Monday, December 29, 2008

on christmas, shopping, books, poverty and being alone

I get less Chrissie presents each year, as the number of people who like me, or even acknowledge that they know me, continues to dwindle. So I only managed one book, but it does look like being v interesting. It's called The Kiwi's Egg, by David Quammen, and it's all about Darwin and natural selection. Now that we're almost into the big Darwin celebration [2009 is the 200th anniversary of his birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The origin of species] I feel a spate of evolution blogging coming on.

There's a fine Darwin quote on the back cover of my new book. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars. Such a typically polite, and fastidious, demurral. Wonder why he chose to capitalize caterpillars along with god.

It might be a while before I get started on that book, I'm reading a half-dozen of em at present, including two on the natural selection theme, the Wallace bio and The blind watchmaker. 

When Vestiges of Natural Creation, a speculative, anonymous work which claimed an evolutionary link between monkeys and humans, was published in 1845 it caused a sensation and made this kind of speculation quite the popular thing. Price Alfred read it aloud to Victoria, and two other interested readers were Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace. Darwin, whose ideas on the mechanism of evolution would have been quite advanced by this time, called it 'that strange, unphilosophical, but capitally written book', and wrote to a friend that the author's 'geology strikes me as bad, and his zoology far worse' [the book failed completely to provide an explanation for the evolutionary process it promoted]. Wallace was only 22 at this time, and without any field experience as yet, and his response was not surprisingly, more enthusiastic:
I do not consider it a hasty generalization, but rather as an ingenious speculation strongly supported by some striking facts and analogies but which remains to be proved by more facts & the additional light which future researches may throw up on the subject - It at all events furnishes a subject for every observer of nature to turn his attention to; every fact he observes must make either for or against it, and it thus furnishes both an incitement to the collection of facts & an object to which to apply them when collected -
I would observe that many eminent writers give great support to their theory of the progressive development of species in animals & plants.

It would seem that the time for developing a detailed and fruitful theory of the evolutionary process was just about ripe. 

Ikea effect: You picture your home as an experimental laboratory, full of new-fangled desks, utensil racks, ergonomic and elegant chairs, trim bookshelves. You will entertain like never before. You feel part of a just-so material world, appreciative and ready to be appreciated. You go home full of the future, having bought a $2 lint remover. 

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