Last Tuesday, it was the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, and this year is also the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. This event has inspired many discussions in the scientific community about Darwin and the theory of evolution. I intend to give you one of the views held by Darwin himself.
Drawing: It takes 8 minutes 19 seconds for the light to reach from the Sun to the earth, and it takes 12.8 seconds for reflected light to reach from the moon to the earth. On the earth, billions of years ago, one cell or a small organism started the circle of life, and have formed millions of branches. And one branch, miraculously, leads to human.
Most of the materials you learn in this class and in other science classes, you will forget in one or two years after your graduation. And it is normal: Two important parameter of our brains, comprehension and retention; even if you perfectly understand everything now, you will forget most of them because human brains only have a limited retention time. If you do not revisit it from time to time, the brain will free those space for new information. That’s completely normal and human. Now, the question is, since you will forget the materials, why bother learning them?
The fact that the earth orbits the Sun, and the moon orbits the earth, and the fact that matters are composed of atoms and molecules, and the fact that almost all of the mass of an atom concentrates in its core, are not known to the mankind just a few hundred years ago. It is a privilege to know more about how the world of Nature operates more than the most intelligent person living just a few centuries ago. We enjoy this privilege because science accumulates. Those facts have become the common knowledge in the modern times, and it is a literacy requirement for any person of the modern days. That’s the first reason why you should learn them, even though you will forget all the details, you will at least be aware of those basic facts.
The second reason is more profound. To our civilization as a whole, they have deeply shaped the way we humans think about the world and about ourselves inside this world, and help us realize really how little we are in this Universe. To you and me, to each individual, they also offer a view of life. In the concluding paragraph of On the Origin of Species, Darwin wrote:
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.