Last week I decided to start reading Charles Darwin’s book “on the origin of species”. I had this book already in my possession for a couple of years, a side note: I am bad in saving money but what I do every now and then is buy some expensive books if I have money over, this way I have something valuable to read for the leaner times. I think that most people know something about Darwin’s theories, I have read several books about him and the theory of evolution so it’s not new for me. The reason that I read this old book now, is the same for whenever I read books from the nineteenth century, you get a look into that time and the world those writers lived in, the nineteenth century is great. If you like, you should go to this site: https://archive.org/details/scientific-american-1845-1909 here you find old scientific American magazines. They invented most of the things in the nineteenth century we now take for granted, the only difference is that they where still really clumsy and often only worked in theory. Imagine the difference between 1900 and 2021, it is big but most of what we have now was already imagined in 1900. Now think of the difference between 1900 and 1800 (or even better, “the long nineteenth century” from the French revolution in 1789 til the first world war in 1914), that is a much larger difference, in 1800 they still live more or less like the Romans did 1600 years before them…ok I exaggerate a little but the 19th century was the one century where everything changed including the way we looked at ourselves.
I just started the book that changed the way we look at our self and I have already all kinds of impressions. I am not a scholar but I have read some modern papers and scientific books to be familiar with the style and format of these modern books. Darwin starts writing end he tells his story about the doves he had and the research he did but every now end then he mentions a name without references, as if I suppose to know who he is talking about. I guess that in his day’s you knew the important players in in that field of science. I guess that in his time there were maybe a couple of hundred scientist who studied animal behaviour, fossils and evolution, nowadays there are probably millions so some references are necessary when you mention names in modern scientific books.
I also have the feeling that his way of writing is quite amateurish compared to modern scientific standards but he pours a sauce of a polite English gentleman over his texts so it is nice to read. A problem that I have is that I already know how the book ends, it’s like reading a detective end you already know who is the murderer. He writes slow end thorough end goes into details but also not deep enough. As I said, I just started reading the book so I shouldn’t judge it right now, I just hope then when he starts talking about the finches, he dives a little deeper than he does in the first chapters.
If you know little about the evolution theory and natural selection you can find many good sources on the internet like the Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Origin_of_Species
I can try to explain it in a few sentences and you can tell me if I have it wrong: Why are animals that migrated to colder areas of the world nowadays often white or turn white in the winter? They were not white when they first arrived in these areas where there is a lot of snow during large parts of the year, so what happened? When two brown animals mate and get offspring there is a chance that one of these children is a little lighter, Darwin didn’t know about DNA but when DNA gets “copied from both parents to a child” some mistakes will be made end these mistakes can end up causing a lighter fur. If you are lighter in the snow, you have a better chance of escaping a hunter or be a better hunter yourself, you blend more into the surrounding. So, a slightly lighter animal has a better chance of surviving then their darker siblings. This lighter animal will also have offspring end the chance that these lighter animals bread lighter animals is bigger end will get bigger generation after generation till you end up with white animals after thousands of years. Animals adapt to their surrounding end that’s why all the animals came from the sea billions of years ago and slowly adapted their way to what they are now. And why do animals migrate to these cold areas you might ask. They do that because for most animal’s life is hard and food is scares, they look for new places out of instinct you might say. On one of the lectures, I have listened to about Darwin, the scientist told a story about hares. In Holland they made new land years ago, as you might know. Now, when the new land was still an Island with no connection to the mainland one researcher noticed that there were already hares on the island…where did they come from? They found out that for many years hares that where hungry because of overpopulation decided to go to the sea end just start swimming in the hope to find land, these poor animals have done that probably for many, many years till some people made an island.
You should also know that a lot of people don’t believe in Darwin’s theories, often because their religion tells another story. If these people ask you how an eye can become so complicated from nothing you can tell them that the eyes we have started as a nerve that was sensitive to light. You can imagine this light sensor can be an advantage and there are even today animals with only a few photoreceptors, as these cells are called, to guide them or warn them for danger. Some animals had offspring with slightly resect photoreceptors and they where able to be more precise in their judgment where that shadow came from so suddenly end escape a certain death. This changing of where these specific cells are, is going slowly but we also talk about millions of years, so after millions of years an animal is born where these photoreceptors are deep inside the skull like in a camera obscura, they “look” through a small hole, they don’t see a sharp picture but they can already see shapes and distances if they have two eyes. Soon there was an advantage for some animals to have a thin layer of cells over the pinhole to protect the photoreceptor from the outside world, and millions of years later some animals got two layers of cells and another million years later some flued was forming between these two layers of cells and many generations later this resulted in a rudimentary lens like we have today. There are enough animals that live now or that we find as fossils that have eyes in all these stages proving that even the simplest eye has a purpose.
I can recommend reading books about Darwin and his theories, I don’t recommend reading his own book “on the origin of species” because science has changed a lot, we now know about DNA and much more so I recommend reading a modern book about his theories, it is one of the most important books ever written.