Quora – What are the prominent milestones that have led to the understanding of biological evolution?

What are the prominent milestones that have led to the understanding of biological evolution?

That is really complex.

Yes Charles Lyell published “Principles of Geology” in 1830 (but it was based on ideas in Jame’s Huttons 1788 work “Theory of the Earth”, and of course that process goes back millennia, as people thought about what they saw and made up stories about it, and those stories mixed and mingled).

Charles was undoubtedly influenced by the idea of evolution championed by his grandfather Erasmus.

One can go back to Plato and Aristotle, and they too had their predecessors.

Darwin had read Lyell before doing his trip on the Beagle (1831-36), which lead him to start writing and eventually publish (1859) “On the Origin of Species”.

And of course there were problems, as Kelvin had reasoned that the Earth could not be older than the sun, and had calculated that the sun if sustained by burning something like coal could not be more than 10,000 years old (not long enough), and if sustained by gravitational energy could still only be less than 100 million years old (based on earlier work by Helmholtz and others).

In 1903 Wilson announced to the Astronomical world that the Curies’ work delivered a mechanism for a heat source that allowed for a much older sun and earth.

Later (1946) Hoyle would refine the idea and provide a mechanism by which all matter heavier than lithium was created by stellar nucleosynthesis.

And of course there were many other threads to the story of a modern understanding of evolution.

Mathematics and logic are fundamental to building complex models of anything, and the story of their development is long, going back millennia, and exponentially increasing in complexity as time progressed.

Einstein relied on Hilbert, who relied on Riemann, ……

Quantum mechanics is fundamental to understanding molecular biology, and it is founded in probability, which goes back to Bayes and beyond.

Thousands of people have made contributions to a modern understanding of mathematics in all its many forms, all of which are fundamental to a modern understanding of biology, which is a system of recursive complex systems with many aspects of mathematics that contain many different types of fundamental uncertainties.

Mendel’s (1850s+) work on heredity pointed towards some binary mechanism at the heart of life.

Watson and Crick used the work of Rosalind Franklin, and she was part of Wilkins’ team, and all of their work was built on the work of others, and one cannot leave Linus Pauling out of any discussion of a modern understanding of the chemistry of life.

It takes thousands of hours of immersion in mathematics, nature, contemplation, history, independent thought, practical experimentation, practical systems development, and vast amounts of reading, to begin to get an appreciation of the depth and complexity of biological evolution. It involves physics, chemistry, mathematics, cosmology, … and demands that one accept fundamental and eternal uncertainty.

It has the fundamentally unsettling characteristic of forever exposing that the more one learns, the more one learns there is to learn, and the less certain one becomes about many of the things one once accepted as foundational truths. It is nothing at all like one expects as a child when one starts out on the journey. It is deeply, more complex, unknowable and uncertain than that.

And of course, one does pick up some useful heuristics along the way that can be very handy in some contexts.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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