- Diogenes of Sinope
Διογένης ὁ Σινωπεύς
(c. 412- c. 323 BCE),
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My Favorite Quotations[Diogenes of Sinope] lit a lamp in broad daylight and said, as he went about, "I am looking for a [virtuous] man."
-- Teaching of Diogenes of Sinope (412–323 BCE) from Lives of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius
The unexamined life is not worth living.
-- Socrates, from the Apology by Plato (429–347 BCE)
When truth is buried underground, it grows and it builds up so much force that the day it explodes it blasts everything with it.
-- Émile Zola (1840–1902), French writer and political activist, from J'accuse! published in L'Aurore [The Dawn] (13 Jan 1898)
Economic "progress" is good only to the point of sufficiency, beyond that, it is evil, destructive, uneconomic.
-- E. F. Schumacher (1911-1977), from "Economics in a Buddhist Country" (1955)
Christianity... is the most avowedly materialist of all the great religions… Its own most central saying is: "The Word was made flesh," where the last term was, no doubt, chosen because of its specially materialistic associations. By the very nature of its central doctrine Christianity is committed to a belief in the ultimate significance of the historical process, and in the reality of matter and its place in the divine process.
-- William Temple (1881–1944), Archbishop of Canterbury, from Nature, Man and God (1934), p. 317
The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear [at an early stage] of development, e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learnt especially from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer, contains a much stronger element of this. The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man's image; so that there can be no Church whose central teachings are based on it. Hence it is precisely among the heretics of every age that we find men who were filled with this highest kind of religious feeling and were in many cases regarded by their contemporaries as Atheists, sometimes also as saints. Looked at in this light, men like Democritus, Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza are closely akin to one another.
-- Albert Einstein (1879–1955), from The World as I See It (1934), p. 21.
There are many, you know, who think that this life journey through the world is not the first one we have made. Haven't you ever come across children who knew things that it was impossible for them to have learned? Have you ever gone to a place for the first time and felt sure that you had been there before? That's one of the reasons I do not travel much.
-- Henry Ford (1863-1947), from interview by S.J. Woolf in New York Times Magazine dated 24 July 1938
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish the delusion but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.
-- Albert Einstein (1879–1955), from a letter to Robert S. Marcus dated 12 Feb 1950 quoted in The New Quotable Einstein (2005), p. 206, by Alice Calaprice
[T]he world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.
--Albert Einstein (1879–1955), from his tribute to Pablos Casals (30 March 1953) quoted in Conversations with Casals (1957), by Josep Maria Corredor
There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.
– Elie Wiesel, from his Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1986
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.
-- Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), in a speech delivered at Canandaigua, New York on 4 August 1857, quoted in Two Speeches by Frederick Douglass (1857), p. 22
To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an inﬁnite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
-- Howard Zinn (1922-2010), from A Power Governments Cannot Suppress (2006)
Taxation is the price which we pay for civilization, for our social, civil and political institutions, for the security of life and property, and without which, we must resort to the law of force.
-- 1852, Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Vermont, October Session, 1851, Appendix: Report of the Committee Appointed by the Governor to Take into Consideration the Financial Affairs of the State, Start Page 368, Quote Page 369, Printed by Chauncey Goodrich, Burlington, Vermont.
What I teach now as before, O monks, is dukkha and the cessation of dukkha.
-- Siddhārtha Gautama (563–483 BCE), the Buddha, from Alagaddupama Sutta: The Water-Snake Simile (MN 22)
Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn't know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.
-- Chuang Tzu (369—298 BCE), from The Complete Works Of Chuang Tzu, chapter 2, translated by Burton Watson (1968)
Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness.
-- Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), from Pascal's Pensees (1669)
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
-- George Santayana (1863–1952), from The Life of Reason, Vol. 1, chapter 12 (1905–1906), Charles Scribner & Sons, p. 284
There is nothing which can better deserve [our] patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness.
-- George Washington, in his address to Congress on 8 January 1790
Establish & improve the law for educating the common people...The tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests & nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to George Wythe dated 13 August 1786
Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially for the lower classes of people, are so extremely wise and useful that to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.
-- John Adams, from Thoughts on Government, April, 1776
It is ironic that the United States should have been founded by intellectuals; for throughout most of our political history, the intellectual has been for the most part either an outsider, a servant, or a scapegoat.
-- Richard Hofstadter, from Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, pp. 145-146
Shake off all the fears & servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to his nephew, Peter Carr, dated 10 August 1787
If ever there can be a cause worthy to be upheld by all toil or sacrifice that the human heart can endure, it is the cause of Education.
-- Horace Mann (1796–1859), from Thoughts Selected from the Writings of Horace Mann (1872), p. 7.
The all-important fact in the situation is this; any time the college professors of America get ready to take control of their own destinies, and of the intellectual life of their institutions, they can do it. There is not a college or university in the United States today which could resist the demands of its faculty a hundred percent organized and meaning business.
-- Upton Sinclair (1878–1968), from The Goose-Step: A Study of American Education (1923), p. 458
I hope we shall... crush in it’s birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to George Logan dated 12 November 1816
It is, no doubt, a very laudable effort, in modern teaching, to render as much as possible of what the young are required to learn, easy and interesting to them. But when this principle is pushed to the length of not requiring them to learn anything but what has been made easy and interesting, one of the chief objects of education is sacrificed. I rejoice in the decline of the old brutal and tyrannical system of teaching, which however did succeed in enforcing habits of application; but the new, as it seems to me, is training up a race of men who will be incapable of anything which is disagreeable to them....A pupil from whom nothing is ever demanded which he cannot do, never does all he can.
-- John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), from the Autobiography of John Stuart Mill (1924), p. 37
How comes it that a cripple does not offend us, but that a fool does? Because a cripple recognizes that we walk straight, whereas a fool declares that it is we who are silly; if it were not so, we should feel pity and not anger.
-- Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), from Pascal's Pensees (1669)
The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge, and there's no place for it in the endeavor of science.
-- Carl Sagan, from the Cosmos television series
The young specialist in English Lit ... lectured me severely on the fact that in every century people have thought they understood the Universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern "knowledge" is that it is wrong. ... My answer to him was, "... when people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."
-- Isaac Asimov, The Relativity of Wrong, Kensington Books, New York, 1996, p 226.
A time is coming when those who are in the mad rush today of multiplying their wants, vainly thinking that they add to the real substance, real knowledge of the world, will retrace their steps and say what have we done? Civilizations have come and gone and in spite of all our vaunted progress, I am tempted to ask again and again: To what purpose?
-- Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1948) from D.G. Tendulkar, Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi Vol. 2, 2nd edn.(1960), p. 29.
Can we reconcile the idea that copying errors are an essential prerequisite for evolution to occur, with the statement that natural selection favours high copying-fidelity?
-- Richard Dawkins, from The Selfish Gene (2006) Oxford Univ. Press, p. 17
Let me try to make crystal clear what is established beyond reasonable doubt, and what needs further study, about evolution. Evolution as a process that has always gone on in the history of the earth can be doubted only by those who are ignorant of the evidence or are resistant to evidence, owing to emotional blocks or to plain bigotry. By contrast, the mechanisms that bring evolution about certainly need study and clarification. There are no alternatives to evolution as history that can withstand critical examination. Yet we are constantly learning new and important facts about evolutionary mechanisms.
-- Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900–1975), from "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution", The American Biology Teacher Vol.35, No. 3 (March 1973), pp. 125-129
... there are many reasons why you might not understand [an explanation of a scientific theory] ... Finally, there is this possibility: after I tell you something, you just can't believe it. You can't accept it. You don't like it. A little screen comes down and you don't listen anymore. I'm going to describe to you how Nature is - and if you don't like it, that's going to get in the way of your understanding it. It's a problem that [scientists] have learned to deal with: They've learned to realize that whether they like a theory or they don't like a theory is not the essential question. Rather, it is whether or not the theory gives predictions that agree with experiment. It is not a question of whether a theory is philosophically delightful, or easy to understand, or perfectly reasonable from the point of view of common sense. [A scientific theory] describes Nature as absurd from the point of view of common sense. And it agrees fully with experiment. So I hope you can accept Nature as She is - absurd.
--Richard P. Feynman (1918–1988), from QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (Feynman 1985), pp. 9-10
Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. Not all things are black nor all things white. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories. Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behavior, the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.
-- Alfred C. Kinsey, Wardell R. Pomeroy, and Clyde E. Martin. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. (Philadelphia, Pa: W.B. Saunders, 1948) pp. 610-666.
In a republican nation, whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion, and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of first importance.
--Thomas Jefferson in a letter to David Harding, from Monticello, 20 April 1824; found in H.A. Washington, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York : H.W. Derby, 1861).
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Category Archives: Zoology
Charles Darwin had finally completed his descriptions of the Beagle specimens, except for one species of barnacle. He was anxious to return to his work on transmutation (evolution), and thought he could quickly finish a description of this barnacle. Instead, the study of this barnacle exploded into one of the most intense research projects of his career, lasting nearly eight years and resulting in four volumes on living and fossil Cirripedes (barnacles). For his observations, he had a single lens microscope made to his own specifications. Intended to be more practical than the Beagle microscope, it did not have fine focusing and had a larger stage in order to take shallow dishes for aqueous dissections.Ten years after his voyage on HMS Beagle,
On this date, the American embryologist and geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan was born in Lexington, Kentucky. At Columbia University (1904-28), he began his revolutionary genetic investigations of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster (1908). In 1910, he discovered a white-eyed mutant in Drosophila. At that time, it was generally assumed that chromosomes could not be the carriers of the genetic information. Initially skeptical of Gregor Mendel’s research, Morgan performed rigorous experiments eventually demonstrating that genes are linked in a series on chromosomes and are responsible for identifiable, hereditary traits. When he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1933, he was the first person awarded the Prize for genetics, for demonstrating hereditary transmission mechanisms in D. melanogaster.
HMS Beagle spent this day in the Galapagos Archipelago surveying the waters around Charles Island, which was populated by a small colony of about 250 political prisoners from the Republic of Equator (established in 1829). Darwin went on shore with Covington to collect plants and birds and climbed the highest hill — about 1,800 feet above sea level. He also examined a few curious lava chimneys. During his stay on the island, Darwin was informed by Mr. Nicholas Lawson, an Englishman in charge of the prison colony, that one can tell which island a tortoise came from by looking at its shell.
Later, when Darwin was completing his ornithological notes some time between mid-June and August 1836, he wrote:
When I recollect the fact, that from the form of the body, shape of scales & general size, the Spaniards can at once pronounce from which Isd. any tortoise may have been brought: — when I see these Islands in sight of each other and possessed of but a scanty stock of animals, tenanted by these birds but slightly differing in structure & filling the same place in Nature, I must suspect they are only varieties. The only fact of a similar kind of which I am aware is the constant asserted difference between the wolf-like Fox of East & West Falkland lsds. — If there is the slightest foundation for these remarks, the Zoology of Archipelagoes will be well worth examining; for such facts would undermine the stability of species.
The first stirrings of doubt about the immutability of species had evidently struck Darwin by now.
- Barlow, Nora ed. 1963. Darwin’s ornithological notes. Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History). Historical Series Vol. 2, No. 7, p. 262.
On this date, the English ornithologist John Gould was born. His identification of Charles Darwin’s finches was pivotal in the development of the theory of evolution presented in The Origin of Species.
When Charles Darwin presented his mammal and bird specimens collected during the voyage of HMS Beagle to the Geological Society of London at their meeting on January 4, 1837, the bird specimens were given to Gould for identification. He set aside his paying work and at the next meeting on January 10 reported that birds from the Galápagos Islands which Darwin had thought were blackbirds, “gross-bills”, and finches were in fact “a series of ground Finches which are so peculiar” as to form “an entirely new group, containing 12 species.” This story made the newspapers.
In March, Darwin met Gould again, learning that his Galápagos “wren” was another species of finch and the mockingbirds he had labelled by island were separate species rather than just varieties, with relatives on the South American mainland. Subsequently Gould advised that the smaller southern Rhea specimen that had been rescued from a Christmas dinner was a separate species, which he named Rhea darwinii, whose territory overlapped with the northern Rheas.
Darwin had not bothered to label his finches by island, but others on the expedition had taken more care. He now sought specimens collected by Captain Robert FitzRoy and crewmen. From them he was able to establish that the species were unique to the islands, an important step on the development of his theory of evolution. Gould’s work on the birds was published as Part 3 of The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle, under the Command of Captain FitzRoy, during the Years 1832 to 1836, edited by Charles Darwin and published in five volumes between 1838 and 1842.
