Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens – Two Tales of Timing
It was 1859, Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species”
It was 1859, Charles Dickens published “A Tales of Two Cities”
The famous lines from Charles Dickens in this book…
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”
It was indeed a providence.
There was incredible sense of prophecy.
There was such profound coincidence of fiction and fact. The story was written in such fascinating fashion to magnificently capture the play that was going to unfold with the publication of path breaking proposition on “Natural Selection”.
The publication of the theory of evolution by Darwin, set the cat among the pigeons. It was a Tsunami of sort hitting the silent shores of deep seated beliefs.
It was the worst of the time coming from the holders of religious proponents and it was the best of time coming from the scientific communities.
An organism is a single individual.
Organisms grow and respond to the environment.
A species is defined as the largest group of organisms. In biology species are classified as related organisms sharing common characteristics and capable of interbreeding. The ability to reproduce with one another and produce fertile offspring.
It is estimated that the number of species inhabiting planet Earth ranges from 10-14 million of which less than 10% i.e. 1.2 million only have been documented.
The world today is inhabited by over 7.0 billion plus human beings and such is the power of variation no two human beings are the same. There is variations among individual human beings and the variations are in the structure of shape and size, and in the appearance that is in terms of the skin color and the structural composition of our body. Though the DNA of all human beings are 99.9% alike. We are definitely distinct but not distinctly different as it may generally appear. We all belong to one special species called as Homo sapiens. We are indeed unique among all the organisms living on this planet earth.
The power of intelligence to the language of communication humans have extensively used these powerful forces to make the changes and create conducive space for culture to foster and civilization to prosper.
It all happened more than 150 years ago. It was the middle of 18th century when religion and religious belief strongly dominated the thinking landscape of our society. There was a constant churning going on in the minds of many proponents of religious preachers. The intriguing question was triggering and inviting a plethora of answers but none to the satisfaction of the majority of masses. The force of state and power of church was so predominate, it didn’t give that little space to rationally contest or create a meaningful dialogue. The epicenter of this tectonic change was centered in the continent of Europe.
The two school of thoughts one on science and the other on religion were in irreconcilable loggerheads.
Charles Darwin proposed the theory of natural selection through his extensive search and research on the subject of species. This form of natural selection dependent on the organism’s success in attracting a mate through a process known as sexual selection. He did a wide-ranging exploration over more than two decades and scientific research on the ground, collected and collated enough evidences before making the proposition public. He was very hesitant knowing the impact and implications this was going have on the psyche of people holding a totally different perspective. It is only when he realized that someone else is also coming with a similar theory.
He decided to take the plunge.
He published his proposed theory.
During the same period naturalist and biologist Alfred Russel Wallace was also coming out with a proposition of natural selection. It was publication of the book “On the Origin of Species” that set the stage for a disruptive discourse both in the scientific and religious communities. Darwin made the publication with adequate citation to Wallace’ work and together proposed the huge body of work. It was the astute observation by Darwin well combined with the extensive analysis of the geographical distribution of species. The opposition to the proposition of theory of natural evolution was pretty strong.
The force of opposition just could not stand up to the cumulative force of ground data and critical analysis that had been so meticulously done by Darwin and Wallace.
Science is a method to describe reality. It does so by processing the evidences and conceptualizing scientific theories to explain various natural phenomena. The focus was more on the scientific methods rather than on the science itself. Darwin’s proposition managed to separate the religion from science. It was the discovery of dinosaur bones and fossils that ignited that debate. The existence of earth was much earlier than what was believed to be based in the Bible.
The principles proposed by Darwin was in total conflict with the prevailing set of ideas outweighed by the religious discourse and dogmas.
Humans evolved over a period of time. He did the exploration and experimentation on the flora and fauna, birds and animals, on the land and in the water, the climate and the changing conditions at the Galapagos Island of the coast Ecuador. The inhabitants of the Island changed their characteristics over a time to be able to survive in that space. Living species change over generation due to the influence of environmental conditions.
