Darwin in Journal of the History of the Neurosciences

The May 2010 issue of the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences was devoted to Darwin:

Charles Darwin and Neuropsychology

The Charles Darwin Anniversary, C. U. M. (Chris) Smith, Pages 83 – 84:

No abstract

The Darwins and Wells: From Revolution to Evolution, Nicholas J. Wade, Pages 85 – 104:

In the biography of his grandfather (Erasmus Darwin), Charles Darwin hinted that his father (Robert Darwin) had received parental assistance in conducting and writing his medical thesis (which concerned afterimages). The experiments also involved visual vertigo, and they were elaborated by the senior Darwin in his Zoonomia, published in 1794. Erasmus Darwin’s interpretation was in terms of trying to pursue peripheral afterimages formed during rotation; it was at variance with one published two years earlier by William Charles Wells, who had investigated the visual consequences of body rotation when the body is subsequently still. Wells penned two retorts to the Darwins’ theory; although they were not accepted by Erasmus, he did devise a human centrifuge, models of which were employed in later studies of vertigo. Wells’s ideas on evolution were expressed in a paper delivered to the Royal Society (in 1813) but not published in its Transactions. Commenting on the case of a white woman, part of whose skin was black, he proposed a process of change that was akin to natural selection. His ideas were acknowledged by Charles Darwin in the fourth edition of On the Origin of Species.

Darwin’s Unsolved Problem: The Place of Consciousness in an Evolutionary World, C. U. M. (Chris) Smith, Pages 105 – 120:

“How does consciousness commence?” When Darwin set about developing his evolution theory on his return from the Beagle circumnavigation in 1836, he quickly realized that one major problem was, precisely, the existence of “mind” in a material world. This paper reviews his early struggles with this problem and pursues it into his later writings, especially the 1872 Expression of Emotions and in the work of his disciple G. J. Romanes. In the 1871 Descent of Man, Darwin admits defeat, writing that “In what manner the mental powers were first developed in the lowest organisms is as hopeless an enquiry as how life itself first originated. These are problems for the distant future” (p. 100). That “distant future” has now arrived and plausible answers to Darwin’s first question have been developed. The bicentennial celebrations provide an opportunity to ask again whether we are any closer to a solution of the second. They also provide an opportunity to emphasize Darwin’s lifelong interest in the relationships between mind, brain, and behavior.

Charles Darwin and the Evolution of Human Grammatical Systems, Hugh W. Buckingham; Sarah S. Christman, Pages 121 – 139:

Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theories of animal communication were deeply embedded in a centuries-old model of association psychology, whose prodromes have most often been traced to the writings of Aristotle. His notions of frequency of occurrence of pairings have been passed down through the centuries and were a major ontological feature in the formation of associative connectivity. He focused on the associations of cause and effect, contiguity of sequential occurrence, and similarity among items. Cause and effect were often reduced to another type of contiguity relation, so that Aristotle is most often evoked as the originator of the associative bondings through similarity and contiguity, contiguity being the most powerful and frequent means of association. Contiguity eventually became the overriding mechanism for serial ordering of mental events in both perception and action. The notions of concatenation throughout the association psychology took the form of “trains” of events, both sensory and motor, in such a way that serial ordering came to be viewed as an item-by-item string of locally contiguous events. Modern developments in the mathematics of serial ordering have advanced in sophistication since the early and middle twentieth century, and new computational methods have allowed us to reevaluate the serial concatenative theories of Darwin and the associationists. These new models of serial order permit a closer comparative scrutiny between human and nonhuman. The present study considers Darwin’s insistence on a “degree” continuity between human and nonhuman animal serial ordering. We will consider a study of starling birdsongs and whether the serial ordering of those songs provides evidence that they have a syntax that at best differs only in degree and not in kind with the computations of human grammatical structures. We will argue that they, in fact, show no such thing.

