27 March 2013

No, Charles Darwin was not a robot

The BBC has this headline about some new letters by Charles Darwin that have not been published before:

Charles Darwin letters reveal his emotional side

This headline was apparently written by someone who has never read anything by Charles Darwin.

Anyone who has read Darwin’s work could criticise it many ways, but “emotionless” is not one of his faults. There’s passages like his story of holding a beetle in his mouth, showing his self-described “zeal”:

I will give a proof of my zeal: one day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as well as the third one.

Or, more seriously, look at what he wrote about his daughter Annie (small snippet):

We have lost the joy of the Household, and the solace of our old age:— she must have known how we loved her; oh that she could now know how deeply, how tenderly we do still & shall ever love her dear joyous face. Blessings on her.—

I could pull many, many other examples. That Darwin had  “emotions” is not a surprise worth a headline. Maybe the BBC is buying into the old cliche that scientists are detached, hyperrational robots. But they should know better.

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