Monday, 5 August 2019

"Walther May (1868-1926), Freethinker, Socialist, Zoologist and Historian of Darwinism" by Gaston Mayer (1987)

The below articles is translated from: Mayer, Gaston. 1987. Walther May (1868-1926), Freidenker, Sozialist, Zoologe und Historiker des Darwinismus. Mitteilungen des badischen Landesvereins für Naturkunde und Naturschutz, N.S. 14(2): 483-495. [For further posts on Walther May click on his name in the label menu above.]

Walther May (1868-1926), Freethinker, Socialist, Zoologist and Historian of Darwinism
Gaston Mayer, Karlsruhe*

Freethinker, socialist, zoologist, and historian of Darwinism, these are the stations of the life, clouded by tragic, of the professor of zoology at the technical college/university of Karlsruhe, Dr. Walther May (1868-1926). He detailed his career/development himself in a biographical sketch (1904, see here), so that the following only took the basic facts from it complemented through other sources for the time reported as well as for his later years.
    Walther Viktor May was born on 12.6.1868 in Marburg as son of captain Alexis Ferdinand Conrad May (1835-1870), who fell at Gravelotte, and of Elisabeth Karoline Walther (1842-1922).[1] He entered junior high school in Kassel on Michaelis 1878 (29 Sept) where he soon got into natural sciences and especially into Darwinism. He corresponded with Ernst Haeckel as a 16 year old already, in order to quench his thirst for knowledge. The liberal ideas of the French revolution also attracted him mightily. As a pupil he already published essays in various periodicals during the years 1886 to 1889 and a book "Statement of Beliefs of a Truth-seeker," wherein he summarized his freethinking and socialist views. After the end of his schooldays, Easter 1889, he went to Leipzig on 20 April, in order to study natural sciences at the university.Filled with the teachings of Darwin and Haeckel but also of Marx and Engels, he tried to spread thee with juvenile enthusiasm and found an opportunity in the newly founded freethinker club/union "Humboldt," which was largely supported by laborers, and became its chairman. The university's own court, however, forbade him this activity and also visiting any worker assemblies/gatherings, and it punished him with 4 days detention room [Karzer]. When he trespassed the prohibition thereafter and tried to talk about the world's creation and end, he got expelled from Leipzig university and relegated from visiting any other German university as well. Now he was "a free man," as he wrote himself, and wandered through Saxony from town to town, and he talked about Monism, Darwinism and Socialism. He reached Chemnitz on the 22.10.1891 and became editor of the social-democratic journal "Die Presse." As such he got into conflict with the press-law. He was accused of having justified theft from need/poverty and incriminated him
Address of the author: G. Mayer, Friedrich-Wolff-Str. 77, D-77500 Karlsruhe 1

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

"What Ernst Haeckel means in my life" (Walther May 1914)

Walther May's second autobiographic article occurred in a collection of articles published in order to honor Ernst Haeckel on the occasion of his 80s birthday:

[For further posts on Walther May click on his name in the menu of labels above.]

In this article, May replicates much of his earlier autobiographic article honoring Darwin, which I have translated in an earlier post. That earlier post also gives some context concerning Walther May and why I translate his articles. (My hope to get any further insight into the question how May came to write the first article containing biographic information about Patrick Matthew (1790-1874) was in vain, unfortunately.)  

I will not replicate my translation in like fashion below but refer you to the earlier blog post for the identical sections. The interesting part comes after the departure of this article from its predecessor, anyway: when May dissents Haeckel's monistic ideology and contradicts his plant to organize a German Monistenbund. This seems to be a juicy detail, given that the article was published in a volume sponsored by that very Deutsche Monistenbund (apparently Haeckel had succeeded and the detractors of his plan failed) and meant to honor and thank Haeckel. 

The first few paragraphs of the earlier article are not reproduced by May in his current one. May picks up at the passage:

"My mother used to hold the Daheim, not because she would pay homage to its religious direction, but because it contained nice novels and pictures."

Daheim means "at home," but here refers to a periodical: Daheim. Ein deutsches Familienblatt mit Illustrationen. You can imagine this to be the German equivalent of English periodicals like the Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, an educational outlet with an agenda to enlighten the wider public (lower ranks) and foster their (self-)improvement while maintaining a conservative perspective.

The current article continues to replicate the earlier one until:

"Darwin now seemed to be the absolute character of the naturalist researcher, as the hero of scientific method."

Thereafter, the text departs from the earlier as follows:

"His agnosticism concerning the final questions, his tentative defense of his own theories, influenced me in a way similar to my earlier studies of Goethe and made me cautious

Saturday, 22 June 2019

"Darwin in the Mirror of my Life." (Walther May 1903-04)

Walther May (1868-1926) was an assistant professor (no tenure) for forest zoology in Karlsruhe, Germany, who also wrote historical publications concerning the science of Goethe, Humboldt, Darwin, Haeckel and others. Given the recent revival of interest in Humboldt and the question what Darwin owed to the romantics, May's publications may merit a look. (I don't know them yet. Judging from the article translated below, they May be a bit pathetic.)

As I am generally more interested in what happened at the fringes rather than in the mainstream of science, my interest in May arose from his publication dealing with Patrick Matthew (1790-1874), the guy who published an apt formulation of the principle of natural selection in an appendix to a book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture in 1831. The article by May (1911. Darwin und Patrick Matthew. Zoologische Annalen 4: 280-295) was the first to give any biographical information about Matthew.

As it happened, Walther May's life also skated along the fringes of a German mainstream, and it was quite interesting and a little bit tragic. Alas, the only literature that can tell us anything about it are his own accounts and an article by Gaston Mayer (1913-2008):
May, Walther (1903-04). Darwin im Spiegel meines Lebens. Verhandlungen des Naturwissenschaftlichen Vereins in Karlsruhe 17: 3-32.
May, Walther (1914). Was Ernst Haeckel in meinem Leben bedeutet. In H. Schmidt (Hrsg. im Auftrag des deutschen Monistenbundes), Was wir Ernst Haeckel verdanken. Ein Buch der Verehrung und Dankbarkeit (pp. 273-286). Leipzig: Unesma GmbH.
Mayer, Gaston (1987). Walther May (1868-1926), Freidenker, Sozialist, Zoologe und Historiker des Darwinismus. Mitteilungen des Badischen Landesverbands für Naturkunde und Naturschutz, N.S. 14(2): 483-495.
[For translations of the second and third article click on "Walther May" in the menu of lables shown above the posts of this blog.]

Mayer is dead and so are the witnesses that he could still ask. For a start, I will translate the above articles into English. Those will be very long posts. Therefore, an abstract first:

May's Life Abridged
May's youth was guided by radical and romantic views, first Haeckel's and monism rather than Darwin's and naturalism, then Engles's and socialism rather than Marx's original writings. As a student, he was an active member of the free-thinker union, called Humboldt, in Leipzig. His talks during associations about monism, socialism and all that earned him an incarceration for four days by the University of Leipzig and a ban to talk at such meetings ever again. He did not care and was consequently sacked by the university and relegated forever from any German university.
    As a free man, he traveled Saxony from town to town and gave talks. Eventually, he became an editor for the journal Die Presse in Chemnitz in November 1891. A Christmas article for that journal, in December 1891, got him into conflict with the draconian Prussian press law. The harmless article merely justified the stealing out of poverty and need during the Christmas festivities. By 4th of March 1892, however, he got imprisoned for 1 year and 10 months in Zwickau for the 'crimes' of profanity, blasphemy, and calling for civil disobedience.
   Almost two years in prison for writing an article that sounds as if it would fit to the spirit of a Charles Dickens novel! He read Goethe during his time in jail and, for some odd reason, the scientific publications of the great romantic steered May away from his social romanticism. He wanted to become as 'objective' as Goethe. He also wrote a letter to the socialist party, while in prison, cancelling his membership.    After his release in January 1894 he began working as a corrector in the printing business of his uncle in Berlin. This was not a happy time, the only relief being his traveling to Tegel in the North of Berlin in order to visit the haunts of Alexander Humboldt. Finally, when he already showed first symptoms of lead poisoning, a private talk given before the family of his uncle moved the latter to write to Ernst Haeckel and beg him to help. And Haeckel helped! He visited the family in September 1894, listened to the young man, found his crimes most trifling, saw that the relegation of Leipzig university could not bind the one of Jena legally, and he helped May to get a stipend.
    Thus, in October 1895, began the happiest time in Walther May's life. Jena became his Shangri-La. He followed the traces that Goethe, Schiller, Humboldt, Döbereiner (chemist) and others had left in Jena and studied under Stahl, Kükenthal, Verworn, Johannes Walther and, foremost, the old but still active dean Haeckel. Paradoxically, again, the lectures of the great monist moved May away from radical monism and closer towards scientific research, but that was not due to an alienation between May and Haeckel.

If you got the impression of a hopelessly romantic young man, who did not study the originals in his youth and instead got indoctrinated by secondary ideologues, that was my impression too. However, beginning with his studies of Goethe during his prison sentence, he did study the originals, listen to the originals, and also started to read Darwin's original publications. And that, in his own words, turned him from a ideological fighter into a skeptical researcher. I will leave the abridgement at this happy point in May's life and leave the tragic sequel to the translation of Gaston Mayer's article in a later post. 

