Category: November 14 (page 1 of 3)

Pitfalls of Evolution in Modern Society

This week, Janet Browne returned to Colby to speak on the Origins of the Origins of Species, a defining work not only in the world of science and biology, but a revolutionary text with immeasurable impact globally. While speaking on the origins of Origins of Species, Browne spoke on what could be deemed as the Origin of the origin. Where did we come from? Where did the Earth come from? How do origins fit into the Evolution theory? Ultimately, where does the story start? Humanity, when looked at in a general picture of evolution, is often depicted as a muscular man evolving from apes. But what defines the modern man? We are constantly transforming and growing, not reaching an endpoint that boxes in our humanity, despite a the aforementioned photo of a hairy, upright, biped man. Evolution cannot be equated to steps on a staircase, but rather steps to multiple different rooms all on the same floor, given that within each room there are hundreds upon thousands of steps, incremental and nearly non-noticeable changes separating every mark. As a concept, it is dependent on gradual development, with no clear intro, body, conclusion, or more appropriately, beginning, middle, or end. It is an idea, not a list of consequential steps. The silhouetted model often reflects a timeline, marked by a single line of growth. In reality, there is a much greater resemblance to a patch of trees, with each species representing a brand on one of multiple trees, having stemmed from the same, similar, or even entirely different parent species. Evolution is a never-ending process, with the definition constantly being altered by those studying it.

 

However, in a constantly changing world, with political leaders and administration fighting what is common knowledge and widely accepted fact, how do we avoid falling into pitfalls of invalidity and false science? In a political administration run by those who advocate for racial and social difference concluding a biological hierarchy, where difference is hated rather than appreciated, we must fight for the importance in genetic variation, diversity, and science-based perspective.

 

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin is someone that most people are familiar with, but the extent to their knowledge about him is normally only limited to his theories on natural selection. However, there is much more to his life and during the lecture with Jane Brown, I learned a lot about this, which I found to be very interesting. Continue reading

Janet Browne: Charles Darwin as a Celebrity

Though I, regrettably, was unable to be at Professor Browne’s lecture, I did manage to read one of her articles on Darwin. As the title of this post suggests, the article that I read and will discuss here is Charles Darwin as a Celebrity, published in the Science in Context journal in 2003 (Click on the title to see the article).

My reaction to this article is generally positive. It should be noted that there is an underwhelming focus on how Darwin’s public image materially impacted the content and reception of his work, but the article is nonetheless a solid starting ground for those looking to explore that same proposition in more detail.

But I’m not writing this to critique the article. I’m writing to reflect on one of the article’s most important–and paradoxical, perhaps–arguments. Essentially, a great deal of time is spent describing how Darwin was an ostensibly private man–he gave limited interviews with the press, he didn’t expose himself to gawkers, et cetera, et cetera. That makes it all the more impactful when Browne mentions that one of the great rhetorical selling points, so to speak, of The Origin of Species is its personal, nearly autobiographical undertones that made Darwin a seemingly more approachable and relatable author. As Browne herself says of this point, it “is not trivial.” It can be inferred that this “not trivial” point posits both a juxtaposition and ground for public-verses-private comparison.

I think that the logical implication of this argument is that, by suspending his propensity for privacy and instead pouring himself onto the page, Darwin made a controversial book less inflammatory and more approachable. Browne outright states this, but there is considerable tension between that point and Darwin’s aforementioned penchant for secrecy. The way I see it, though, this argumentative dichotomy can be resolved by taking the People Magazine approach.

Let me explain.

Something that the article doesn’t do (at least explicitly) is use modern tabloids and whatnot to contextualize what Darwin’s approach to his fame had been. Though I’m aware of the presentist implications of such a methodology (after all, I railed against presentism in a previous blog post), I think that it’s important given how many other elements of present-day sociological analysis appear in the article. Today, anyone in the checkout line at Hannaford or Walmart or even a gas station has the opportunity to flip through a magazine. That the magazines we have today claim to “expose celebrities’ biggest secrets” and a whole host of other things should not be a surprise to anyone. However, it’s commonplace for celebrities (or it was commonplace prior to Twitter, but bear with me here) to only relate to the public via magazines. Though they may be snoopers, liars, and shameless paparazzi, magazines are a vessel for public-private relations with celebrities. Almost like a PR firm that no one hired.

