Book Report, part II: The Dead Guy Interviews with Michael Stusser
From Michael Stusser's terrific new book The Dead Guy Interviews (available here). Oh, and be sure to read his introduction in the post below...
Charles Robert Darwin was a British naturalist with a radical new theory about where we came from. Darwin attended Edinburgh University in 1825 and studied medicine. His attention soon moved to naturalism, and he began learning about evolution and acquired characteristics under Robert Edmund Grant.
It was a trip aboard the HMS Beagle in 1831 at the age of 22 that allowed Darwin to circumnavigate the world and develop hands-on hypotheses while encountering flora, tropical rainforests, fossils and untamed civilizations.
His theory of evolution by natural selection, The Origin of Species, was published in 1859 (twenty years after his voyage) and laid out the argument that the traits of living organisms change from one generation to the next, and include the emergence of new species over time. The theory rocked the world, and changed the way we saw ourselves. The possibility now existed that human beings no longer originated from Divine design, but shared a common ancestry with animals! Men from monkeys! Goodness gracious!
Right or wrong, Darwin's greatest accomplishment was to begin the debate and move the concept of evolution into the realm of serious scientific thought. He died at the age of 73, and was buried at Westminster Abbey, London, a rare honor for a scientist.
Michael Stusser: How'd you get into the whole field of naturalism?Charles Darwin: Like many youngsters, I used to collect stuff: coins and birds' eggs and rocks and flowers.
MS: I had a baseball card collection. Didn't give me any grand theories on the world, though.
CD: Well then I got into shooting game, which was damn fun. Brilliant, really. Started looking at their anataomy, the innards and all, and that's what got me to thinking, you know.
Much more after the jump!
MS: How'd you wind up in the tropics?
CD: I kissed up to Robert FitzRoy (the Captain of the HMS Beagle) and he let me carry his bags on what was supposed to be a two-year expedition along the coastline of South America.
MS: Sounds a little "Gilligan's Island."
CD: We wound up being out there five years (1831-1836) but I don't think we charted any island called Gilligan, and I took copius notes.
MS: You got incredibly seasick. How'd you deal with that?
CD: I vomited a lot. Just plain hurled overboard. I also spent as much time as I could on land writing in my diary (a 770 page whopper, with 1750 pages of notes, and 12 catalogs of 5436 bones, skins, shells and carcasses). All told, I only spent 18 months aboard that ship.
MS: Does the theory of evolution mean there is no god?
CD: No, I think it's compatible with a belief in god. It's quite possible god made the earth, and let the natural laws of evolution take over. No need to be a complete control freak"¦.
MS: But you are agnostic.
CD: I am - but I'm well aware that the mystery of the beginning of all things is going to remain as such.
MS: This thing about acquired characteristics. Does it mean humans will lose their little toes at some point?
CD: The theory is that, over time, new generations' individual traits become enhanced with repeated use"“
MS: Like opposable thumbs.
CD: Right-o. And that they can be removed if we don't use "˜em. So perhaps your great-great-great grandkids will have one less toe. But I doubt it. More likely, they'll be playing video games with their feet, talking on the phone and driving with their bloody noses!
MS: Let's talk about the theory of "creationism" "“
CD: Bible stories.
MS: Well today they're calling creationism, Intelligent Design. Any thoughts on that label?
CD: I guess I'd have to say that any intelligent designer that made 99.9 percent of every organism he or she designed go extinct, couldn't be all that intelligent.
MS: You really did anger some Bible Thumpers with your theory of evolution.
CD: I can understand that. If you want to keep telling the Adam and Eve story "“ creationism - it's hard to allow for evolution. We either got put on the earth by god as fully formed people, or we evolved from something a little less human.
MS: On a personal note, you found an odd way to decide whether or not to marry.
CD: Oh, the list!
MS: Go on.
CD: Well, you know, I was quite the cataloguer, so I drew up a little cost-benefit analysis on the concept of marriage. Pros and cons, that sort of thing.
MS: How'd that turn out?
CD: The advantages clearly outweighed the disadvantages, and I asked Emma Wedgwood (1808-1896) to marry me.
MS: She was your first cousin. Talk about evolutionary theories"¦.
CD: If that's meant to be a slight, I do not appreciate it.
MS: Gotta clear something out "“ cuz I don't like being compared to an ape. My wife does that. See, if one accepts that humans were descended from animals, it's also true that humans are animals.
MS: So, in the end, my great-great relative's some sort of ape?
CD: That's a misconception, dear man, and the reason everyone ran around at one point looking for the "missing link." It's also the reason I waited 20 years to publish my book.
MS: So, am I a monkey or not?
CD: You're not an anthropoid ape. Our relationship to chimps is through a common ancestor, not through direct descent. And we're talking about something that happened ten million years ago, so you can stop looking in that family tree you have there"¦
MS: Ever hear of the Darwin Awards?
MS: You'll like this: They give an award each year to commemorate individuals who protect our gene pool by making the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives.
CD: They kill themselves? Bugger right off?
MS: Yeah, but in an extremely idiotic manner, thereby improving our species' chance of long-term survival. Dolts who eat anthrax or jam forks into light sockets, that kinda thing.
CD: Evolution in action "“ trial and fatal error. I like it. Now put down the chainsaw, sonny.
END OF INTERVIEW