Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwin Day


“If it be assumed that the characteristic differences between various domestic races are due to descent from several aboriginal species, we must conclude that man chose for domestication in ancient times, either intentionally or by chance, a most abnormal set of pigeons…”

He is... the father (well, one of the fathers) of evolutionary theory. He is the guy who shed such a light on the biological sciences, we started seeing what had been hiding in the dark and we asked ourselves "How did we actually do without the evolutionary theory before?". Because "nothing made sense, except in the light of evolution".

Today is Darwin's 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of his masterpiece: "On the Origin of Species".


The last couple of months (besides from being unbelievably busy and feeling unbelievably bad about not writing posts for this brand new blog of mine) I have been thinking about writing an article on Darwin, or on something Darwin did, you know, something that had to do with Darwin at least, for Darwin Day (which is today, February 12th). With this in my mind, guess what where was I, when I got a simple idea (this article you are reading now)? The Library!

I was there for some other reason and suddenly I thought "Hey, why do I not go check out the shelves that have evolutionary biology books?" (of course I know where they are, come on!). I got there, and saw something I had never paid attention before: some books were in little cardboard cases that were made exactly for their size. Between the time my brain asked the question why the hell they were in these cases and my hand reached for the book, "They must be really really old books!", screamed my brain. Then immediately it sent signals all over my body telling it "Get excited yo! I likes old bookses!".

The book decided to cast it's "send mites and dust" spell on me as soon as I opened the box. I sneezed a couple times but was all right. And there it was, the second edition of Darwin's "Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication -Vol. 1", which was published in 1876.



Of course, I checked the book out. I've got to tell you this though, my friends, at the moment I saw that book's cover, I could see why some people are bibliokleptomaniac (by the way, this term does not exist in Wikipedia!). There was just something magical about this book being so old. It is just gonna be so painful to give this book back to the library.


Not that I am going to read the whole thing. I have to be realistic. It is quite thick, the paper is very thin, text size is unusually small (for our century anyway), there is tiny line spacing, I have a looooot of experiments to do and... the figures are great... I am definitely going to look at its pictures. Although this thought triggers other thoughts that make me feel ashamed as well, and eventually I end up remembering the fact that I am a lousy biologist, who has not yet read The Origin of Species. Yes, I admit, and I am not proud of it. So, I think, one of the greatest things that I could do for myself this year would be to read a book written by Darwin (I still have the right to choose which book). That said, I am pretty sure there are many many and many biologists like me - yeah I am talking about those of you who have not read The Origin of Species - (by the way, this knowledge makes me feel less worried about some government officials, or FBI whatever, coming to my door and putting a hold on my university diploma. Because there is just too many of us, they cannot handle that!). But let me tell you something! There is at least someone even worse than me: He is one of us who has not read THE BOOK. He even has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology (I mean, at least I am more of a molecular-cell biologist of some sort, I am a "devo" person) (I know that you know my pathetic attempt to reflect my "bad" on someone else, and I am totally cool with that!). To celebrate The Darwin Year he started reading The Book and he is now blogging on it. His name is John Whitfield, and I definitely suggest his blog: Blogging the Origin.** (Great idea).

Anyway, let's get back to our book. When I got home, I first made some tea. (Turks gotta have their tea). Aaaand I started looking at the pictures in the book.


I "analyzed" its every corner. Front and back cover...



When I realized the book was borrowed only 6 times (including me) for the last 37 years, my brain got out of control with random thoughts again: "Who were these others who borrowed it? What kind of people were they? Did they actually read the book, or did they just look at the pictures like I'm doing now? Am I a nerd? Or a geek? What's the difference between these anyway? I should get more tea..." And so on, and so on... Yes, maybe I have not YET read The Book, but I am one of those 6 crazy people, who borrowed this book since 1972: N─▒hohahahaha! (This translates into "crazy laughter" in Turkish Internet slang).



There was only one thing left for me to do: After looking at the pictures, I started taking pictures of the book, and decided to make it into some kind of photo blog entry, and write these very sentences that you are reading right now.

It is just not easy to write a happy birthday note for a 200 year-old Darwin.


Footnotes:
* If you'd like to read it, there is an e-copy of "The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication" here.
** I should thank my friend Uygar for letting me know of this blog.
*** The first drawing is from Nature.com. The photographs are taken by me.

(On a second thought, I guess I am going to read this book!)