Darwin’s “Natural Science of Babies” , Marjorie Lorch; Paula Hellal, Pages 140 – 157:

In 1877, the newly founded British journal Mind published two papers on child development. The earlier, by Hippolyte Taine, prompted the second article: an account of his own son’s development by the naturalist Charles Darwin. In its turn, Darwin’s paper, “A Biographical Sketch of an Infant,” influenced others. Diary studies similar to Taine’s and Darwin’s appeared in Mind from 1878. In addition, the medical profession started to consider normal child language acquisition as a comparison for the abnormal. Shortly before his death in 1882, Darwin continued with his theme, setting out a series of proposals for a program of research on child development with suggested methodology and interpretations. Darwin, whose interest in infants and the developing mind predated his 1877 paper by at least 40 years, sought to take the subject out of the nursery and into the scientific domain. The empirical study of the young child’s developing mental faculties was a source of evidence with important implications for his general evolutionary theory. The social status of children in England was the subject of considerable discussion around the time Darwin’s 1877 paper appeared. Evolutionary theory was still relatively new and fiercely debated, and an unprecedented level of interest was shown by the popular press in advance of the publication. This article considers the events surrounding the publication of Darwin’s article in Mind, the notebook of observations on Darwin’s children (1839-1856) that served as its basis, and the research that followed publication of “Biographical Sketch.” We discuss the impact this article, one of the first infant psychology studies in English, made on the scientific community in Britain in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Charles Darwin’s Emotional Expression “Experiment” and His Contribution to Modern Neuropharmacology, Peter J. Snyder; Rebecca Kaufman; John Harrison; Paul Maruff, Pages 158 – 170:

In the late 1860s and early 1870s, Darwin had corresponded with the French physician and physiologist, G. B. A. Duchenne, regarding Duchenne’s experimental manipulation of human facial expression of emotion, by applying Galvanic electrical stimulation directly to facial muscles. Duchenne had produced a set of over 60 photographic plates to illustrate his view that there are different muscles in the human face that are separately responsible for each individual emotion. Darwin studied this material very carefully and he received permission from Duchenne in 1871 to reproduce several of these images in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). Darwin had doubted Duchenne’s view that there were individual muscle groups that mediate the expression of dozens of separable emotions, and he wondered whether there might instead be a fewer set of core emotions that are expressed with great stability worldwide and across cultures. Prompted by his doubts regarding the veracity of Duchenne’s model, Darwin conducted what may have been the first-ever single-blind study of the recognition of human facial expression of emotion. This single experiment was a little-known forerunner for an entire modern field of study with contemporary clinical relevance. Moreover, his specific question about cross-cultural recognition of the cardinal emotions in faces is a topic that is being actively studied (in the twenty-first century) with the hope of developing novel biomarkers to aid the discovery of new therapies for the treatment of schizophrenia, autism, and other neuropsychiatric diseases.

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Link 182 (actually, about 40)

Now that I’m back from Texas (sister-in-law’s wedding)…

… let’s see what I’ve missed. Here are some links:

National Fossil Day is tomorrow, October 13th. Check here for events.

For the next edition of The Giant’s Shoulders, get your entries in by October 15th!

Homologous Legs: This Week in Intelligent Design – 12/10/10

Point of Inquiry (podcast): PZ Myers, Jennifer Michael Hecht, and Chris Mooney – New Atheism or Accommodation?

USA Today/Jerry Coyne: Science and religion aren’t friends

Bad Astronomy: Creationists still can’t seem to evolve

Speaking of creationists, Comfort clowns passed out copies of the faux-Origin inn Texas at a Dawkins lecture. They posted some photos online, take a look at this one. The book now has “As seen on CNN” on the cover:

Evangelism at the Richard Dawkins event (The Wortham Center)

Dawkins was on Bill Maher

The Sensuous Curmudgeon: Discovery Institute Targets African Americans & Discovery Institute Demands Accurate Quotes

