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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

It is complex and meaningless but...

One day, on a certain occasion, a friend stated confidently but ruefully that scientists don't like Plato. Will, by and large, they don't like dogma, and Plato just happens to be a byword for dogmatism, partly due to history's characteristic caprice. Still her remark was quite accurate, and I even found it to be impressive on the account of its "insiderness", and the challenge it throws to us: seeing philosophy through the eyes of a scientist. However, as soon as we take this challenge up, it proves to be a complex mental exercise.

The enterprise of science is delicate. Dogma will naturally render it mystical and vain - think alchemy - but nevertheless, some "self-evident" propositions are always needed to hold any theory's structure together, like mortar holds the stones of a masonry. Actually, when science was subjected to a scepticism of a radical degree, manifest in Hume's dissolving criticism, it was stymied for a brief while, and it took only somebody with Kant's caliber to pull it out of this quagmire, and put it back on its tracks. But that is only one of its aspects, and one gets the hunch that all of its others are as delicately balanced.

Yet much of the layers of this complexity can be peeled away by utilizing a few realizations. One is that talking of a perspective of scientists on philosophy is conceivable only in our contemporary time, for before the advent of modern science, probing the depths of nature was a natural philosopher's job, and after science came onto the spectacle - a thing we have Bacon to thank for - the walls drawn up between it and philosophy were porous for centuries further, allowing for considerable scholarly exchange across the division, and it even was the norm for a bright mind to straddle both. The caulking of the boundaries demarcating the different domains of knowledge that we live today is largely the legacy of the twentieth century - perhaps out of necessity at first, but then it became an expedient variant on the strategy of divide and conquer, upon which our false culture of the expert rests, to the advantage of politicians.


A second realization that springs forth readily from the first is that the purview of the one of them does not fully coincide with the other. It is hence where they happen to do that the loudest incongruencies between them arise. One such major, and informing, point of difference is that scientists, especially 
biologists, take the corporeality of the universe for granted, or else, for their money, this quasi-infinite range of the phenomena it harbours becomes a gaudy extravaganza that can only be explained via revelation, a thing that they necessarily reject a priori. Philosophers on the other hand have the chutzpah to question the materialness of nature, or anything else for that matter, and have no troubles with entertaining, and even endorsing systems of thought where the entire universe is nothing but the product of the mental processes of some mind - one mild and understandable exception to this is the founding fathers of quantum physics, since they were taken by surprise to find that the act of observation in tiny realms plays an active role in the unfolding of events. That is exactly why some philosophy was in fact integral to their arguments, which also occasionally included references to a creator, as is reflected in few of the quotes of that dolt of a genius, Einstein.

But at a deeper level, we will find that many of these incongruencies are less profound than they may appear, and can be imputed to secondary reasons such as mere tastes. For instance, scientists are fond of using simple and clear language, while philosophers are given to ornate and florid styles of exposition. So, whereas a scientist would proclaim prosaically that the laws of the universe are inescapable, this same fact expressed by a philosopher would assume something of a numinous quality, and since the current curriculum of either does not include adequate readings into the corpus of the other, such differences come to pass as fundamental rather than incidental.


Perhaps the third realization that trails the first two is that this exercise is futile altogether, mainly because it was a folly to speak of scientists as unified in perspective from the onset, since it becomes apparent from the forgone discussion that how scientists perceive philosophy is not normally guided by something common among them, and as such falls to become a matter of peculiarities and personal convictions. Nevertheless, one can still speak of contemporary philosophic contributions to and inspirations by science, and visa verse. But these are better suited for discussion as particular cases, with, as an extra, few morsels on the lives of the philosophers involved. Here is a few.


Karl Popper:

 
The idea that what delimits scientific activities from their non-scientific counterparts, is the deduction of explanatory models and the subsequent act of working hard to falsify them is the brainchild of this guy. One consequence of it though, which he never failed to stress whenever he had the occasion, is that the social sciences, or alternatively the soft sciences, e.g. political science, sociology, psychology... etc., should be evicted from the circle of what we call science, and, presumably, be considered systematic studies only. However, it seems that at first his idea of falsification was 
embarrassingly enough inside the box, as when he denied natural selection the status of a scientific theory. A year later he recanted this position, when it was brought to his attention that finding certain animal fossils in certain geological strata is all we need to discard the theory for good.

