11 February 2009

Darwin Turns 200 - Still Refuses TV Interviews

..."It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one most adaptable to change."
- Charles Darwin

It is hard to think of a more ringing endorsement of a man's profound understanding of biology and life than this: Charles Darwin celebrates his 200th birthday tomorrow. To me, this shows that he has, not just theoretical understanding but, practical knowledge. If any of us detractors could live so long, they might have better grounds on which to contest his claim to understand how life works.

Evolution is an idea that - like us hurtling through space at thousands of miles an hour in orbit around the sun - is obviously, intuitively, and spectacularly wrong. It is wrong because it defies our own observations and the gut sense that comes from a life time of perception that sees cause and effect through the window of hours or - at best - years but staggers at the notion of causation that plays out over millions and billions of years.

For this reason alone, Darwin's odd conclusion that various life forms evolved is a stunning insight. He saw finches with different characteristics in different environments but he did not, obviously, himself watch the slow evolution of different length and shaped beaks. Darwin's insight came from observation of a result, and from this he worked backwards to a process. Try that. Imagine seeing a cake and figuring out baking.

I find in Darwin's life great inspiration as well. The man worked, on average, only a few hours a day and yet he made one of the greatest contributions to thought of all time. (Further confirmation for me that busy is too often a poor and misleading substitute for productive or - even more importantly - creative.) And the man did not release his great work until he was 50.

One of the many reasons that I admire him is that, for me, the concept of evolution seems to shed huge insight into even social change and development. After reading a great deal of history, I have become a radical incrementalist. That is, I believe that things change radically - but usually in small increments at any given time. Societies evolve.

We have come to apply the concept of evolution to phenomenon as varied as software, language, customs, markets, and technology. It is hard to imagine understanding any dynamic system without the notion of evolution.

As essential as his stunning idea has proven, it still pales in comparison to turning 200.

7 comments:

nunya said...

On Darwin’s 200th birthday, only 39 percent of Americans believe in evolution.

mmmm, America's evolving eh?

Wearesoscrewed.

ThomasLB said...

I've moved away from incrementalism toward castastrophism. Pressure may build slowly and incrementally until the boiler bursts- but it's the burst that actually brings about change. Likewise, societal pressures slowly build until a revolution changes things.*


*Maybe.

Anonymous said...

The harmony of natural law reveals an intelligence of such superiority that compared with it, all the systematic thinking of human beings is utterly insignificant.

Albert Einstein

LSD said...

Ha! I did not know it, but Darwin and Lincoln were born on the same day. Maybe that's old news, but still I wonder if the guys born Feb. 12, 1809 have generated more publications than guys born on any other day.

I understand that Abe is a pretty hard interview to get as well. -Coincidence?

Ron Davison said...

Nunya,
well, evolution is a process that occurs over such a long period that it is never happening in a particular instance. 39% is a bigger number than it was 150 years ago. (39%? Really? Sigh.)

Thomas,
I think that revolutions happen when social institutions catch up with social norms.

Mr. Einstein,
I see that you, too, are refusing interviews but how amazing that you stopped by to leave a comment at R World. Thank you!

Scott,
I think that you are probably right about the most oomph per single day. Wow.
I'll see if I can get Abe to grant an interview for R World. Maybe he can review Obama's performance. You know, the Ouija board was the original texting - laborious, letter by letter communcation with questionable connectivity. I'll see if I can get him on his Ouija board.

Anonymous said...

Dearest,
I heard a great NPR piece on Darwin's love story on his birthday. I would recommend anyone who is the least bit interested in Darwin to look it up on NPR's web site soon.
Sandi

Pinky said...

It's quite possible that the 39% refers to those believing in evolution as the beginning of our species, as opposed to evolution in general.

I believe in Creation as or origin, yet in the evolutionary process all around me in nature.

Why are we so screwed as a nation if we don't all believe in evolution as our origin?

That's weird.

Are we not open-minded enough to allow free-think?