Week 3 – Charles Darwin

This week, our human being is the father of biological evolution, Charles Darwin. Originally a naturalist and geologist, his famous voyage around the world in the 1830s led him to make observations. As a result, he noticed differences between species and varieties of living organisms and fossils. These observations led him to conceptualize natural selection as the mechanism responsible for biological evolution. Moreover, it led him to believe that all living organisms descend from a common ancestor.

Darwin’s voyage around the world aboard the HMS Beagle from 1831 to 1836. (© Sémhur / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0, or Free Art LicenseVoyage of the Beagle-enCC BY-SA 4.0)

Natural selection

While observing living organisms and fossils, Darwin understood that differences between different species, or varieties of the same species, is the result of a process called natural selection.

Darwin compared Natural selection to artificial selection. When humans breed domesticated animals or plants, they tend to select individuals which exhibit certain desirable characteristics. For example, a farmer might plant seeds from fruits that are bigger or more resistant to varying climates.

Similarly, organisms which have a slight advantage over others, are more likely to survive and reproduce in the wild. For example, a faster or more endurant predator living in the African Savannah will most likely be a better hunter. Hence it will have a better chance of surviving.

An illustration of natural selection. (ElembisMutation and selection diagramCC BY-SA 3.0)

On the Origin of Species and the Scientific Method

Years ago, I read his most well-known book, On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection. In the book, Darwin presents the idea of natural selection, but also what observations led him to it.

First, at the time of its publication in 1859, natural selection was a controversial topic in scientific circles. Even by the end of the 19th century when most scientists had accepted the idea of biological evolution, natural selection was still controversial. It’s only with the discovery of genetics in the 1930s that natural selection became accepted as the main mechanism driving evolution.

But what fascinates me with this book, it’s how it is an example of what science and the scientific method are. It’s from many empirical observations that Darwin got the idea of natural selection explaining the differences observed between living organisms. But at that time, natural selection was just a hypothesis. It’s finally after decades of studying, questioning, experimenting, and discoveries that this hypothesis eventually became accepted. (It is noteworthy though that natural selection isn’t the only mechanism behind evolution.)

Darwin and toy photography

What will Darwin inspire you to photograph? Will you take inspiration from his scientific legacy? Or will you rather take inspiration from his adventurous life aboard the HMS Beagle? Maybe you would rather more simply take inspiration from the living world?

The infamous caricature of Darwin as an ape following the publication of The Descent of Man. Maybe another source of inspiration for a toy photo?

So be sure to post your photo on social media with the hashtags #SiPgoes53 and #SiP_Darwin!

When it comes to photography, I’d rather take inspiration from both wild animals and Darwin’s voyage around the world. Maybe Darwin could have taken this photo if he had had a camera while he was in the Gapalagos?

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