Voyage of the Beagle-en svg

Voyage of Darwin around the globe

HMS Beagle by Conrad Martens

The ship of Darwin, "H.M.S. Beagle"

February 2, 2008
  1. Why become interested in Darwin? Initial interest: “sexual revolution ”. I want to make a careful observation on development of sexual revolution. I feel I would achieve something if I were able to give a history of sexual revolution, for none exists, according to my researches. For example, article on “sexual revolution” in Wikipedia focuses mostly on development in the U.S., after WWII. And that is a very conservative picture.
  2. Darwin’s work “On the Origin of the Species” seemed like a good place to start the observations, for we’re interested in tracing the phenomenon from the very beginning. The man has descended from an ape. Hence, to understand the sexual behavior in human species, we are forced to look at the apes, and perhaps other animals. To understand that better, I will need to read other biologists, who observed the life of animals first hand, e.g. “My Life Among Wild Chimpanzees” by Jane Goodall
  3. Darwin’s ideas on the role of sex in animals’ life is the concept of “sexual selection”. This is explained in Chapter 15, a recapitulation: “With animals having separated sexes, there will be in most cases a struggle between the males for the possession of the females. The most vigorous males, or those which have most successfully struggled with their conditions of life, will generally leave most progeny. But success will often depend on the males having special weapons or means of defence or charms; and a slight advantage will lead to victory.”
  4. The whole of Darwin’s theory is stated most beautifully in the last paragraph of his book (“Origin”): “It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved”. This is theory of evolution.
  5. But understanding Darwin leads one to reflect that “sexual revolution” in very much tied to “Education ”, and even “Knowledge ”. This I say because Darwin’s “Autobiography” is a modern reading, as opposed to his “Origin of the Species” (which is now a boring reading, and has been just skimmed by me). Autobiography teaches us about the methods of leading such a productive scientific life. This may be classed either under the topic of “education”, i.e. what kind of upbringing to give to our children (the sketch was written by Darwin for his own children), or “knowledge”, i.e. how to lead a “righteous” kind of life.
  6. So, what does it teach us? One, by the time the author went to a day school, i.e. by the time he was 8 years old, his taste for collecting things and for natural history, was already developed. This shows the importance of developing the qualities we desire in children early on. Mozart wrote his first musical compositions by the time he was 5. The qualities which a young child develops s/he usually picks up from the adults (e.g. from parents), or from some bright person who impressed him/her.
  7. The author boarded at a school till he was 16 years old. This experience is very important in a person for developing the qualities of independence. When I ran away from home, I remember the sign “I love my independence”, an advertising slogan of Independence Bank.
  8. What the author has in common with J.S. Mill is long, solitary walks. Such walks are good for developing thinking habits. For example, I still remember the day when I asked to be dropped off in Kingston, the state of New York, and had to walk back to camp “Hurley” around 25 miles. In the town, I visited a library, where I picked up Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason”, to read, as I was impressed by Martin Eisenberg, director of camp “Hurley” . He wished me luck in reading the book, while working from 5 in the morning till 9 in the evening. In addition to solitary walks, long solitary bike trips, or solitary journeys on a sailboat can be recommended, although I was always depressed by being alone. Solitary confinement is good for developing one’s abstract thoughts. It is not good for developing qualities of a social leader.
  9. The qualities which Darwin developed in school years: “strong and diversified tastes, much zeal for whatever interested me, and a keen pleasure in understanding any complex subject or thing”. 1) Diversification – a key to becoming someone like Leonardo da Vinci, i.e. an all-around person, someone who is not confined merely to one physical or a mental job. 2) Zeal for pursuing a topic of interest, being steady. Do not give up on a difficulty. 3) Development of intellectual pleasure from difficult work, e.g. solving a mathematical puzzle which others were not able to do.
  10. In schools Darwin learned nothing, or very little. The best part of his education was taking up independent experimentation by becoming a servant in a chemical lab of his brother. Independent work in whatever direction – theoretical, experimental, etc. – must be encouraged. For example, attending lectures was boring for him, while reading was fine.
  11. While most lectures are boring, those that are very clear and give fine illustrations are great. Good lectures are supplemented by “field trips”, e.g. on barges down the river to observe plants and animals. Field trips should be appropriate to the subject of study. In general: sending children to established schools is a waste of time. Some selected courses or lessons should be attended. This was the manner of education of J.S. Mill, and is confirmed by Darwin and mine experience. Out of my high school, I can remember only Dr. Bindman (metaphysics) and Mr. Gordon (drafting). In my college – one-on-one discussions with Prof. Morgenbesser. The rest was a waste of time. Or rather independent reading.
  12. "Science consists in grouping facts so that general laws or conclusions may be drawn from them”. 1) This is remarkable for simplicity of its statement. All great men of knowledge express themselves simply and clearly. For example, of Grote (author of “History of Greece”), Darwin says: “I was much interested by his conversation and pleased by the simplicity and absence of all pretension in his manners”. The more one puts on the airs, the less one is worth listening to, or dealing with. 2) Important omission from the statement is the emphasis on constant experimentation, or even more: constant interaction with the living subject. “Living with the subject”, "knowing.
