This is the 300th blog at scienceandartblog.com, a series of ideas that I began over three years ago. And I’m pleased that this one is to announce the publication today of the book that I’ve been writing through those same three years.
Bloomsbury Scientists: science and art in the wake of Darwin is published by UCL Press and is available through their website as well as amazon.co.uk , blackwells.co.uk , and bookshops. It is free as an e-book, £15.00 paperback and £30 hardback.
Here are portraits of some of the characters in my story. To confirm their identity you have to read the book.
On September 7th Nature magazine said the book: ‘paints a group picture of biologist energised by Darwinism, including Ray Lankester and Marie Stopes, rubbing shoulders with cross-disciplinary intellects such as Roger Fry and H.G. Wells. Although marred by the intrusion of eugenics, this heady era saw the rise of fields from ecology to genetics.’
Last week, Nature (vol. 544, page 417) reported on a fossilised creature with huge pincers resembling can-openers, a hinged two-piece shell and more than 50 pairs of legs. C. Aria and J-B. Caron call this Tokummia katalepsis and argue that its evolution led to insects, crustaceans, millipedes and centipedes. They are among the few fossils that show early links between these familiar groups.
The creature lived about 507 million years ago during the Cambrian period, It was about 10cm long and would have been found walking on the seafloor.
Prey would have been caught by the animal using its two large pincers. It would then have been passed to the animal’s many legs under the body which have spine-like features at their base which may have crushed the prey. This could then have been brought back to the mandibles and be cut into small pieces to help digestion.
Photograph: Lars Fields. Copyright: Royal Ontario Museum
Mount Katahdin (Maine) was painted in 1939 by Marsden Hartley, and is soon on show in a new exhibition of his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
The show opens with an inspired stroke of scene-setting: a mural-size film projection of waves crashing against a bleak stretch of Maine’s Atlantic coastline.
The artist had conflicted feelings about his spiritual home at Lewiston. His father was an English immigrant and worked in a textile mill. His mother died when he was eight. Hartley was inconsolable and stayed that way. The earliest picture in the show, “Shady Brook ” from 1907, is a landscape in a wispy Romantic style and may depict a scene he recalled from childhood.
“Log Jam, Penobscot Bay,” is from 1940 (Detroit Institute of Arts) and hints at other plants of the Maine landscape, long extinct.
These are the famous Early Devonian fossils from the cliffs where New England faces the Atlantic. Psilophyton grew there 400 million years ago.
A well-known Hartley figure is more recent and is on show at the Met:
A fossil of one of the first life-forms has been found in China:
Saccorhytus was covered with a thin, relatively flexible skin and muscles. It probably moved around by wriggling.
This electron microscope image has inspired a Cambridge artist to create a more detailed image:
In Nature magazine Simon Conway Morris et al refer the 540 million year old specimens to the Deuterostomes, common ancestors of the vertebrates (backboned animals such as fish). Saccorhytus was about a millimetre in size, and is thought to have lived between grains of sand on the sea bed.
The popular support for Trump and Brexit may be explained in an unexpected space in Chichester, The Pallant House Gallery (22 October – 15 February).
Painted after the trauma of the First World War, Morning is by D Proctor (1929) and shows a girl alone, at the brink of waking.
The exhibition compares this to a classical statue of Ariadne in Phrygian marble. The curator’s thesis is that the artists exhibited are engaged in a project that has some kind of parallel with Ulysses. They are using myth, or classicism more generally, to give a shape to the “immense panorama of futility and anarchy” of the postwar world. And it is science that is ultimately responsible for this trauma of the modern catastrophe.
Titian’s Danae is compared to M Frampton’s portrait of Marguerite Kelsey.
This way of co-opting the classics is through clean lines and ordered compositions. After catastrophe there is order, after war the people are cold and tired.
Most musicologists think that music began within a human culture. Another idea is that our love of music has biological roots, perhaps mimicking the sound of heartbeats in the mother’s womb. Now there is scientific evidence to support a cultural origin, though the biological influences are not entirely discounted.
Deep in the Bolivian Amazon, the Tsimane Tribe make their own kind of music. It has a strong contrast between consonance and dissonance, sounds that have interested musicologists since the culture of ancient Greece.
JH McDermott et al write in today’s Nature (July 28) that the Tsimane perceive consonance and dissonance differently to westerners. Their harmonies are simple, only played one at a time, while there is an indifference to dissonance. In the west this is used for background texture or to express tension: not so in Bolivia.
This is distinctive cultural variation in music perception. Some observers also say that the new conclusions are confirmed by the observation that the Tsimane prefer laughter to unpleasant gasps.
The late American palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote a lot about passive strategies within evolution. He used the architectural term “spandrel” to refer to a byproduct of adaptation that is not necessarily adaptive in itself.
Spandrel characters appear subsequently as co-opted by-products. An example is in the extinct Irish Elk. It had a hump at its shoulders, seen in cave-paintings and interpreted from fossils. The hump had no known function, like the vestigial appendix –
Also in Ireland many bare walls of houses are used for political paintings. Such space assumes the character of a spandrel.