Tag: Darwin (page 1 of 2)

Discussing the Darwinian Revolution

By publishing one single book, Charles Darwin started a revolution, the one named after him. Even though he might not be the one who originally thought of this particular concept, however, by accumulating his thoughts and results in that book, he challenged the basic stereotype of the human origin. In doing so, he was also challenging very widely held beliefs in religion, science and other aspects of society.

Such has been the impact of the Darwinian Revolution that if you now ask somebody to think of evolution, that person might think of many things But definitely, one would be the very famous image depicting how man slowly and gradually evolved. The historical book was published in 1859, yet its impact can still be seen in 2016. This shows that all revolutions are not sudden. They take their own time to develop and integrate themselves within the society.

Another aspect which perhaps needs rethinking is that if Charles Darwin was not the first to think of ‘The Theory of Natural Selection’, should the revolution be named after him? There have been strong speculations that even 150 years before Charles Darwin, a lot of intellectual thought and debate had gone into The Theory of Natural Selection, including that of his own grandfather. Furthermore, many people claim that Alfred Russell Wallace is the forgotten hero behind the evolution of principle, further stressing that Darwin relied on Wallace for many of his findings. However, this revolution is Darwinian for a host of reasons. Firstly, he was one of the first to stand up against the Church and other religious authorities and claim that they are wrong. Moreover, if you look at the structure of the argument presented in ‘Origin of Species’, it is near flawless. Darwin brilliantly highlights the key principles and findings from his observations and acutely presents them in a systematic manner. One can wonder, had the book been structured differently, it might not have the same historical impact which it did.

Even though the Darwinian Revolution might not seem relevant as other revolutions, what perhaps makes him so popular is the fact that his subject arouses curiosity. It allows people to imagine what they might have been in the past, and what they imagine, fascinates them.

How Typological Thinking Affects Us Presently

The talk called The Unfinished Business of the Darwinian Revolution by Professor Judy Stone was very different from the previous Darwinian talk. While Janet Browne from Harvard University spoke about how revolutionary should Darwin be considered, Professor Stone focused more on the evolution theory itself. Stone, I believe attempts to ground us with what Darwin’s evolution theory was really about and where we should be today. More specifically, Stone’s talk engrains in us Darwin’s branching tree diagram and how this was misinterpreted and wrongly encouraged typological thinking when we should have a more realistic, non binary view of evolution. Continue reading

Darwin Today

The widespread interpretation of Darwin’s work is largely driven by the classic picture of evolution from ape to human—a series of linear steps moving towards a goal. But this, the ladder-like progression to perfection, is the pre-Darwinian view of evolution. From Darwin, we actually derive the pattern of a branching tree and the process of evolution by natural selection. So, thank you to Judy Stone for helping us finish up the unfinished business of the Darwinian Revolution.

A lot of what Darwin said is not commonly known and I still don’t know. But maybe if his work was better known then it would have more positive implications for society. There was, and still is, the notion of an idealized “type.” We think of what an apple, a pine tree, a squirrel, a human “should” look like. Darwin recognized the centrality and importance of variation within species, and how many things that may appear different are just part of that diversity and very important, not a defect. However, that did not stop the typological thinking. In fact, this mentality continues to be reinforced in the public mind, recently with the increased prominence of “the gene.” As is often and understandably the case, scientific advances must be watered down and distilled to a level that the public can comprehend. Not only does the science need to be simplified, but it also needs to be attention grabbing. The gene fit the bill but it also helps to put people in boxes. Professor Stone noted how there was one a report of what was referred to as a “schizophrenia gene.” This was a completely uninformed representation by the media that mischaracterized scientific findings just to gain readership. This example of how science can be trivialized to a harmful level is not unique, and the role of special interests in science on tobacco and climate change, for example, are similarly disturbing in other ways. Professor Stone was quick to point out that there is certainly no specific single gene mutation that would designate a person as schizophrenic. Reinforced typological thinking and the misunderstanding of human genetic variation have both contributed to widespread societal issues. Optimistically, Judy Stone hope and suggests that a genomics revolution could help us overcome typological thinking and its negative impacts. We certainly hope that if there was more outreach done by evolutionary scientists then racist ideas could finally be broken.

Switching gears a little bit, there were a few things mentioned during the lecture that I vaguely remember from documentaries before but they still managed to blow my mind (probably for the second time). Humans are a very young species, thought to be roughly 150,000 years old, thus we are not all that diverse of a species. We trace out origins back to fourteen different geographically separated populations. It is fascinating to think that there were other hominids roaming the earth not all that long ago and it’s certainly a science that I would like to read up more on in the future.