Sandwalk: The Casey Luskin Lesson Plan on Teaching the Controversy

Please be patient, I am evolving as fast as I can!: Damed by their own words

Carnival of Evolution #28 – Featuring Sandwalk

Playing Chess with Pigeons: The Rush to ignorance tour continues

Laelaps: When Pseudo-Crocs Walked Tall

So Simple a Beginning: 150 years of Darwin, from UCI Libraries

From the Hands of Quacks: Mind & Body: The Philosopher’s Body as a Subject

The beauty of Darwin

Did you know that Noah himself went out to catch birds? From a church in Texas on my trip:

NYT/Natalie Angier: Moonlighting as a Conjurer of Chemicals

Ether Wave Propaganda: Is There a Conflict of Interest between STS and History of Science?

AHA: Richard Dawkins and Neil deGrasse Tyson at Howard University

History of Science Centre’s blog: The Forgotten

Whewell’s Ghost/Evolving Thoughts: The historical way to do science

Whewell’s Ghost (@beckyfh): Yes, histories of science are worth reading! & David Willetts and the history of science

@beckyfh: Chronometer from HMS Beagle (91st object in British Museum’s History of the World in 100 Objects) info/podcast

PACHSmörgåsbord: Popular History of Science for the American G.I.

The Species Seekers: This is the Great Age of Discovery

Bozeman Daily Chronicle: Great minds gloomy about humans’ future

American Scientist: The 95% Solution (about informal science education). Also, from Physics Today: The evolution of the science museum

Why Evolution Is True: The Hall of Human Origins at the National Museum of Natural History (more about the funder of this exhibit and religion and other thoughts here, here, here, and here. PZ chimes in here and here.)

Periodic Tabloid: Making Connections: “The Big Picture” and the History of Science

Charlie’s Playhouse: Does Steven Pinker have kids? He should. & New podcast with Kate at Parenting Within Reason!

Quodlibeta: Doubting Darwin’s Doubt

Times Archive Blog (from 2009): Did Charles Darwin stick pins into babies?

Chicago Darwin conference videos…

… have been made available here. The following are history and philosophy-specific, video links at the aforementioned link.

Ronald Numbers (University of Wisconsin): Anti-Evolutionism in America: Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design

Pietro Corsi (Oxford): Is History Useful to Darwin Studies? Reflections at the End of a Year of Celebrations

Janet Browne (Harvard): Looking at Darwin: Making a Celebrity through Portaits and Images

Robert J. Richards (University of Chicago): Darwin’s Biology of Intelligent Design

John Hedley Brooke (Oxford): ‘God knows what the public will think’: Darwin and the Religious Response to the Origin of Species

Daniel Dennett (Tufts University): Darwin’s ‘Strange Inversion of Reasoning’: Confronting the Counterintuitive

Philip Kitcher (Columbia University): The Importance of Darwin for Philosophy

Elliott Sober (University of Wisconsin): Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards?

Lynn Nyhart (University of Wisconsin): Geographic Isolation from Wagner to Mayr

Richard Burkhardt (University of Illinois): Animal Behavior in Evolutionary Perspective: Two Centuries of Inquiry

Jane Maienschein (Arizona State University): Embryos and Evolution: A History of Courting and Separation

Michael Ruse (Florida State University): Is Darwinism Past Its ‘Sell-by’ Date? The Challenge of Evo-Devo

“Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp”

charlesdarwin-stampg

For any Darwin stamp collectors out there:

The May-June issue of Topical Time, a philatelic (stamp) magazine, has a great article by Barry N. Floyd titled, “Charles Darwin: the great naturalist.”  There have been (apparently) 140 stamps honoring Darwin, his work, or his travels, and for those you who are stamp-collecting evolution fans, the American Topical Association has produced a checklist for you (you have to join first…then they’ll send you the list). I don’t have access to the checklist, but I can’t seem to find any Darwin stamps released by the United States.  (I know, I know — you are shocked.)  One might argue that the United States wouldn’t bother to issue a stamp honoring somebody who never even came to the country…but that didn’t stop  North Korea (see stamp block below), Democratic Republic of Congo, and many others.