During his life, Gould produced 41 lavishly illustrated volumes on birds from all over the world, containing in all about 3,000 plates, all lithographed and hand-painted. Of these, his Birds of Australia was particularly significant (1840-69) as the first comprehensive record of the continent’s birds and mammals. With its plates of the birds were descriptions and notes on their distribution and adaptation to the environment.
Hayden explored what would later become known as the Judith River Formation, a large area of sedimentary materials deposited in the lowland areas bordering the Colorado Sea during the Late Cretaceous Period 78 to 74 million years ago. Here, Hayden’s party recovered a small collection of teeth which were later described (in 1856) by Joseph Leidy at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Three of the specimens described were dinosaurs – Trachodon, Troodon (now known as Stegosaurus), and Deinodon (notice the use of ‘don’ meaning ‘tooth’). This was the first published description of dinosaur remains in the United States. Leidy recognised that Trachodon was a creature similar to Iguanodon.
Interestingly, for centuries the Blackfeet have inhabited the high plains of Montana and Alberta – the same area in which the dinosaur-rich, Late Cretaceous Hell Creek and Oldman Formations occur. Dinosaur fossils were known to the Blackfeet, who considered them to be the remains of giant, ancestral buffalo. The Blackfeet used dinosaur bones in rituals intended to insure good hunting. Notwithstanding the religious significance dinosaur bones had for the Blackfeet, they were quite enlightened in their view toward dinosaurs. They hit on the antiquity, and the organic nature of dinosaur remains, and in comparing them to buffalo showed their sophisticated knowledge of vertebrate anatomy. Referring to dinosaurs as large buffalo was thus good scientific practice in the context of their perception of the natural world. In doing this, they were as close to the truth as was the Rev. Dr. Plot back in England, or any other European of the time.
On this date, Charles Doolittle Walcott discovered interesting fossils while traveling alone along a horse trail near Burgess Pass in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Legend has it that his horse stopped in front of a rock which he then cracked open, discovering fossils. He returned the next day accompanied by his wife Helena and his son Stuart. Together they found several other remarkable fossils that Walcott immediately sketched in his field notebook. Obviously impressed by this discovery, Walcott’s entry for Aug. 31st – Sept 1st reads:
Out with Helena, Stuart collecting fossils from the Stephen Formation. We found a remarkable group of Phyllopod crustaceans – Took a large number of fine specimens to camp. [The next day:] We continued collecting found a fine group of sponges on slope (in-situ) – Beautiful warm daysThe fossils discovered by the Walcotts represented types of animals that had never been seen before.
The Walcotts spent a total of five days that year collecting fossils in the area, mostly from loose slabs of rock found near the trail and on slopes.
Walcott quickly realized the importance of his finds. In a letter sent later that year to William Arthur Parks (his colleague and long-term correspondent at the University of Toronto) Walcott wrote: “…I had a few days collecting in the Stephen Formation [today's Burgess Shale] in the vicinity of Field in September, and found some very interesting things.”
The following season, he located the source of the fossils higher up on Fossil Ridge, and began excavating.
The fossils, with their exquisite preservation, were unlike anything he had seen before. Walcott named the site the Burgess Shale, after nearby Mt. Burgess, but they received little attention until fifty years later. The Burgess Shale fossils, as they have come to be known, provide a glimpse of what life was like on Earth 505 million years ago. Over 60,000 unique fossils have been found, dominated by arthropods, although other fossils are found in great abundance, including worms, crinoids, sea cucumbers, chordates, and other organisms with no mineralized shell.
Georges Cuvier was born at Montbéliard, France (then Mömpelgard in the duchy of Württemberg). Cuvier, who possessed one of the finest minds in history, was instrumental in establishing the fields of comparative anatomy and paleontology by comparing living animals with fossils.On this date,
At the opening of the National Institute of France in April in 1796, he read his first palaeontological paper. At the time, it was still widely believed that no species of animal had ever become extinct, because God’s creation had been perfect. In his paper, Cuvier analyzed skeletal remains of Indian and African elephants as well as mammoth fossils, demonstrating that African and Indian elephants were different species and that mammoths were not the same species as either African or Indian elephants and therefore must be extinct.
In the second paper he presented in 1796, Cuvier demonstrated that a large skeleton found in Paraguay, which he named “megatherium,” represented yet another extinct animal and, by comparing its skull with living species of tree dwelling sloths, that it was a kind of ground dwelling giant sloth. Together these two 1796 papers essentially ended what had been a long running debate about the reality of extinction.Cuvier believed that organisms were functional wholes; their functional integration meant that each part of an organism, no matter how small, bore signs of the whole. In a 1798 paper on the fossil remains of an animal found in some plaster quarries near Paris, he wrote:
Today comparative anatomy has reached such a point of perfection that, after inspecting a single bone, one can often determine the class, and sometimes even the genus of the animal to which it belonged, above all if that bone belonged to the head or the limbs. … This is because the number, direction, and shape of the bones that compose each part of an animal’s body are always in a necessary relation to all the other parts, in such a way that – up to a point – one can infer the whole from any one of them and vice versa.
This idea is sometimes referred to as “Cuvier’s principle of correlation of parts.” Thus, Cuvier was able to use his deep knowledge of the comparative anatomy of living organisms to produce reconstructions of organisms from fragmentary fossils, many of which turned out to be strikingly accurate.
Ironically, Cuvier’s insistence on the functional integration of organisms prevented him from accepting biological evolution, for he believed that any change in an organism’s anatomy would have rendered it unable to survive. Since organisms were functional wholes, any change in one part would destroy their delicate balance. He also pointed out that Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt had retrieved animals mummified thousands of years previously that seemed no different from their modern counterparts.
To explain the discontinuities seen in the fossil record, Cuvier hypothesized that a vast number of species was originally created in the beginning and that, although the Earth was immensely old and for most of its history conditions had been more or less like those of the present, periodic “revolutions” had occurred, each causing the extinction of many species of animals. This view came to be known as “catastrophism.” Cuvier regarded these “revolutions” as events with natural causes, and considered their causes and natures to be an important geological problem. Although he was a lifelong Protestant, Cuvier did not explicitly identify any of these “revolutions” with Biblical or historical events. The species we see today, according to his hypothesis, are the species that were present at the beginning and whose unmodified descendants have survived all the later catastrophes. (Unfortunately for Cuvier, the lowest and oldest layers of sedimentary rock do not contain any fossils of present-day species that would be expected if his hypothesis was correct.)
The harshness of his criticism and the strength of his reputation continued to discourage naturalists from speculating about the transmutation of species, right up until Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species more than two decades after Cuvier’s death.