Translation of Walther May (1903-04):
Verhandlungen des Naturwissenschaftlichen Vereins in Karlsruhe    [vol. 17, p. 3]

Darwin im Spiegel meines Lebens.
By Dr. Walther May. [1868-1926]

When I leaf through the book of my life, I feel the Darwinian spirit whiff through it from early on. As a five year old boy [1873], with a silver Groschen in my pocket, I walked to the fair [market] in order to buy a toy, for the first time in my life at my own choice. I can still see myself standing in front of the colorful things of the ten-penny-booth [10 penny = 1 Groschen] on the Casseler Meßplatz yearning for a small wooden monkey with a red Röckchen [in old German literature, the word Rock does not necessarily mean a skirt for females but can also stand for uniforms or smart dress. The diminution Röckchen, here, did probably not mean a tutu but only that the monkey was small and hence its Rock was so too] on a yellow pole, not daring to ask for it. Finally, I overcome my inborn shyness, purchase the monkey and bring it home beaming with joy.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Darwin's correspondence concerning Hooker's address to the British Association for the Aadvancement of Science (1881)

The correspondence between Darwin and Hooker, which concerns the latter's address for the 51st meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS), delivered at York on 1 September 1881, has never been published as an ongoing discourse. However, the context usually turns out to be important in historical issues. Stitching together isolated quotes from decades apart and from various sources can easily lead to a patchwork of facts that biases their interpretation.

Therefore, this post is a transcription of the whole Hooker-Darwin correspondence on Hooker's BAAS-address. Both hands are very difficult to read and I had some help by Roland Jackson (@RolandJackson, author of The Ascent of John Tyndall) with some of Hooker's letters. When transcriptions already existed in the form of published collections of either Darwin's or Hooker's letters, I used them. As mentioned above, however, none of the available publications give this BAAS-1881 related correspondence between Darwin and Hooker in full. That is, available transcriptions lack a lot of context. The following transcriptions remain a cloze in places. However, the links to scans of the originals at Cambridge University are given before each transcript, so that readers can confer to them. Suggestions for missing words are welcome.

P.S.: On 20 August 1881, Hooker asked Darwin about a publication of Karl Ernst von Baer (1859. Ueber Papuas und Alfuren). Translations of the relevant passages of Baer's essay can be found in the previous post. Darwin's reply, on 21 August 1881, also refers to Leopold von Buch (1825. Physicalische Beschreibung der Canarischen Inseln; 1836 in French). Translations of the relevant passages of Buch can be found in an earlier post.

DarwinHooker Correspondence: Feb.–Sept. 1881

Uncertain words in square brackets: []. Illegible words indicated by 6 spaces: _____. [My own comments are in square brackets and in green.]

Darwin to Hooker, 26 Feb. 1881
Part transcript: More Letters of Darwin.

“My dear Hooker
It was a real pleasure to me to see your hand-writing again, for it is a long time since I have heard of you. What a bore about the [mumps]; but I am very glad that you will soon have complete rest & change, in which [latter] I have [unbounded] faith. I suppose that Lady Hooker goes with you & I hope she may enjoy herself. Pray give her my kindest [simpathy]. I had vaguely thought whether I would pay you a call at Kew, but thought that you would [firstly] be too busy, & it seems that you will be on the road before I could come.
I shd think that you might make a very interesting address on geograph. Distrib. [Could] you give a little history of the subject. I, for one, shd like to read such history in petto; but I can see one very great difficulty, that you yourself ought to figure most prominently in it; & this you would not do, for you are just the man to treat yourself in a dishonourable manner! I shd very much like to see you discuss some of Wallace’s views, especially his ignoring the all powerful effects of the Glacial period with respect to alpine plants. I do not know what you think, but it appears to me that he exaggerates enormously the influence of debacles or [slips] & new surface of soil being exposed for the reception of wind-blown seeds. What kinds of seeds have the plants which are common to the distant mountain-summits in Africa? Wallace lately wrote to me about the mountain-plants of Madagascar being the same with those on mountains in Africa, & seemed to think it proved dispersal by the wind, without apparently having inquired what sort of seeds the plants bore. I suppose it wd be travelling too far (though for geographical section the discussion ought to be far reaching) but I shd like to see the European or Northern element in the C. of Good Hope flora discussed. I cannot swallow Wallace’s view that European plants travelled down the Andes, tenated the hypothetical Antarctic continent (in which I quite believe), & thence spread to S. Australia & the Cape of G. Hope.
Mosley told me not long ago that he proposed to search at Kerguelen Land the coal beds most carefully, and was absolutely forbidden to do so by Sir W. Thomson, who said that he would undertake the work, and he never one visited them. This put me in a passion. I hope that you will keep your intention and make an address on distribution. Though I differ so much from Wallace, his “Island Life” seems to me a wonderful book.
Farewell. I do hope that you may have a most prosperous journey. Give my kindest remembrances to Asa Gray”

Hooker to Darwin, 12 June 1881

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Karl Ernst von Baer (1859) independently arrived at species modification and common descent

The very year that Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species, Karl Ernst von Baer published an essay that is remarkable in that it he also arrived at the conclusion that species can transform (though not in a teleological/Lamarckian way) and that common descent explains the patterns of geographic distribution of organisms (Baer 1859. Über Papuas und Alfuren. Ein Commentar zu den beiden ersten Abschnitten der Abhandlung Crania Selecta ex Thesauris Anthropologicis Academiae Imperialis Petropolitanae. Aus den Memoires de l'Académie Impériale des sciences de St.-Pétersbourg, Sixieme série, Sciences naturelles, Tome VIII, besonders abgedruckt).

Rudolph Wagner had quoted excerpts of Baer's essay in one of his own essays in 1861 (Zoologisch-anthroplgische Untersuchunge. Die Forschung über Hirn- und Schädelbildung des Menschen in ihrer Anwendung auf einige Proleme der allgemeinen Natur- und Geschichtswissnschaft. Göttingen: Verlag der Dietrichschen Buchhandlung. (Besonders abgedruckt aus dem neunten Bande der Abhandlungen der Königl. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen) and concluded:
"Man sieht, wie hier zwei verschiedene Naturforscher, Darwin und Baer, ohne von einander zu wissen, auf ähnliche Ideen kommen, nur dass dabei dieser [Baer] besonnener, limitierter zu Werke geht." (Wagner 1861, p. 52)

