It was hard not to notice the bicentennial of the birth of three major historical figures, all in the last two weeks: Felix Mendelssohn on Feb. 3, and Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln on Feb. 12.
This coincidence of the constellations got me thinking, who of these three men changed history most? Who influenced our daily thinking most? Our culture? Who has had the most direct effect on my own life?
Without Mendelssohn, do we see a revival of the music of J.S. Bach, or does that beloved composer fall into obscurity? Without Darwin, do we forfeit all the scientific progress that his theories helped generate? Without Lincoln, is the United States two countries, and does slavery continue in one of them? Or does someone else come along and do the same thing?
The answer, of course, is that all of three of these men have had a profound effect on the world.
So in your opinion: Which of these men's singular contributions would be most missed by the world, had he not lived? Please vote, and then explain below.
I voted for Lincoln. I mean as much as I enjoy Mendelssohn's music, there is simply no comparison between Lincoln's contribution of keeping the Union, abolishing slavery, and giving hope to freedom loving people everywhere. Darwin no comment except Steve Anderson's sermon "The Sin of Stupidity".
I agree Lincoln is one of the greatest American Presidents, but since the question is about the man’s contribution made to the world, I vote for Darwin. Whether you like his theory or not, it fundamentally changed biology once of all, it greatly influences many other areas of science, political and philosophical thinking. It also poses some serious challenges to certain religious beliefs. The world would be much less interesting without Darwin.
"Or does someone else come along and do the same thing?"
Precisely that! It is only a matter of time.
With Darwin it was in fact that someone else who came along doing the same thing that got him to publish. Without Wallace's essay on evolution, Darwin's work would not have been published until his death, as he had instructed his wife this way. On top of that, Wallace can be considered more Darwinian than Darwin himself, Darwin was in many ways frightened by the ramifications of his teachings, Wallace was not.
As for Lincoln, even with a split union, nobody can be sure that the split would have lasted. After all other states and territories have joined the US since then, so there has clearly been an understanding that joining together has merits for all parties involved. Eventually, slavery would have been abolished anyway and without the bad blood that the civil war had created, it would have been very likely that North and South had reunited soon after the abolishment of slavery. In fact, if history had turned out this way, it is quite possible that the US would be far less centralist than it is today. The states and counties would likely be stronger and the federal government would be less powerful. Perhaps the US would have been a little more like Switzerland. Some might think this would be a bad thing, some others might think it would be a good thing. But at the end of the day, there are many reasons why history turns out the way it does and if you take one of them away, the other reasons will most of the time still be strong enough to steer the same course and lead to the same outcome or at least a very similar outcome.
If Mendelssohn had not been there, we'd miss out on his music today, sure, but would Bach have remained little known and under appreciated? I don't think so. You have to ask why Mendelssohn promoted Bach in the first place. It was because he held the very same position in Leipzig that Bach had held. If Mendelssohn had not been in Leipzig, but somewhere else, say Vienna, he probably would not have promoted Bach as much as he did. Somebody else would eventually have picked up on Bach. Quite possibly some other musician who would sooner or later hold that position in Leipzig. It's also quite possible that Saint-Saens would have been the one we'd today recognise for rediscovering Bach. But *somebody* would have, whoever it would have been.
Another reminder that sooner or later somebody is going to come along and do the same thing is the fact that many new discoveries in the West had already been made many centuries before in ancient Greece, Egypt, the middle East, India and China. The steam engine wasn't first invented by Watt, porcellain wasn't first invented by Boetcher, printing wasn't invented by Gutenberg. Many scientific discoveries have been found to have already been made once or in some cases even multiple times by other cultures centuries earlier.
Mendelssohn was the only one of the three who produced something unique. Nobody else would or could have written the music he did, while Darwin's ideas were not peculiar to him, and Lincoln was not working alone. Evolution theory would have happened without Darwin, and the unification of the Northern and Southern states of America would have happened under other leaders..
So I voted Mendelssohn.
Darwin's theory of evolution is still unproven as a theorem after 200 years. The southern states, although they were certainly wrong to justify slavery in any way, still did have the right to secede. And Lincoln took his sweet time taking a stance on slavery--it wasn't part of his platform, and he waited for the last possible minute in the Civil War to give the Emancipation Proclamation, which was not really a piece of legislation.
So my vote is for Mendelssohn. At least many musicians agree that he is a great composer.
"Darwin's theory of evolution is still unproven as a theorem after 200 years."
Nonsense. Even the catholic church admits the validity. The pope himself has just called for all those nuts out there to stop kidding themselves and accept the validity.
