Darwin at the AMNH

Posted in evolution, history, science at 5:52 am by wingerz

Yesterday Jen and I went to the Darwin exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. It was very well done, featuring some of his personal correspondences, notesbooks, and collected specimens, as well as live tortoises and an iguana. Some interesting tidbits:

  • Darwin loved to collect beetles. On one occasion he found himself in a situation where he wanted to catch three beetles but only had two hands – he popped one into his mouth, where it prompty sprayed him with something disgusting.
  • Darwin compiled a list of pros and cons for marriage. Among the pros: “better than a dog anyhow.” The worst con: a “terrible loss of time.”
  • Darwin’s father wanted him to become a doctor and was opposed to him traveling on the HMS Beagle. Fortunately, he wrote: “”If you can find any man of common sense who advises you to go, I will give my consent.” Darwin found this man in his uncle and future father-in-law.
  • My favorite notebook entry of his simply states “I think” at the top and a tree of related species below. To me it was quite amazing to see this. It’s quite easy to take this idea for granted now (well, not in some states, I suppose), but this really drives home the point that a profound thinker had to figure all of this out and capture it in his notebook.
  • Darwin sat on his ideas for about 20 years, until Alfred Russel Wallace had come to the same conclusions. The exhibit included some of the letters that were sent between the two scientists – Wallace conveyed an incredible amount of respect for the depth of Darwin’s work and seemed to be quite grateful with the end result: both papers would be published simultaneously.
  • Darwin also loved orchids and did many experiments to see how orchids had adapted to the insects that helped them with pollination (and vice versa). He found one orchid in Madagascar in 1862 that would have depended on an insect with a foot-long probiscis. No such insect was found until 60 years later.

It’s great that the museum put a lot of the text (straight from the exhibits) online. Google Image Search for the “I think” image led me straight to the Darwin Exhibit website. I’ve been meaning to read The Origin of Species for a while; now I feel sufficiently inspired to pick it up.