I have been enjoying all the attention in the media and other places that Charles Darwin has been getting because of his 200th birthday this year. Darwin has always been one of those figures from history that I have looked back at and admired. Yet, I didn’t expect to suddenly feel a direct personal connection with the man in the way that I did the other week.
Several weeks ago, being in London for the day, I had a look around the Natural History Museum’s exhibition on Charles Darwin; Darwin – Big idea big exhibition. I thought it was excellent. It attempts, and I think succeeds, to tell the story of the development of an idea, Darwin’s theory of evolution, and how that was intertwined with the life of the man himself. The exhibition is very well designed, although the first ‘room’ has more impact than the others, dealing as it does with the romance of the voyage of the HMS Beagle. It includes exhibits of important documents, objects such as the compass, pistol, and geological hammer that Darwin took with him on the voyage, specimens from Darwin’s collections, fossils, a recreation of Darwin’s study, and a good use of sound effects. It also includes a couple of live animals including the extraordinary looking ornate horned frog.
If you can, it is well worth going to see. It is open until the 19th April and will cost you £8.80 to get in.
For an exhibition about one big idea, it managed to spark off in my head lots of little ideas. Some of which I will try to return to here. But the most memorable thing was an emotional moment of a real connection that I suddenly felt with this long dead great scientist.
I was walking around the exhibition taking notes when I came across what is known as Darwin’s “B Notebook”. This contains the spidery looking ‘Tree of Life’ diagram with the words “I think” written above it. This is the earliest known sketch by Darwin of an evolutionary tree describing the relationships between groups of organisms. You may have noticed from some of the posts on this blog that I have a liking for a good diagram. So I was naturally intrigued by this exhibit. I then noticed that I was writing in a notebook about the same size and shape as the one in the display case.
It then suddenly occurred to me. Darwin drew funny little diagrams on scrappy bits of paper while trying to work things out – just like I do.
Now, I am not trying to put myself on the same level as one of history’s greatest and most influential men. But I am saying that it seems that the process of creative thinking is common to all of us. That is something I take great comfort from. It has also changed my attitude towards Darwin from admiration to one of affection.
This content was originally posted on my old Process Guy blog.