08 January 2009

SICB 2009, part 2

Sean Carroll gave an excellent talk near the end of the SICB meeting on Tuesday evening. Sean has written several fine books on evolution, one I've even gone so far as to buy! ;) I had never seen him talk, but had heard him interviewed, and admired his prose, so I suspected he would be good, and was not disappointed. He is a real raconteur.

Carroll has two new books coming out soon, which he used as the basis for his talk: Into the Jungle and Remarkable Creatures.

He began with a great quote by George Gaylord Simpson that I must find. It goes something like:
Life is the most important thing in the world. And the most important thing about life is evolution.

If you know where this is from, please let me know in the comments! Google has failed to turn it up for me...

Carroll told stories about the relationship between Alfred Wallace, Charles Darwin, and Henry Bates (he of Batesian mimicry). Carroll started off the talk surprised me with a fantastic story about Wallace that I had, to my surprise, never heard. If I had, I'd never heard it told well. He described how Wallace nearly died in a very dramatic way after coming back from an expedition in the Amazon. And he used that to set the stage for describing Darwin's own expedition, then Bates's work in the Amazon that Darwin thought was one of the best examples of natural selection in the wild. And he talked about the close friendship of these three men throughout their lives.

Carroll ended his talk with a great video that was made in his lab. It was the story of Darwin's trip on the Beagle, with shots of the Galapagos and wonderful animal footage, set to U2's song Beautiful Day. The final bars were so that each note coincided with words fading in from a famous quote by Darwin, "from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved," followed by Darwin's signature.

It made me totally reinterpret the song (which I was indifferent to). Coming on such great stories of adventure and friendship and evolution, it damn near made me cry.

The next day, I got to ask him briefly about it. Unfortunately, he can't post it due to copyright reasons; he can only show it live. So if you ever have a chance to see Carroll talk, don't miss him.



Someone finds biological inspiration in Boston during SICB.

Carl Zimmer mentions SICB in his Twitter feed.

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