A few evenings ago, I saw an extraordinary 50-minute French-language TV documentary entitled Espèces d'espèces (Kinds of species), explaining how humans are cousins of countless creatures, organisms, plants, bacteria, etc. We have in common the undeniable fact (unknown, of course, to Charles Darwin) that we're all built out of strands of stuff called DNA.
An ingenious underlying element of the movie, which exploits superb graphics, was a novel representation of the "tree" of species in the form of a kind of big spherical cauliflower, which could have been mistaken for the fat brain of some mysterious giant creature. In fact, this "tree" might indeed be imagined, metaphorically, as the brain of a primordial virtual species that we can call DNA. The root of the tree has a lovely name: LUCA, the Last Universal Common Ancestor of the myriad DNA-based species that have existed on the planet Earth.
Although this has nothing to do with Darwin Day, that name reminds me, of course, of one of my favorite songs. So let me use that association as a pretext to celebrate Darwin Day by including in this post the famous song of Suzanne Vega... who is certainly one of the loveliest specimens of Homo sapiens I've ever admired.
Getting back to the "tree", we're obliged to admit that Homo sapiens is nothing more than a tiny blob on the outer surface of the cauliflower "cortex". We are neither more nor less important (whatever that might mean) than countless other blobs representing everything from whales, elephants and giant oak trees down to tiny insects and unicellular organisms such as bacteria.
Today, we can't evoke Darwin without thinking of one of his most brilliant offspring (metaphorically speaking): Richard Dawkins.
The TV documentary described an excursion that consisted of moving back from our Homo sapiens blob, down into the heart of the cauliflower, in pursuit of encounters with the ancestors of our various cousins. This is the same fabulous journey imagined by Dawkins in his book The Ancestor's Tale, mentioned in my article of August 13, 2008 entitled Exotic pilgrimage [display].
If you click on the portrait of Dawkins, you can see a delightful talk on atheism... which is so closely associated with Darwinism and the DNA species "tree" that I tend to think of them as part and parcel of a unique philosophy of enlightenment. And here's another nice Dawkins video:
To end this birthday post, here are links to an imaginary interview with Darwin [access] and a Scientific American article on the legacy of Darwin [access].