Karl Gegenbaur was born in Wurzburg, Germany. As a professor of anatomy at the University of Jena (1855-1873) and at the University of Heidelberg (1873-1903), Karl Gegenbaur was a strong supporter of Charles Darwin’s theory of organic evolution, having taught and worked, beginning in 1858, with Ernst Haeckel, eight years his junior. Gegenbaur is best known for his work entitled Grundriss der vergleichenden Anatomie (Leipzig, 1874; 2nd edition, 1878), translated into English by W. F. Jeffrey Bell (as Elements of Comparative Anatomy, 1878), with additions by E. Ray Lankester. While recognizing the importance of comparative embryology in the study of descent, Gegenbaur stressed the greater value of comparative anatomy as the basis of the study of homologies, i.e., of the relations between corresponding parts in different animals, such as the bones in the arm of a human, the foreleg of a horse, and the wing of a bird.On this date,
Do we not therefore perceive that by the action of the laws of organization . . . nature has in favorable times, places, and climates multiplied her first germs of animality, given place to developments of their organizations, . . . and increased and diversified their organs? Then. . . aided by much time and by a slow but constant diversity of circumstances, she has gradually brought about in this respect the state of things which we now observe. How grand is this consideration, and especially how remote is it from all that is generally thought on this subject!
– Text of a lecture given by Lamarck at the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, May 1803Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was born in the village of Bazentin-le-Petit in the north of France. Charles Darwin, Charles Lyell, Ernst Haeckel, and other early evolutionists acknowledged him as a great zoologist and as having helped establish the fact of evolution. Charles Darwin wrote in 1861 (The Origin of Species 3d ed., p. xiii):
Lamarck was the first man whose conclusions on the subject excited much attention. This justly celebrated naturalist first published his views in 1801. . . he first did the eminent service of arousing attention to the probability of all changes in the organic, as well as in the inorganic world, being the result of law, and not of miraculous interposition.
Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, one of the top French scientists of the day, mentored Lamarck and helped him gain membership to the French Academy of Sciences in 1779 and a commission as a Royal Botanist in 1781. Lamarck was appointed curator and professor of invertebrate zoology at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in 1793.
Lamarck began as an essentialist who believed species were unchanging; however, after working on the mollusks of the Paris Basin, he grew convinced that transmutation (that is, evolution) of a species occurred over time. He became one of the first to use the term biology in its modern sense in his book Hydrogéologie, published in 1802. Lamarck’s book, Philosophie Zoologique (Zoological Philosophy), published in 1809 most clearly states his theories of evolution. Throughout his life, Lamarck criticized palaeontologist Georges Cuvier’s anti-evolutionary stance. He died penniless in Paris on December 28, 1829.
Edward Drinker Cope was born. Cope was a scientist by self-study and personal nature — he held no degrees except honorary ones from Haverford College and, late in life, from the University of Munich. He made many important dinosaur discoveries in western North America but spent 20 years in a protracted battle with his archrival, O.C. Marsh, for professional prestige in what came to be known as the Great Bone Wars. Financially ruined in his later years, Cope had to sell his house and move in with his museum collections. He spent his final days on a cot surrounded by piles of bones.On this date, the American paleontologist, herpetologist, and mammalogist
Cope accepted the fact of evolution but thought that change in developmental (embryonic) timing, not natural selection, was the explanation for how evolution occurs. That is, a new developmental stage would be tacked onto the end of the developmental process, pushing the old end stage further back in development. Such was the view of the American school of self-proclaimed, so-called neo-Lamarckians, who invoked an internal drive for “accelerated growth” as well as Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics to account for the seemingly linear pattern of biological evolution that they detected in specimens from the rich fossil beds of the American West. That is, new developmental stages would cause some body parts to become very well developed if those body parts were in heavy use. Thus, the neo-Lamarckians thought that variation and speciation were due to changes in timing of development in different organ systems due to use. In Europe, important contemporaneous neo-Lamarckians included the German biologist Ernst Haeckel and the British botanist George Henslow.
Richard Owen was born. He studied briefly at Edinburgh (1824), then at a private London anatomy school. Owen established a reputation as a great anatomist with his Memoir on the Pearly Nautilus (1832). He gave us many of the terms still used today in anatomy and evolutionary biology, such as “homology” which he famously defined in 1843 as “the same organ in different animals under every variety of form and function.”On this date, English anatomist, taxonomist, and paleontologist
In an article published in the Proceedings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in April, 1842, Owen formally named a new group of extinct reptiles, including Iguanodon, Megalosaurus and Hylaeosaurus, as the “Dinosauria” — that is, the dinosaurs (from the Greek “deinos” meaning fearfully great and “sauros” meaning lizard). Owen named and described the following dinosaurs: Anthodon (1876), Bothriospondylus (1875), Cardiodon (1841), Cetiosaurus (1841, although Owen incorrectly thought that it was a kind of crocodile and not a dinosaur), Chondrosteosaurus (1876), Cimoliornis (1846), Cladeidon (1841), Coloborhynchus (1874), Dacentrurus (1875), Dinodocus (1884), Echinodon (1861), Massospondylus (1854), Nuthetes (1854), Polacanthus (1867), and Scelidosaurus (1859).
Richard Owen died on December 18, 1892.
On this date, the American evolutionary biologist George Gaylord Simpson was born. Simpson was the most influential paleontologist of the twentieth century and a major participant in the Modern Synthesis, contributing Tempo and Mode in Evolution (1944) and Principles of Classification and a Classification of Mammals (1945). Among other things, he is notable for anticipating such concepts as punctuated equilibrium (in his 1944 work, see quantum evolution), and dispelling the myth that the evolution of the horse was a linear process culminating in the modern Equus caballus.
[My favorite Simpson quotes - Ed.:]
“Any sensitive person must feel a basically religious awe in the face of the mysteries of life and of the universe, but belief in an anthropomorphic god, in a savior, or in a prophet is nonsense” (Autobiographical Notes, 1970, p. 17).
“The fact – not theory – that evolution has occurred and the Darwinian theory as to how it occurred have become so confused in popular opinion that the distinction must be stressed” (This View of Life: The World of an Evolutionist, 1964, p. 10).
