Thursday: Hili dialogue

Good morning! It’s Thursday, November 24 (I presume you know the year), which means that it’s Thanksgiving in the U.S. But for some reason it’s been declared National Sardines Day!

But, more important, it’s Evolution Day, an international day to remember the publication of a the book laying out what was, as Dan Dennett said, “The most important idea anyone ever had.” One can make a good case that he’s right. It was on this day in 1859 that Darwin’s Big Book was published, and I’ll put the whole name up so you can remember it. I always call it The Origin, but its full name is On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.  Do you think you can remember that? Here’s the first page of the first edition, an edition now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars:


Exactly 18 years later, Black Beauty was published by Anna Sewell:


On November 24, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald, the killer of John F. Kennedy, was himself killed by Jack Ruby in the basement of the Dallas, Texas police headquarters. Many of us saw that live on television.

Notables born on this day include Laurence Sterne and Junipero Serra (both 1713), William F. Buckley, Jr. (1925), Pete Best (1941), and Ted Bundy (1946). Those who died on this day include, besides Lee Harvey Oswald, George Raft (1980), Freddie Mercury (1991), John Rawls (2002), and pitcher Warren Spahn (2003). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is looking everywhere for noms. Good thing she doesn’t have a credit card!

Hili: Not everything can be found on the Net.
A: And what were you looking for?
Hili: Something tasty.
In Polish:
Hili: Nie wszystko daje się znaleźć w sieci.
Ja: A czego szukałaś?
Hili: Czegoś smacznego.

Here’s a photo sent by Robin Cornwell showing her niece Quincey and Quincye’s cat Joe, both wearing tee shirts that show the other one. Robin says, “She carries that cat everywhere and he seems to like it.” Joe is five months old, and apparently has gotten used to being dressed.


Reader Taskin sends a photo of “Gus in a thoughtful moment…”


And a slur on biology from reader jsp:



  1. Dominic
    Posted November 24, 2016 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    Hili is – needless to say – right! … & books don’t require batteries.

    Thank you Darwin!

  2. Christopher
    Posted November 24, 2016 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    Yes, of course, mashed potatoes and gravy, hot rolls, corn, stuffing, pumpkin pie, sardines with cranberry sauce…you know, like grandma always didn’t.

    As for the Origin title, I can never remember the last bit, “…in the Struggle for Life.” I have read it though. The Annotated Origin by James T. Costa, and I’ve read “The Formation of Vegetable Moulds by the Action of Worms, with Observations on Their Habits” (my favorite long title ever!), the Voyage of the Beagle, and most of “The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex”, and I own an 1896 American edition of “Insectivorous Plants” (why the short title?) with it’s pages still uncut, and I’m loath to cut them myself but I really want to read it!

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    • ratabago
      Posted November 24, 2016 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      So preserve the uncut pages, and read the book online:

      The layout is a bit awkward, but still readable.

      • Christopher
        Posted November 24, 2016 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

        I’ve had it about a year now and I can’t imagine cutting them, even if the book only cost me about $18. So yeah, I’ll read it online or buy a paperback cheapo copy. I was really excited that I got it but also a bit sad that for over 100 years this book sat unread on a shelf somewhere, unlike a copy of another Darwin book I got of similar age which contains stamps from a research ship library. I don’t have the book at hand at the moment but I have googled it and the ship and its natural history collections showed up on a museum website. Pretty cool, I thought.

  3. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted November 24, 2016 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    The manuscript shown says M.A. is that Masters of Arts? What degrees did Darwin take? Wikipedia suggests he got a BA from Cambridge. I know he drifted from medicine.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 24, 2016 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      Master of Arts.

    • Posted November 24, 2016 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      When I earned *my* M.A., I used to joke that I was as educated as Darwin and Newton.

  4. rickflick
    Posted November 24, 2016 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Darwin was very interested in the effects of deep time as opposed to catastrophism and biblical timelines. He studied how atolls are built up gradually from the growth of coral reefs, as well as such things as the way earthworms slowly transform the soil. Of course evolution by natural selection is the most interesting deep-time process there is.

