People have always been afraid of the unknown and have gone out of their way to find answers to the mysteries and terrors of life. Most have done this by seeking reassurance from creative stories told from the earliest of times by people everywhere. In many of these, gods both good and bad were created, civilisations built around their myths, and different behavior appeased as the vulnerable people worshipped and pleaded with the gods to protect them from each threatening environment. I, like my predecessors have had to find a god to help me express my creativity. The written word has fulfilled this task particularly since the sixteenth century when facts and ideas started to be printed so changing communication forever and it is with these that I will begin this daunting task of figuring out my history of life.
The idea from Genesis, that life was created by God, had been surrounded by myth until the Renaissance, around 1516 when Thomas More wrote of a more credible world he called Utopia. Realism quickly followed with the observations of da Vinci (1519), the calculations of Copernicus (1540) and Galileo (1632), and with the scientific experiments of Bacon (1626). This fascination with how living things evolve then went through three ages of understanding, each following turbulent times in history – the English Civil War, the French Revolution and the Great War. An evolutionary scientist would call them Catastrophic Events, like the one that made dinosaurs extinct sixty five million years ago. They are punctuation marks that give meaning to the rhythm of life.
Michael Boulter is a writer of popular science, especially evolution and the history of understanding it.
He studied biology and geology at University College London and went on to become Professor in Palaeobiology at the University of East London. In 1995 he was awarded a Royal Society Leverhulme Fellowship. By then his research focussed on fossils of plants living from 5 million to 50 million years ago, especially around the British Isles. He was asking why so many species became extinct and how they reflected changes in climate.
For twenty years Michael was Secretary of the International Organisation of Palaeobotany and was British member of the International Union of Biological Sciences. He is now well-known as author of Extinction: evolution and the end of man (2002) and Darwin’s Garden (2010) and there’s new interest in his scienceandartblog.com.