On this date, Nettie Maria Stevens submitted her manuscript “Studies in Spermatogenesis with Especial Reference to the ‘Accessory Chromosome'” to the Carnegie Institution for publication in the Carnegie monograph series. It was sent on May 29 to E.B. Wilson, a member of the institution’s advisory committee, for his opinion. He returned it on June 13 with the brief statement: “It is in every way a most admirable piece of work which is worthy of publication by any learned society, and I do not hesitate to recommend it to you for publication by the Institution.” Wilson’s comments were an understatement; her research paper was one of the 20th century’s major scientific breakthroughs.
Stevens’ monograph was published in September 1905, the first documentation that observable differences in chromosomes could be linked to an observable difference in physical attributes, i.e. if an individual is a male or a female. This caused many at the time to re-evaluate earlier conclusions of sex determination, and to begin looking more generally at a chromosomal basis for animal sex determination.
Nettie Stevens, educated at Stanford University and Bryn Mawr College (Ph.D., 1903), taught throughout her relatively short life, inspiring many students to careers in science. She published more than 38 papers from 1901 to her death (1912), in cytology and experimental physiology.
On this date, the paleontologist Baron Franz Nopcsa von Felső-Szilvás (or Baron Franz Nopcsa) was born in Transylvania, which at that time was a part of Austria-Hungary. Making no effort to hide his homosexuality, he was often dismissed as “whacky” by other scientists, yet he made significant contributions to the fields of paleontology, geology, and evolutionary biology. He was also fascinated by the language and culture of Albania and aspired to become king of that country.
A gifted student, Nopcsa graduated from the prestigious Maria-Theresianum in 1897. His younger sister Ilona having discovered fossilized dinosaur bones in 1895 at the family estate at Szentpéterfalva in Săcele (Szacsal), Transylvania, Nopcsa enrolled at the University of Vienna to study them. He advanced quickly in his studies; on 21 July 1899, at the age of twenty-two, he held his first lecture at the Academy of Sciences in Vienna on “Dinossaurierreste in Siebenbürgen” (“Dinosaur remnants in Transylvania”) and attracted much attention with it.
With the defeat of Austria-Hungary at the end of World War I, Nopcsa’s native Transylvania was ceded to Romania. As a consequence, the Baron of Felső-Szilvás lost his estates and other possessions. Compelled to find paid employment, he landed a job as the head of the Hungarian Geological Institute.But Nopcsa’s position in the Geological Institute was short-lived. He moved to Vienna with his long-standing male Albanian lover and secretary Bayazid Doda (also known as Bajazid Elmas Doda) to study fossils. Yet there he ran into financial difficulties and was distracted in his work. To cover his debts, he sold his fossil collection to the Natural History Museum in London. Soon Nopcsa became depressed. Finally, in 1933, he fatally shot first his lover and then himself. In a letter left for the police, he explained that his decision to commit suicide was the result of a nervous breakdown. He also stated:
The reason that I shot my longtime friend and secretary, Mr. Bayazid Elmas Doda, in his sleep without his suspecting at all is that I did not wish to leave him behind sick, in misery and without a penny, because he would have suffered too much.
Nopcsa was one of the first researchers who tried to “put flesh onto bones”, which became his main contribution to paleontology – and hence “paleobiology”. That is, he was fascinated not with the bones but rather with the living animals to whom they had belonged. He wanted to understand the world of the dinosaurs and how they lived in it – how they moved, how they fed, how they mated, and so on. For example, Nopcsa was the first scientist to suggest that these reptiles cared for their young and exhibited complex social behavior. Another of Nopcsa’s hypotheses that was ahead of its time was that birds evolved from ground-dwelling, feathered dinosaurs, an idea that found favor in the 1960s and later gained wide acceptance. Additionally, Nopcsa’s conclusion that at least some Mesozoic era reptiles were warm-blooded is now shared by much of the scientific community.
Nopcsa studied Transylvanian dinosaurs intensively, even though they were smaller than their relatives elsewhere in the world. For example, he unearthed six-meter-long sauropods, a group of dinosaurs that elsewhere commonly grew to 30 meters or more. Nopcsa deduced that the area where the remains were found was an island (now called Haţeg or Hatzeg basin in Romania) during the Mesozoic era. He suggested that “limited resources” found on islands commonly have an effect of “reducing the size of animals” over the generations, producing a localized form of dwarfism. Nopcsa’s theory of insular dwarfism – also known as the island effect – is today widely accepted. Additional pygmy sauropods were recently discovered in northern Germany (analyzed by P. Martin Sander in Nature, 8 June 2006).
As a result of his investigations and publications, Nopcsa is sometimes considered to be the father of modern paleobiology, even though his original term for the field was “paleophysiology.”
- Linda Rapp. (2006) “Baron Franz Nopcsa” in glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture, Claude J. Summers, ed. Accessed on 3 May 2013 at http://www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/nopcsa_bf.html.
Many a man has been hanged on less evidence than there is for the Loch Ness Monster.
— G.K. Chesterton
When the Romans first came to northern Scotland in the first century C.E., they found the Highlands occupied by fierce, tattoo-covered tribes they called the Picts, or painted people. From the carved, standing stones still found in the region around Loch Ness, it is clear the Picts were fascinated by animals, and careful to render them with great fidelity. All the animals depicted on the Pictish stones are lifelike and easily recognizable—all but one. The exception is a strange beast with an elongated beak or muzzle, a head locket or spout, and flippers instead of feet. Described by some scholars as a swimming elephant, the Pictish beast is the earliest known evidence for an idea that has held sway in the Scottish Highlands for at least 1,500 years—that Loch Ness is home to a mysterious aquatic animal.
However, the modern legend of the Loch Ness Monster was actually born on today’s date, when a sighting made local news. The Inverness Courier ran a story about George Spicer and his wife who had been taking a leisurely drive around the Loch when they spotted something strange on the water. According to Spicer “[it was] the nearest approach to a dragon or pre-historic animal that I have ever seen in my life.” The IC story was the first time that Nessie had been called a “monster” hence the title “Loch Ness Monster” was born. The story of the monster became a media phenomenon, with London newspapers sending correspondents to Scotland and a circus offering a 20,000 pound sterling reward for capture of the beast.
Within a year the first photo of Nessie was taken by Hugh Gray (on December 6th 1933). Later that month, the London Daily Mail hired an actor, film director, and big-game hunter named Marmaduke Wetherell to track down the beast. After only a few days at the loch, Wetherell reported finding the fresh footprints of a large, four-toed animal. He estimated it to be 20 feet long. With great fanfare, Wetherell made plaster casts of the footprints and, just before Christmas, sent them off to the Natural History Museum in London for analysis. While the world waited for the museum zoologists to return from holiday, legions of monster hunters descended on Loch Ness, filling the local hotels. Inverness was floodlit for the occasion, and traffic jammed the shoreline roads in both directions.