One sees, here, how two different naturalists, Darwin and Baer, arrive at similar ideas without knowing of each other, only that this one [Baer] goes about it more level-headed and restricted. (My translation)
Therefore, Charles Darwin (1866. ) added Baer to the Historical Sketch of the 4th edition of his Origin of Species saying:
"Von Baer, towards whom all zoologists feel so profound a respect, expressed about the year 1859 (see Prof. Rudolph Wagner, 'Zoologisch-Anthropologische Untersuchungen,' 1861, s. 51) his conviction, chiefly grounded on the laws of geographical distribution, that forms now perfectly distinct have descended from a single parent-form." (Darwin 1866, p. xxi)
By the way, this Rudolph Wagner was not Moritz Wagner with whom Darwin had a spat about Leopold von Buch. Moritz Wagner, ironically, embraced Buch just like Darwin had done many years before him (see previous post), but tried to champion Buch's as the better theory. In particular, Moritz Wagner insisted on the need of geographic isolation/ separation as a prerequisite to speciation. This later disagreement seems to go back to Darwin's principle of divergence, which allowed Darwin to regard isolation not as a necessary prerequisite but a facilitating factor.
      In the following quote of Baer's (1859) original, the excerpts that Wagner (1861) gave are highlighted. The page numbers are in the 70s for the offprint (Sonderdruck) and in the 300s for the periodical (Memoires de l'Académie). My English translation follows below the German.
"Ich finde für den Begriff von Art keinen andern als: die Summe von Individuen, welche durch Abstammung verbunden sind oder sein könnten. Dass wir diesen Begriff selten erproben können, ist ein schlimmer Umstand, gibt uns aber nicht das Recht zu glauben, wir hätten einen andern, blos weil wir das Wort «Art» häufig anwenden. Will man annehmen, dass zur Anerkennung einer Art irgend ein nie fehlendes Merkmal gehöre, so wird man doch erst zu bestimmen haben, welcher Beschaffenheit das nie fehlende Merkmal sein müsse, und auf den Menschen angewendet, würde dieses Kriterium des Begriffes von Species am wenigsten zu der Aufstellung von verschiedenen Arten führen. Auch bin ich der festen Ueberzeugung, dass unsere zoologischen Systeme viel zu viel Arten aufstellen, eben weil wir kein äusseres Merkmal besitzen, und die Versuche über fruchtbare Fortpflanzung für die Ungeduld, die verzeichnisse zu bervollständigen, nicht anwendbar sind. Es ist auch kein Schade, wenn man die unterscheidbaren Formen aufzählt, nur muss man nicht glauben, dass man die wirklichen Abstammungsreihen registrirt. Ich kann mich aber auch ferner der Ueberzeugung nicht erwehren, dass viele Formen, die jetzt wirklich in der Fortpflanzung sich gesondert erhalten, nur allmälig zu dieser Sonderung gekommen sind und also ursprünglich nur Eine Art bildeten. Die jetzige Verbreitung der Thiere und so viel wir mit Wahrscheinlichkeit auf eine frühere zurückgehen können, scheint mir sehr entschieden dafür zu sprechen. Nahe verwandte und nach unsern gangbaren Ansichten ganz gut begründete Arten finden sich gewöhnlich in derselben Gegend vereint, dass eine ähnliche Form in weit entfernter Gegend vorkommt und dort, wie man zu sagen pflegt, die verwandte Thierform repräsentirt – ist ein viel seltener Eall. Alle gestreiften Pferde der Jetztwelt sind Afrikaner, alle ungestreiften sind Asiaten. Welches Aussehen die fossilen Pferde Amerikas hatten, wissen wir nicht, es ist sogar möglich, dass, wenn noch die Weichtheile erhalten wären, wir sie gar nicht für Pferde halten würden. Dass nahe verwandte Arten auch nahe zusammen wohnen, ist, wie es mir scheint, so sehr Regel, dass es nicht als zufällig betrachtet werden kann. Theilt man z. B. die Antilopen in Gruppen, so leben gewöhnlich die Glieder einer Gruppe nicht sehr fern von einander. Die gabelhörnigen Antilopen (Dicranoceras Wiegm.) leben nur in Amerika und in diesem Welttheile sind keine andern; Tragelaphus-Arten, mit gewundenen Hörnern, nur in Afrika; Hemitragus von der Hoven nur in Asien, und zwar im südöstlichen, Oreotragus Sundeval
[page break: 74/75 (342/344)]
nur in Afrika; Catoblepas eben da, andere Gruppen in Afrika und Arabien oder Syrien zugleich. Beide Länder gränzen nicht nur an Afrika, sondern sind auch ihrer Natur nach Afrikanisch. Von der räumlichen Trennung der Familien der Affen, haben wir schon gesprochen. Es ist aber dieses Verhältniss so häufig, und geht so durch alle Grade der thierischen Classification durch, dass wir unmöglich hier diesen Gegenstand erschöpfen können. Wer weiss nicht, dass die meisten Makis nur in Madagascar leben? Wem ist es unbekannt, dass Neu-Holland durch die vielen Arten von Beutelthieren characterisirt ist, die sonst nur auf benachbarten Inseln, und mit einem Geschlechte freilich auch in Amerika, vorkommen? Wer weiss nicht, dass unter den Fischen, Insecten, Mollusken mancher Gegenden Familien-Aehnlichkeiten vorkommen? Mir scheint, dass diese Gruppirung der Formen einen tiefern Grund haben müsse. Dass dieser aber nicht darin liegt, dass solche Gruppen nur in den Gegenden leben können, in denen wir sie gefunden haben, das ist durch unsre Pferde, Rinder, und Schweine in Süd-Amerika sattsam erwiesen worden. Sie gedeihen dort vortrefflich. Allerdings sind einige Thier-Gruppen über die Erde so vertheilt, dass es aussieht, sie wären ganz gleichmässig ausgestreut, so vorzüglich die grossen Katzen, unter denen die Süd-Amerikanischen von den grössern der alten Welt nur einfach specifisch verschieden sind, auch die Hunde sind kosmopolitisch genug – aber beide reichen als genera, mit einzelnen Arten weit in den Norden. Aber von Säugethier-Formen, die vom Norden weit entfernt bleiben, ist vielleicht nur die Vertheilung zweier Tapir-Arten auf die heissen Gegenden beider Continente merkwürdig, und gerade deswegen, weil sie eine auffallende Ausnahme bildet.
      Die so häufig vorkommende gruppenweise Vertheilung der Thiere nach Verwandtschaften, scheint dafür zu sprechen, dass auch der Grund dieser nicht gleichmässigen Vertheilung ein verwandtschaftlicher ist, d.h., dass die einander sehr ähnlichen Arten wirklich gemeinschaftlichen Ursprungs oder aus einander entstanden sind. Ich meine nicht allein die unnöthig aufgestellten Species, sondern ich meine die Vertheilung der Thiere macht es wahrscheinlich, dass auch viele solcher Arten, die sich jetzt getrennt halten und fortpflanzen, ursprünglich nicht getrennt waren, dass sie also aus Varietäten, nach systematischen Begriffen, zu specifisch verschiedenen Species geworden sind. Ohne diese Ueberzeugung wüsste ich mir durchaus keine Rechenschaft zu geben, warum die Amerikanischen Schweine eine Drüse auf dem Rücken haben, die Schweine der alten Welt nicht, warum in Amerika mehrere Lama-Arten leben, in der alten Welt nicht, in dieser aber mehre Cameele, warum die Amerikanischen Affen einen Backenzahn mehr haben als die der alten Welt, warum keine Paviane und keine ungeschwänzten Affen in der neuen Welt sind. Wenn jede der jetzt bestehenden Arten durch Urzeugung neu beginnen musste, so hätten wir noch besonders Bedingungen aufzusuchen, die den Affen und andern Thieren der alten und der neuen Welt gewisse Familien Charactere aufdrückten. Da Alles in der Natur Bestehende veränderlich ist, theils beweglich im Raume, theils entwickelungsfähig, so ist nicht abzusehen, warum die einzelnen Formen gar keine andere Entwickelung gehabt haben sollten, als jene ganz allgemeine, in der Reihenfolge des Auftretens,
[page break: 75/76 (343/344)]
welche uns die Palaeontologie nachweist*). Wie weit diese Entwickelung der Arten aus einander anzunehmen ist, darüber wage ich mir selbst keine Meinung zu bilden. Ich fühle auch keine Nöthigung dazu. Da sicher nicht alle Formen vom Anfange an auf der noch wenig geformten Erde sein konnten, so kann ich nicht umhin Urzeugungen anzunehmen, wovon ich allerdings den Vorgang mir nicht verständlich zu machen vermag. Wenn ich aber, weil mir die Urzeugung unverständlich ist, die Umwandlung so weit annehmen wollte, dass ich auch den Menschen aus andern Thieren hervorgebildet mir dächte und diese wieder weiter bis zur Monade, so scheint es, dass ich ganze Reihen von nicht erkannten und nicht verstandenen Geheimnissen an einander füge. Wenn ich aber glaube, dass verwandte Thier-Formen erst mit der Zeit zu selbstständigen Arten geworden sind, so werde ich durch die jetzige Vertheilung dahin geführt, und es liesse sich in der Jetzwelt wohl noch manche Analogie finden. Unser nach Europa versetztes Meerschweinchen soll sich nach Rengger nicht mit Cavia Aperea paaren, die man für die Stamm-Rasse hielt. Jezt sucht man nach einem andern Stamme. Wenn sich dieser nicht findet, wird man zugeben müssen, dass noch jetzt neue Arten sich bilden – hier freilich durch der Menschen Theilnahme.
      Haben sich aber mehrere Species aus einer Grundform entwickelt, wie noch jetzt die Rassen sich entwickeln, so darf man auch annehmen, dass früher die Typen überhaupt weniger festgehalten wurden. Ich denke mir, dass erst durch die fortgesetzte Reihe der Generationen der Typus sich immer tiefer einprägt und bin mir sehr wohl bewusst, dass diese Ueberzeugung eine Hypothese ist, aber eine Hypothese, welche nichts enthält, was unsrer Erfahrung widerspräche, aber wohl manche Verhältnisse verständlich macht, namentlich in Bezug auf die Variationen des Menschengeschlechtes. Diejenigen, welche mehrere Arten Menschen annehmen, berufen sich immer darauf, dass die Mohren in Europa nicht weiss werden und die Europäer in Indien und Brasilien nicht schwarz. Aber ganz abgesehen von den kurzen Zeiträumen, in welchen solche Beobachtungen gemacht werden konnten, abgesehen davon, dass die Europäer sich nie so dem Sonnenlichte aussetzen, als die Afrikaner, scheint es mir auch gar nicht widersinnig anzunehmen, dass in der ersten Reihe von Generationen der Typus ein mehr veränderlicher war, also auch stärker von den Einwirkungen der äussern Natur influencirt wurde. Der Generations-Act ist es ja, der den Typus bestimmt, je öfter er gewirkt hat in den Generationen,
     *) Die Botaniker glauben die Unveränderlichkeit der Species am sichersten nachweisen zu können. ,,Der Spross setzt das Individuum fort, aber das Samenkorn, das Product der Befruchtung, den Typus der Species.'' Das ist auch im Allgemeinen gewiss wahr, allein die Natur achtet nun einmal die scharfe Begränzung nicht. Wo kämen denn die ersten edlen Pfropfreiser her, wenn der Typus der Art starr und unveränderlich verharrte? Woher die Varietäten? Und ist es blosses Vorurtheil, dass der Blumist am liebsten die Saat von solchen Blumen säet, die schon einen Schritt in der Veredelung gemacht haben? Auf die Zoologen hat es einen grossen Eindruck gemacht, als Cuvier nach Untersuchung einiger Thier Mumien aus Aegypten versicherte, nicht der kleinste Knochen sei seit der Zeit des Einbalsamirens in diesen Arten verloren oder hinzugekommen. Aber man braucht nicht in der Zeit so weit zurückzugehen, wenn man etwas um sich schaut. Die langschwänzigen Schaafe haben viel mehr Schwanzwirbel als die Schaafe mit Fettpolstern. Kann man sie desshalb für verschiedene Arten halten? Die Schaafe von Baku stehen grade in der Mitte zwischen den Syrischen mit langen Schwänzen und den Krymmischen, bei denen der Schwanz zwischen den Fetthöckern verborgen ist.

