Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Moving Forward

I will be back in Ecuador in a week and exploring the Galapagos soon thereafter. I am trying to look forward and feel energized and excited. The death of Pippi has left me sad and panicky and drained, and I am trying to reverse this emotional spiral. 

I am surrounded by 'The Origin of Species' and 'Voyage of the Beagle' and a narrow new book about Darwin that Eric sent me called  'Charles Darwin The Concise Story of an Extraordinary Man'. I think I will begin with the latter. It has lots of pictures, which is a good way to start. I look at the end. Quote: 'Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution'. It occurs to me that evolution has always made perfect sense to me. It confuses me that people discuss 'believing' in evolution versus 'creationism' or 'intelligent design'. It is not a matter of belief; evolution IS, while religion is a belief. 

It is more difficult for me to imagine how Darwin was able to develop his theory of evolution by wandering through the Galapagos. The islands are stunning to visit because the animals are so unafraid of humans that they do not run away. We are able to approach them up close and we feel touched by the experience of relating so intimately to these wild animals. Swimming with the penguins and the seals and the huge sea turtles is an intense and delightful experience. Each time I visit I make an effort to imagine Darwin's experience. I am convinced that he had been thinking about evolution for years before and I know it took him another 20 years to finally publish his ideas. Of course, the reason he hesitated about publication was his concern that his ideas would be poorly received, that because they challenged the belief system of the day, that the public would object to his conclusions. He finally agreed to publicize his theories because other scientists were ready to go public with similar ideas.

There was an exhibit at the Natural History Museum in New York  three years ago. I insisted that the family travel to New York one weekend and see the exhibition. I remember staying in a very basic sort of hotel on the Upper West side close to the museum. The museum was wonderful and we had much to see, but we focussed entirely on Darwin. The best part of the exhibition was the personal story. I liked learning about his family, his children, his friends and his colleagues. He discussed his theories with his wife and was worried that she would be offended because she was very religious. They explored the likelihood that he would offend many people in their social circle and in the end she encouraged him to go forward with publication. 

Darwin spent most of his life thinking in his home in the country. After his voyage to South America and the Galapagos, he retired to his estate in the country to think about what he had seen, to conduct research, to write. He has had an incredible impact on our sense of who we are.

1 comment:

  1. You will love the Galapagos Islands because it is the most incredible living museum of evolutionary changes, with a huge variety of exotic species (birds, land animals, plants) not seen anywhere else. The landscapes are also out of this world.