The bubble burst in early January, when museum zoologists announced that the footprints were those of a hippopotamus. They had been made with a stuffed hippo foot—the base of an umbrella stand or ashtray. It wasn’t clear whether Wetherell was the perpetrator of the hoax or its gullible victim.
The famous Surgeon’s Photograph taken the following April (which has now been proven fake) was published spawning even more interest in the legendary beast. For the next three decades, most scientists scornfully dismissed reports of strange animals in the loch. Those sightings that weren’t outright hoaxes, they said, were the result of optical illusions caused by boat wakes, wind slicks, floating logs, otters, ducks, or swimming deer.
Michel Adanson was born. Following study at the Plessis Sorbon, the Collège Royal, and the Jardin du Roi, Adanson traveled to Senegal where he spent four years collecting natural history specimens. The report of this expedition appeared in 1757 as Histoire naturelle du Sénégal, and it contained a novel systematic arrangement of mollusks that won Adanson some notoriety in zoological circles. He is best remembered, however, for his comprehensive Familles des plantes (Paris, 1763–1764), in which he rejected systems (such as those of Linnaeus) that were based on only a few selected characters (artificial systems), in favor of an arrangement that takes all features of the plant into account (a natural system). As an associate of Buffon, Adanson was a significant contributor to the Historie naturelle, and his own herbarium, numbering about 30,000 specimens, came to rest in Paris at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle.On this date, the French botanist
On this date, two articles were published in the science journal Nature reporting the discovery of a fossil that might in time become as much of an evolutionary icon as the proto-bird Archaeopteryx. Several specimens of this transitional form, named Tiktaalik roseae, were found in late Devonian river sediments on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Arctic Canada.
- Ahlberg, P.E., Clack, J.A. (2006). Palaeontology: A firm step from water to land. Nature, 440(7085), 747-749. DOI: 10.1038/440747a
- Daeschler, E.B., Shubin, N.H., Jenkins, F.A. (2006). A Devonian tetrapod-like fish and the evolution of the tetrapod body plan. Nature, 440(7085), 757-763. DOI: 10.1038/nature04639
- Shubin, N.H., Daeschler, E.B., Jenkins, F.A. (2006). The pectoral fin of Tiktaalik roseae and the origin of the tetrapod limb. Nature, 440(7085), 764-771. DOI: 10.1038/nature04637
- “What has the head of a crocodile and the gills of a fish?“, the Understanding Evolution website, the University of California Museum of Paleontology and the National Center for Science Education. Last updated June 2010, accessed on 26 April 2011. http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/news/060501_tiktaalik
Rhizopoda (meaning “root-foot”). This name was later changed to protozoa. In 1835, he disproved Ehrenberg’s hypothesis that microorganisms have the same organs as the more complex animals.On this date, the French physiologist, morphologist, and taxonomist Félix Dujardin was born. Dujardin is primarily known for his work with microscopic animal life, and in 1834 proposed that a new group of one-celled organisms be called
Also in 1835, he was the first to describe protoplasm, the jellylike material in animal cells which he called sarcode (from the Greek word σάρξ, meaning “flesh”). [Hugo von Mohl is credited with introducing the name protoplasm for it in 1846.] This substance, now called cytoplasm, was later found in living plant cells. Although the term protoplasm is rarely used any more in a strictly scientific sense, many of the notions associated with the term have survived. Thus it is still accepted that all living organisms are made largely of the same classes of substances such as salts and organic molecules, that some of these are organized into structures large enough to be seen in the microscope, and that water almost always is by far the most abundant material.
Dujardin’s written works include Histoire naturelle des infusoires (1840), Manuel de l’observateur au microscope (1842), and Histoire naturelle des helminthes (1844).
read papers on original research on the biology of tiny marine organisms found along the Scottish coast to the Plinian Society at Edinburgh University.On this date, Charles Darwin
The root of all superstition is that men observe when a thing hits, but not when it misses.
– Francis Bacon (1561-1626), English lawyer and philosopher
On this day, the American psychologist, author, inventor, social philosopher, and poet B(urrhus) F(rederic) Skinner was born. He developed the theory of operant conditioning — the idea that behavior is determined by its consequences, be they reinforcements or punishments, which make it more or less likely that the behavior will occur again. His principles are still incorporated within treatments of phobias, addictive behaviors, and in the enhancement of classroom performance (as well as in computer-based self-instruction).
Skinner believed that the only scientific approach to psychology was one that studied behaviors, not internal (subjective) mental processes. He denied the existence of a mind as a thing separate from the body, but he did not deny the existence of thoughts, which he regarded simply as private behaviors to be analyzed according to the same principle as publicly observed behaviors. To further improve the objective scientific value of observed behaviors, he invented the “Skinner box”, or operant conditioning chamber. It was a small, soundproof enclosure in which an animal could be isolated from all distractions and outside influences, responding only to the controlled conditions within the box, and is still used today.
Skinner’s analysis of human behavior culminated in his work Verbal Behavior (1957). He was a prolific author who published 21 books and 180 articles. In a June, 2002 survey, B.F. Skinner was listed as the most influential psychologist of the 20th century (Review of General Psychology, June, 2002, pp. 139-152). He was named “Humanist of the Year” in 1972 by the American Humanist Association.
One of Skinner’s most interesting and famous experiments, a classic in psychology, examined the formation of “superstition” in one of his favorite experimental animals, the pigeon. Skinner placed a series of hungry pigeons in a cage attached to an automatic mechanism that delivered food to the pigeon “at regular intervals with no reference whatsoever to the bird’s behavior.” He discovered that the pigeons associated the delivery of the food with whatever chance actions they had been performing as it was delivered (accidental reinforcement), and that they subsequently continued to perform these same actions:
One bird was conditioned to turn counter-clockwise about the cage, making two or three turns between reinforcements. Another repeatedly thrust its head into one of the upper corners of the cage. A third developed a ‘tossing’ response, as if placing its head beneath an invisible bar and lifting it repeatedly. Two birds developed a pendulum motion of the head and body, in which the head was extended forward and swung from right to left with a sharp movement followed by a somewhat slower return.