Personal life: few can boast a career path as erratic as his, taking him from carpentry, to teaching at school level, then to philosophy and professorship at London School of Economy. From his contemporaries we get the impression that he retained throughout his life the childish quality of hating to lose a discussion. His impugning the social sciences can be understood as an act of atonement for his joining the Marxist movement in Vienna for a while as a youth, though he forever stayed a staunch supporter of the establishment of welfare states and an advocate of social engineering.


Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell:


Founders of the school of analytical philosophy. They might not be the first philosophers to have got intoxicated with the clarity and well defined structures of mathematics and logic - PlatoDescartes and Spinoza 
are the firsts to come to mind in this regard - but they were among the firsts who tried to import these features into language, and even demanded it be refashioned in a manner conducive to such ends. To accomplish this, each devised his own distinct program, but generally speaking, they agreed on that words should be broken down to a level were they become referents to solid facts, or, failing that, be discarded. Once fully achieved, they told us like some did before them, this will solve every philosophical problem there is or will ever be. The geniuses that they were, however, they could not see from the beginning that any meaningful proposition we may utter is founded upon implicit suppositions, which is to say that imagery and relativity are endemic to the way humans understand the world around them, and therefore are inextricably reflected in languageWittgenstein acknowledged this oversight in his posthumously published book, though he never wavered in his demanded for clarity of language.

In the case of Russell, it was his predilection for logic and mathematics that inspired him to such an adventure, but it can be easily seen in Wittgenstein's case - an engineer turned philosopher - that his source of inspiration was the central role that he saw math and logic playing in the formulation of various scientific theories.


Wittgenstein's: a despondent soul, whom I personally also believe to have been a masochist (I mean, why would somebody suffering depression ever spend a part of his life in Norway?). He was a Viennese as well and tried his hand at teaching for a while, but it seems like he was a terrible teacher, who had no qualms about boxing the ears of his students. One source I have on him claims that his favorite relaxation activity consisted in watching cowboy movies, which might sound as an odd way for relaxing, until we learn that his sexuality is a subject of varying speculations. He also happens to be the eponymous subject of a British movie produced in 1993. The director was gay himself, the auteur Derek Jarman, and one wonders if this is the reason why Ludwig's homosexuality is taken for granted in this movie.


Russell's: at first apathetic toward everyday matters, it seems that World War I pricked his intellectual bubble once and for all, and from that moment on, no attempt at suppressing his voice succeeded. He, in no particular order, stood against the "great war", opposed Britain's 
colonial policies, campaigned for women's suffrage, was among the firsts to speak against nuclear armaments, and called for the implementation of eugenic laws and programs! A literature Nobel laureate, he bequeathed to humanity a treasure trove of essays and books that tackle themes from the philosophic to the social, and it was his Principia Mathaematica that proselytized Wittgenstein to philosophy.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau:

A modern rather than a contemporary philosopher. And while his opinion on science - among arts and culture - seems to have shifted during the course of his life, from science as an inducer of the corruption of societies, to science as a symptom of the moral degeneration of human beings, to science as a mere conglomeration of artifacts, made in the eternal race among individuals to prove their moral superiority to one another, we can notice that the constant thing in all of this is that progress in science and depravity come in pairs. We now know that this is not necessarily the case, and we might even hastily discard these warnings as the false prophecies of a deranged man. But this is to take the matter personally, and overlook whatever nuggets of wisdom these arguments contain, and to be sure they contain some. Rousseau takes us all the way to the threshold of a very important realization, leaving to us the last step to make on our own, in a critical time when people seem to have finally started blowing the saintly halos that have adorned the heads of religious figures for too long - a very commendable act - only to confer them upon the heads of scientists.


Personal life: a misanthrope and a well documented case of paranoia, but also a gentle character and a believer in the innocence and purity of humans in their pristine state. Alternatively, if we are welling to expend some effort in understanding a person as she is, rather than as she appears like to our eyes, we might have second thoughts regarding Rousseau and entertain the possibility that he was generous and constant in his love for humanity, but where he felt this had gone unrequited, his reaction was excessively dramatic. His most notable contributions span a range of subjects, from politics to education, and from music to history and philosophy. We might even regard him as the modern father of the humanization of knowledge, on the score that he had written a very accessible account, The 
Dictionary of Music, on the theory and history of the musical arts. Toward the end of his life he dallied with botany and it seems that he had assembled a number of herbaria, of which many were destroyed during Wold War II.

