© 2010 Ugur Akinci
Charles Darwin, the founder of modern biology and the father of the Theory of Evolution, was on the research ship Beagle when an earthquake hit Chile, back in 1835.
Darwin went ashore with a group from the research vessel. What he saw astonished all in the group: the shore was jam-packed with all kinds of fish and sea creatures that were caught on land and died with the sudden impact of the event.
A lesser mind would have enjoyed the astonishing view and perhaps drawn some pictures of the spectacle and gone back to the ship with an “interesting story” to tell to their grandchildren.
But Darwin’s first-rate mind took off in another and totally “normal” and “logical” direction (the hindsight is always perfect, isn’t it?).
The next three corollaries he deduced from what he was looking at not only established the foundations of modern geology, but challenged the age-old beliefs about the age of the earth as well.
The first thing young Darwin thought about was: “Since so many sea creatures got caught on land and died without even the opportunity to make it back to water, either the water level must have dropped suddenly or the land must have risen suddenly, due to the earthquake.”
Next thought: “Since all the waters in all oceans of the world are interconnected, it must be the land that is pushed up by the earthquake without a warning.”
Then he lifted his eyes to the majestic heights of the Andean mountains in the distance and in a flash of “logical” inspiration he came up with a shattering scientific truth: “That’s how these mountains must have formed — by being pushed from the bottom by earthquakes.” (Today we know that mountain ranges are formed by the clash of tectonic plates.)
Even if he stopped there, what Darwin came up with on that day back in 1835 would have been enough to keep the scientists busy for a century. But Darwin did not stop there. He followed his train of thought with yet another “completely logical” corollary that would pit his scientific thinking against the Victorian dogmas of his time:
“Since earthquakes this strong happen once in every so many centuries and since each time the land mass rises only by a few inches, the world must be millions of years old to create these 20,000 feet mountain ranges.”
I can’t help but be impressed by the simplicity, sheer logic, and smoothness of the progression from one statement to another.
Sometimes that’s all it takes for us to realize the facts that are laying right under our noses; cool-headed, straight-forward thinking that follows the train of thought wherever it may lead.
Human mind is a powerful race car, with tremendous torque. The more I read about the lives of such scientific giants as Darwin the more I realize that “my car” is collecting dust at the garage, surrounded by all the “stuff” that I don’t even need.
(Inspiration for this post is provided by Ira Plato’s “Science Friday” program on NPR radio station.)