And, it is wise not to confuse the terms:
Evolution is, simply said, a fact.
Evolutionary biology is the science that examines the details; the steadily growing state of knowledge forms the evolution theorie (so evolution itself is not a theory or only theoretically true, as many people with insufficient understanding ot the subject try to probagate).
And Darwin is for evolutionary biology what Galileo is to astronomy - the brilliant founder of a modern science. Funny - nobody would call Astronomy "Galileism". Why are many so dump to call evolutionary biology "Darwinism" (and deny the scientific progress of 150 years since)?
Back to practising...
I'd have to call it a two-way tie between Darwin and Lincoln, but I'd like to point out that Mendelssohn's family owned many of Bach's manuscripts. It is entirely possible that he was the only person well-positioned to start a Bach revival at that time. He grew up being exposed to and hearing about Bach, something very few others could say. Sure, without Mendelssohn we'd eventually have figured out that Bach didn't deserve to languish in obscurity-- we already had Beethoven's recommendation, after all-- but would we have the Romantic myth of Great Bach? Bach as creator of cultural monuments? Likely not.
Seems as those this blog has opened up a can of worms! ;)
I agree with Mr. Graham. All three were very large, but also Mendelsshon brought back Bach to the world along with his own unique music.
"Funny - nobody would call Astronomy "Galileism". Why are many so dump to call evolutionary biology "Darwinism" (and deny the scientific progress of 150 years since)?"
Denying evolutionary biology is on the same intellectual level as denying the holocaust. At that level name calling is to be expected.
"I can't believe the president of 1 single country is winning the poll here"
Hardly surprising considering that most members are US citizens. Many threads on the site have some US American twist, why would this one be any different?!
Just look at the first comment and the reasoning given there.
If the site was dominated by Swiss chocolate lovers, then clearly Jean Tobler would be voted more influential than Darwin because "Toblerone is my favourite chocolate bar". That makes perfect sense, doesn't it?
Cesar, you don't have to convince me of Darwin's contribution to science. What I am saying is that reason is a foreign or even a hostile concept to those who deny the validity of evolutionary biology.
As far as the US American "colour" of the site is concerned, it is a function not of where the site is located and maintained, but simply a function of where most of its members happen to reside.
Ask an American who invented the telephone and the answer is likely to be "Bell", ask a German and the answer is likely to be "Reis", ask an Italian and the answer might be "Meucci". There is no point in arguing that people shouldn't have geographic bias, they do. I can't see why musicians would be any different either.
I will say this though to a musician who boasts that evolution is "only a theory" :
If evolutionary biology is to be considered unproven and rubbish by virtue of being called a theory, then it naturally follows that music theory is also unproven and rubbish.
I do not agree. Galileo was a scientist. He promoted and practiced the "do not speculate, go and find out" - approach in astronomy and physics. Kopernikus was a clergy. He was in fact 2000 years late with his heliocentric system, which then was mostly a speculation. And he didn't even plan to publish it in his lifetime. I see his contribution as overrated.
Alright, this will not be a popular opinion. I am aware of that. I wouldn't even give my opinion except that Laurie asked for it in her question. So here goes. I voted that the world would most miss the contributions of Charles Darwin. In my opinion, human beings spend the vast majority of their time trying to get away from the fact that they are created by an omnipotent God. We live our lives as if there is no God and do pretty much everything we can to convince ourselves of this. If it were not for Darwin and his great work of science fiction, the "Origin of Species", human beings would not have this theory of evolution to make ourselves feel better about ourselves. I think we sinners would miss that. That is not to say that if Mendelsohnn hadn't revitalized Bach life would be a bed roses. I just think that we all like Darwin too much to let him go. He is sort of like "warm milk" to the unsettled souls of sinful man.
Lincoln, Mendelssohn, and Darwin walked up to the bar. One ordered cotton gin, one bach-ordered, and one ordered the descent of man. Who ordered the nineteenth century?
Only a complete fool would call Darwin's work "science fiction".
I think it's sad when people find God and science incompatible. I find Darwin's theories perfectly compatible with a belief in God. If you've attached a lot of human-spun fantasy to your belief in God, well, I suppose you might have problems.
I voted for Lincoln...though I would have greatly missed Mendelssohn, too. I think Lincoln had a tremendous impact on our freedom as it is today, and I hate to imagine what life would be like now, had it not been for Lincoln. Regarding Darwin, much of his impact was based off of his own subjective opinions and observations, and I don't really see how one can believe the things he suggested...his theories seem to me to be more like hypotheses, because they haven't been proven, and in my estimation, can't ever be proven...at least with Lincoln, we have seen the results of his beliefs.
