Sunday 2 October 2011

Charles Darwin's Tree of Life

'Tree of Life', from 'On the Origin of Species', 1859
"Tree of Life", Charles Darwin (from "On the Origin of Species", 1859)
 This is one of the most influential diagrams ever made. It's Charles Darwin's published diagram of the branching relationships between species, from his book "On the The Origin of Species" (1859).
" As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and atop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever branching and beautiful ramifications."
At the time, we'd already had "family tree" diagrams of our relatives, and Linneus' classification system had given rise to tree diagrams for the organisation of plant types, but Darwin is supposed to be the first known example of anyone had suggesting that your personal family tree could be extended outwards, and outwards, and backwards, to encompass all life on Earth and every living creature that exists or has ever existed on the planet. In other words, in four dimensions, we're all part of a single fractally-branching organism.