Despite their names being effectively antonyms, he and Voltaire are generally considered to be the two major epicentres of the earthquake that brought about the destruction of the ancien régime.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Experiments in Desultoriness

- Criticism is a word that too many people cringe at hearing, even though they themselves would rarely hesitate in commending, confusedly, the act of critical thinking. I remember reading a blog in which its editor was bemoaning the self censorship he has to constantly impose on his own writings so as to minimize the odds of receiving some unflattering comment. Not only him, but, he continues to enlighten us, this is also the reason why his ilk of free thinkers self-restrain. His rationale was that when someone criticizes others’ opinions, then she is in a way infringing on their freedom of expression. You’d expect a person who had long passed adolescence to have a slightly more sophisticated conception of this freedom of expression stuff.

The one and only creative process of all the mental processes that a human mind can muster on its own is criticism of one sort or another. Actually, when someone is listed as an influence of somebody else, then what is really being meant is that the former’s opinions and contributions had supplied raw material for the latter to produce her own in turn, chiefly by subjecting them to - you guessed it - criticism. Else, the influenced would have ended up only as the explicator of the influencer’s works or as her biographer.

- In a medium rife with plagiarism and regurgitated opinions, happening upon an original and nuanced opinion on the internet is a source of joy, whether or not one agrees with the writer. But the story does not usually end as happily as it starts. It is likely to occur that some commentators given to excessive compartmentalizing will begin heatedly discussing which side of two the author is really on, and what reasons are behind her paying lip service to the other!

Something within urges you to explain to them, in words of one syllable, that life resides mainly in its gradations and shades. But something else, within also, tells you that this would be of a futility equal to that of teaching an irrecoverably ponderous person how to dance ballet.

- One also stumbles upon appalling stuff while rambling online - like that is surprising news. Two memories of such occasions come rushing back to me at this thought. In one of them, a “prominent” male writer condescends to explain to our simple minds why “female bloggers” are superior. How did he go about accomplishing that feat? By stacking up nonsense that even in a state of stupor one would not, nay, make that can't, buy. My gripe with that though was not the writer himself, an old fart out of step with the world, but rather with the females who were intimately and gratefully thanking him - as if he had granted each her indulgence - for saying nothing more than “Listen women, I honestly have nary a positive thing to say about you, and that is mainly because I can’t get over my patriarchal mindset. But here is a clichéd cheap trick I learned in the past and I hope it will please you”. He then conjured an equally meaningless thing called “male bloggers”, and started thrashing them indiscriminately.

In the other occasion, a person was supposedly trying to use literature to deal the phenomenon of honor crimes its just lot. He starts the story by describing his soon-to-be-raped heroine. The girl never leaves home unless necessary. During her freshmen year she never talked to any person at the university, not even females. If you are wondering what she was doing with all that free time, then the answer is that the author does not make it clear, but you can rest assured that she partly spent it observing other girls to see who of them abided by her high standards of morals and honor, so that she makes a few select of them her friends in the coming years. Her shyness of men is deliberately made to smack of phobia or disdain. She never… easy there lad! What is it that you are trying to achieve?

It might be said that he was bending over backwards to win the conservative to his side. But that is effectively stepping backwards, retrograding. If it is not so obvious, the term “Honor Crimes” consists of two words: honor and crimes. This entails that the fight against those crimes is not a one to save lives only, but is also a struggle to emancipate, and that the two should go side by side, neither of them gaining any priority over the other at any point. The women who lost their lives on such grounds lost them not so much out of boredom on the side of the perpetrators, as out of trying to depart from the iniquitous norms of their respective societies. In this light, affirming and maintaining these norms and images become only that, affirming and maintaining. I can see the good intentions behind the guy’s attempt though.

While at it, I also have something to note about the current discourse on honor killings in the developing countries. At the moment, the pervading anti-honor-crimes rhetoric is that of brandishing the cases were the victims were raped or turned out to be “innocent”, while staying scandalously reticent on the ones where there were real sexual affairs. Here too concessions are not acceptable, because surely no one sober enough will ever endorse the act of extinguishing a soul for nothing. What is being argued over then? Thinking along these lines, it becomes apparent that any such concessions will be understood at the opposite side as a sign of their own victory, and a victory to be smug about at that. If any compromises are to be made, then maybe in the criminality of having a sexual affair, on two conditions; first that the punishment should not be sever by any sensibly humane standards - at the expense of deliberation, these are not the same standards that were judged for us to be so by some mythical being, in his mercy - and that it should befall both “aggressors”, regardless of what their loins are like. That is a concession much easier to swallow, but not indefinitely.