My question is this: What if we take this assumption made about People Magazine and extrapolate it to also be about The Origin of Species? It would make sense. Darwin had a good number of autobiographical subtexts (or so says Professor Browne) in his landmark book, but not a whole lot of public appearances. Could we be able to explain this away by saying that The Origin of Species was Darwin’s “public appearance?” It would certainly help bridge the logical leap between Darwin’s purported secrecy and the openness of his book. If Professor Browne winds up following this article up, then I certainly hope that she answers this question.

Darwin

The name Charles Darwin is immediately recognizable to anyone who has ever taken a rudimentary biology class. He is well known to be the father of evolutionary theory. His 1859 work, on the Origin of Species, is still the basis for most theories within the field of biology. At the time of the publication of this work, it was widely considered to be the field of theology in which the origin of species would be determined. It was widely believed that the earth was created in the image of god, and that animals which displayed interesting of confusing characteristics could be explained by the brilliance of god. His work turned the current base of knowledge on its head. His hypothesis was unable to be proven at the time that he wrote it, and thus he was chastised by many for challenging the work of god, and the believe in the divine drawing of the earth. He is one of the classic examples of innovators in his field who have risen in prominence and respect as their work has aged. He is the quintessential example for the argument that all great discoveries in history have been met by adversity. As I have found with many of these lectures, I leave with more questions than when I arrive. Having known very little about the origin of anything from the universe to Italian Poetry or Novel Writing, I am repeatedly exposed to a new corner of the world which I know little to nothing about. In the brief time, it is impossible to learn the origins of anything to a satisfactory level. However, opening up these corners of the world, and shedding a bit of light on them makes me more curious, and I find myself wondering about the finer points of origins often. Can we prove an origin, or separate it from an evolution? If we can prove that it happened, but we can’t prove how or why, then is this finding really significant? Does investigating this idea bring us more answers or will it lead to more questions, as the brief lecture on it has for me? How is is possible to define the first novel except by the definition used at the time when it was written? It was fascinating to learn so much about both a topic that I was previously very uninformed about. The cartoon drawings of Darwin are evidence enough of the way that the world viewed him at the time of his work. His face is often depicted on the body of an ape. This image takes a jab at the idea of a common ancestor and that humans are genealogically related to apes. The cartoons from his voyage on the Beagle also show him as a silly civilian, looking for many different things without any reason. Even within the environment of his own research, he was viewed as a bit of an outcast, and the other passengers on the ship are depicted as rolling their eyes in unison at Darwin.

The Beagle, Barnacles, Pigeons, and Correspondence: The Origin of the Origin

Professor Janet Browne of Harvard University returned again this year to discuss her past research on the life of Charles Darwin and how it applies to the theme of origins. Charles Darwin’s research in itself tells an origin story, but Professor Browne furthered this relationship and examined, how she worded it, “The Origin of the Origin.” As with many of the origin stories we’ve learned about this semester, there are many vital pieces that must fall together in order for these origin stories to occur. Professor Browne discussed some of these key pieces in Darwin’s life and research that led him to his discoveries and claims and that, without, could have led to a completely different outcome. From the beginning of his research, Charles Darwin was researching and telling an origin story as he worked to bring together evidence and scientific method. Professor Browne pulled an example from his first notebook on the transmutation of species, where directly in the second sentence he writes, “these facts seemed to me to throw some light on the origin of species.” Darwin knew, to a certain extent, that he was creating an origin story of his own as he reflected on natural history and the evidence he was collecting. But how does one good idea transfer into a theory that is then circulated and discussed for centuries after? The answer is the Darwin’s origin’s origin story.

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