The answer was in Laurie's question all along and most of you failed to open your eyes enough to see it.
Which of these men's singular contributions would be most missed by the world, had he not lived?
Look at the sentence, it does not say missed by Americans, it does not say missed by musicians. It says missed by the world.
I am not religious-- I learned a long time ago that I do not need to rely on a "higher being" for happiness or comfort. But that doesn't mean that I think it is okay to try to smash the beliefs of a religious person.
I do absolutely agree with the Theory of Evolution. I'm not a person who can base their entire life beliefs off of the trust that there is "someone" watching over me. To those who can, I commend them. And I'm happy for them that they've found what works for them. I choose to believe in science and the idea that we evolved from a living creature that can be seen any day; not a "higher being through which the entire world was made".
Benjamin, you are very strong headed and blunt with your comments, somewhat like you're not afraid of what they may entail, but I do not dissaprove of your behavior because it may be offensive to some. I think it's great that you're not afraid to voice your opinion. Sadly, most people here are. There should be 98 comments to match 98 votes at the moment. If someone is going to vote about something like this I think they should explain their reasons because I find them interesting as I'm sure others do.
Mendelssohn did contribute some important work into the classical world, but what did he do for the rest of the world that was so substansial that we would be completely different without it?If you voted "Mendelssohn" I challenge you to explain. Do not be a selfish artist, take a non-bias stanse.
Lincoln helped those of the US and slaves, but what did he do for those in other places? If you voted for Lincoln and you are American, please explain to me why you did so as I enjoy so much reading others opinions. I am a person who likes to be educated and wil lnot predjiduce the beliefs of anyone.
These are my thoughts and if you have differences or comments on them please reply.
Paul G, a registered member can vote without commenting. I respect your opinions, and your decision to articulate them in writing. Please return that respect for those who chose to vote but not comment.
That said, I heard Lincoln used a shoulder rest...
Not denying evolution as a valid scientific belief. But we're still a few fossils away from the entire chain from monkey to man. That's all I meant. I'm sorry that my flippant comment started what looks like a flame war.
Well, I be a monkey's uncle, what a thread.
Folks, the fossil record supports spontanious apperance. And trying to base a relative relationship by bones as too what is what, shared design crosses speices utterly unrelated. Let's be human beings and keep our minds open to new discoveries and be ready to change whatever side of the fence we are on. Regardless if you accept Charles Darwin as your personal Lord & saviour or not... your Karma may run over your dogma.
Mendelson.... Finally answer Merideth!
"if you accept Charles Darwin as your personal Lord & saviour or not"
That has got to be the biggest nonsense I have read in a long time. What does evolution have to do with making Darwin into a lord and saviour? Do you deny the validity of Newton's teachings, too? If you don't, then does that mean you accept Newton as your personal lord and saviour?
Leaders of three large and influential world religions (Catholicism, Islam and Judaism) have just recently signed a resolution calling on their respective believers to accept the validity of Darwin's teachings. Does this mean that Catholicism, Islam and Judaism now accept Darwin as their lord and savior?
Dude, you are pathetic.
I voted for Darwin, but it's a thought-provoking question. I don't think that the fields of science, music, and politics work the same way--that is, Mendelssohn's music and Darwin's scientific work are not "theirs" in the same way. I am not saying this to denigrate Darwin or to deny that he was a genius.
But if Mendelssohn had never lived, we wouldn't have the music he wrote, period. Whereas if Darwin had never lived, evolution would still be real, would still occur just as it always has. I postulate that our knowledge today about it would also still be similar; it was an idea that was "in the air" at the time. Darwin's contemporary, Alfred Russell Wallace, was formulating a similar theory. In fact, Darwin publicized his work when he did in part because he feared being scooped by Wallace. And much of what we know about evolution today is owed not to Darwin, but to those who came after him.
Carl Safina elaborates on this point in his New York Times essay of February 9: "Darwinism Must Die So That Evolution May Live":
"The point is that making a master teacher into a sacred fetish misses the essence of his teaching."
Ah, true words.
"But we're still a few fossils away from the entire chain from monkey to man. That's all I meant."
Indeed, but that is precisely where you are wrong. It is like saying that Newton proved the existence of gravity and how it acts on apples and other fruit available in England at the time, but he did not prove the same for papaya and other exotic fruit that were not available in England at the time and that consequently his teachings are "unproven as a theorem" (your choice of words, not mine). You are totally missing the point how science is conducted.