- A fad is an interesting thing to observe as it replaces another, waxes, wanes and then gives way to the one next, in a never ending cycle. They serve as a constant reminder of how tightly linked we are to people that we’ve never even seen or heard of before, in that same vein of the popular “six degrees of separation”. But there are more practical conclusions that they can help us reach. Here I am talking about a very specific type of fads: that of what fills the “about” sections in online personal profiles. A quick look at this will often prove to be a fast and granted way to judge the cogitative abilities of the profile owner.

At the moment, one of the most fashionable expressions for describing one’s self online is “citizen of the world”. Every time I read this, I find myself laughing in ridicule. Can’t these people hear the “city” in the “citizen”? It will be said that what the word conveys today is not related to cities anymore. No denying. But to make my point, we need to explain the origins of the term. It probably dates back to the age of what we now call city-states. Back then the word was used to denote a specific type of inhabitants in any given state, viz. those who were entitled to a specific set of prerogatives (e.g. voting, protection abroad,... etc.) over any other type of dwellers in that city. Not much has changed ever since in this usage, except that now it is more likely for a state to comprise a group of cities instead of one only.

Having made the point, it becomes evident that calling one’s self a citizen of the world is as revealing as saying that somebody is a Brazilian of the world. The great Feynman himself would be in a bind to explain to us what is being said here. Along to the rescue may come the language evolution argument in its most risible form: "language evolves and there is nothing we can do about it". But that is stark devolution. And regardless of how you look at it, there is no lack of suitable words to use instead. Why not a resident? What about inhabitant? Or even the neologism of netizen? That last one does sound quite smart, given that it captures the reality of our current times. It is the internet that has melted the boundaries worldwide, if that is what they are so keen on telling us.

But no. It appears that humanity had long ago took an oath on itself to always appear as stupid as it can manage, and clearly, it can manage a lot.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Hidden History of Palestine and the Eastern Mediterranean

It is safe to say that the Palestinian cause has never had its own functional and independent intelligentsia or academia, as their members have always been either co-opted to endow a corrupt liberation organization, and later the authority it spawned, with validity, or assigned titular positions at some "western" institutes or NGOs to offset their hard-earned reputation for being unconditionally biased toward Israel.

But then among the few who opted, and still opt out of becoming stooges for either side, there was Edward Said, who not only bore the brunt of fending for the Palestinians and their rights in some of the most elite intellectual circles in the "west", but also was a founder of post-colonial studies, therefore creating a space for the once-colonized, non-European nations worldwide to fight back the Eurocentric mode prevailing in the fields of humanities; a final battle to round off a process of decolonization that is thought to have been less than immaculate.

The void left by Edward might be hard to fill, but some Palestinian scholars are already proving themselves worthy successors, such as this Al-Quds University Professor of the name Basem L. Ra’ad, a historian who brings his knowledge, especially of the nineteenth century travel writing and other relatively recent historical discoveries, to bear in mounting a devastating critique, in the form of a book titled "Hidden Histories: Palestine and the Eastern Mediterranean", that undermines much of what is widely taken to be the genuine history of the Levant, and, therefrom, the Zionist claims to Palestine.

The book is divided into two equal parts, "Ancient Myths, Religions, And Cultures" and "Modern Myths and (De)Colonized History", but the division bears very little significance to what you might expect from the content in each, and that can be equally said about the ten chapters (eleven if you consider the epilogue to be a one) making up the book. In fact the purport of Dr. Basem's arguments is presented in a rather peculiar way, where by arbitrarily reading through any set of subsequent pages, the reader would still get something of every major thing the book has to offer, an experience that was oddly enough reminiscent of zooming in on a fractal. This was manifest, for one of many examples, as the most recurring refrain in the book, which took the form of "(for more: see chapter A, chapter B, and note D on chapter C)" where A, B and C could be any seemingly unrelated chapters. 

