Posted by: Rob Viens | May 10, 2012

Bowie on the Beagle

On May 10th, Darwin simply writes:

“The Beagle sailed for Bahia this evening.” (May 10)

I suspect it was an odd feeling for Darwin to watch the Beagle sail away, leaving him behind in a place very unlike where he has spent the previous 22 years. Not only that, the Beagle had been his home for over 4 months (though granted he had not been sleeping on the ship for a month or so). I suspect this was a little like that feeling of watching your parents drive away after leaving you at college or summer camp for the first time.  You are excited but a tiny bit apprehensive to be in an unfamiliar place.

With such a quiet day for Darwin, I thought I share two things – one insightful and one silly.

First – I’d like to share my friend Leslie’s comment about Darwin’s entry yesterday.  Leslie is trained as a psychologist and provides great insight into Darwin’s state of mind as he was being left alone in the New World for the first time:

“Musings on Darwin’s mélange. What strikes me most is his description of coming to understand how prevalent unconscious and critical our learned concepts of beauty and emotion are; he has come to learn which specific landscapes are meant to evoke quietude and contemplation, but those old world landscapes are so distant, both in physical space and in their ability to provide a reference point for what he now sees that he is left alone, with no established cultural web around him, to help him interpret all the perceptions and sensations of this new world.

It reminds me of a passage in Annie Dillard’s “Pilgram at Tinker Creek” in which she comments on her child’s mind coming to awareness of itself. Here is Darwin, as an adult, having an experience that happens most often in childhood, the seeing of an entire world as new. He can comment on his confusion, as an adult with adult language – but he is missing the framework of culturally similar adults who can point to the forest and say “look at the (fill in the blank with bird, tree, sunset, meadow), isn’t it beautiful, and guide him in sorting the overload.”

Second, I have to share this little bit of humor from the UK .  It is the “Horrible Histories” song Natural Selection, done roughly (and appropriately) to the David Bowie song Changes. Monkey suit aside, the lyrics actually make sense. (One major common misconception I can’t let slide – chimps and humans evolved from a common ancestor, not one from the other.) Enjoy! (RJV)


  1. Especially enjoyed this entry. Leslie’s comments were quite interesting and I had not heard the evolution song before. Thanks!

    • Thanks Jim – I enjoy your regular insights into our man Charles!

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