On Time and the Origin of the Theory of Evolution


Hancock, P.A. (2007). On time and the origin of the theory of evolution. Kronoscope, 6(2), 192-203.

This paper presents a perspective upon how the confluence of three differing faces of time may have served as fundamental stimulus for Charles Darwin’s formulation of the theory of evolution. The first temporal perspective is represented in Lyell’s exposition of ‘deep’ geological time. This provided Darwin the temporal canvas upon which to conceive the possibility of the prolonged process of change upon which the conceptual basis of the theory of evolution is founded. The second face of time is epitomized in the linguistic treatment of temporality by the Polynesian culture, in whose environs Darwin found himself studying these respective processes of change. The linguistic and conceptual emphasis of this culture on the immediacy of a continual ‘specious’ present in perception and action provides evident examples of naming transformations of objects and entities well within the observational lifetime of a single individual. The juxtaposition of these conflicting, enormously ‘deep’ and exceptionally ‘shallow’ perspectives on time permits the step of insight on the process of change and consistency that became the bedrock of evolution itself. The final element of time, crucial to this whole process of understanding, was the necessary interval of duration for this synthesis to emerge. As a gentleman-scholar aboard the Beagle, Darwin possessed this boon of contemplative time in which to recognize and reconcile these vastly different yet eventually, deeply compatible views of time. Darwin’s studious and painstaking development of evolution theory stands in stark contrast to the equivalent, but much more sudden brisance of understanding on behalf of Alfred Wallace whose own insight I shall argue is an exemplar of another form of time’s influence.

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