Posts by Michael Ruse
March 7, 2010, 12:32 PM ET
Right at the end of his On the Origin of Species, the book published in 1859 in which he announced his theory of evolution through natural selection, Charles Darwin wrote:
"In the distant future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation. Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history."
In leaving things to this final point and in saying so little, Darwin was being neither cowardly nor casual. He knew that as soon as he published the question of human evolution would be on everyone's mind. He wanted therefore first to get the full theory on the table, as it were. At the same time, he did not want to duck the human question but to show that he knew fully what his theory implied. In fact, from early manhood, Darwin had always been stone-cold...Read More
March 4, 2010, 10:55 AM ET
In my most-recent post, I wrote of my visit to Vienna last week and how it left me with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I truly love the city and its culture. On the other hand, I sense something not quite right. Specifically, I made reference to the Konrad Lorenz Institute, and my discomfort about calling an institute after a man who was a Nazi. My piece has caused great offence in Austria. Normally, I don't reply directly to criticisms, in reviews or elsewhere. If and when I do, I prefer to do so in the context of a newly written piece that is trying to make an overall argument and not simply engaging in trench warfare. However, I have decided that it would be right and proper to respond on this occasion.
First, so you don't have to go searching, let me repeat the comments that have been made.
9. Mitchell G. Ash - March 03, 2010 at 10:33 am
Another Vienna: A Response to Michael...
February 27, 2010, 05:17 PM ET
My knowledge of Vienna, the capital of Austria, was for many years based on the impression given in the great movie The Third Man. Based on a script by Graham Greene, the story is of an American pulp-fiction writer who goes to Vienna, just after the Second World War, to meet with an old friend, Harry Lime. Arriving, he finds that Lime has supposedly been killed in an accident. It turns out however that Lime forged his own death. He is a crook, stealing penicillin and selling it on the black market.
Eventually, Lime gets his comeuppance, killed after a terrifically exciting chase through the sewers of the city. But not before, from the top of a Ferris wheel, in one of the most wonderful passages in the whole of cinema, Lime (played, brilliantly, by Orson Wells) tells his friend of his cynical view of world history. "Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had ...Read More
February 20, 2010, 09:47 AM ET
Yesterday I gave a lecture at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. I flew home to Tallahassee in the evening, which meant that I spent two or three hours sitting around airports, first Nashville and then the hub, Atlanta. It was impossible to get away from the television, tuned to CNN, which was broadcasting nonstop the Tiger Woods confession earlier in the day. And by "nonstop" I mean nonstop. I think I saw his apology four or five times. He is very very sorry for what he has done. He apologizes to his wife. He apologizes to his children. He apologizes to his mother. He apologizes to his mother-in-law. He apologizes to his friends. He apologizes to his fans. He apologizes to his business associates. He apologizes... Well, you get the idea. I had thought that with the death and funeral of Lady Di -- the "people's princess" -- I had encountered the apotheosis of cloying...Read More
February 16, 2010, 09:51 AM ET
On hearing that a man had remarried shortly after the death of his first wife, to whom he had been unhappily wed, Samuel Johnson said that it was "the triumph of hope over experience." Today, Lizzie and I celebrate our silver wedding anniversary -- married for 25 years. It is the first marriage for her, the second for me, and I can say unequivocally that in this vale of tears (Did I ever tell you about the failed attempt in the USA to get universal medical insurance?) sometimes indeed hope does triumph over experience. We have had, and continue to have, a very happy marriage.
As always when things are worth having, we have had to work at it. In our case, the stresses have come more from outside than within. The biggest strain by far came 10 years ago. I was almost 60, working at a Canadian university, and facing compulsory retirement in five years. We have three children and it...Read More
February 14, 2010, 11:07 AM ET
I have always felt uncomfortable about people who are surrounded by a Van Allen belt of admirers. I suspect that this may go back to my school days and my loathing of sports hearties -- those stars adored by boys and masters alike because of their abilities and feats on the playing field. "Oh Jones! That goal you scored on Saturday was absolutely super. Can I warm the seat for you before you use the bogs?"
I suspect that if you start digging, you will find that my feeling does not reflect too well on me and that much is a consequence of sour grapes because I was absolutely hopeless when it came to any activity involving an inflated piece of animal skin. However, be this as it may, the feeling certainly slopped over into my religious life. It is long since I have been a Christian, but way back then when I was I always felt a bit queasy about the Son of God. All of those disciples ...Read More
February 7, 2010, 10:57 AM ET
Everyone loves dinosaurs. Last weekend, when my son Edward and I were in New York City to go to the opera, given a couple of free hours in the afternoon, he headed out to the Museum of Natural History to gaze again at those monsters of the past. As I discovered on a trip last year to the Creationist Museum in Kentucky, even the biblical literalists are fascinated by these long-gone behemoths. One of my favorite cartoons explaining their demise 65 million years ago shows two dinos stranded forlornly on an islet in the middle of an ocean. They are looking at Noah's Ark floating away and the one turns to the other and says: "Oh crap! Was that today?"
The dinosaurs are back in the news. Because they are the ancestors of the birds, we have long known that some of them had to be feathered. Where you draw the line is almost a matter of taste, but it is clear that just above you are going to ...Read More
February 4, 2010, 07:54 PM ET
The late Stephen Jay Gould was best known for his brilliant essays, "This view of life," that he published monthly in the journal Natural History. He also wrote many books and I think the most interesting is that on the Burgess Shale, those long-extinct, soft-bodied organisms whose fossils can be found in the Canadian Rockies. However, Wonderful Life -- the title obviously taken from that sentimental drivel we are forced to watch every Christmas -- is, thank goodness, a lot more than its namesake and indeed a lot more than just a discussion of marine invertebrates that faded out over five hundred million years ago.
For a start, it is a pastiche of a baseball book. The average work in this genre tells of some uncouth youth in a godforsaken place like Iowa, straight off the farm where he practiced killing steers from across the field with his 100 mph plus fastball, who is spotted by a...Read More
February 1, 2010, 09:42 AM ET
Edward, my 17-year-old son, and I took our trip this last weekend to New York to see Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera. We had a great time and enjoyed ourselves immensely, even though we were so far back that it was a little bit like sitting in Boston and watching something in Washington. It was perhaps not quite as sexy as a 17-year-old might have hoped. The next time I will take him to Salome. Having been a bit condescending about the opera when I last wrote about it -- "all a bit tuneful for my tastes" -- let me now apologize to the spirit of Bizet. It really is a very well-made piece of work, with a terrific theme running through and holding the story together -- the obsession of the young soldier Don Jose and Carmen's self-awareness that she cannot love one person for long and must be free to move on, even though she realizes that this will lead to her death. And the music plays a...Read More
January 28, 2010, 06:05 PM ET
When I was at school, I remember one year when we were about 14 that our set book in English was Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon. It is the story of a small boy living with his aunt who learns to ride and to hunt foxes. There are many humorous episodes including a wonderful cricket match. It ends with the hero joining the regiment and into the First World War. It is part of a trilogy on the War, the other two volumes being Memoirs of an Infantry Officer and Sherston's Progress.
It tells the story of an idyllic childhood that was to end with descent into the trenches, and perhaps it is because of that dreadful juxtaposition that that book has haunted me all of my life. There are events and facts that are as vivid now as they were back when I first read the book in the 1950s. The aunt, for example, who could play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, but only the first two...Read More