[page break: 76/77 (344/345))]
desto unveränderlicher, scheint es mir, wird der Typus. So werden wir uns mit einer geringern Zahl von Urzeugungen begnügen lassen, denn wir können dann wohl für alle Katzen-Arten, oder für die meisten wenigstens, einen gemeinschaftlichen Ursprung uns denken – und die Entstehung von Mongolen und Negern u.s.w. wäre auf diese Hypothese leicht zurückzuführen. So wie wir jetzt im Kleinen Familien-Aehnlichkeit sich fortpflanzen sehen, oder Krankheits-Anlagen, die zuweilen nach Generationen wieder hervortreten, oder Anlage für Haar-Reichthum u.s.w. so wären jene Stamm-Verschiedenheiten frühzeitige Familien-Eigenthümlichkeiten.
     Man verstehe mich nicht unrecht. Ich sehe mich nur ausser Stande, specifische Unterschiede unter den Menschen zu erkennen, so lange man mir nicht geschwänzte Menschen oder ähnliche Unterschiede nachweist, und wenn die jetzigen Stämme der Menschen sich fruchtbar verbinden, so erlaube man mir wenigstens zu fragen, was denn eigentlich selbstständige Art ist? ob etwas, das der Naturforscher nach Gutdünken sondert, oder eine in der Natur begründete Sonderung, und worin diese denn besteht? – Ein Bedürfniss, alle Menschen von Einem Paare abzuleiten, beherrscht mich durchaus nicht. Vielmehr scheint es mir, dass, wenn irgendwo die Bedingungen zur Erzeugung von Menschen da waren, wie sie auch gekommen sein mögen, es viel natürlicher wäre, dass sie ergiebiger wirkten, als nur auf Ein Paar. Es ist uns dieser Vorgang auch viel zu wenig verständlich, als dass wir ein Recht hätten, es zu bezweifeln, dass Menschen an sehr verschiedenen Orten und vielleicht zu verschiedenen Zeiten als Autochthonen ohne Voreltern auftreten konnten. Dann wären die geringen Verschiedenheiten noch weniger auffallend. Allein eben weil uns der Vorgang ganz unverständlich ist, dürfen wir nur nach Erfahrungen und Analogien urtheilen und diese sprechen, da alle Säugthier-Arten nur Einen Verbreitungsbezirk nachweisen, nicht für den Ausgang des Menschengeschlechts von vielen Ursitzen, so lange wir den Menschen nur als Thier betrachten. – Möglich, dass es mit dem Menschen anders war, dann müssen wir aber auch zugeben, dass der Mensch nicht nach der Regel der Thiere wurde. Vielleicht lag das sogar – ich will nicht sagen in den Zwecken der Schöpfung, denn in dem Entwickelungs-Gange der Natur ist ja Nothwendigkeit und Zweckmässigkeit innig verbunden, wirklich nur Eins; also besser: in den Entwickelungs-Bedingungen der Natur. Dann hätte man aber Unrecht, im Menschen nur das zweibeinige Thier zu erkennen, das zufällig mehr Vernunft davon getragen und eine Sprache sich erwischt hat. Ist er nur das Thier, so muss er den Regeln und Gesetzen der Thiere unterwürfig sein. Ist er mehr, etwa Ziel der Entwickelung auf der Erde, – wozu der ganze Species-Streit?" (Baer 1859, p. 74 (342) - 77 (345))
My translation follows:
"I find no other concept for species than: the sum of individuals that are connected through descent/reproduction or could be connected thus. That we can hardly ever test this concept is a severe circumstance; it does not legitimate us to believe, however, that we have another just because we use the term «species» frequently. To assume a trait that is never absent from any individual of a species, one would first have to determine of what properties such a never absent trait would need to be; and applied to humans, such a criterion for the species concept would be the least to lead to the erection of different [human] species. I am also convinced that our zoological systems erect far too many species, exactly because we have no such trait, and experiments about fertile propagation are inapplicable for the impatience to complete the registers. And it is no harm to enumerate the distinguishable forms, but one must not believe that this registers the true lineages of descent.
Furthermore, I cannot defy the conviction that many forms, which do now really stay separate of each other in their reproduction, have come only gradually to this separation and originally formed only one species. The current distribution of animals, and as much as we can infer about a likely previous one, seems to strongly support this. Closely related and, according to our practical views, well established species usually occur together in the same region. It is a far rarer case that a similar form occurs in a faraway region and represents, as it is customary to say, the related animal form there. All striped horses are African, all non-striped ones are Asian.
We do not know what the fossil horses of America looked like; it is even possible, that we would not regard them as horses if the soft body parts were also preserved. To me, the fact that closely related species also live close to each other seems to be the rule, to such an extent, that it cannot be regarded as a coincidence.
[... Examples of the last statement omitted. Page break 74/75 ...]
The grouped distribution of related animals that is so common seems to indicate that the reason for this uneven distribution is also relational, that is, the closely related species truly have a common origin or developed from each other. I do not merely mean gratuitously erected species, but I think that the distribution of animals renders it likely that many of those species, which now live and reproduce separately, were originally not separated. By systematic categories, they developed from varieties into uniquely different species. Without this conviction I would not know how to account for the fact that American swines have a gland on their back but not swines of the old world, why several lama species live in America but not in the old world, in the latter however several camels, why American monkeys have one more molar that those of the old world, why no baboon and tailless monkeys [apes] are in the new world. If each of the presently existing species had to emerge from spontaneous generation [Urzeugung], we would still need special conditions that impressed these animals of the old and new world with their peculiar family characters. As everything existing in nature is changeable, partly mobile in space, partly able to develop, it is not comprehensible why these forms should have no other development that their general sequence of occurrence revealed to us by paleontology.*) I do not dare to venture a guess on how far this development of species from each other is to bee assumed. And I do not feel a need to do so either. It seems impossible that all forms existed from the beginning on the hardly formed Earth, I am forced to assume some spontaneous generation, though I cannot comprehend the process. If, however, because spontaneous generation is incomprehensible to me, I assumed the transformation to such an extent that I even imagined humans as developed from other animals, and this up to the first monad, whole sequences of unrecognized and not understood secrets seem to get concatenated. If, however, I believe that related animal forms have become independent species only with time, then their currnt distribution will lead there, and several other analogies from the present world could also be found. The guinea-pig, transferred to Europe, doe not pair with Cavia Aperae, which has been taken to be its stem-race, according to Rengger. Now they search for another stem. If this should remain elusive, one will have to admit that new species still develop even now. – here, of course, only through human participation.
       If several species developed from a basic form, as races still to today, then one is permitted to assume that previous types have been less fastened. I think that the type got engrained ever more deeply only through the perpetual sequence of generations, and I am conscious of the fact that this is a hypothesis, a hypothesis, however, that does not contradict any of our experiences, but renders comprehensible some affairs, especially in relation to variations of the humankind. Those who assume several species of humans always appeal to the fact that the Moors do not become white in Europe and the Europeans in India and Brazil not black. Except for the short time-spans, however, in which these observations have been made. except for the fact that Europeans never expose themselves to the sunlight as much as the Africans, it seems plausible to me to assume that the type was more variable in the first row of generations, and therefore also more influenced by conditions than today. The act of generation determined the type, the more often it recurred,
     *) The botanists believe to be able to prove the fixity of species the best. "While the shoot/scion continues the individual, the seed, the product of fertilization, continues the type of the species." That is surely true in general, however, nature does not heed sharp boundaries. Where would the first refined grafting scion come from, if the type of the specs was fixed and unchangeable? Wherefrom the varieties? Is it mere prejudice that the flower breeder prefers to sow seeds of flowers that have already taken the first step of refinement? The zoologists have been very impressed by Cuvier, who assured them, after the inspection of some mummies from Egypt, that not the smallest bone has been lost or added to these species since their embalmment. But one does not need to travel back that far and just look around a little. The long tailed sheep have many more tail vertebrae than the sheep with fat pads. Can they, therefore, be considered distinct species? The sheep of Baku are intermediate between the Syrian ones with long tails and the Krymmian ones, whose tail is hidden between the fat humps.

[Page break: 76/77 (344/345)]
the more fixed, me thinks, the type becomes. Hence, we should be content with a limited number of spontaneous generations, and we can assume a common origin for all cats, or at least for most of them – and the origin of mongoles, negroes, etc. could easily be deduced from this hypothesis. In the same way as we now do see family-resemblances propagate in the small, or predispositions for disease that sometimes recur after generations, or dispositions for luxuriance of hair etc., so the differences in phyla would have been former family-peculiarities."