Skinner suggested that the pigeons behaved as if they were influencing the automatic mechanism with their “rituals” and that this experiment shed light on human behavior:
The experiment might be said to demonstrate a sort of superstition. The bird behaves as if there were a causal relation between its behavior and the presentation of food, although such a relation is lacking. There are many analogies in human behavior. Rituals for changing one’s fortune at cards are good examples. A few accidental connections between a ritual and favorable consequences suffice to set up and maintain the behavior in spite of many unreinforced instances. The bowler who has released a ball down the alley but continues to behave as if she were controlling it by twisting and turning her arm and shoulder is another case in point. These behaviors have, of course, no real effect upon one’s luck or upon a ball half way down an alley, just as in the present case the food would appear as often if the pigeon did nothing — or, more strictly speaking, did something else.
It is easy to see other human parallels of this type of behavior. A person playing a slot machine may alter the way he puts money in the machine and the way he pulls the handle if he thinks that doing these things a certain way will bring him luck. Independent of these behaviors the machine will occasionally pay off (reinforcement). Such a situation allows the person to develop a superstitious behavior, such as not looking at the machine while he pulls the handle. Observation of a gambling casino will reveal a large number of people displaying their superstitious behaviors at the slot machines. Each person’s superstition may be unique to him, as each of Skinner’s pigeons had a unique superstition.
Human superstitions are quite abundant. A college student in an elevator may keep pushing the button of his floor as if this would cause the elevator to move faster. A card player may pick up his cards one at a time as if to improve the hand he was dealt. A businessman may wear a “special” tie when going to an important meeting.
Many ancient beliefs involve superstition. For example, the rain dance: once when someone was doing the so-called rain dance, it started to rain. This person thought that perhaps their dance affected nature. After this rain dance was reinforced intermittently on a frequent enough schedule it became established as a superstitious behavior.
However, the pigeons’ behaviors were later reinterpreted as behaviors that improve foraging efficacy (analogous to salivation in Pavlov’s dogs), which suggests that the pigeons’ behavior does not correspond to Skinner’s intended meaning of superstition. Nevertheless, Skinner’s early account is notable in two respects. First, it recognized the possibility of superstition occurring outside the human realm. Second, and linked to this, Skinner emphasized the behavioral aspect of superstition: “The bird behaves as if there were a causal relation between its behavior and the presentation of food, although such a relation is lacking.” That is, he focused on there being an incorrect response to a stimulus (behavioral outcome), rather than the conscious abstract representation of cause and effect (psychological relationship), with which human superstitions are often associated.
There other differences between human superstitions based on psychological relationship and animal superstitions based on behavioral outcome:
- First, humans, as opposed to animals, often spend considerable time justifying why they are not reinforced each time they do their superstitious behavior. (“I have some questions about that so- called virgin we sacrificed to the volcano god.” “I lost the golf match today because my lucky hat doesn’t seem to work two days in a row.”)
- Second, humans spend more time than animals trying to convince others to adopt their superstitious behaviors. Children often carry on many of the superstitions of their parents.
- Finally, as Herrnstein (1966) points out, “Human superstition, unlike that of animals, arises in a social context.” The acquired superstitions in humans are not as arbitrary as those of animals. Rather they are molded by the person’s culture. Thus, although it is possible to develop a superstition about Wednesday the 11th, it is more probable in our culture to be superstitious about Friday the 13th.
It has only been with the advent of the scientific method that people have been able to distinguish between that which is superstitious and that which has a scientific basis.
- B.F. Skinner. “‘Superstition’ in the Pigeon,” Journal of Experimental Psychology 38: 168-172 (1948).
- Kevin R. Foster and Hanna Kokko.
“The evolution of superstitious and superstition-like behaviour,”
Proc R Soc B 276 (1654): 31-37 (January 2009). DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2008.0981
- R.J. Herrnstein. “Superstition: A corollary of the principles of operant conditioning,” in W. K. Honig (ed.), Operant Behavior: Areas of Research and Application. (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1966) pp. 33-51.
On this date, the historical debate that took place at the French Academy of Sciences between Georges Cuvier and Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire began.
The zoologist and historian of science E.R. Russell summed up the great biological controversy of the first half of the nineteenth century: “Is function the mechanical result of form, or is form merely the manifestation of function or activity? What is the essence of life — organization or activity?” While Cuvier founded the “functionalist” school of organismal biology, with his insistence on animals as functionally integrated wholes, Geoffroy continued the more “formalist” tradition of biology that had started with Buffon and was being continued by Goethe, Lamarck, and others.
Cuvier viewed every part of an animal as having been designed by the Creator to contribute to the animal’s functional integrity. Thus, similarities between organisms could only result from similar functions, writing in 1828, “If there are resemblances between the organs of fishes and those of the other vertebrate classes, it is only insofar as there are resemblances between their functions.” Cuvier argued that all animals could be subdivided into four and only four distinct embranchements: vertebrates, molluscs, articulates (insects and crustaceans), and radiates.
Cuvier’s viewpoint is diametrically opposed to Geoffroy’s view, which stressed the primacy of structure over function; Geoffroy wrote in 1829: “Animals have no habits but those that result from the structure of their organs; if the latter varies, there vary in the same manner all their springs of action, all their faculties and all their actions.”
Geoffrey said that unity of plan could be identified by the relative positions and spatial interrelationships of elements, rather than primarily by their shape or size. Parts may expand and contract according to their function, but topology remains unaltered, and the archetype can be traced by an unvarying spatial pattern. He called this the principle of connections. (This is still a favored basis for recognizing anatomical homologies.)
Geoffroy wrote in 1807 (see Appel, 1987, p. 89):
It is known that nature works constantly with the same materials. She is ingenious to vary only the forms…One sees her tend always to cause the same elements to reappear, in the same number, in the same circumstances, and with the same connections.
As Charles Darwin described his work in 1859, in The Origin of Species:
What can be more curious than that the hand of a man, formed for grasping, that of a mole for digging, the leg of the horse, the paddle of the porpoise, and the wing of the bat, should all be constructed on the same pattern, and should include the same bones, in the same relative positions? Geoffroy St. Hilaire has insisted strongly on the high importance of relative connexion in homologous organs: the parts may change to almost any extent in form and size, and yet they always remain connected together in the same order.
In 1822, Geoffroy had dissected a lobster and placed it in an inverted position with respect to the ground. In this upside down orientation the lobster’s normally ventral nerve cord was located above the digestive tract, which in turn was placed above the heart. In his own words: “What was my surprise, and I add, my admiration, in perceiving an ordering that placed under my eyes all the organic systems of this lobster in the order in which they are arranged in mammals?” Geoffroy went on to argue that there was a unity of plan, or unity of composition, among animals, so that the dorsal side of the vertebrates was homologous to the ventral side of the arthropods. In 1822, he wrote that “insects formed another class of vertebrated animals, and that they were, consequently, brought under the common law of uniformity of organization”.