 

Dangers of Darwin

Evolution, a staple topic in Biology, is widely regarded as one of the most crucial pieces of understanding human, plant, and animal physiology, and their relationships with the Earth. Professor Judy Stone explored in her talk the misconceptions brought by explanation of evolution, particularly with the common and iconic image of evolution, portrayed in in general media and society – an ape quickly transitioning into a “modern” human, with only a few steps of transition separating the two stages. One major contention with this model, is the particular labeling of “modern” human. Humans are constantly transforming, growing, never reaching an endpoint defining current humanity, despite a silhouetted picture of a muscular-seeming man. The issues of equating evolution to steps on a staircase, lie in the lack of transitional description that defines evolutions. In between each hypothetical step is a hundred of other steps, with thousands of steps in between those steps, and so on. Evolution is dependent on gradual development, as there is no beginning, middle or end – it is an idea, not a list of actions.  Additionally, Darwin’s evolution was built on the basis of branching, not direct growth. The silhouetted model depicts a single line of growth, while in reality, it has much greater resemblance to a patch of trees, where each species is a branch on one of several trees, having stemmed from a similar, or entirely different base species. Evolution is a never-ending, ever present process. Thanks to Darwin’s phenomenal work, this is all made clear, even when muddled by societal interpretations of evolution.

Does this really matter though? Why are we still talking about Darwin and evolution? This issue of typological thinking promotes the abnormality of abnormality, that variation is an issue. Unfortunately, this is so often reinforced negatively today, with scenarios such as President elect Donald Trump. With a campaign built entirely on hate and the opposition to difference, this typological perspective is perpetuated into the American people. Citizens of different race (assuming straight, white, male as normative) are admonished, distrusted, and even disregarded as “proper” Americans, creating significant divide in the American people. This is of course very dangerous, as it introduces the idea that genetic variation is responsible for creating a social hierarchy dependent on factors such as skin color, despite this having no factual basis. This ability to manipulate information, while not at all stemming from Darwin, can be falsely associated with the misinterpretation of Darwin’s evolution model, creating for unhealthy human perspectives.

Unfinished Business of the Darwinian Revolution

I found this semester’s second Revolutions talk about Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution more interesting than the first talk on it. This second talk looked at the Darwinian Revolution and how it has been misinterpreted in modern times to mean several things that Charles Darwin’s original theory did not state. The most telling example of how Darwin’s revolutionary theories on evolution and natural selection are misunderstood is the image of the apes turning into a man as he walks along in a straight line. This image is very misleading to audiences because it depicts evolution as simply ladder-like rather than a complex process of branching out and evolving over tens of thousands of years. This image also reinforces typological thinking of Darwin’s scholarly work; it misrepresents evolution as a process of only one kind, certain species can only evolve into certain animals. This image also depicts evolution as moving towards a goal, as if evolution is a goal-oriented process with a clear end. Evolution does not have a clear end, no scientist or evolutionary biologist knows for certain how the evolutionary process will “end”.

I found this talk about the Darwinian revolution much more engaging than the first one because it gave me a new perspective of Darwin’s work in today’s society. I understood his discoveries as being complex and not completely set in stone, but popular images and other media can misrepresent what Darwin actually studied and discovered. The first talk about Darwin did not give me any new revelations, the speaker, Janet Browne, basically discussed Darwin in a way that I have heard several times before in my biology classes in high school and college. Another misrepresentation of evolutionary science that Judy Stone discusses in her talk is the ascendance of the “gene” in typological thinking in the public mind. Headlines like “Schizophrenia Gene Discovery Sheds Light on Possible Cause” misrepresents the science behind genes. For the most part, individual genes do not affect bodily systems enough to cause diseases like Schizophrenia; genes work in extremely complex tandem with other genes to cause hereditary and other diseases. Environmental factors can also be influential in the onset of disease. One last misrepresentation that Judy Stone discusses is that in the study of fruit flies, any fly without a visible mutation are referred to as “wild type”, there is no such thing as a specific “wild type” in nature. There is no perfectly “wild” fruit fly, no two fruit flies have the same genome, so declaring certain flies as wild types carries no valid connotation.

This talk was very interesting and I will not look at popular representations of evolution and of Charles Darwin the same. His works are so critical to our understanding of how humans came to be, but many people in today’s society may have a partially skewed idea of what evolution really is because of popular media’s misinterpretation of Darwin’s key ideas.