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Leopod von Buch's Description of the Canary Islands impressed the young Charles Darwin

Darwin's Notebook B (1837-38), on the transmutation of species, states:
"Von Buch. — Canary Islands, French Edit. Flora of Islds very poor. (p. 145) 25 plants. St. Helena without ferns, analogous to nearest continent: poorness in exact proportion to distance (?) & similarity of type (?)" (Darwin 1837-38, p. 156)

"I can understand in one small island species would not be manufactured. but why they should be manu Does it not present analogy to what takes place from time? Von Buch distinctly states that permanent varieties become species p. 147, p. 150, not being crossed with others. — Compares it to languages. But how do plants cross? — — admirable discussion." (Darwin 1837-38, p. 158)
Leopold von Buch, Wikimedia commons, public domain

Leopold von Buch is undoubtedly a very important predecessor of Charles Darwin. It is, therefore, interesting to take a closer look at Buch's statements that influenced Darwin. Darwin's notes in his Notebook B (see quotes above) relate to Physicalische Beschreibung der Canarischen Inseln (Leopold von Buch 1825, p. 130 and 133f), which Darwin read in its French translation by C. Boulanger, Description Physique des Iles Canaries (Léopold de Buch 1836, p. 144f + 147ff). As German is my mother-tongue, I will depart from the original German passages and translate them into English.
"Der bekannte französische Naturforscher Du Petit Thouars fand auf der Insel Tristan d'Acunha in 37°21' südlicher Breite, und deren Spitzen sich in die Wolken verlieren, von phänerogamen Pflanzen nicht mehr als 25 verschiedene Arten, von denen einige an das Cap, andere an das beinahe gleich weit entfernt gelegene Amerika erinnern, und in St. Helena steigt ihre Anzahl, nach Roxburgh's (sic) Catalog, ebenfalls auf nicht mehr als 36 Arten." (von Buch 1825, 130)

The famous French naturalist Du Petit Thouars discovered no more than 25 species of phanerogamous plants on the island Tristan d'Acunha in 37°21' southern latitude, whose peaks trail off into the clouds, some of them are redolent of the Cap and others of the almost equally distant America. And on St. Helena their number rises to no more than 36 species according to Roxburgh's catalogue. (My translation)
The next passage from Buch (1825, 133f or 1836, 147ff) seems odd in that Buch first describes a process of species transformation on continents and thereafter seems to describe the identical process in closer detail for islands, yet he separates the two descriptions by the sentence "Nicht so auf Inseln" (Not so on islands), as if he was about to propose a very different process for islands. The only difference, however, is that the varieties on continents need to depart from each other spatially to vast distances, whereas the same isolation is supposed to be possible on much smaller spatial scales on islands.
"Die Individuen der Gattungen auf Continenten breiten sich aus, entfernen sich weit, bilden durch Verschiedenheit der Standörter (sic), Nahrung und Boden Varietäten, welche, in ihrer Entfernung nie von anderen Varietäten gekreuzt und dadurch zum Haupttypus zurückgebracht, endlich constant und zur eigenen Art werden. Dann erreichen sie vielleicht auf anderen Wegen auf das Neue die ebenfalls veränderte vorige Varietät, beide nun als sehr verschieden und sich nicht wieder miteinander vermischende Arten. Nicht so auf Inseln. Gewöhnlich in enge Thäler oder in den Bezirk schmaler Zonen gebannt, können sich die Individuen erreichen und jede gesuchte Fixirung einer Varietät wieder zerstören. Es ist dies ungefähr so, wie Sonderbarkeiten oder Fehler der Sprache zuerst durch das Haupt einer Familie, dann durch Verbreitung dieser selbst, über einen ganzen District einheimisch werden. Ist dieser abgesondert und isolirt, und bringt nicht die stete Verbindung mit andern die Sprache auf ihre vorige Reinheit zurück, so wird aus dieser Abweichung ein Dialekt. Verbinden natürliche Hindernisse, Wälder, Verfassung, Regierung, die Bewohner des abweichenden Districts noch enger, und trennen sie sie noch schärfer von den Nachbarn, so fixirt sich der Dialekt, und es wird eine völlig verschiedene Sprache. —
     Deswegen eben, ist es so wichtig, den Standort genau anzugeben, und zu bezeichnen, an welchem die Pflanzen auf den Inseln sich finden. Er hat fast jederzeit etwas Eigenthümliches. Ist er durch natürliche Hindernisse, durch Bergreihen, welche mehr scheiden, als bedeutende Entfernungen über dem Meer, von andern Orten sehr getrennt, so kann man immer dort ganz neue, in anderen Theilen der Insel nicht vorkommende Pflanzenarten erwarten. Vielleicht hat ein glücklicher Zufall, durch eine besondere Verbindung von Umständen den Saamen über die Berge gebracht. Sich selbst an der abgeschlossenen Stelle überlassen, wird dann auch hier im Laufe der Zeiten die aus den neuen Bedingungen des Wachstums entstandene Varietät zur eigenen Art, welche sich immer mehr von ihrer ersten ursprünglichen Form entfernt, je länger sie ungestört in dieser eingeschlossenen Gegend erhalten wird." (von Buch 1825, p. 133)

On continents, the individuals of a genus spread, depart far from each other, develop through the differences in the location, nutrition and soil varieties which, in their distance, never cross with other varieties and thus never get drawn back to the main type, eventually get constant and become their own species. They may then reach on another route, again, the also altered previous variety, both now as very different species that do no longer mix with each other. Not so on islands. Usually banished in steep valleys or narrow zones, the individuals can reach each other and destroy each sought fixation of a variety. This is similar to the oddities or mistakes in language that are first propagated by the head of a family and then, spread with the family itself, become native to a whole district. If the latter is separated and isolated, and if the first contact with others does not bring the language back to its previous purity, then the deviation will become a dialect. If natural barriers, forests, constitution, government connect the inhabitants of the deviant district and separate them even sharper from the neighbors, then the dialect will get fixed and it will become a completely different language. —
     Therefore, it is important to indicate the location/site/habitat exactly and to specify on which ones the plants on the islands can be found. It [the location] almost always has something peculiar. If it is isolated from other locations by natural barriers, mountain ranges, which separate more than considerable distances over the sea, then one can expect to find new plant species that do not occur in other parts of the island. Maybe a lucky coincidence has brought the seeds over the mountain range by some special combination of conditions. Left to their own in the isolated location, the variety that develops because of the new conditions of growth will, in the course of time, become an own species which departs the farther from its first original form the longer it remains undisturbed in this isolated area. (My translation)
The next passage from Buch (1825, 134 or 1836, 149) is significant because it shows that Buch subscribed to the old doctrine that the conditions of life (e.g., soil, climate) cause variation (though it remains open whether Buch thought of it as a teleological/Lamarckian process or not), and it illustrates the lack of natural selection from Buch's scheme. This is important, because claims of Darwin's plagiarism or dishonesty tend to mix up the different parts of evolutionary theory. 
[...] welche Verschiedenheit in dem Pyrethrum, und dabei solche Aehnlichkeit, dass man sehr leicht geneigt wird, alle Arten dieser Gattung aus einem gemeinschaftlichen Stamme entsprungen zu glauben! Diese verschiedenen Arten finden sich fast nirgends vereinigt, sondern fast jede ist an ihr eigenes Thal, oder an ihren eigenen District gefesselt. Auch die Verschiedenheit der Cinerarien ist nicht so groß, dass man sie nicht für Erzeugnisse der Insel selbst halten könnte, welche durch Verschiedenheit des Standortes, Bodens und des Clima bewirkt worden sind." (Buch 1825, 134)

[...] what difference in the Pyrethrum, and what similarity at the same time, that one is easily inclined to believe that all these species arose from one stem! These different species were almost nowhere found together, but each is bound to its own valley or its own district. The difference between Cinerarien is also not too big to regard them as products of the island itself, which were caused through differences in the location, soil and climate. (My translation)
The realization that mutation and recombination are (mostly) independent of conditions of existence is a much later insight and Darwin also subscribed to this doctrine. However, he thought of this variation as non-teleological (non-Lamarckian). He even began The Origin of Species by stating the central tente of this doctrine: "WHEN we look to the individuals of the same variety or sub-variety of our older cultivated plants and animals, one of the first points which strikes us, is, that they generally differ much more from each other, than do the individuals of any one species or variety in a state of nature. When we reflect on the vast diversity of the plants and animals which have been cultivated, and which have varied during all ages under the most different climates and treatment, I think we are driven to conclude that this greater variability is simply due to our domestic productions having been raised under conditions of life not so uniform as, and somewhat different from, those to which the parent-species have been exposed under nature." (Darwin 1859, p. 7)

