyway, the film…