That was quite irksome at the beginning, and I kept wondering whether this was the best way to convey the critique, which is already written in terse, hence hard, language. However, towards the end of the first division I figured out that the style was not entirely gratuitous. Almost all of the arguments in the book were made of different combinations of four major distinct, but interdependent strands, namely; the history of the Levant as seen through solid archaeological proofs in contrast to through the traditions of the three monolithic religions, the precursors to the rise of the Zionist ideology in the "west", the Zionist movement evolution and adaptive strategies to circumvent the accruing evidence in the face of its claims' legitimacy, and the question of identity for the Palestinians, the answer to which should, according to the author, strike a delicate balance between a requirement to enable an effective resistance against a multifaceted occupation, and, simultaneously, to preclude a rise of fanatic nationalism.

Indeed, as I was going through the book I could not help thinking about the depth of the identity quandary into which the Palestinians have fallen. The complexity of the situation is captured in the text by the description of their real history as a "palimpsest", a metaphorical mot juste. Oxforddictionaries.com defines a palimpsest as:

"noun
  • a manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing.
  • something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form."



The complexity stems largely from the fact that the Palestinians themselves partake of and subscribe to the altered history upon which Zionism is founded; the Christians among them believe that "their arrival" with the Roman Empire some 2000 years ago grants them the status of nativity today, while the Muslim ones hold that their "ownership" of Palestine for 1400 years is more than enough to render annulled the Jewish proprietorship, when in all reality none of them came from anywhere else. They have always been the natives of the land, as continuity in their culture, embroidery, dialects and myths, among many others, shows, a continuity that stretches back to 3500 BC at least, i.e. the dawn of recorded human history.

The reason they identify themselves distinctively today - what the author terms self-colonizing - is that their respective ancestors simply had to convert out of duress; once Pagans, now Jews, Christians, or Muslims. Of course, there are "exogenous" - the quotes are meant to express the irony the word brims with in this context - sources to this quandary. Palestinians were always part of a larger, at-all-levels unity; the Levant (historically known as Canaan). But with newly born, out of this unity, three independent nations, each singed up to its very own blinkered notion of identity, the Palestinians are one more time at a loss to figure out their true history.

I always avoid the must-read ethos, and replace it with the highly-recommended one. However I will make an exception for this book. It is a must read for anyone who calls the Levant home, or who is simply interested in the history of the region and I can even say humanity. To me it is that in the not so distant past, Palestine was largely the stuff of slushy literature and mawkish orations. After I was introduced to Edward Said, things began to change. But Edward's approach had Arabism for a framework. That can be quite misleading in the contemporary discourse on the Middle East.

Equating Palestinians with Arabs is equal to saying that their existence in the "holy land" amounts to nothing more than a short historical stint. And now that the original owners of this land have returned, the squatters should pack their stuff and go back home, i.e. the Arabian Peninsula. But Dr. Basem's approach on the other hand is nothing other than the first mile of steps in the right direction; people of the East Mediterranean, what I have been referring to as the Levant thus far, and regardless of the traditions they profess to, should finally awake and understand who they truly are.




[One of the illustrations in the book Hidden Histories. A reader whose knowledge of the Middle East goes beyond crude stereotypes, might be wondering rightly what on earth a photo from so distant a region as America is doing in here. The answer is that the river in the picture is purported to be the Jordan, and those "savages" are Arabs, as "encountered" some 150 years ago! It originally appeared in a book that recounts the details of a conspicuously made up journey along the aforementioned river by a British explorer called John MacGregor. This was introduced in the Hidden Histories book to give a taste for the environment in which Zionism started growing.]

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Happy Darwin Day


It is probably a mild hyperbole saying that almost any of the several pieces of Darwin’s writings that I came across were radiating with an overwhelming intellectual presence, of the kind that intrudes into the deepest and most private corners of your mind without permission, imposing awe and eliciting recognition of his far-reaching genius, in the highest sense of both words.

This impression stays at first inexplicable. But in taking few steps back from any of these texts, considering it in a wider context, reengaging it and disengaging again, then repeating as needed, the conundrum suddenly gives way. The answer put simply, but aptly conveying the most sobering of its implications, is that a distinguished flair for writing is only second nature to profound thinkers. In a letter to his father, Darwin seems to have been well aware of this talent when he wrote "Whenever I enjoy anything, I always either look forward to writing it down, either in my log-book, or in a letter". Yet he also showed diffidence and harshly practiced self criticism when in his correspondence with others he would occasional write things like "I find it unutterably difficult to write clearly", "I am disgusted with my bad writing", or "How I could have written so badly is quite inconceivable".

