Science for Artists

Inspiration and Truth

The Evolution of the Theory of Evolution

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unicorn skull painting by Katarina Countiss
Painting by Katarina Countiss

Excerpt from Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life by Dennett, Daniel Clement (Book – 1995) page 38-39

Problems in science are sometimes made easier by adding complications. The development of the science of geology and the discovery of fossil of manifestly extinct species gave the taxonomists further curiosities to confound them, but these curiosities were also the very pieces of the puzzle that enabled Darwin, working alongside hundreds of other scientists, to discover the key to its solution: species were not eternal and immutable; they had evolved over time. Unlike carbon atoms, which for all one knew, had been around forever in exactly the form they now exhibited, species had births in time, could change over time, and could give birth to new species in turn. This idea itself was not new; many versions of it had been seriously discussed, going back to the ancient Greeks. But there was a powerful platonic bias against it: essences were unchanging, and a thing couldn’t change its essence, and new essences couldn’t be born – except of course, by God’s command in episodes of Special Creation. Reptiles could no more turn into birds than copper could turn into gold.

It isn’t easy today to sympathize with this conviction, but the effort can be helped along by a fantasy, consider what your attitude would be towards a theory that purported to show how the number 7 had once been an even number, long, long ago, and had gradually acquired its oddness through an arrangement where it exchanged some properties with the ancestors of the number 10 (which had once been a prime number). Utter nonsense, of course. Inconceivable. Darwin knew that a parallel attitude was deeply ingrained among his contemporaries, and that he would have to labor mightily to overcome it. Indeed he more or less conceded that the elder authorities of his day would tend to be as immutable as the species they believe in.

A Book Review The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History by Gould, Stephen Jay (Book – 1980)

Summary: In this series of essays, Gould talks about evolution. He covers theories about dinosaurs, encephalic quotients and Larmarckian notions of taking your evolution by the horns so to speak. Gould emphasizes that science is quintessentially a human endeavor and there will always be biases towards on theory or another depending on the cultural climate.

Review: At first, I couldn’t stand this book. His essays would initially present something that made a good fair of sense and then towards the middle, Gould would say “However, that is totally wrong.” Or something like that. I was scared to finish reading this book because I felt like I was getting a lot of incorrect theory in my head, but the point of his essays are that there is merit in being reasoned in wrongness. The connections made by the method are sometimes incorrect, but the method has merit.

Favorite part: “Species are the units of nature’s morphology.” P.213 This was the end sentence of a great chapter describing that species are subjective to the time they are in because species are changing and evolving all the time. I connected this to culture. And how there is no “authentic” culture, but what we can observe in the moment, and from our worldview.

Wine-pairing: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. This is an interesting book about a particular slant of evolution. One can see how our culture’s point of view can mesh well with this individualistic theory.

Book Review via PandaProse

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Author: KC

I am Katarina Countiss, a multimedia designer. I like blogs, games, art and technology. I am curious about how things are made.

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