  5. Heather Hastie
    Posted November 24, 2016 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Black Beauty was one of my favourite books as a kid, but it always made me cry. (And still does.)

    Most people probably know, but I’ll mention it anyway, it was a banned book in South Africa in the apartheid era on the strength of its title.

    • Posted November 24, 2016 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      I had no idea of that–and I suspect very few readers here do, either.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted November 24, 2016 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

        It’s actually quite well-known. A reflection on the level of intelligence of South African censors.

        What I can’t determine (from Googling) is whether it’s genuine or a myth. It’s quoted as fact in a number of places, however it’s also said to have been a popular joke in South African circles (because they thought censors were as dumb as we think).

        It could of course be both.


        • Heather Hastie
          Posted November 25, 2016 at 10:12 am | Permalink

          It’s real. I checked it out properly a few years later because I wasn’t sure I was remembering correctly. In those days that entailed a trip to the library and I had to get a special book called ‘Banned Books’ ordered from another library, so I remember it quite well.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted November 25, 2016 at 10:07 am | Permalink

        It’s something we were taught in school here, which is why I assume everyone knows it. We did a module in the equivalent of 10th grade about apartheid in South Africa. For me that was 1978.

        • Posted November 25, 2016 at 10:17 am | Permalink

          I lived in South Africa during the 70’s & 80’s and the book was available everywhere – book shops, schools & libraries. I suspect that the story about the ban was a joke made at the expense of the censors who were widely regarded by everybody as incompetent mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers.

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted November 25, 2016 at 10:34 am | Permalink

            I’m quite sure it was banned because of the name. Our module was about the how apartheid started, not how it currently was. The module ended with the imprisonment of Mandela.

            It makes sense that the ban was later lifted because the censors screwed up. I vaguely remember mention of the ban being lifted but I can’t remember the reason.

            The book ‘Banned Books’ was a NZ National Library book and therefore reliable. It was about books banned all over the world, not just South Africa.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted November 25, 2016 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

              Just to split hairs, because the book came from the National Library does not necessarily have any bearing on its reliability. For example they currently have 3178 works on mythology (that was the first search term I thought of).

              But if it was published in a book devoted to the subject (rather than a website) that does suggest greater authenticity.


              • Heather Hastie
                Posted November 25, 2016 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

                You’re right, I was half asleep and forgot to add that it was part of their collection of references, which aren’t normally loaned, but because it wasn’t an old book and they had other copies I was able to get special permission.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted November 25, 2016 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

                Oh, agreed. If they judged it as qualifying as a ‘reference book’ then that adds credibility.


  6. Walt Jones
    Posted November 24, 2016 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Cat news: I just heard on NPR that Macy’s has a Felix the Cat balloon in their parade. Felix was the first balloon (1927), but was overshadowed by Mickey Mouse the next year, and hasn’t been in the parade since 1931.

  7. dabertini
    Posted November 24, 2016 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    I think Richard Dawkins has a signed first edition of the The Origin gifted to him by one Charles Simonyi.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted November 25, 2016 at 4:29 am | Permalink

      And he famously failed to remember the full title during a BBC Radio 4 discussion with Giles Fraser, a few years ago.

  8. bluemaas
    Posted November 24, 2016 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    After Mr Darwin’s then, THE second most important – ever idea — never the Nobel winners that the two of them so deserved to be = cuz of ALL of the World’s peace and justice that their idea — their Greatest Invention Over All the World Over All of Time — wrought = that idea, with its subsequent fruition accomplished despite unbelievable angers and constant stymying from all of that same World’s corners, fortunately came to us all from Ms Katharine Dexter’s (McCormick) and Ms Margaret Higgins’ (Sanger) brains and pocketbooks: chemical birth control.


    • bluemaas
      Posted November 24, 2016 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      FOR … … which to the two of them I am, today and every day of my life since my age of 17, … … thankful.

      Happy Day, All.