Thus, Geoffroy and his followers argued that all animals, vertebrates and invertebrates alike, were built on the same basic plan. Therefore, animal life could be strung into a more or less continuous, related series, rather than broken into discrete “divisions”, as Cuvier had claimed. This series implied that the history of each organism, rising in complexity from starfish to humans, could be interpreted in an evolutionary manner.
Matters between Cuvier and Geoffry came to a head in 1830, when two young naturalists, Meyranx and Laurencet, presented a comparison of the anatomy of vertebrates and cephalopods (squids, cuttlefish, and octopi), claiming that they were based on the same basic structural plan. Geoffroy enthusiastically adopted this claim as proof of the unity of plan shared by all animals; Cuvier could not reconcile it with the results of his careful anatomical research. Thus was set up one of the most famous debates in the history of biology: eight public debates between Cuvier and Geoffroy, from February to April 1830. In these debates, Cuvier showed convincingly that many of Geoffroy’s supposed examples of unity of structure were not accurate; the similarities between vertebrates and cephalopods were contrived and superficial.Remarkably, Geoffroy’s idea today is supported by a growing body of molecular developmental evidence. Holley et al (1995) have demonstrated that not only do the fruit fly and frog have homologous genes that promote dorsoventral patterning, but the homologous genes have opposite effects within each animal. In fact, the genes are functionally interchangeable –- even though the product of sog ventralizes fly embryos, it dorsalizes frog embryos just like its homologue in the frog, chordin.
It would be an error to call Geoffroy an evolutionary biologist in anything like the modern sense. Archetypes were abstractions, not once-living ancestors; shared archetypal form did not necessarily indicate common ancestry. Geoffrey used the term “homologous” in its anatomical sense, meaning those parts in different animals which were “essentially” the same, even though the parts might have different shapes and functions. However, later in his career, Geoffroy published some ideas that resemble the theory of evolution by natural selection. The following quote from “Influence du monde ambiant pour modifier les formes animales” (1833) shows that Geoffroy considered that heritable changes in an organism might be selected for or against by the environment, and thus that present-day species might have arisen from antediluvian (before the Biblical Flood) species:
The external world is all-powerful in alteration of the form of organized bodies.. . these [modifications] are inherited, and they influence all the rest of the organization of the animal, because if these modifications lead to injurious effects, the animals which exhibit them perish and are replaced by others of a somewhat different form, a form changed so as to be adapted to the new environment.
But these ideas apparently were never a key part of Geoffroy’s thought. Geoffroy believed that there were limits to how far an organism might evolve, and he never developed his ideas into a complete theory, as Darwin later did.
Part of the power of modern evolutionary biology comes from its ability to synthesize elements from both schools of thought. Organismal lineages change with time, in response to changing environments, and their form constrains the functions that they can take on; at the same time, it is the ability of organisms to function in their environments that is a major component of evolutionary fitness, and form is often altered to fit a particular function. Cuvier and Geoffroy had grasped separate parts of a more complex reality.
- Toby A. Appel. The Cuvier-Geoffrey Debate: French Biology in the Decades before Darwin (Oxford University Press, 1987).
- Stephen J. Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (Harvard University Press, 2002) pp. 298-312.
- S.A. Holley, P.D. Jackson, Y. Sasal, B. Lu, E.M. De Robertis, F.M. Hoffmann, and E.L. Ferguson. A conserved system for dorsal-ventral patterning in insects and vertebrates involving sog and chordin, Nature 376: 249-253 (1995).
- Ernst Mayr. The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution and Inheritance (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1982) p 262.
On this date, Richard Owen gave a public lecture entitled “On the Nature of Limbs,” at an evening meeting of the Royal Institution of Great Britain in London. This lecture laid out to a general audience Owen’s notion of homology in general, and his account of vertebrate limbs in particular. Earlier, in 1843, Owen had defined a homology as the “same organ in different animals under every variety of form and function” (Owen 1843, p.379). The 1848 book On the Archetype and the Homologies of the Vertebrate Skeleton had introduced his sophisticated theoretical and observational framework in comparative morphology. Now in the 1849 lecture, Owen forcefully argued for fins as found in different groups of fish and limbs as occurring in different tetrapod taxa being homologous, by pointing to homologies among the individual skeletal parts of fins and limbs. Published in the same year under the title On the Nature of Limbs, this lecture, together with On the Archetype, marks Owen’s most innovative contribution to comparative biology, which made him the most prominent naturalist in Britain before Darwin.
On this date, the English entomologist Henry Walter Bates was born. Bates became friends with Alfred Russel Wallace when the latter took a teaching post in the Leicester Collegiate School. Wallace was also a keen entomologist, and he had read the same kind of books as Bates had, and as Darwin, Huxley and no doubt many others had – Thomas Malthus on population, James Hutton and Charles Lyell on geology, Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, and above all, the anonymous Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, which put evolution into everyday discussion among literate folk. They also read William H. Edwards on his Amazon expedition, and this started them thinking that a visit to the region would be exciting, and might launch their careers. Bates accompanied Wallace on an expedition to the Amazon in 1848.
Whereas Wallace returned to England after four years in South America and then went on to Indonesia, Bates stayed in the Amazon for eleven years but continued to correspond with him, encouraging Wallace’s developing theories on organic evolution. Bates discovered that closely related species often were separated geographically by rivers, and later realized that this was evidence of geographical speciation. His 1862 study of color patterns in butterflies established what is now called Batesian mimicry, in which non-poisonous animals mimic the bright warning coloration of poisonous animals. Bates argued that this kind of mimicry could not be produced by Lamarckian use-inheritance and was clear evidence of selection. In his book The Naturalist on the River Amazons (1863), he wrote:
… on these expanded membranes [i.e., butterfly wings] Nature writes, as on a tablet, the story of the modifications of species, so truly do all changes of the organisation register themselves thereon. Moreover, the same colour-patterns of the wings generally show, with great regularity, the degrees of blood-relationship of the species. As the laws of nature must be the same for all beings, the conclusions furnished by this group of insects must be applicable to the whole world.
Bates assumed the post of Assistant Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society in 1864 where he edited the society’s Transactions and organized expeditions. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1881.