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But one person would have known everything …


In “The originality of the species” (collaborationThe Guardian , March 23, 2012). Ian MacEwen writes,

A frenzied desire to be first inspired Darwin and Einstein to bursts of creativity. Like writers and artists, scientists strive to have their names attached to a work of brilliance, but any breakthrough depends on the efforts of countless predecessors.

In June 1858 a slender package from Ternate, an island off the Dutch East Indies, arrived for Charles Darwin at his country home in Down, Kent. He may well have recognised the handwriting as that of Alfred Wallace, with whom he had been in correspondence and from whom he was hoping to receive some specimens. But what Darwin found in the package along with a covering letter was a short essay. And this essay was to transform Darwin’s life.

Wallace’s 20 pages, so it seemed to their reader on that momentous morning, covered all the principle ideas of evolution by natural selection that Darwin had been working on for more than two decades and which he thought were his exclusive possession – and which he had yet to publish. Wallace, working alone, with very little in the way of encouragement or money, drew from his extensive experience of natural history, gathered while sending back specimens for collectors. He articulated concisely the elements as well as the sources familiar to Darwin: artificial selection, the struggle for survival, competition and extinction, the way species changed into different forms by an impersonal, describable process, by a logic that did not need the intervention of a deity. Wallace, like Darwin, had been influenced by the geological speculations of Charles Lyell, and the population theories of Thomas Malthus.

In a covering letter Wallace politely asked Darwin to forward the essay to Lyell. Now, Darwin could have quietly destroyed Wallace’s package and no one would have known a thing –

Actually, one person would have known everything. That’s just the trouble.

I read this and disagree on many points. Darwin and Wallace were wrong. They didn't prove their ideas and convergence isn't proof of accuracy. The Einstein thing again makes a big deal about ideas that wrongly are perceived as complicated. Simply few people put their minds to this stuff. Its a prejudice that sees einstein or newton physics as quite high intellectual discovery. Despite its coolness its not. The difficultly of somthing is a relation between numbers of people seriously thinking about something and its resistance to explanation. These subjects are just obscure ones that were very open to explanation whether right or wrong.Robert Byers
March 28, 2012
11:51 PM

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