The Evolution of ‘The Origin’

This beautifully artistic chart is well worth watching. It shows how Darwin’s theory of evolution changed and, well, evolved over time as he went through editions of his book, On the Origin of Species.

The Origin is one of the most important books ever written (and re-written, and re-written)– and, as illustrated so well here, one of the most important ideas ever developed. The first edition being about 150,000 words long (and this was meant to only be an ‘essay’ version of his ‘great work,’) it still was not one quick thought that Mr. Darwin simply jotted down in the midst of admiring pigeons.

Darwin used fancy pigeons as an example of selection by humans.

Darwin used fancy pigeons as an example of selection by humans.

Thinking of the many editions of The Origin helps undo that myth of what Richard Holmes (author of the most excellent book, ‘The Age of Wonder’) calls the ‘Eureka’ moment, or the romanticized ‘solitary genius,’ working away alone in a dimly-lit room, coming up with one amazing idea. The Newton-hit-on-the-head-with-an-apple moment (though ‘Eureka’ sums it up more succinctly).

Darwin did not have a ‘Eureka’ moment. He had a lifetime of fascination, of good teachers, of unique opportunity. (He also had equal amounts of sea-sickness, mourning for dead children, and bowel problems.)

Interestingly, Wallace might be said to have had a ‘Eureka’ moment, for he came up with almost the same theory of evolution by natural selection from a malarial fever. Go figure. The important bit, though, is that Darwin had the credibility and the years of notes and research (or, the Science,) to back up his theory, and Wallace did not.

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