Advice to us from Charles Darwin

I've just come home, greatly refreshed, from a perfect, "English Summer", day out. It has been one of our rare, treasured, beautiful, sunny days, and I spent it in convivial company wandering around the delightful house and grounds of Charles Darwin - including his sandwalk (or thinking path)

The place is such a pleasure to be in, and his ideas are so familiar, that in some ways wandering around felt like visiting a friend. Then the full enormity of his life's work would hit me again, and the privilege of being so close to the life and thoughts of such a man

I was intrigued to notice the similarities and differences between his life and the way we do things now.

Like many of us today he worked from home - though in rather grander style than most or us do as we tap away at our laptops in our living rooms. See Down House - home of Charles Darwin. Also he was independently wealthy, so had no need to balance the work that was his passion with a "day job" to pay the bills. He was a family man and involved his children in his practical work.

One great similarity that struck me was the way that he worked in collaboration with others, writing letters, and getting miscellaneous help. According to the display notes in the house:

Around 14,500 letters from and to Darwin survive, and he must have written many more. In 1851 he spent £20 on stationery, stamps and newspapers, roughly equivalent to £1,000 today. Twenty six years later the bill had risen to nearly £54.

Back in his day the postal service was so good that he hardly needed email:

As there were several postal deliveries a day letter writing was far easier than traveling up to London or Cambridge to meet colleagues or visit libraries.

(Down House is in beautiful countryside which is now within easy commuting distance of London -  though a bit of a drive from the nearest railway station.)

I loved all the evidence of Darwin's way of working - a mixture of doing his experiments, thinking, and writing to others. That approach to problem solving makes sense to me, it seems the natural way for us to learn. i know that I need a similar mixture of those three parts - practical work, thinking, and writing to my online contacts to help me develop my thoughts and ideas.

Above all I related to this advice in a "Darwin family poem":an

Write a letter, write a letter,
Good advice will make us better.
Father, mother, sister, brother,
Let us all advise each other.

That's it - collaborative learning - the way to survive and evolve in our problem-ridden, complicated, rapidly changing, interconnected world.

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