  13. The most important event of author’s life was voyage on the “Beagle” around the globe. The most important book is “Origin of the species”. The voyage of knowledge is like this: 1) a journey, 2) amazement and collection of facts on the subject. 3) An analysis and preliminary conclusions. These conclusions are developed in greater detail and precision throughout the rest of one’s life.
  14. It is very important to develop concentration of attention on the subject of study. Darwin writes about his voyage: “Everything about which I thought or read was made to bear directly on what I had seen or was likely to see; and this habit of mind was continued during the five years of the voyage. I feel sure that it was this training which has enabled me to do whatever I have done in science.” In addition, he led a secluded life. His house was in the country and not easily approachable. He didn’t have to earn a living, his father’s income providing for him, and later his own books. In my case, I feel it is very important to leave the domestic matters for “in between” the studies. Domestic matters include taking care of children, shopping for food, cleaning up the house, etc.
  15. The cost of work is calculated in terms of time it took the author to do it. That is the ultimate value of everything: the length of time of our lives.
  16. Before starting work on something, get down all the material existing on the subject. E.g. writing on “Coral reefs”: “This book, though a small one, cost me twenty months of hard work, as I had to read every work on the islands of the Pacific and to consult many charts”. On his method of work, Darwin writes later on: “as I have always had several quite distinct subjects in hand at the same time, I may mention that I keep from thirty to forty large portfolios, in cabinets with labelled shelves, into which I can at once put a detached reference or memorandum. I have bought many books, and at their ends I make an index of all the facts that concern my work; or, if the book is not my own, write out a separate abstract, and of such abstracts I have a large drawer full. Before beginning on any subject I look to all the short indexes and make a general and classified index, and by taking the one or more proper portfolios I have all the information collected during my life ready for use”. It's important to collect notes on the books and materials read, and arrange them in some kind of order.
  17. It is surprising to hear that Darwin was only 33 when he made his last voyage requiring physical strength (to a mountain). I feel I reached the peak of my physical strength at around 35, but now at 40 I feel still capable of strong physical exertions. The key, I feel, is constant physical exercise, e.g. riding a bike, swimming in cold water, yachting. It is necessary to learn to combine physical and mental exercises as a relaxation of each other. The goal is to heighten one’s productivity and active life.
  18. On the method of work: “I worked on true Baconian principles, and without any theory collected facts on a wholesale scale, more especially with respect to domesticated productions, by printed enquiries, by conversation with skilful breeders and gardeners, and by extensive reading. When I see the list of books of all kinds which I read and abstracted, including whole series of Journals and Transactions, I am surprised at my industry.” 1) First step to knowledge – collection of wide range of facts. 2) The methods of collection can be: a. reading, b. interviews, c. experiments. 3) This large collection of facts must be analyzed. A law starts to appear once the analysis is done.
  19. All objections to one’s theory must be immediately recorded and tentative answers provided.
  20. A delay in a publication is a great advantage to the author, for after some time he becomes critical of his work and finds faults. This view is confirmed by Mao (critical of written articles by his comrades during WWII) and by J.K. Galbraith (improving his “New Industrial State” after taking a 4 year tour as ambassador to India).
  21. Writing should be done like this: first an outline, then an extended outline, then a development of this extended outline in detail. In other words, it is important to first grasp the whole, and gradually develop this into departments of knowledge: “I first make the rudest outline in two or three pages, and then a larger one in several pages, a few words or one word standing for a whole discussion or series of facts. Each one of these headings is again enlarged and often transferred before I begin to write in extenso”. See the sequence like this: 1) a trunk of a tree, 2) the largest branches start to appear, 3) the smallest branches and leaves come out.
  22. The milestones in a life of a theoretician are the books that s/he publishes. Life of such a person should be judged by these works.
  23. On the manner of expressing oneself, it is important to combine spontaneity and careful thinking. Spontaneity gives one a grasp of the whole. Careful thinking allows one to avoid logical pitfalls, develop a point to an extreme limit, after which it becomes another subject. For spontaneity, write first your thoughts out, without reference to material. Just explain yourself. For careful thinking, rewrite the rough draft. Darwin explains it so: “Formerly I used to think about my sentences before writing them down; but for several years I have found that it saves time to scribble in a vile hand whole pages as quickly as I possibly can, contracting half the words; and then correct deliberately. Sentences thus scribbled down are often better ones than I could have written deliberately. Having said thus much about my manner of writing, I will add that with my large books I spend a good deal of time over the general arrangement of the matter.”
  24. Darwing relaxed with books on history, biographies, travels, etc. Listening to audiobooks, or playing music, is a good way to relax the eyes.
  25. Perhaps the most important ingredient for success in what one’s doing is loving it. From love, come such “secondary” characteristics as patience with the thing, improvisation and invention (creativity).
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