Darwin's opinion notwithstanding, two of his books, in particular, stand out together as a most vivid and exhilarating incarnation of the whole spectrum of the higher order mental processes, which are: The Voyage of the Beagle, and his magnus opus, On the Origins of Species.

The Voyage of the Beagle can be thought of as a stereoscopic visualization of Charles’ trenchant faculty for perception. This can be realized by superposing a context in which the book is a travels-journal only and another where it is viewed as a herald of the theory of natural selection. In the former, this faculty expresses itself in a unique ability to efficiently winnow down a drowning range of details that could have certainly stupefied the senses of any other naturalist (Alfred Wallace, the unsung hero of NS, excluded). But with the eventual emergence of natural selection added to the backdrop, the token of a frightening capacity to intuit becomes the salient feature of this work.

In producing The Origins, Darwin established himself as one of the finest virtuosi of the thought process to have ever existed. Throughout the text you would find him busy not only weaving line after another of cogent arguments, preempting much of the debate spurred by its publication, but you would also find him confidently pointing out where his reasoning might go awry, acknowledging his own wants of knowledge, or describing what might constitute a destructive counter-observation to his theory.

The most telling feature of this book though is its striking consistency. This might sound odd, since a consistent structure is a strict prerequisite that any explanatory effort should satisfy before it can be taken seriously. It is that the coherence in Darwin’s arguments can’t be a mere happenstance, but only the product of a mental construct of the original phenomenon that undergirded his thinking in its regards. And since the conceptual scaffold for Darwin’s original formulation of the theory had passed largely unscathed into the modern evolutionary synthesis, we can easily infer the veracity of this mental model. Therefore, given the crippling lack of knowledge about heredity’s real substance and mechanisms that was characteristic of his time, one is bound to be overwhelmed while she is reading the book!

Put in another way, The Origins, just like its predecessor, can’t be fully appreciated without the advantage of hindsight. Darwin might have known close to nothing about the DNA, but with an unusually keen mind, he captured many of its features, even if in crude terms, and embedded them into the core of his theory. This is clearly the reason why out of all the different accounts of natural selection that were advanced by others in its wake, Darwinism was the only one conducive to the modern synthesis; with the rediscovery of Mendel’s genetic laws, and the successive conciliatory efforts of several bright minds, most notably those of Fisher's, the birth of neo-Darwinism was only a matter of course.

Since this is in a sense a celebration of a person, an extraordinary person, perhaps something about his idiosyncrasies is due. A strong affinity with science and nature ran like a dominating gene in Darwin's family, which spawned 10 fellows of the Royal Society, him included, and beginning with his parental grandfather, Erasmus, who himself was a theorist of evolution. The first expressions of this gene in Charles took the form of reveling in beetles collecting, and a more extreme one of his founding a club at Cambridge University for the sole purpose of consuming birds and animals "unknown to human palate" before. According to Darwin’s autobiography, this was the reason behind his father's utterly failed prediction when he once reproached him saying: "and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family".

But judging by this sample of his early life, it might be justifiable to claim that if it was not for the Beagle, this day would have passed unobserved. However, this celebrated expedition was not all bliss on Charles. Little after its return to England, he started suffering a mysterious debilitating illness that haunted him, with frequent respites, until his death. The nature of this affliction was never diagnosed during his life, a thing that later gave rise to much speculation about its origin.

To make things more complicated, there is enough evidence in literature to substantiate many different explanations for this illness. For instance, the proponents of a physical cause like to cite Darwin's descriptions of his potentially morbid encounters with disease vectors, such as the "Benchuca", or his granddaughter's memoir, Gwen Raverat, in which she notes that "it was a distinction and a mournful pleasure to be ill [at Charles']", possibly indicating an underling genetic disorder. On the other side, advocates of a psychological root have at their disposal an adequate repertoire of accounts on Darwin's antisocial and phobic behavior to draw on. But since this is not a crucial point anymore, there seems to be an emerging general consensus converging on a multifactorial origin of the ailment, a blend of physical and psychiatric etiologies.

Anyways,this celebration should be consummated by reminding ourselves of our old man's philosophy of solid reasoning and intriguing inquiry. Many happy returns!

Source: www.darwinday.org (image adapted)