The last section of Buch (1820 134f or 1836, 149f) was significant for Darwin (1837-38), because Buch related the rarity or abundance of certain plant species on islands to the facilility with which their seeds can be transported.
"In solchen Gründen mag wohl die Ursache liegen, warum die ,,Compositae" einen so besonders hervorstechenden Theil der canarischen Flora bilden. Es ist mehr als der siebente Theil der ganzen Zahl ursprünglicher Pflanzen. In Nordafrica ist es nur der neun und zwanzigste Theil. Der durch den Pappus geflügelte Saamc kann wohl leichter weiter geführt werden, als der weniger bewegliche Saame anderer Arten. — An der Schwierigkeit dieser Fortführung mag es liegen, warum an den Küsten der canarischen Inseln noch nie ein Eryngium gesehen worden ist, da doch die atlantische Flora davon acht verschiedene Arten aufführt, und selbst noch auf den nächsten maroccanischen Küsten von dieser Gattung vier verschiedene Arten wachsen. — In dieser Schwierigkeit mag ebenfalls der Grund liegen, warum die Leguminosen in der canarischen Flora so weit in dem Verhältnifs zurückbleiben, welches ihnen die Natur in diesen Glimaten bestimmt zu haben scheint. Sie bilden wenig über den dreifsigsten Theil der ganzen Masse, in Nordafrica hingegen den neunten Theil. — 
      Dagegen scheint den Semperviven auf diesen Inseln ein besonders günstiges Vaterland geworden zu seyn. Fast jedes Thal kann von ihnen eine neue Art aufweisen, und wahrscheinlich hat man sie noch lange nicht alle entdeckt. Von allen Arten der Semperviven enthalten die canarischen Inseln 4/7, und zu den dreizehn, die man vorher schon kannte, hat Christian Smith noch acht ganz neue Arten hinzufügen können. —" (Buch 1820, 134f)

In such reasons my lie the cause why the "Compositae" form such a prominent part of the canarian Flora. It is more than the seventh part of the total number of aboriginal plants. In Northafrica it is only the twenty ninth part. The seed, which is winged through the pappus, can be more easily taken afar than the less mobile seeds of other species. — This difficulty of dispersal may be the reason why no Erygium has evver been seen at the beaches of the Canary islands, despite the fact that the Atlantic flora features eight different species of it, and even on the next Maroccan beaches four of them can be found. — This difficulty may also be the reason, why the leguminoses lag behind so strongly in their proportion of the canary flora, which nature seems to have destined for them in similar climates. The form less than a thirteenth of the whole mass, in comparison with a ninth in Northafrica. —
      Conversely, the Sempervivens seem to have found a particularly favourable fatherland. Almost every valley has an own new species of them, and they are probably not all discovered yet. Of all Sempervivens, the Canary islands contain 4/7, and Christian Smith added another eight ne species to the thirteen that were already known. —" (My translation) 

Friday, 1 February 2019

My Brontosaur Theory on Counterfactual Histories of Science

So called counterfactual histories are scenarios of what could have come to pass, if some contingent event of the past had turned out differently. It is controversial whether exploring such counterfactual alternative paths to the actual history has any merit for academic historiography. This is even more true for the history of science, because science is often assumed to approach one reality. Alternative paths in a counterfactual history must inevitably reach the same or a very similar state of knowledge, so the assumption.  

Therefore, historians of science usually claim that counterfactual narratives usually result in an alternative state of science that is pretty close or even identical to the actual state of science. This claim is supported by the assumption that a plausibility constraint prevents counterfactual histories from becoming incompatible with the actual science. That is, if a counterfactual history would end in a state of science that was incompatible with the actual science, then it would turn into science fiction and cease to belong to academic historiography. In other words: Counterfactual histories of science cannot be incompatible with the current state of science and be plausible at the same time!

Plausible counterfactual narratives that do end in identical or closely similar states of science are variously referred to as being contingent in a benign or weak sense (e.g., Soler 2008; Hesketh 2016; Tambolo 2018). One could think of this as two potential paths that departed at a contingent point of the past, but only one path got realized. If both had been realized, the gap between them would have remained rather thin and they would eventually have converged again. Think of the outline of a worm rather than a brontosaur

A popular example of a counterfactual narrative that has been taken to be benign or weak in this sense is Peter Bowler's Darwin Deleted (2013). It ends in an alternative state of science that is identical in its scientific content and only differs in its social context. In Darwin Deleted, Charles Darwin dies prematurely but, in the end, the resulting evolutionary theory is identical to the current one. The difference between the counterfactual and the actual science is that some social discontents (like social Darwinism, Nazi eugenics) got associated with alternatives to natural selection (e.g, Lamarckism, Spencerian ideas, orthogenesis) and sunk together with them. That is, they did not get associated with natural selection, which came in later. Therefore, natural selection came out clean in Bowler's counterfactual and Bowler's aim of his counterfactual was, in fact, to prove that there is no necessary association between natural selection and its social discontents.

I am not interested, here, in these social issues or Bowler's beef with the Intelligent Design proponent Weikart, who apparently wants to burden Darwin with some responsibility for the holocaust etc. Instead, I want to refute the above claimed necessary association between the plausibility of counterfactual histories of science and their compatibility with the actual science.

If this association was necessary, then any history of science (even one about actual not counterfactual research) would appear to be outlandishly improbable to us, because it went through states that are utterly incompatible with the current state of knowledge. Take Bowler's Darwin Deleted, for example. It is completely incompatible with the current state of evolutionary biology somewhere in the middle, because alternatives to natural selection like Lamarckism, use-inheritance, blending inheritance etc. rule there. At the same time, this intermediate state of science is not only plausible but grounded in what many actual scientists and philosophers did indeed believe for a long time after Darwin and before the Modern Synthesis. That is, even actual history confronts us with states of science that are incompatible with the current state and yet plausible to the highest possible degree.

In other words, the gap between the path of Bowler's counterfactual and the actual history of evolutionary biology is not worm shaped!

Hence my theory, which is mine, ahem ahem: The gaps between most counterfactual and actual histories of science are thin at the beginning, much, !much! thicker in the middle, and then thin again in the end. That is my Brontosaur Theory of counterfactual histories of science. It is mine and belongs to me and I own it and what it is too.

I have a second theory, which is the second part of my first theory and it is also mine. This is it: AHEM!!! By chopping brontosaur counterfactuals in half and truncating them, the gap between the counterfactual and the actual history will become cone shaped. That is, the gap will gape and never close again. I call this my Hyolith Theory on Counterfactual Histories of Science.

Reconstruction of Haplophrentis, a hyolith. From Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

1. Bowler, P.J. 2013. Darwin deleted. Imagining a world without Darwin. The University of Chicago Press.
2. Hesketh, I. (2016). Counterfactuals and history: Contingency and convergence in histories of science and life. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 58, 41-48.
3. Soler, L. (2008). Revealing the analytical structure and some intrinsic major difficulties of the contingentist/inevitabilist issue. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 39,
4. Tambolo, L. 2018. So close no matter how far: counterfactuals in history of science and the inevitability/contingency controversy. Synthese,

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

How the theories of Matthew, Darwin, and Wallace came to be seen as identical

The following blog post tries to explain how it came about that Patrick Matthew, Charles Darwin, and Alfred Wallace all thought about their evolutionary theories (first published in 1831 by Matthew and in 1858 jointly by Darwin and Wallace)  as essentially identical, when closer analysis reveals significant differences (e.g., Dagg 2018). How could they, and many people ever since, have overlooked the differences?

Huxley's review of Darwin's Origin of Species
Thomas H. Huxley anonymously reviewed Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859). His review was first published in the Times (26 December 1859, pp. 8-9). The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette (3 March 1860, pp.192-193) reproduced it. Therein, Huxley gave examples of breeds (pigeons, swine, cattle) that grossly deviated from their wild ancestors and explained the process of artificial selection employed by the breeders before stating: 
"But in all these cases we have human interference. Without the breeder there would be no selection, and without the selection no race. Before admitting the possibility of natural species having originated in any similar way, it must be proved that there is in nature some power which takes the place of man, and performs a selection sua sponte. It is the claim of Mr. Darwin that he professes to have discovered the existence and the modus operandi of this natural selection, as he terms it; and, if he be right, the process is perfectly simple and comprehensible, and irresistibly deducible from very familiar but well nigh forgotten facts." (Huxley 1860, 193, col. 3)
He then continued with the over-reproduction of all organisms, the struggle of survival and the survival of the fittest resulting from it. That is, Huxley's review was a simplification and popularization of Darwin's theory that every lay-reader of the time could comprehend. Most strikingly, Huxley's review completely lacked the principle of divergence by which Darwin laid so much stock, but which is now largely forgotten or, if not, causes much perplexity among biologists. 

Darwin mentioned it in a letter to Asa Gray, 5 September 1857, (Darwin Correspondence Project, Letter no. 2136, accessed on 8 Jan. 2019, stating: "One other principle, which may be called the principle of divergence plays, I believe, an important part in the origin of species." In a later letter to Joseph D. Hooker, 8 June 1958, (Darwin Correspondence Project, Letter no. 2282, accessed on 8 Jan. 2019,, he stated that the principle of divergence and natural selection will together form the key-stone of his book to come (On the Origin of Species). And in his Autobiography, edited by Nora Barlow (1958, 120), Darwin recounted an eureka moment, when he came across this principle while in a carriage on a road and he likened his solution to the one of Columbus and his egg. 

