For those of you who don’t know, the Smithsonian Institution is one of the largest research and museum complexes in the world. Located mostly in Washington, D.C., the museums all have free admission.
I couldn’t therefore turn down the opportunity (which was a large coincidence) to visit the National Museum of Natural History on Darwin Day.
It was pretty busy on that cold Sunday afternoon.
I learned about the evolutionary history of animals in the sea.
But the Natural History Museum doesn’t just have countless displays of animals (and really cool animals like dinosaurs). It has one of the best Human Origins exhibits I’ve ever seen.
You see a clear progression in brain size.
The timeline below of 6 million years is so unbelievably, unthinkably long that it cannot really be imagined. Yet, I realize it is nothing compared to the timeline of the Earth and the Cosmos. We are newcomers to this Universe indeed.
This is what fascinates me most about human evolution. There may have been over a dozen “human-like” species, and we are just one of them. We are the descendants of not one Adam and Eve, but entire populations of intermingling, interbreeding species and subspecies. Our evolutionary history is not as clean as many would like to believe. Unlike our cousins, we may have simply been lucky.
This is the full scope of the kind of diversity we are talking about. By the way, of the humanoids in the picture below, which of them do you think had souls? Which of them do you think thought about the afterlife or had religion?
Compared to the set of all human-like species, modern Homo sapiens are very much the same. Though we may have evolved some distinguishing features like skin color and facial features, we all come from the same place.
It is almost Darwin Day, and before the cakes and celebrations and talks about biology start in various secular/scientific communities around the world, I think it is absolutely vital to remind ourselves of the big picture. Come reflect with us, as we, with our fallibilities, cognitive biases, and irrational tendencies, ponder about our place in the Universe, where we came from, and where we are going.
It is less than a week to Darwin’s Birthday (February 12), and I wanted to write about the significance of Darwin’s ideas on secular thought. Too bad I have three midterms and a paper due this week. For now, you will just have to enjoy a clip from this documentary:
You may also think about coming to my school’s Darwin Day celebration.