    • rickflick
      Posted November 24, 2016 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

      Amazing to think about that. It was just in the 1930s that:

      “Sanger ordered a diaphragm from Japan in 1932, in order to provoke a decisive battle in the courts. The diaphragm was confiscated by the United States government, and Sanger’s subsequent legal challenge led to a 1936 court decision which overturned an important provision of the Comstock laws which prohibited physicians from obtaining contraceptives. This court victory motivated the American Medical Association in 1937 to adopt contraception as a normal medical service and a key component of medical school curriculums.”

      • bluemaas
        Posted November 24, 2016 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

        You know, Mr rickflick, it .is. amazing to think on this. Sex, fortunately, isn’t going anywhere; since the evolution of the species, it is here to stay — and, on this day in particular, — thankfully here to stay. (Likely.)

        But in thinking on this, what did go away ? The perpetual sentence — through decades and centuries and millennia. Only s o m e who evolved, though, were sentenced.

        From the onset of fertility / the menarche throughout her lifespan (one which was very short — over most of T I M E [so, thus, her whole, entire life] & then, very much more recently through to age 50+ or so, that is, over four decades’ T I M E or more) and over All the World ALL such certain human beings were sentenced.

        Sentenced either to abstinence OR to perpetual child – bearing. There was no in – betwixt middle ground. Not if she were healthy, then throughout her whole life, there was not. There either was only no sex OR pregnancy after pregnancy after borne – child ad infinitum. Martin Luther: “Till she dies of it. She is there to do it. If she tires and dies, it is of NO MATTER.”

        So, yeah, thank you, Ms Katharine and Ms Margaret.


        • rickflick
          Posted November 24, 2016 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

          That was certainly a big change. I’m sure there are more to come.

  9. Richard Bond
    Posted November 24, 2016 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Sympathetic as I am to Darwin as the creator of the greatest idea ever, I incline towards Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism. They were the first example of field theory, which dominates modern quantum theory, and they led directly to special relativity.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted November 24, 2016 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      My #1 is Newton’s idea to separate an abstract space from the earlier relative gaps between objects. It was the start of understanding the universe *and* its laws (which Galileo started on), together.

    • rickflick
      Posted November 24, 2016 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      While I am not unsympathetic to your preference, I would point out that technical advances like Maxwell’s, Newton’s and Einstein’s added to our control of nature and to an improvement in our physical wellbeing. Darwin’s gift altered forever how we see ourselves as creatures within the setting of nature. Dennett called it an “inversion” in our way of thinking.

      • Richard Bond
        Posted November 25, 2016 at 5:02 am | Permalink

        And quantum fields are not nature? While our understanding is currently incomplete, the Higgs field, in particular, is well on its way to explaining why creatures exist at all.

        • rickflick
          Posted November 25, 2016 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

          The meaning of the Higgs field may very well be more fundamental, but it is an abstraction for many people and wouldn’t have the impact on human culture that evolution has had and is having.

  10. David Harper
    Posted November 24, 2016 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Physics Cat is just happy that he’s escaped the clutches of a guy named Schrödinger, who wants to put him in some kind of box.

    • Posted November 24, 2016 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      Ha ha.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 24, 2016 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Obviously not Maru, then.


      • Mike
        Posted November 25, 2016 at 5:23 am | Permalink

        Maru, would be the ideal Schrödinger’s Cat, but whether they could get him out of the Box long enough to determine his condition, would be moot.

  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 24, 2016 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Those who died on this day include … pitcher Warren Spahn[.]

    Did Johnny Sain die the next day, followed by two days of rain?

  12. Posted November 24, 2016 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Hili doesn’t have a credit card? Maybe they are more cautious about such matters in Europe. A colleague of mine had his cat sent one!

    Happy evolution day!

  13. dallos
    Posted November 25, 2016 at 3:23 am | Permalink

    “November 24 Arctic regions around the world celebrate the Walrus Day – a symbolic festival, which appeared a few years ago at the initiative of WWF-Russia.”


    “UK single release: ‘Hello, Goodbye’/’I Am The Walrus’.”

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