Why was the principle of divergence important to Darwin? 
Biologists, today, see island biogeographies everywhere. A hilltop in a flat country can be an island just as an isolated valley in the mountains. Rivers and other geographic barriers can create one island biogeographic setting for some species and a totally different setting for others depending on their ecological niches. Biologists see island biogeographies where Darwin saw none. Furthermore, they know about genetic drift as a mechanisms that accelerates evolutionary change in small populations in these settings. 

Darwin, however, had found from taxonomic studies that taxa on continents were not only larger than on islands but also that their members (e.g., genera, species) were more divergent from each other than on smaller islands. He also believed that the smallness of the populations on islands would retard the process of evolution there simply by making favorable variants a rare occurrence. Therefore, he needed a principle that would explain this pattern. In other words, he needed something that would drive lineages apart on continents and in the absence of catastrophes or islands. 

What was the principle of divergence?
His principle of divergence achieved this by proposing that the internal competition between varying individuals within species was disruptive enough to allow lineage splitting. Advantageous sports dodged being swamped somehow and, instead, managed to exterminate the intermediate (parental) form. If more than one such variant occurred simultaneously, and the variants could no longer interbreed after the extinction of the parental form, lineage splitting (speciation) had occurred without geographic isolation of the variants (in sympatry). Geographic isolation could facilitate this lineage splitting, but is was not a necessary prerequisite.

In this principle of divergence, Darwin's theory differed not only from Wallace's (who had an island biogeographic setting for lineage splitting) and Matthew's (who had catastrophes doing the lineage splitting), but also from Huxley's simplified review and from current evolutionary theory. The latter is, in my humble opinion, closer to Wallace's island biogeographic scheme than to Darwin's original scheme from 1859.   

Matthew's priority claim
Matthew had read Huxley's review in the Gardeners' Chronicle from 3 March 1860 and sent his priority claim to that periodical at 7 March 1860. This is evident from the date and signature given by Matthew at the end of his letter to the journal. (It took the editors until 7 April 1860 to publish Matthew's claim.) It is unlikely that Matthew had consulted Darwin's book at length or in any detail within those four days. It seems far more likely that he had simply taken what he could gather from Huxley's review and written his priority claim on the spot, collating passages from his book that fit the simplified account given by Huxley. 

Darwin's reply to Matthew's claim
Darwin's response was equally hasty (within 6 days). It got published on 21 April 1860 in the Gardeners' Chronicle (pp. 362-363). However, Darwin had sent his response to Joseph D. Hooker for approval on 13 April 1860 (Darwin Correspondence Project, Letter no. 2758, accessed on 8 January 2019, Basically, Darwin had ordered Matthew's book (see letter to Charles Lyell, 10 April 1860, Darwin Correspondence Project, Let. 2754, accessed 8 Jan. 2019,, in order to make sure that the passages given by Matthew in his priority claim were scattered passages in a book on an otherwise different subject. This he made sure, in order to excuse himself for having overlooked Matthew's book in his long pondering on the subject. His response read:
"I have been much interested by Mr. Patrick Matthew’s communication in the Number of your Paper, dated April 7th. I freely acknowledge that Mr. Matthew has anticipated by many years the explanation which I have offered of the origin of species, under the name of natural selection. I think that no one will feel surprised that neither I, nor apparently any other naturalist, had heard of Mr. Matthew’s views, considering how briefly they are given, and that they appeared in the appendix to a work on Naval Timber and Arboriculture. I can do no more than offer my apologies to Mr. Matthew for my entire ignorance of his publication. If another edition of my work is called for, I will insert a notice to the foregoing effect."
Wallace's review of Butler's Evolution Old and New
Alfred Wallace only returned from the Malay Archipelago in 1862. Consequently, he remained largely ignorant about Matthew's ideas until Samuel Butler sent him a complimentary copy of his book Evolution, Old and New (1879). Butler (1879) claimed that Darwin's theory was nothing but Lamarckism redux and that Matthew's theory was worlds apart in this. However, Butler mistook Matthew's catastrophism as necessarily putting him in one camp with Cuvier and opposite to Lamarck. Matthew had in fact married Cuvier's catastrophism to transmutationism (Lamarckian or otherwise). Apart from this nonsense, Butler also re-quoted the passages that Matthew had already re-quoted in his priority claim against Darwin in 1860 (except for one paragraph about spontaneous generation). Apparently, Wallace read these passages from Matthew only now for the fist time. He replied in a letter to Butler:
"To my mind, your quotations from Mr. Patrick Matthew are the most remarkable things in your whole book, because he appears to have completely anticipated the main ideas both of the Origin of Species and of Life and Habit." (Wallace to Butler, 9 May 1879
Wallace published a review of Butler's book in the journal Nature (12 June 1879, Vol. 20: 141-144), in which he had the following to say about Matthew: 
"We come next to Mr. Patrick Matthew, who in 1831 put forth his views on the development theory in a work on arboriculture; and we think that most naturalists will be amazed at the range and accuracy of his system, and will give him the highest credit as the first to see the important principles of human and “natural selection,” conformity to conditions, and reversion to ancestral types; and also the unity of life, the varying degrees of individuality, and the continuity of ideas or habits forming an abiding memory, thus combining all the best essential features of the theories put forth by Lamarck, Darwin, and Mr. Butler himself."
Wallace continued with re-quoting yet again, some of the re-quotes by Butler of Matthew. 

Thus, a persistent historical pattern had been firmly established. From now on, every other decade, someone would stumble over Matthew (1831), be very surprised about his prescience and re-quote the same old passages once over, in order to emphasize how very identical these were to Darwin's and Wallace's theories. This would reiterate itself for the next century and a half without any proper historiography of the Patrick Matthew case ever emerging from this reiteration of a legend.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Patrick Matthew's evolutionary clock (1831)

Patrick Matthew is generally considered to be one of the predecessors of Charles Darwin concerning the integration of natural selection into an evolutionary scheme. Concerning the species problem, Matthew (1831. On Naval Timber and Arboriculture, p. 381) wrote:
"Throughout this volume, we have felt considerable inconvenience, from the adopted dogmatical classification of plants, and have all along been floundering between species and variety, which certainly under culture soften into each other. A particular conformity, each after its own kind, when in a state of nature, termed species, no doubt exists to a considerable degree. This conformity has existed during the last forty centuries. Geologists discover a like particular conformity—fossil species—through the deep deposition of each great epoch, but they also discover an almost complete difference to exist between the species or stamp of life, of one epoch from that of every other." (highlight added)
Here, Matthew was dealing with the problem of the stability of species, that is, why do species not disintegrate into one mêlé of amorphous variation without any clear species boundaries (gaps between species)? This problem had two sub-problems: 1. Why does spontaneous variation (sports) not lead to such a mess? 2. Why does hybridization not lead to such a mess? Matthew's answer was natural selection. Oddly, from our current perspective, he later referred to it as the problem of species fixity: 
"In my discovery of the fixity of species by natural competitive selection, I have overturned the only argument worth overturning brought forward by ancient superstition against the law of development. I have shown that we [farmers] can go ahead of college-bred, closet-taught naturalists, and leave them to follow in our wake at the distance of thirty years. This is nothing remarkable, as most of them are mere bundles of old-world prejudices. May I therefore hope for assistance from my brother-farmers, that we may keep ahead?" (Matthew 1861. Utility of change of place in seed, and still more in life continued by tubers or cuttings. The Farmer’s Magazine, Ser. 3, Vol. 19: 283-285, p. 285, highlight added)
Species fixity, here, did not mean that species were absolutely fixed in their morphology and physiology. The problem was to explain why species and varieties remained stable, despite the occurrence of sports and hybrids, but why demarcating species and varieties properly was so difficult at the same time. It starts out as a practical problem of classifying organisms, it then takes on a taxonomic dimension (how to define species and varieties), and it turns, in modern parlance, into a problem of the evolutionary maintenance of species (and varieties). In agreement with this, Matthew called himself the "solver of the problem of species" on the title page of the political pamphlet Schleswig Holstein (Matthew 1864) and not "discoverer of the principle of natural selection" as Charles Darwin (1865, 22 and 28 October. To J. D. Hooker. Darwin Correspondence Project, Letter no. 4921.) wrongly wrote to Joseph Hooker. 

Despite this stability of boundaries between species and varieties, Matthew thought they could still adaptation (lineage adaptation or anagenesis) to changing conditions, for example, in climate. The splitting of species (lineage splitting or cladogenesis), however, only occurred in short periods after global catastrophes had exterminated most species and thereby rendered an open field for the radiation of the surviving organisms into empty niches so to speak. Hence, Matthew's scheme is one of long periods of stability of species punctuated by short periods of quick radiation and lineage splitting. Naturally, the question arises how long Matthew thought that these periods of stability and radiation were. The only hint he ever gave us, however, are the forty centuries of conformity highlighted in the first quote from Matthew (1831, p. 381) given above. 

These 40 centuries only make sense in the context of chronologies being popular at that time, which told the history of the world along the lines of biblical events. Trying to align scientific findings from geology with the stories of the old testament was its own genre and was not regarded as unscientific (even Kepler and Newton engaged in it). The chronology of James Ussher, Archbishop Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, from 1650 was particularly popular. He dated the first day of creation to 23 October 4004 BC and the Noachian flood to 2349 BC.