"you are very strong headed and blunt with your comments"
Please note that I did not post anything saying there was no proof for this or that claim made in this or that religious book, let alone calling this or that religious book a fairy tale. I didn't make any such statement targeting religion. But several folks here made such statements targeting science. So how come I am the one who is blunt and they are not?
Isn't it rather strong headed and blunt to call Darwin's work "science fiction"? Isn't the aim of such a statement to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt, in other words, to intimidate? In my experience the only proper response is to confront the bully and point out in the strongest possible terms that they are wrong in their denial, that it does not have any merit.
I didn‘t vote for Mendelssohn. The idea that a composer called Mendelssohn existed is only a theory.
There is simply not enough evidence for his existence. It is said he composed many more music than the music published in his name - where are the missing works?
How could one single being compose as many great works as he in such a short lifetime? Ridiculous. If you don‘t agree, show me only one living composer who can do this.
No one living ever met him personally, no one can confirm his existence or watch him compose, it‘s only claims and rumors.
No one can compose music with this beauty and stringent complexity. Look at the living composers and show me only one to prove I‘m wrong.
To accept his existence would hurt my pride and common sense. Musicians are humble beings, such a potent creator of music would make all other musicians look like dwarfs.
I believe music comes from a creative designer (CD)! Yes!
Casting doubt is intimidation? I thought it was debate, Benjamin K.
The reason that we call it the theory of evolution is because it is a theory. The reason that it is a theory is because nobody now was actually around to make scientific observations when the first one-celled beings crawled out of the slime. You must know that a lot of "science" that was taught even 30 years ago (I think cell biology is one of those areas) is no longer taught because scientists have made new discoveries that have disproven what we thought we knew earlier. I know how the scientific method works--repeated experiments in controlled circumstances. Have we done that with evolution? Sure, we have plenty of evidence--fossil record, the continuing uselessness of certain antimicrobial substances, etc. But we haven't made evolution happen under controlled circumstances. In 30 years we probably will have proven evolution beyond all possible doubt, but we can't even fathom whether or not we will have a new theory.
It's also strange to compare Darwin to Newton. We generally can't watch evolution in action (it takes far too much time) but anybody who has fallen down a flight of stairs (and I have, and it's a pretty good story!) finds it hard to disprove gravity.
By the way, I do accept evolution as the best scientifc theory we've got. I've just been playing devil's advocate to make sure people are thinking. Unfortunately, I think I just made sure people were shouting by accident (and I mean on both sides, not just those who opposd me!). I truly am sorry that I opened this can of worms on V.com.
Devotion is devotion, and I have PhD. friends that their field is their religion/philosophy. Even Nationalism is a form of religion. I appologize for stirring strong emotions it wasn't my intent. What does seperate us from animials is our inherent need : a) Philosophy and b) Spirituality. With a) I cannot say that I have seen a cat contemplate the moral ramifications if it killed the mouse/bird that it clutches in it's paws. And with b) Nor have I seen a puppy pray before it eats. Only humans have this, vission of their body as a chrysalis, to be something more than a humanbeing. And the need to seek lessons of Modesty, humbleness, humility as virtues, strengths that differ to the Strongest that was meant by Charles that would survive. The strong he mentioned was brute force that would trample under foot the modest, etc.
Mr. K, my intents was for persons to remove their blinders weather they suscribe to Evolution or whatever. When we choose being dogmatic over open mindedness, reaction over reason.... we have created a god/dess in our image and in it's image we become molded. And from this union comes intolerance, and primordial fears. We could soon de-evolve into animalistic brutes.
My appologies, I will be more careful next time.
"The reason that we call it the theory of evolution is because it is a theory."
Which doesn't mean it's an unproven theorem. The term theory in science has a different meaning than it does in colloquial speech. In a detective movie the hero may say "I have a theory ..." and it means he's got a suspicion or a hunch. In science a theory is a framework of observations and explanations that have already been scrutinised. Indeed, scrutiny in science never ends, its a constant thing, but that only means that a theory that has been scrutinised and refined for 150 years is very well established based on an accumulated mountain of solid evidence. It is nonsense to say that it is an unproven theorem, it is demagoguery to say that it is science fiction.
"But we haven't made evolution happen under controlled circumstances."
Sure we have. Virii and bacteria have been observed in the lab as they evolved, for example as they become resistant to drugs we invent to kill them. We poison their environment and they adapt. Evolution in action and in real-time. Similar things have been done and observed with fruit flies. The kind or creatures where we are able to observe this during a human lifetime are of course going to be ones which live much much shorter lives than we do and reproduce at an accordingly fast rate. If you want to observe the same in species which live as long as humans do and reproduce at a corresponding slow rate, then you won't live long enough to observe, but the principles are the same, nevertheless.
