Tag: Darwinian evolution (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

Revolutions, an Evolution in Itself

Janet Brown’s talk, “Rethinking the Darwinian Revolution” delved into characteristics of the original Darwinian Revolution, and discussed how it has evolved since. One component to her talk was the striking difference between the Darwinian Revolution when Darwin was alive and when he was deceased.  Although Darwin developed his theories and recorded extensive data, his life-altering perceptions about our relationship with other species caused controversy. It was not until Darwin passed away that he became an icon. As Brown mentioned, upon his death Darwin’s friends petitioned to have him buried in the famous Westminster Abbey.

It is intriguing that Darwin’s thoughts, and him as an icon of the presently changing mindset, did not catch steam until after his passing. One notable point Brown discussed was that Darwin was not the only evolutionist of the time. However, with the help of his friends, Darwin became the face of the movement and was quickly idolized. Even though Darwin’s image improved, compared to when he was alive, his revolution would not truly impact the lives of many until the American scientists accepted his theory in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

The story of Darwin demonstrates the different forms a revolution can come in. Specifically, the duration of revolutionary thoughts, and advancements in human’s understanding of the world, can clearly exceed the revolutionary’s lifetime.  Moreover, the evolution revolution underwent many changes and altered its image over many generations. This also shows the number of changes a revolution can undergo, and how different generations may interpret, or misinterpret, its purpose. Thus, revolutions can be variable, evolving, and adaptable; they suit to the current environment and it is the ideas, and not always the people, that keep the revolution in motion.

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.

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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?

Darwin’s a Revolution?

Janet Browne from Harvard University came to Colby to speak on the Darwinian Revolution. Two points Browne elaborated on was how Darwin is not the only one to speak on Evolution and that the Darwinian Revolution is not really a revolution. Her talk spoke a lot on Darwin’s life and what we have made of it; she spoke of his upbringing, his death and how he’s remembered today. After listening to her expertise on Darwin, I think Darwin was a smart guy who was simply lucky to be recognized as greatly as he is today. So what was it that made Darwin so well recognized, and considered revolutionary?

Of course Darwin is well recognized for his evolution theory. A theory that has greatly contributed to the sciences and has been studied internationally and will continue to be studied for years. Darwin should be well recognized for his work, however, according to Janet Browne there were also other great people who contributed to the evolution theory but are not as greatly publicized – Herbert spencer, Robert chambers, Russell Wallace, etc. Thus, Darwin is brilliant for his work but he was not the only one contributing to such a great theory.

Through Browne’s talk we saw what an ordinary guy Darwin was. Other than being super intelligent, Darwin was a family guy, he married Emma Wedge Wood, who was also wealthy, and they had a bunch of kids. It is also worth mentioning Darwin was an ordinary, privileged* guy. He was privileged to have the money from his parents to move to the rural, Kent ,UK , in a house with servants as of a young age. He had the resources to become educated and have the time to pursue his studies without worrying about working for money. In addition, he was able to use his own back yard to do his studies.

A final point I would like to make about Darwin is how we have come to know Darwin as the great scientist. Today there exist memes, quotes, and sayings said to be stated by him but were actually not, and rather, just inspired by his work. For example, a famous quote that was incorrectly cited as Darwin’s is “Species most responsive to change will survive.” The picture of the apes evolving into humans was also not Darwin’s creation. Apparently, at Darwin’s funeral he was treated like a saint, today, there is a statue of him in the natural history museum in London and his sons even made an effort to incorporate Darwinism into genetics, to continue to branch out his name in the sciences.

I think Darwins’ story is so interesting because this was considered a revolution and is so highly thought of by the people who are very passionate about him, his work and what he represents – the UK. I feel that there is a lot of hype around Darwin and passion for him not only because of his work but because he represents the UK. From this talk we see how he was indeed smart, but he was a normal guy who received a lot of attention. He had the resources to do what he did and was lucky to get the publicity that he got. The people are what keep Darwin so relevant. What does this have to say about revolutions? Well, this shows how powerful those are who get to report history and also have the money and power to make landmarks to commemorate someone in history.



The Paradigm Shift from Darwin

Janet Browne began the discussion by noting that Darwin himself foresaw the rise of the revolution that would stem from his discoveries. He “dimly [foresaw] a revolution in natural history” that would result from the scientific community’s and public’s acceptance of his work. Darwin did not, however, understand the shift that his discoveries would bring not only in science, but also in economics, political theory, business theory, and even culture.
Today, Darwin’s theory of natural selection, or descent with modification, has support of the scientific community and even the Catholic Church. This theory has played a key role in the direction of scientific research since its amalgamation with genetics. The idea of the “survival of the fittest” and concepts of natural selection have been applied to economic, political, and business theory, which dictate the market and financial status of the many nations. Darwin has also become an icon of classic scientific discovery; towns, mountains, buildings, cafés, and even twitter handles have been named or created in his honor. Darwin’s wife and children worked to establish the legacy of Darwin that we know today. Darwin’s funeral reflects his importance to Britain. Despite being an agnostic scientist, he was buried among the heroes and religious icon of Britain in Westminster Abbey–this established his status as a kind of secular saint. In 1885 a magnificent statue of Darwin was erected and moved into the Natural History Museum of London, where it presided over a cathedral-like room and an altar-like platform. Fifty years after Darwin’s death one of his descendants organized a commemoration event with a famous geneticist to promote Darwinian science as the field of genetics began to gain popularity. In 1950 UChicago held a celebration of Darwin with a panel of the world’s brightest biological scientists. Today, ideas of Darwinism persist in science, economics, political, business and culture.
Darwin precipitated the idea of natural selection, or descent with modification, when reading an economics book. He delayed publishing this concept for years out of fear of how society might react. When he finally did publish, the scientific community did not immediately accept his work; in fact, many people vehemently rejected the notion that humans were related to apes. In 1925 a teacher was prosecuted for having a textbook that mentioned the concept of evolution–this case, the Scopes trial, represents the resistance to natural selection that remained many decades after the theory had been accepted, and even celebrated by the scientific community. Some may argue that the Darwinian Revolution wasn’t really “Darwinian.” During the period of Darwin’s greatest discoveries other scientists were exploring similar ideas. Some argue that if Darwin and had existed another person would have made the same discoveries and drawn the same conclusions–in other words, Darwin was not unique; he was just the first to make an inevitable discovery. People may also argue that the introduction of natural selection and evolution did not really cause a revolution. Darwin’s ideas were not really globally accepted until the 1940’s. The world’s most famous revolutions did not occur overnight; many of them took years or even decades, so to say that Darwin’s ideas took too long to catch on ignores the timeframe about great revolutions. His ideas also resulted in the paradigm shift from God as the creator of man to descent with modification. This shift directs modern scientific research.

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