Anyone a member of ATA and have access to the article and checklist?

Also, see here.

Chicago Darwin videos

Videos of some talks from the University of Chicago’s Darwin celebration have been put online:

Jerry Coyne (University of Chicago): “Speciation: Problems and Prospects”

Paul Sereno (University of Chicago): “Dinosaurs: Phylogenetic Reconstruction from Darwin to the Present”

David Jablonski (University of Chicago): “Paleontology and Evolutionary Biology: The Revitalized Partnership”

Neil Shubin (University of Chicago): “Great Transformations in Life: Insights from Genes & Fossils”

Robert J. Richards (University of Chicago): “Darwin’s Biology of Intelligent Design”

Via Why Evolution Is True.

Exhibit Review for “Darwin the Geologist” (Cambridge, UK)

Darwin the Geologist, Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge

Darwin the Geologist

Last summer, when I was viewing an exhibit about Darwin and geology at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences in Cambridge, England, I did not think I would be reviewing it for the Journal of the History of Biology. But I have, and it is now up online:

Exhibit Review: Darwin the Geologist, The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England. Opened July 2009, Permanent. Curator: Francis Neary. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Opened in 1904 in memory of the geologist Adam Sedgwick, and containing the collections Sedgwick and John Woodward had previously accumulated, the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences houses a vast collection of geological and paleontological specimens, including some collected by Darwin himself during the voyage of the HMS Beagle. The Sedgwick acts as a fitting locale, then, for an exhibit exploring Darwin and his geological work. Darwin the Geologist, a permanent exhibit opened in July 2009 to coincide with Cambridge’s Darwin anniversary celebrations, evolved from a temporary exhibit at the museum that had been titled Charles Darwin – Becoming a Geologist and had been on display from September 2008 to June 2009.

Darwin the Geologist tells the story of Darwin’s career as a geologist, displaying not only some of the 1,500 of Darwin’s actual specimens that the Sedgwick holds, but also books, geological tools, maps, and even a pistol carried by Darwin on the Beagle. The exhibit is an exploration of the development of Darwin’s ideas about the Earth and how they related to the development of his theory of evolution by natural selection. Darwin is more commonly labeled as a naturalist, or biologist, because of his work on evolution, but as Sandra Herbert has convincingly shown in Charles Darwin, Geologist (Cornell University Press, 2005), he was a self-proclaimed geologist and pursued his interests in geology in many ways from the Beagle voyage (1831–1836) leading up to the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859. Geology, as an exhibit label attests, dominated Darwin’s early scientific career, and his ‘‘reputation as a scientist was built on his training as a geologist.’’

Situated among the beautiful and tall glass and wooden display cases, Darwin the Geologist fills one end of the museum’s two-winged gallery, replacing what used to be displays about the Holocene epoch. The exhibit displays are organized chronologically, beginning with Darwin’s childhood fascination with collecting and into his education at Edinburgh, where Darwin was introduced to geology, and Cambridge, where Darwin met John Stevens Henslow and gained collecting and field-work experience on a geological field excursion to Wales with Adam Sedgwick. More displays are devoted to the Beagle voyage, as this afforded Darwin more opportunities to practice geology and to think about the forces that created the landscapes he visited. We learn about a raised coastline at Sa˜o Tiago in the Cape Verde Islands and the numerous fossils Darwin discovered, including the famous Megatherium; of the geology of the Andes and the formation of igneous rocks at the Galapagos Islands; and the growth of coral reefs in the Pacific. We learn about Syms Covington, Darwin’s assistant during and after the voyage, and the many specialists to whom Darwin farmed out his geological specimens for identification: William Miller for minerals, Robert Brown for fossil plants, Alcide D’Orbigny for fossil shells, Richard Owen for fossil mammals, and William Clift for the fossil teeth of Megatherium. We are shown how Darwin became a member and later secretary of the Geological Society of London as a result of his geological work on the Beagle.

