Sociocultural evolution of man
We all make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. Not even some of the greatest geniuses in history, as Mario Livio tells us in part one of this excerpt from Brilliant Blunders: Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe. The book is a marvelous exploration of scientific error and breakthrough that focuses on five scientific giants who made significant advances in their fields through error, proving that mistakes are essential to progress.
One of the definitions of the word “evolution” in the Oxford English Dictionary reads: “The development or growth, according to its inherent tendencies, of anything that may be compared to a living organism. Also, the rise or origination of anything by natural development, as distinguished from its production by a specific act.” This was not the original meaning of the word. In Latin, evolution referred to the unrolling and reading of a book that existed in the form of a scroll. Even when the word started to gain popularity in biology, it was used initially only to describe the growth of an embryo. The first utilization of the word “evolution” in the context of the genesis of species can be found in the writings of the eighteenth-century Swiss naturalist Charles Bonnet, who argued that God had pre-organized the birth of new species in the germs of the very first life-forms he created.
In the course of the twentieth century, the word “evolution” has become so intimately associated with Darwin’s name that you may find it hard to believe that in the first, 1859 edition of his masterwork, On the Origin of Species, Darwin does not mention the word “evolution” as such even once! Still, the very last word of The Origin is “evolved.”
In the time that has passed since the publication of The Origin, evolution has assumed the broader meaning of the definition above, and today we may speak of the evolution of such diverse things as the English language, fashion, music, and opinions, as well as of sociocultural evolution, software evolution, and so on. (Check out how many web pages are devoted just to “the evolution of the hipster.”) President Woodrow Wilson emphasized once that the correct way to understand the Constitution of the United States was through evolution: “Government is not a machine, but a living thing . . . It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton.”
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Vanessa Hua, OF THE EXAMINER STAFF
Sunday, May 28, 2000
©2000 San Francisco Examiner
originally printed by the Hearst Examiner
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