The Deception of Evolution

Evolution at this point in our history serves as the dominant conception of the ways that biological life on this planet has arisen in its modern form. From ideas of natural selection, diversity of species, and the inter-relatedness of species  evolution and its many contributors continue to form the way we understand our past and future. Most recognizable, Charles Darwin’s contributions to evolution and our conception of life on earth was unquestionably revolutionary during his time period. However as we continue to move forward as a species the legacy and the roots of evolution and particularly Darwin’s ideas must be re-examined and critically analyzed. Specifically Darwin’s typological thinking, species centered humanism, and visual orientation of species must be examined in relation to its historical effects.

Professor Judy Stone outlined the historical contexts of Darwin’s ideas as being the product of notions on evolution, population genetics , natural selection, and biological classification. That is Darwin was working in a particular context that valued the separation of species and noted their separations in deviation of linear genealogies that seem to be moving toward a next step. This idea however worked in direct contradiction with his working knowledge of the ways that all humans in particular are of the same genealogy. How can humans be the same yet different at the same time? Stone noted this as a root flaw to his legacy in evolution as this topological thinking as a conceptual model implicitly and explicitly delineates racial boundaries, genetic determinisms, and creates racial hierarchies.

Now why does this matter today? Surely there is no way this explicit practice of racial classification persist today, I mean we aren’t a society that condones Eugenics or Racial Darwinism in national studies or surveys. Well no, but also kinda. To start, I believe we still assert this notion of genetic determinism in the ways we go about arguments between populations. That is, this notion that certain segments of society has caused their own predicaments and the segments that have succeeded are clearly superior in intelligence, craftiness, or etc. Now this is not verbatim arguments but this is the sentiment and in part language used by scientist, politicians, and educators today. This is a conception of reality that Darwin helped create.

Judy Stone said herself that variable traits within populations aren’t the cause of some cosmological destination of species or indication of superiority but the result of complex biological mutations that have arisen out of environmental factors over thousands and thousand of years. We cant just accept these artificial racial boundaries as objective science, and although Darwin contributed to our conception of past, present, and future we must continue to challenge. We must continue to question and analyze and thwart the legacies of evolutionary scientist, not because they were inherently bad men or women but because they were the product of a point in history and as such we must take from them the ideas we can build on a eradicate the ideas that continue to separate us.

Typical Thinking versus Evolution Theory

Charles Darwin and his evolution theory made a huge impact on science and society. Before Darwin’s theory, there were many weak evolution theories. Some depicted evolution as ladder-like rather than branching and evolution as moving towards a goal. These descriptions reinforced typological thinking. For example, the conceptual foundation was the great chain of being, which was enormously influential during 1500 to 1700 A.D in Europe.

Continue reading

The Right Way Forward

The lecture by Judy Stone titled “The Unfinished Business of the Darwinian Revolution” was an eye-opening experience for me; for it made me realise that revolutions are underway all around me. Years down the line, our successors will credit this present time as an extremely important time in mankind’s history, not realising that revolutions are happening in their time too.

Judy Stone talked about one of those revolutions, one which had not reached its final evolutionary stage yet. The spark kindled by Charles Darwin had yet to enlighten the human mind wholly. The theories proposed by Darwin are now seldom unheard of around the world, yet this revolution faces a roadblock which needs to be dealt with for the revolution to remain relevant. This roadblock I talk about is the incomplete interpretation of evolution throughout the globe. The most profound example can be found in the iconic image of evolution itself, which shows the different stages of man during different times. This reinforces false typological thinking, considering Darwin implied evolution to be a branching process rather than ladder like. Moreover, evolution is never meant to be depicted as moving towards a goal, as the image does. Instead, evolution results from the process of natural selection, where all sorts of distinct variations within species function as the key ingredients for natural selection.

This brings me to my next point, that being our ability to ignore those variations within humans and place different people within different categories, never acknowledging the continuous genetic variations within our species. This has been enforced within the public mind most commonly through the ‘gene’ which has led people to use baseless assumptions to reach false conclusions, which can have trivial, irresponsible and even criminal impacts. One of those instances occurred where differentiating people through races led to creation of race-specific medicines. This is clear ill-usage of principles of evolutionary biology where medicinal growth is seriously being impacted.

Evolutionary biology has already impacted our lives in various ways, and shall continue to do so, provided we proceed in the right direction in the next step of this unfinished revolution. It seems that exploration of genomes and deep further research in personalised medicine seems the right way forward, but who knows, if we are evolving, who is to say that revolutions aren’t?

