All Scholarly and Shit

unique thought: darwin and the earthworms

by lizzie & isaiah on February 19, 2011 · 4 comments

Maybe it’s all the “Fringe” I’ve been watching, because I normally don’t give anything paranormal a second thought. I also have never cared for science. Chemistry is the first and only class my over-achieving, yet somehow still calmly procrastinating ass has ever gotten. But I was recently sucked in to my last semester’s freshman-level final core requirement: Environmental science.

My professor was an interesting man with wild, grey curls and a thick, white mustache. Everything he said in his booming voice sounded interesting. He wrote what he called “Sidelong Views” for students that basically brought out the most interesting lens to look at a scientific topic through.

He had a few qualms with Darwin, as many scientists do, but he devoted the better part of a lecture one day to Darwin and his earthworms.
Darwin realized that earthworms were naturally tilling the soil.

“It may be doubted whether there are any other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as have these lowly, organized creatures,” Darwin wrote.

In his essay, “Thinking About Earthworms,” David Quammen wrote, “At the time, evolution by natural selection was the hottest idea in science; yet Charles Darwin spent his last year of work thinking about earthworms. And thank goodness he did. More and more in recent years, we are all thinking about the same things at the same time…. Break stride. Wander off mentally. Pick a subject so perversely obscure that it can’t help but have neglected significance.”

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this idea since that day. I realized it’s because I had kind of heard it before.

This thought borders on a theory that was coined in the ’80s and has always been received with skepticism. Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance (or “fields of information”) holds that “Things are as they are because they were as they were.” Basically, we share a field of thought.

His theory attempted to address why crossword puzzles are (supposedly) easier throughout the day after one person has already solved it and why there is “a widespread sensitivity to being stared at from behind.”

It’s discussed again in the film Waking Life as “idea synchronicity.” Two characters discussed when crossword puzzles were a day old, people found them easier to complete because the answers were already “out there” in the collective memory.

So whether or not you or I believe in “collective thought,” “ideawaves,” or “morphic resonance,” we can’t deny that it does the world around us a great service to push our minds outside of their limits. Outside the world of celebrity gossip and the latest in media. Outside the judgements of acquaintances and relationship talks. Outside, into the realm of “unique thought.”

Because from there, your next “unique thought” is even more daring than the last.

Photo: Charles Darwin with Finches portrait available from Etsy seller JBarnum