Wilson began by giving a brief history of Charles Darwin, whose 200th birthday we were gathered to celebrate even though it was not until February 12, 2009. He showed pictures during different stages of Darwin’s life and joked that “you don’t need a white beard to be a great scientist” when he got to a picture of Darwin without his impressive white beard. Wilson talked about Darwin’s five year trip aboard the Beagle and the research he conducted when he had nothing to distract him. Darwin then compiled his research into “Four Great Books” which were Voyage of the Beagle, On the Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, and The Expression in Man and Animals . In On the Origin of Species Darwin introduced his theory that evolution occurs due to natural selection. This theory states that if variances of a trait are hereditary then if one type of trait produces more offspring over time the traits of a population will change to favor the preferred trait. Wilson describes that evolution occurs due to two fundamental processes: descent with modification and speciation.
Wilson then got into the topic of behavioral evolution, which just happens to be his specialty. He treats the expression of emotions as evolution by natural selection. If an organism can express their emotions they become better adapted to social populations and environments leading them to producing more offspring and eventually to evolution. Darwin used photographs of actors, babies, and people in asylums to depict the many different types of expressions of emotions and the muscles needed to produce them. The muscles needed to produce the expressions are what actually evolved in animal and human populations. It was interesting to see that Darwin’s ideas and interests are continually being studied and questioned by people just like Wilson.
The last topic of Wilson’s lecture was the subject of biology itself. He explained that the goal of scientists is to make profound discoveries. He stated that there were two methods in which scientists attempt to make their discoveries: the problem-solving way and the naturalist way. Problem-solving scientists believe that for every problem there exists an organism that can explain the answer. A naturalist thinker is the complete opposite and believes that for every organism there is a problem for which the organism is ideally suited. In essence naturalists discover problems that problem-solver solve. Wilson finished his lecture by questioning if there will ever be a unified biology in which we will be able to discover all of the wonders of the world.
This lecture was very informative and presented in an interesting way by E.O. Wilson. He was able to convey pertinent information while still keeping the lecture light hearted and interesting. He was able to evoke both thought and laughter in his audience which is something few scientists are able to do. This lecture was a worthwhile experience and if I ever got a chance to be in attendance at another one of his lectures I would most certainly go.