Newton, Darwin, Einstein–an Enlightenment Trinity.

41  bar steady 30.16 1mph SSW dewpoint 26  Spring

              Last Quarter Moon of Growing

Charles Darwin was and is a remarkable man.  Newton, Darwin, Einstein–an enlightenment trinity.  An old paradigm physicist, a new paradigm physicist and the first student of complexity, a biological pioneer.  These three have direct influence on so much of our world: calculus, atomic energy, genetic sciences, conservation biology, space travel, orbital mechanics.  So much.  To know the work of just these three and still deny the reality and power of ideas.  Impossible.

Darwin has influenced my own thinking.  A constant question I bring to the biological world is, “How is that adaptative?”  “What adaptative advantage does that confer?”  These two questions alone encourage speculation about fever, pollen, phototropism, the color of plant  leaves, the place where birds nest, bipedal locomotion and so on ad infinitum.

I have multiple reading projects that will happen when I have time. One of them is to read through Darwin’s work, at least the important books.  Why?  To separate what Darwin was about from the muddled and often inaccurate picture offered by his acolytes.  Here’s an example.  An instructor at the arboretum’s symposium I attended on Saturday used the term survival of the fittest.  Not Darwin.  Herbert Spencer.  Spencer used Darwin’s ideas to speculate about the succession of civilizations.  He invented the now long ago discredited notion of social darwinism.  Oswald Spengler brought the idea into its zenith of disrepute during the Nazi era.

Darwin’s idea is natural selection.  It is not only the fittest, that is the strongest and most competitive, that survive.  Those also survive who have a protected niche (think islands and deep valleys), a winning reproductive strategy (seeds versus spore mats) and great defense (lion fish, poison ivy).  The long sweep of evolutionary time favors those whose characteristics favor survival, whether the organism is the fittest in their niche or in their species or not.  Thus, the many endemic birds of Hawai’i may well not survive in some other environment.

Here’s a brief paragraph from Wikipedia that says this better than I can: 

“An interpretation of the phrase to mean “only the fittest organisms will prevail” (a view common in social Darwinism) is not consistent with the actual theory of evolution. Any organism which is capable of reproducing itself on an ongoing basis will survive as a species, not just the “fittest” ones. A more accurate characterization of evolution would be “survival of the fit enough”, although this is sometimes regarded as a tautology.[3][4]”    

I have added a link to the Digitial Darwin Library on the right side here.  Allison Theil turned me on to the Darwin exhibition at the Brooklyn Botancial Garden.  They had the link to this library.   In 2009 we will celebrate the 150th year of the publication of Origin of the Species.  Much sturm und drang can be expected.  I stand with Darwin.