The Darwinian (and others) Revolution

Darwin is often hailed as the sole founder of evolutionary theory, but Janet Browne’s lecture emphasized that his theory was based not only on his own observations, but also years of research by preceding scientists. Today, however, Darwin has become so famous that mountains, cafes, and even a city are named after him. Conversely, the scientists that made his theory possible are not household names. The Darwinian Revolution, then, is not a revolution that can be attributed to one person. It may not even be able to be considered a revolution at all.

This is not to say that Darwin was not a brilliant scientist, because he was. Modern science would not be as advanced as it is today without his research. However, it is also important to remember the other scientists that shaped his work. For example, Alfred Wallace also put forth the theory of evolution by natural selection, and some of his work was published with Darwin’s, but he did not receive nearly as much credit for the theory as Darwin. Herbert Spencer and Robert Chambers both wrote about evolution before Darwin but also have not reached the same level of fame and are not credited with the idea. It can be argued that Darwin’s Origin of Species is the most famous account of evolution by natural selection because it was supported by the most evidence. However, is Darwin a revolutionary if his evidence is based of the forgotten works of his predecessors and not entirely his own findings?

The Darwinian Revolution can be compared to the Scientific Revolution in that it happened over more than a century of time and thus its status as “revolutionary” is contested. Darwin devised his theory of natural selection years after his voyage on the Beagle, during which he simply collected evidence but did not yet fully understand what it meant. Even Darwin’s most notable work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, did not put forth the entire theory of evolution; it provided evidence for the theory of natural selection. All of evolutionary theory was not put together until as late as the 1950s, despite the fact that Darwin’s book is often credited with explaining the theory in its entirety. The now renowned symbol of “Darwin’s finches” was not actually made famous until the 1950s. All of this now seems like overwhelming evidence that the Darwinian Revolution was not an immediate revolution, but a gradual accumulation of evidence and ideas from different sources over about 150 years.

The remarkable fame Darwin has acquired over the years is an interesting phenomenon, perhaps explaining a certain characteristic of human nature. Humans seem to have a tendency to idolize one person within a movement, to designate one figure the “hero” they decide to revere. However, the Darwinian Revolution, and all revolutions and movements, are almost always based of the work of many. “Heroes” have to draw inspiration from somewhere, learn from someone. Revolutions and drastic changes in thought do not come out of nowhere, so it is important to study a revolutionary’s predecessor and give them credit.

(r)evolution

Almost anyone that you talk to will have some idea of Darwin. That theory of evolution cartoon will probably also come to mind. The common knowledge of Darwin, and the household use of his name is the result of a revolution over a much longer period than we might normally consider. Janet Browne’s lecture on Darwin was very insightful and here I rely on her wealth information and insights. The evolution cartoon and the idea of “progress” was added not by Darwin, but by others in the mid-1900s. Romanization of Darwin was initiated by family member and other Darwin proponents. So how much of the real Darwin does the average person know? Not much. But does that matter in terms of a revolution?

Darwin could have been a name heard much less often. Darwin became an icon for others to use no matter their agenda. Even immediately following his death, friends of Darwin asked that he be buried in Westminster Abbey (against his wishes), turning him into a “secular saint.” Darwin was the centerpiece of the Natural History Museum. His legacy hit a road block when the Darwin statue was removed in the 1920’s when he started to seem a little too old fashioned. After all, genetics was the new science of the early 1900’s, and important connections were not initially drawn to Darwin’s work. But then Darwin came roaring back into the spotlight. It’s fascinating how a scientist who many deem as incredibly important can go in and out of fashion like anything else. It makes me wonder if Darwin will ever leave the mainstream in the future again.

It is hard to understand Darwin as part of the pop culture context. From a t-shirt to a town named after him, the story of a revolution including many other individuals cannot be mentioned. Alfred Russel Wallace came to similar conclusions as Darwin independently, but only scholars know of Wallace’s incredible generosity in supporting Darwin rather than be bitter about him. Wallace got much less glory and many fewer t-shirts.

I can draw a somewhat vague connection to a Janplan class that I took here at Colby. It was called “Strongmen and Populism in Modern Spain and Latin America,” and one of the people we came across was Zapata. Zapata started out totally unknown, then became the leader of a movement in Mexico and an idea that became more important than he did—especially after his death. I’m sure we could name numerous other examples where a person or an icon is adopted for a wider movement or revolution. Maybe this is what Darwin has become? Though he certainly has the resume to back his fame.

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