Moth Eyes

Navigating a demon-haunted world

Chapter 03 – Maldonado

Lamarck would have been delighted with this fact…
Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle

July 5, 1832 – The Beagle sails from Rio de Janeiro to Maldonado, a small town of little trade (now a town of some 55,000 people in Uruguay). Darwin spends 10 weeks here, exploring the region and collecting specimens. The people here had had very little contact with the outside world, and had never seen a compass, or a map, or even a match. Their world geography was a little confused – some of them thought that England was a large village in London, or that London, England, and North America were different names for the same place. As Darwin’s party ride west across the plains, Darwin tries using a “lazo” (lasso) and bolas (weighted balls tied to a rope, which, when thrown, entangle the target’s legs), and manages to accidentally catch his own horse with the bolas (the horse, unlike Darwin’s pride, was not injured).

(more…)


February 18, 2009 at 12:14 am Comments (4)

Happy birthday, Galileo!

Galileo Galilei, born 15 Feb 1564, has been described as the “Father of Modern Science”. His observations helped provide important evidence for the heliocentric theory and to destroy the Aristotelian notion of the “unchanging perfection of the heavens”. He also promoted the idea that the laws of nature are mathematical in nature. His rejection of philosophical and religious authority in favour of experimental results helped to separate science from philosophy and theology.
(more…)


February 15, 2009 at 12:04 pm Comments (0)

Chapter 02 – Rio de Janeiro

One of the recurring themes of this chapter is Darwin’s opposition to slavery. Darwin does not only oppose slavery on an intellectual level, but also as someone who has witnessed the cruelties and horror of a slave country with his own eyes.

It is also becoming increasingly obvious that it is not true, as often supposed, that Darwin had a sudden “Eureka!” moment, perhaps whilst whilst observing the Galapagos finches or some such. Instead, Darwin came to his great idea thanks to the accumulation of vast observational experience, and the some of the first inklings of evidence for his theory can be easily found in this chapter.
(more…)


February 14, 2009 at 9:34 pm Comments (0)

Chapter 01 – St Jargo to Cape de Verd Island

The Beagle may have been delayed initially, first by unhelpful winds and then fears that the ship was carrying cholera, but Darwin nonetheless gets straight into the action, describing the geology of the first stop at Porto Praya (Jan 16, 1832). The rains only come a few times a year, and the wanton destruction of the island’s original covering of trees has caused “almost entire sterility”. He also describes a kingfisher, and contrasts it with a European kingfisher.
(more…)


February 12, 2009 at 9:42 pm Comment (1)

Darwin Day 2009

Charles Darwin revolutioned the study of natural history when he published his major book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life on November 24, 1859, at the age of 50. Today, meanwhile, is the 200th anniversary of his birth. To help celebrate Darwin’s birthday, I might have, say, blogged about this major book, but someone much more qualified than me has just done that.

So, instead, I’m going to start blogging one of Darwin’s other major books, The Voyage of the Beagle (published as Journals and Researches), chapter by chapter. There are 21 chapters and I’ll be aiming for one every second day, but we’ll see how that goes. I’ll post the first one this afternoon.

February 12, 2009 at 2:03 pm Comments (0)