ARTICLE: Darwin’s Technology of Life

In the journal Isis for December 2019:

Darwin’s Technology of Life

Giuliano Pancaldi

Abstract Some of Darwin’s views on descent with modification were developed alongside his adoption of a number of concepts inspired by the domain that we would now call science and technology. Focusing on the period from Darwin’s circumnavigation journey to the publication of the Origin in 1859, this essay explores the rich manuscript and published documentation left by Darwin to trace in detail his exposure to contemporary technologies and notions of invention. It argues that the parallel Darwin established on several occasions between the history of life on earth and human inventions was more than a metaphor. According to Darwin’s radical evolutionary perspective, life and invention—including his own theory explaining descent with modification—belonged to the same domain. It further argues that Darwin’s technology of life approach allowed him to make room for a plurality of causes driving evolutionary change, while at the same time avoiding the question of the origin of life. This same approach helped him to mold his scientific persona, while marking his distance from a mixed population of naturalists that included materialists as well as exponents of speculative German natural philosophy, although these were all frequent sources of reflection during his most creative years.

PLAY AGAIN

[Cross-posted from Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas]

On Friday night Patrick and I headed to the Multnomah Arts Center in Portland for a free screening of the documentary PLAY AGAIN. Here’s a description:

One generation from now most people in the U.S. will have spent more time in the virtual world than in nature. New media technologies have improved our lives in countless ways. Information now appears with a click. Overseas friends are part of our daily lives. And even grandma loves Wii.

But what are we missing when we are behind screens? And how will this impact our children, our society, and eventually, our planet?

At a time when children play more behind screens than outside, PLAY AGAIN explores the changing balance between the virtual and natural worlds. Is our connection to nature disappearing down the digital rabbit hole?

This moving and humorous documentary follows six teenagers who, like the “average American child,” spend five to fifteen hours a day behind screens. PLAY AGAIN unplugs these teens and takes them on their first wilderness adventure – no electricity, no cell phone coverage, no virtual reality.

Through the voices of children and leading experts including journalist Richard Louv, sociologist Juliet Schor, environmental writer Bill McKibben, educators Diane Levin and Nancy Carlsson-Paige, neuroscientist Gary Small, parks advocate Charles Jordan, and geneticist David Suzuki, PLAY AGAIN investigates the consequences of a childhood removed from nature and encourages action for a sustainable future.

I really enjoyed the film, and the different personalities of the six Portland-based teenagers and their various reactions to being outside. They were taken into wilderness by TrackersPDX, a wilderness survival education group in Portland. While the teenagers learned to construct their own bows and arrows, I felt something was lacking in the film: a general sense of wonder about nature. In order to connect our youth with nature, to get themselves away from their televisions, computers, and various hand-held devices, must they learn to be, as TrackersPDX classifies, Rangers, Wilders, Mariners, and Artisans? I believe connecting to nature is fulfilled by the simple act of being in nature, by observing landscapes and wildlife and flowers and rivers, and the interactions between it all. If students want to learn how to survive in the wild, that’s okay, but I think the first start to moving away from screens is by showing children the inherent awesomeness of nature.

That said, the film is great, and there are some nice thoughts from Louv, McKibben, and Suzuki about the larger picture. How can we expect our children growing up now and children-to-be to make crucial decisions about their world if they have never had any experiences in nature. From the film: “What they do not know, they will not protect and what they do not protect they will lose” (Charles Jordan, previous Portland Parks and Recreation Director).

I wish I had the money to buy a copy of the film they had there.

Producer Meg Merrill was on hand at the screening, as were two of the teenagers. Some photos:

Play Again producer Meg Merrill

Play Again producer Meg Merrill

Play Again producer Meg Merrill and teenagers from the film

Play Again producer Meg Merrill and teenagers from the film

Play Again poster

Play Again poster

Patrick on stage at the Multnomah Arts Center

Patrick on stage at the Multnomah Arts Center

Teenagers from Play Again film talk to viewers

Teenagers from Play Again film talk to viewers

I encourage you to peruse the film’s website, Facebook page, and here’s the trailer:

Further clips from the film (some not in final version):

Some local media:
Moms’ film counters nature-deficit disorder Moms make work of play, nature in film
New documentary ‘Play Again’ unplugs six Portland-area teens
‘Play Again’ returns to Portland roots with environmental cause

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

Since we bought a family pass to OMSI while we were in Portland in March, when my wife said she wanted to drive to Helena, the capital of Montana (little over an hour north of Butte) to find product for our used bookselling, I thought, Patrick & I can check out the little science museum I’ve heard about (the Passport Program for science centers is an awesome thing).

So Patrick & I did. ExplorationWorks: An Interactive Museum of Science & Culture, is a neat little museum nestled in an area of Helena the city is building up, the Great Northern Town Center (also includes a neat carousel we’ll check out some other time). The museum is full of interactive displays teaching about wind, sound, motion, etc., plus a younger kid play room themed as a nature area. We had a lot of fun. Here are some pictures:

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

ExplorationWorks, Helena, MT

Great Northern Town Center, Helena, MT

You can see more photos here.

Darwin’s Marginalia

Darwin wrote in his books. Soon we may all be able to read what he scribbled on those pages – easily. From JISC:

The hand-written annotations Charles Darwin made on 700 of the books in his personal library were painstakingly transcribed in the 1980s [and published in Charles Darwin’s Marginalia in 1990].  

Now, thanks to high-resolution digital imagery and an international partnership between Cambridge University Library, Darwin Manuscripts Project at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Natural History Museum in London and the Biodiversity Heritage Library (a collective of ten major natural history museum libraries, botanical libraries, and research institutions in the US and UK), Darwin’s marginalia will be digitally married to the texts they illuminate, allowing scholars to learn his thoughts on a wide range of topics.

The project is supported by the JISC/NEH Transatlantic Digitization Collaboration grant programme offered by the NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) and JISC.