The Noachian flood was thought to have occurred 4179 years before Matthew wrote his book in 1830, that is, roughly 42 centuries. Having no other numbers to go by than Matthew's 40 centuries of conformity, it would mean that the time for the evolutionary radiation after the last global catastrophe, the Noachian flood, were a mere 200 years after which lineage splitting (cladogenesis) stopped and the environments were fully stocked again. They could still change in response to changes in climate etc. (lineage adaptation) but no longer split. Species boundaries were then stable for 4000 years. This evolutionary scheme can be depicted in a pie chart with 200 years of radiation and 4000 years of stability.

The only other number from Matthew to go by is his statement: "millions of ages of regularity which appear to have followed between the epochs" (Matthew 1831, p. 383). Apparently, Matthew thought that the above depicted clock had turned millions of times. Make that 1 million and the age of Life on Earth would have been 4.2 billion years, which would be quite close to the current estimate of 3.9 billion years. 2 million revolutions or more would, of course, render Matthew's scheme out of whack with modern estimates.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

A Punxsutawney Phil degree in history of science

This post is about how aspects of the movie Groundhog Day (with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell) can be seen as a parable for a specific controversy in the history of science. But first I need to say a thing or two on that controversy.

The contingency-inevitability controversy is about the question whether the history of science would inevitably have had to lead to our current science, no matter what contingent path had been chosen in the past, or whether it could have lead to true alternatives, that is, sciences that are as successful as our current one but remarkable different in its theories, methods, machinery etc. [Some classical references: Hacking, Ian. 1999. The social construction of what? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Hacking, Ian. 2000. How inevitable are the results of successful science? Philosophy of Science, 67, S58–S71. A more recent collection of works on that issue: Léna Soler, Emiliano Trizio & Andrew Pickering (Eds.). Science as it could have been. Pittsbugh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.]

The most often quoted statement in this controversy is from Hacking (2000, S61, original emphasis):

"Take any results R, which at present we take to be correct, of any successful science. We ask: If the results R of a scientific investigation are correct, would any investigation of roughly the same subject matter, if successful, at least implicitly contain or imply the same results? If so, there is a significant sense in which the results are inevitable."

[I even quoted it myself in a paper once and refrained from pointing out the redundancy in "implicitly contain or imply" lest I'd be seen as a smart-ass or too stupid to sense an irony by Hacking. But a blog-post seems fair enough to indulge.]

The extreme positions on the contingency-inevitability continuum are: 
1. Extreme Contingentism: History of science is totally contingent. If scientists had taken an alternative turn at some point in the past, we would live with an entirely different science. It might not even be compatible with our current science yet be as successful (e.g., in statistics of healing sick patients).  
2. Extreme Inevitabilism: History of science is totally inevitable. No matter what alternative turn scientists might have taken in the past, we would live with exactly the same science as we have today.

Suppose the film-makers of Groundhog Day had been adherents of extreme contingentism. Then, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) could have planned nothing, because Butterfly Effects would have thwarted all his attempts to anticipate what will happen the next (same) day from what he experienced the previous (same) day. The boy would not always fall from the same tree, the man in the restaurant not always choke on a chunk of steak etc. Phil Connors should become mad by round 10 and the film-makers unable to tell a narrative. The film would be DaDa. 

Suppose, instead, the film-makers had been adherents of extreme inevitabilism. Then, Phil Connors could have changed nothing, no matter how hard he tried. All his attempts would be futile and the film would have no ending, just an open end telling us that it will go on and on forever.

Apparently, the film-makers chose an intermediate route, in order to be able to tell an interesting narrative. While Phil Connors is able to remember what had happened the previous (same) day and react differently, all others do not and behave just the same. In this way, Connors is a contingent factor (loose cannon at times) in an otherwise predictable world. Therefore, Phil Connors can work at trying to change his fate. If the rest of his microcosm was unpredictable or he had no power to change his own behavior and thereby tilt the microcosm towards another direction, then a film without a story would have resulted.

Interestingly, many historians of science think that authors who try to devise what-if scenarios of what might have come to pass, alternatively, (so-called counterfactual histories) are bound by similar narrative constraints. They can allow one or a very few factors of the past to deviate contingently, but the rest must remain predictable. Otherwise, their counterfactual history would become Dadaistic (everything contingent) or boring (everything determined) but either way have no merit for historiography.

P.S.: Of course there are other messages in the movie, like the one that love is a liberating force, but I was exclusively trying to explore analogies with a particular history-of-science issue.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

The genitals of old statues suggest that Michelangelo's David was an athlete

This post will be for you, if you ever stood in front of old statues, like I stood in front of David, perplexed by questions like the following: Why should Michelangelo have taken a model that had not only a glaringly non-Jewish manhood but also featured a prepuce (foreskin) that seems to be constricted enough to still prompt modern surgeons to consider the option of circumcision for non-religious reasons? Why do old statues sometimes seem to suffer from phimosis or apparently even grosser disfigurements of their genitals? Why did the artists depict them thus and not in a more natural and healthy way?  
     One look at the athletic bodies of old statues can tell most people that they were—well—athletic. The following musings about some odd genital features of some old statues, however, suggest (to me) that Michelangelo's model for David was an athlete in the sense of a professional sportsman. Anticipating the key point, athletes used to perform naked; therefore, they had to lace up their prepuce in a peculiar way for reasons of decency. Surprisingly, the effects that lacing up the prepuce with these strings, called Kynodesmes, had on the foreskin are visible in old statues. Current but ignorant onlookers, like me, can easily associate these features with a phimosis rather than a common feature of athletes.

The long way round to the key point
The Liebighaus in Frankfurt currently hosts a fabulous exhibition about Iason, the Argonauts and most importantly Medea (until 10 Feb. 2019). It's worth it, especially if you manage to get guidance (our guide was captivating). However, I will not retell the vast epic of Medea and its prequel about the Golden Fleece and, instead, focus on a rather peculiar detail: the genitals of some of the exhibits, of which I have taken pictures.
     Taking an Etruscan mirror as his point of departure, the curator of the Liebighaus advances a controversial thesis about two famous bronze statues otherwise known as Ruler and Boxer at Rest of Quirinal (or Thermae Ruler and Boxer). The mirror shows a standing Polydeukes (or Pollux, one of the Argonauts) to the left and a sitting Amykos (son of Poseidon and king of Bebryces) to the right, whom Polydeukes defeated in boxing. The woman behind Amykos is a goddess and the egg on the column indicates that Polydeukes had hatched from an egg.
Etruscan mirror with Polydeukes (Poloces, standing left) and Amycos (sitting right).

The curator arranged replicas of the Ruler and Boxer of Quirinal in positions resembling those of Polydeukes and Amykos on the mirror. Again, I will not go into the details of the controversy about whether or not these bronze statues were really meant to depict Polydeukes and Amykos and instead focus on a still more peculiar detail.
Quirinal Ruler and Boxer at rest or, maybe, Polydeukes and Amykos?

This detail is the penis of the Ruler.
Genitals of the Quirinal Ruler
On seeing it I immediately thought, "Damn this man had a phimosis!"  and I remembered that I had thought the same about Michelangelo's David, when in Florence many years ago. Again, I know that it is highly popular to wonder about the size of the genitals of antique statues and ask oneself, why they were depicted so small. And, again, I will not go into that direction.

At the end of the guided tour, I had a chance to ask our fabulous guide (a female in her thirties with a long course of studies of archeology behind her, whose name I unfortunately did not register) and she taught me a lesson. It was customary among athletes to take the foreskin and wind a string around it and then bind the penis close to the body. The proper word for the string for binding the penis tight is Kynodesme and the purpose seems to have been preventing the glans from peeping out of the foreskin, which was regarded as dishonorable among the Greeks and Etruscans. (Maybe they associated an exposed glans with sexual arousal.)

And, indeed, returning to the Terme Ruler and Boxer afterwards, I could see that the Boxer has his penis bound to curl upwards, which was one customary way to wear the Kynodesme. Here's a picture of the genitals of the Boxer at Rest.
Genitals of the Quirinal Boxer at rest

What you see here is the scrotum with the testicles, the tightly bound penis above the right testicle and the foreskin with the Kynodesme string around it above the left testicle. Okay, you do not see it. I show you the penis in a white ellipse and the bound foreskin in a white rectangle:
Genitals of the Boxer with an ellipse around the penis and a rectangle around the prepuce. 

What appears to be a gross disfigurement at first sight, turns out to be due to a Kynodesme. This suggests (to me) that the Quirinial Ruler has, from long custom of binding his penis away in like fashion, a foreskin that looks as though it was constricted by a phimosis. I comply with the interpretation of my competent guide. But now I wonder whether the model that Michelangelo used for his David was a young athlete (boxing or otherwise), whose foreskin was not yet as worn out as the ones of the Quirinal Ruler or Boxer but already showed first signs of constriction from being laced up in the then customary fashion. Make up your own mind by looking at the following details from Michelangelo's David. Does his foreskin show signs from wearing a Kynodesme?
David's genitals seen from the right.
David's genitals seen from left.