Darwin is a cool dude.

I am even more impressed with Darwin than I was before. He is a good and entertaining writer and explained his ideas clearly. He said “I hope that the reader will pause before coming to any final and hostile conclusion on the theory of natural selection.” I wonder what is must have been like to be Darwin? His ideas were not highly popular. I thought it was adorable and honest (and highly untypical of modern science writing) to encourage readers to consider his ideas. I was also surprised by his mention of a Creator in the last part of the second part of the Darwin reading. Nobody would mention a Creator, for any reason, in modern scientific writing. Attitudes towards religion were obviously very different then than they are now–the existence of a Creator was basically accepted in society.

Darwin uses of bees as an example of un-selectable animals. Since people cannot contain them, they cannot mate certain females with certain females. This, he says, domesticated bees are much like un-domesticated bees. This is an interesting idea, but I wonder if it is really the case. Surely bees would at least be affected by “natural” selection in domestication. Perhaps they couldn’t be selected to possess certain traits, but they would be changed by being kept by people, a sort of unnatural “natural” selection.

Of course, natural selection acts on domesticated animals. I had just never really thought about it, though. This idea of what happen at the interface between natural selection, methodical selection, and unconscious selection really fascinates me, because for most of the history of domesticates, this is how animals have been bred. The idea that different strains of cattle, sheep, and pigs developed in different parts of England is clear evidence for this. Different natural environments selected for certain traits. Then, people both intentionally and unintentionally selected certain animals for certain traits. Of course, modern poultry production depends mainly on methodical selection. However, even in that case, there must be some unconscious selection and natural (or, like I mentioned earlier, unnatural natural selection). Unconscious selection is inevitable unless selection is for one single trait and is done based upon numerical values for this trait (like weight at a certain age). And of course, animal ill-suited to their environments will die off, no matter what that environment is.

Pangenesis is a weird theory. I find old scientific theories very entertaining. Why did people think that this was feasible? How did they even come up with it? Why did they not object to the complete lack of evidence?

The Brantz reading was very interesting, particularly the portions on keeping pets and keeping animals in zoos. Reading things like that makes me wish that we had another semester of studying animal domestication–there are so many more interesting things to learn about.

This transition from keeping animals out of necessity to keeping animals as novelty items is an interesting one. Perhaps, people have co-evolved with animals so long that they have some some of innate need for the company of domesticates. Perhaps when  farming became unnecessary for the upper classes, they chose to keep pets to fulfill that innate need.

This process of acclimatization that Brantz discussed is one that would not be acceptable in today’s society–or at least, to today’s scientists. There is, increasingly, a focus on keeping animals and natural spaces as they were “meant to be.” What, though, does “meant to be” really mean? Ecosystems are constantly changing. We humans are but another animal in our ecosystems. Perhaps I am playing devils’ advocate here…
I would love to know more about the early history of zoos. How interesting that zoos originally attempted to “civilize” animals and now attempt to make their environments as natural as possible. I wonder what zoos will be like in 100 years or even 200 or 300. WIll they still exist? Will we conclude that it is unethical to keep animals in cages at all?

1 thought on “Darwin is a cool dude.

  1. I agree, Darwin is indeed a “cool dude.” Among the many reasons he remains so “readable” is his place in a scientific community that was still very much in the “gentleman naturalist” mode and still in quite close dialogue with “normal” people. Your explanation of the interplay between natural and artificial selection in the domesticated species should help us during class today. (I’m thinking in particular about posts by Bill and Chris.) And there’s definitely another semester’s worth of reading about domestication, zoos, etc. out there!

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