One of the important concept of evolution is “Speciation”. It is the process by which species evolve to become different species over time due to the environmental conditions. Darwin proposed that new species originate from ancestral species that change over time. The evolutionary change happens steadily and slowly over a time in small steps, one species succeed the previous in the struggle for existence. The geographical changes leading to significant isolation is said to be a common way for the process of speciation to begin and then progress to a next stage for conclusion. The drifting of continents to changing of the course of rivers and cutting of forest changes the way inhabitant shift and acclimatize to a new landscape.
After all it is production through reproduction that places the species in perspective. It is the reproductive isolation largely leading to speciation. It happens as population get separated geographically and are unsuccessful in mating that results in long run a variation giving rise to new set of species.
It was philosopher Herbert Spencer who coined the famous term “survival of the fittest” that he used to describe the process of evolution. Those who survives are those who are the fittest. How the selection happens and what decides those process of selection is the body of study. The way selection happens changes from generation to generation and also with the changing ecological conditions. The importance of “variation” in the process of natural selection is the striking feature of the theory. It is about the production of plentiful variations and then the elimination of inferior individuals.
Change is such a defining constant of the universe. Change on earth is a result so intrinsically driven by randomness and significantly settled by necessity.
Evolution means change over time. In biology evolutionary change means observed change in organisms. In evolutionary biology the theories are based on concepts rather than laws as is the case with physical sciences. The concepts of selection, domination, competition to succession. It was the practice of observation and comparison became the de facto methods of evolutionary biology over riding the practice of investigation and experimentation. Evidences of evolution continues to be collected and correlated through series of testing and critical analysis.
According to scientist life on earth began some millions years back when a single molecule self-replicated and created the first species, and then there has been the branching of species into diverse new species through the process of natural selection. There was no such explanation and it was largely believed and was governed by myriad suggestions and wide conjectures. Everything changed forever with the advent of Darwin’s theory of evolution. It then took the center stage in the latter half of 18th century. And over this 150 years it continued to be the dominating theory driving our scientific thinking and philosophy of science.
Charles Dickens created incredible characters. His body of work swiftly blended the comic timing and the tragic moments with great panache. He diligently demonstrated strong empathy for the characters which connected very well with his readers. He had interest in theater and loved acting. He acted out with passion the dialogues of his characters. There was an emotional connect in his dramatic performances.
The legacy of Charles Dickens in literature remains gargantuan.
Historical fiction is a genre that sets the fictional story in the backdrop of real events. The fictional characters represented in the book “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens was largely inspired from the real live characters involved in the French Revolution. The primary agenda of the book was to showcase the paradox between the city of London which was peaceful and the city of Paris which was fragmented in the wake of the revolution.
Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens both had atypical working regime and followed a different schedule. As per various historical records one can generally see that they were both very methodical in their approach and significantly adhered to a stipulated time frame. It seems they had a restrained work schedule for the day and they did their writing work. The rest of the time was unrestrained and was profusely spent on wandering, observing, analyzing, correlating and furnishing their creative jar. Unlike many other earlier great artists and later writers who were obsessively workaholics, they ostensibly weren’t.
Darwin and Dickens apparent philosophy towards their creative work was quality of time rather than the quantity of time. The important habits to nurture creativity and harness the ability to maximum the creative outcomes. It so happens at some point of time in our creativity cycle we get choked and output gets stifled. A colossal loss of creativity. It is understated. As a master craftier of creativity they countered this diminishing cycle with their controlled release and recourse.
There were these two landmark body of work in the form of book that marked their landing during the same time.
It was the year of 1859.
On the Origin of Species revolutionized the way we looked at science. A Tale of Two Cities stormed into the world of literature. There is an inherent paradox. In the contrast of work lies the intrinsic insights into the life and living of people. One is the work of science and other is the work of literature. Both are brilliant work of great craftsmanship.
There are many more questions that props up and we have lesser answers as we dissect and decipher the various propositions. How do we then compare a work of literature with a work of science? How do we then compare a naturalist writer with a fictional writer? Was the timing of their work a mere coincidence?
Their creative genius ostensibly get cornered in the context of conceptualizing two different fields of work…one the hard scientific body of work and the other a soft fictionalized version of real world.
Nihar R Pradhan