After Darwin: Contemporary Expressions has just opened at the Natural History Museum. It’s a lot of fun. Based on Darwin’s book less-known tome The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals it veers into less obvious territories than some of the other Darwin200 events and exhibitions, looking at the …
I’ve just been watching a series of short films exhibited online by the artist-moving-image agency Lux in honor of the 200th year of Darwin’s birth. They’ve put up four short films that consider, in their words, “Darwin’s complex legacy”.
There are a couple of real gems there; go have a look. In particular:
Paul Bush’s While Darwin Sleeps 2004 (illustrated) is a four-minute film that animates 3,000 dead long-dead insect specimens, cunningly using their very diversity to bring them alive again.
And Ben River’s wonderfully slow and measured Origin of the Species 2008 is a portrait of an unnamed auto-didact hermit, fascinated by the big questions of life and nature. In occasional moments of voice-over reflects on them from the solitude of his woodland hut. Among the gems of wisdom he dispenses is this one, which I particularly love:
“Man’s brain. It evolved real quick. And it’s trouble. It’s just trouble.”
As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races. If, indeed, such men are separated from him by great differences in appearance or habits, experience unfortunately shews us how long it is, before we look at them as our fellow-creatures. Sympathy beyond the confines of man, that is, humanity to the lower animals, seems to be one of the latest moral acquisitions.
[I]n today’s multicultural world, the truly reliable path to coexistence, to peaceful coexistence and creative cooperation, must start from what is at the root of all cultures and what lies infinitely deeper in human hearts and minds than political opinion, convictions, antipathies, or sympathies – it must be rooted in self-transcendence:
Transcendence as a hand reached out to those close to us, to foreigners, to the human community, to all living creatures, to nature, to the universe.
Transcendence as a deeply and joyously experienced need to be in harmony even with what we ourselves are not, what we do not understand, what seems distant from us in time and space, but with which we are nevertheless mysteriously linked because, together with us, all this constitutes a single world.
Transcendence as the only real alternative to extinction.