Friday, June 09, 2006

Peacock Feather.


I love peacock feathers!
"For myself, also, I rejoice profoundly; for, thinking of so many cases of men pursuing an illusion for years, often and often a cold shudder has run through me, and I have asked myself whether I may not have devoted my life to a phantasy. Now I look at it as morally impossible that investigators of truth, like you and Hooker, can be wholly wrong, and therefore I rest in peace."
He now discussed the arguments:
"About the weak points I agree. The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder, but when I think of the fine known gradations, my reason tells me I ought to conquer the cold shudder." "I remember well the time when the thought of the eye made me cold all over, but I have got over this stage of the complaint, and now small trifling particulars of structure often make me feel uncomfortable. The sight of a feather in a peacock's tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!"
Charles Darwin
(The life and Letters of Charles Darwin, John Murray, London, Vol.2, p296, 1887)
Can he really mean that? Why did he feel like that?

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Can he really mean that? Why did he feel like that?"

Without context, which you neglected to provide, we cannot know.

This post returns me to an earlier comment about the ID movement's morbid obsession with a century-dead Naturalist.

Whether Darwin disliked peacock feathers (or even if he, hypothetically, tortured peacocks) does not in one iota change the scientific solidity of the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis that grew out of his work, nor the vacuity of ID.

Will you next be obsessing over what he had for breakfast?

4:27 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

It sounds like some of his opponents had been getting a bit personal. If his work hadn't paid off then he'd have been wide open to attack from these individuals, who might well have attempted to destroy his career for committing such heresy.

As such, the cases where he was unable to understand what was going on would have ceased to be wonderful opportunities for further study and instead would have become potential minefields for him.

Fortunately, his hypothesis was extremely accurate so none of this was more than a transitory problem. However, this does show the dangers of mixing religion with science. Nothing upsets people like having their faith-based beliefs disproven, and it's hard for good science to occur in the presence of that sort of vested interest.

1:55 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

I've only just noticed the more ironic answer to Andrew's question: it was because Darwin knew that his detractors would pore over his writings looking for any excuse to cast doubt on his work.

A century later, this process appears to be ongoing ;)

Incidentally, regards the peacock tails, I recommend reading up on sexual selection. The short version is that, for perfectly good evolutionary reasons, certain traits of organisms can become ends in themselves. When this runaway sexual selection happens, the traits tend to become ridiculously extreme.

7:53 pm  

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