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Does the Eagle know what is in the pit,
Or wilt thou go ask the Mole?

The Daily Bucket is about time.  It has the word 'Daily' in its title and is expressly concerned with phenology.  The Daily Bucket is about space.  The handy instructions instruct you to identify your location to a level of precision within your comfort zone.

Time and Space.  Space and Time.

Perhaps the most important tool a bucketeer might have would be a TARDIS rather than a tape measure or a stop watch.

Dear reader you may be forgiven at this point for wondering if your faithful correspondent has lost it.  You may be saying to yourself 'he already thinks he is H.P. Lovecraft on odd-number Tuesdays, what now?'.  And indeed I am prone to flights of fancy and pretension.    But I do think I have a point or two in the diary below the orange space/time vortex.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Alfred Russel Wallace.  In fact, he passed away, at his home in Dorset, England at the age of 90, one hundred years ago last Thursday.

You can see an interesting puppet video of Wallace's life here.

Wallace is most well-known as the independent co-discoverer of the idea of evolution by natural selection, along with his more famous colleague, Charles Darwin.  Unlike Darwin, who painstakingly worked out his ideas over the course of two decades, the idea came to Wallace all at once while suffering from malaria in southeast Asia.  Wallace's other major contribution to science was the development of the field of Zoogeography, the study of the geographic distribution of animals (nowadays we would generally be more inclusive and talk about biogeography).  Based on his contributions to these two disciplines we can regard him as having some mastery of both time and space.  

'Every species has come into existence coincident both in space and time with a preexisting closely allied species.'

The death of Alfred Russel Wallace marked the ending of an era.  He was the last of the great Victorian naturalists, men who were fortunate enough to born at the right place and time (and be born white men with at least middle class backgrounds).  They lived in the first era in which global travel was routine if incredibly time consuming and uncomfortable by today's standards.  And the world they visited was one in which the prehuman 'more ancient world' wasn't pushed quite so vigorously into the back corners of planet as it is today.  

These guys read the world's flora and fauna as if it was a code laid down by some ancient alien civilization.  The nerves at the back of the eye of the octopus were one piece of the code, the specifics of the distribution of plants and animals on the Indonesian archipelago another.  The odd geography of butterfly coloration fell into place as did the spectacular plumes of the birds of paradise.

So am I implying that Wallace was a time lord?  Or even the time lord?  Well only in the whimsical way that won't get me locked up.  Science makes us all potential time lords.

Jon Pertwee emulating Wallace in the wilder portions of the world/universe.  

To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.

The author of the quote above was Wallace's fellow Englishman and most emphatically not a scientist.  However I think Wallace would have seen some common ground with William Blake, if Blake hadn't died when Wallace was only four.  

Blake's quote is, for me, the essence of the wonder of science.  The world, the universe, is an enormous number of presents, wrapped up in boxes and the boxes are simultaneously one inside the other.  Each box, when opened, contains a world of wonder for those who are prepared to see it.

Wallace's world of natural history hasn't vanished.  The scale has changed - vast undiscovered 'forests' of chromatin lurk in the nucleus of every cell.  Every genome is a new continent.  Enormous numbers of unknown species lurk around every corner, most of them smaller than a fruit fly.

Even at the scale available to the average bucketeer there are mysteries to solve and codes to decipher.  The world is changing before our eyes.  The ruddy turnstones I see on the beach for much of the year fly to the arctic every spring and return a few months later.  They fly across a landscape that would have been unrecognizable to their ancestors.  At low tide dozens of great egrets leave the marsh and stand in the sea grass shallows looking for fish.  Dozens of them spread out for miles across a vast almost featureless 'landscape'.  How do they decide where to stand?.  A single boulder in a sheltered bay holds an entire ecosystem.  An unmowed field houses an entire society of voles.

Which brings me back to a certain television programme celebrating its 50th anniversary a week from Saturday.  The Doctor is a scientist but in many ways not a very good one.  He is impulsive and not very careful.  This just means he is human although he is actually not human.  Wallace also had his human side as well as his beetle-loving side.  He was very progressive, an advocate for the rights of women and for socialism.  He was also a committed spiritualist and phrenologist.  Although he deferred credit to Darwin for the idea of evolution by natural selection he did differ from Darwin on several evolutionary ideas including the evolution of humans.  Darwin is generally thought to have been correct in these differences.

Doctor Who is the longest running science fiction program (equal time for American and British spelling) in the world.  Watching episodes from the beginnings of the show are a form of time travel in and of themselves.

One thing I have noticed is that the primary theme of Doctor Who then and now has changed.  Classic Doctor Who is about the doctor's adventures in time and space.  New Doctor Who is about the doctor and his companions.  While I quite approve of the improved sophistication of and attention to characterization and relationships on the new show I can't help but feel that the sense of wonder has slipped away.

The doctor's ennui was not taken quite so seriously back then.

Below is one of my favourite bits of Doctor Who ever.  It may seem naive but it sums up the most satisfying way to live in this world - to take delight in the details with the sensibility of a poet while keeping a clear head.

So here's to twin anniversaries involving two of my favourite Britons: Wallace and the Doctor.  William Blake's 256th birthday is two weeks from tomorrow as well.



Originally posted to Backyard Science on Wed Nov 13, 2013 at 06:43 AM PST.

Also republished by Whovians on DKos and Community Spotlight.

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