A label reflecting on Archibald Geikie’s centenary celebration lecture in Cambridge (1909) [Charles Darwin as Geologist: The Rede Lecture, Given at the Darwin Centennial Commemoration on 24 June 1909 (Cambridge Library Collection – Life Sciences)] about Darwin’s geology—‘‘Since 1909 Darwin’s theory of evolution has played an increasingly important role in our understanding of life on Earth, while his geological theories have been largely forgotten’’—segues between Darwin’s own life and work and labels showing how more recent scientists have used Darwin’s collections and ideas in their geological work. For example, geologist Lyall Anderson studies rocks from the Beagle collection to consider Darwin’s collecting practices. Darwin received some specimens as gifts from other geologists, such as Andrew Smith. Through studying the rocks themselves, Anderson has been able to conclude that Darwin included in his collection specimens he did not collect himself. Similar research by Sally Gibson has helped to understand Darwin’s geological route on the island of Santiago in the Galapagos. While the Beagle collection is of importance to scientists, the specimens can help to answer questions important to historians of science as well. Darwin the Geologist stresses this point. Anderson is quoted in a label: ‘‘From a personal point of view I think my biggest surprise was that Darwin didn’t collect everything himself. Maybe that’s a misconception that the Darwin Industry has kept running.’’ While Darwin is surely an important figure, lesser-known figures in the work brought Darwin his scientific fame.

Smaller displays between the larger glass cases emphasize other aspects of Darwin’s geology. From the influences of Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Lyell to the letter of introduction inviting Darwin to join the Beagle, these displays flesh out the story and provide contextual information. Several consider various practices associated with geology, such as how to collect appropriate specimens, the use of field notebooks, and the analysis and interpretation of specimens, and how this work for Darwin resulted in various publications. Some of the smaller displays discuss Darwin’s ‘‘scientific failure’’ in theorizing how the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy in Scotland were formed, how geology figured into On the Origin of Species, and how Darwin continued to study geological topics after the publication of Origin, most notably with earthworms and the formation of soil, the subject of his last book. Also included in the exhibit are a recreation of Darwin’s cabin on the Beagle and an interactive globe showing the places where Darwin collected particular specimens. A touchscreen allows visitors to go behind the scenes of the exhibit, which is essentially a collection of the posts from the blog that accompanies Darwin the Geologist and is accessible at http://darwinthegeologist.org/.

The exhibit does a fine job of placing Darwin’s work in the context of geological questions at the time. It does not address the ‘‘Genesis and geology’’ dispute in the nineteenth century beyond one label stating that ‘‘Heated debate and controversy over science and religion captured the public imagination,’’ nor is there a label stressing the importance of correspondence to scientific practice. These minor quibbles aside, Darwin the Geologist offers a wealth of interesting material in both the objects on display and the accompanying labels, and it does it in a rather small space. It is a well-organized exhibit, and includes a wonderful artistic tribute to Darwin. While a life-size bronze of a young Darwin, by Cambridge alum and zoologist-turned-artist Anthony Smith, now adorns a garden in Christ’s College at Cambridge, a bronze bust also by Smith oversees Darwin the Geologist as if to suggest that Darwin himself is either the epitome of humankind (for Darwin is situated at the most recent end of the geological and paleontological timescale that is the Sedgwick Museum) or a typical specimen of humankind. The former runs the risk of claims of hagiography. The latter is more likely, as the exhibit suggests that scientific discovery follows from curiosity, and Darwin the Geologist surely expresses throughout to its visitors the act of scientific discovery. If nothing else, the statues help to emphasize that for much of the work that made Darwin a reputable scientist, he was an energetic young man eager to explore the world around him, not always the long-bearded sage of Downe.

Michael D. Barton
Montana State University

The photos I took of the exhibit can be seen here.