Like I said, just because Newton didn't have a papaya fruit when he had his eureka moment seeing an apple fall doesn't mean that his observation only applies to apples and not any other fruits or objects.
"I appologize for stirring strong emotions it wasn't my intent."
Fair enough. I only hope you agree with me that accepting the validity of evolutionary biology is not equal to making Darwin into a personal lord and savior, because your earlier post does appear to be suggesting such a conclusion.
I'm sorry if calling Darwins "Origin of Species" science fiction has spread fear and doubt in people. If you want to hold to evolution as the source and cause of everthing the go for it. I called it science fiction because in my opinion (foolish as it may seem to many of you) it is a work of fiction steeped in "scientific" speculation. You may think I am wrong, and that is certainly wonderful for you to think that, but there is certainly nothing to be scared about in that I don't think. If I have sowed doubt in some people then investigate. I think Darwin himself would have encouraged that. I'm not afraid or bothered by your opinions, please don't be scared of mine.
Anyway, it should be obvious by now that there is an important candidate missing in Laurie's vote:
Jean Tobler, founder of the company that brought us the Toblerone chocolate bar. Toblerone tastes better than Darwin pet food and sells in more countries than Lincoln cars. Furthermore, the Matterhorn peak which inspired its shape is more than twice as high as any mountain in Germany thereby beating Mendelssohn hands down. And for those who need rock solid proof: The Matterhorn is still there, Toblerone can be found in your supermarket next door and the Swiss patent office still keeps the Toblerone patent on file. It also contains 3% of the finest honey. How could you possibly beat that? Besides, it's Valentine's day (or perhaps it was yesterday). I can't see how anybody hadn't voted for Tobler if only he had been put on the ballot.
Thanks to all for this excellent thread. It gives clues about the capabilities of those who visit here. Questions count. Possibilities are not to be discarded.
I wish my old biology professor could be on YouTube, delivering his lecture about what was then current thought regarding the beginnings of this planet and its organisms. He was a devout Baptist and delivered his lecture in the homiletic style of preachers he had heard. For lowbrow Protestant eighteen-year-old me, this talk was so clear, I could almost see it hanging in the air, with color, lights, motion, and crystalline clarity. I thank him for it as best I can, often by keeping silence.
By the way, I voted for Darwin.
Thank you, Karen!
What a lot of debate this question has created. To answer the original question, I don't think there can be much doubt. Darwin has had a worldwide influence that has shaped our modern world. Mendelssohn has had nowhere near this influence, and Lincoln's influence was mainly in one particular part of the world. However I think it was a brilliant question to ask, because it does throw up some vital points when considering Darwin's legacy. A musician and a politician with a conscience pose significant problems for evolutionary thought. Hear are a few questions:
1 How can natural selection as a mechanism lead to a species which listens to music for the purposes of recreation and spiritual nourishment?
2 In a worldview where evolution of one species into another is accepted as a driver of progress (as opposed to evolution within species), why does it matter whether or not you have slaves? From an evolutionary point of view, it is hard to see the point of a conscience. What would lead mankind to evolve to a point where a politician like Lincoln should think it worth defending the weak (rather then letting them be confined to history as unfit to evolve further)
3 There is a problem with "information" in the evolutionary viewpoint. It is all very well to develop an explanation for how matter could evolve from lower to higher lifeforms, but where does the "information" needed by these lifeforms come from. Further to this, in order for life to develop into higher lifeforms, there needs to be an increase in information. Can you find any examples of "information increase" via the mechanism of natural selection?
These questions and others are very pertinent for musicians. We have a unique viewpoint in the debate over our origins, and in our purpose in being here. This demands serious, considered, and polite debate. Quite the opposite of what you often get in discussions of this issue (on both sides sadly).
Please, Laurie. Keep this response line open. Absolutely fascinating.
Chris, you might want to read the following books ...
o The Evolution of Cooperation, by Robert Axelrod
o Behavioural Ecology, by Krebs & Davies
o The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins
Also, there was an interesting article in The Economist about evolution and music just recently ...
Benjamin, you need to register with your last name...
Laurie, did you request the same of ...
Kelsey Z, Paul.G, Vincent H, Will I, Barbara S, David G, Ken L, Julieta M, Jon Y, Christian S, H C, Brysien B, Ian T, Jinny H, J K, Ryan M, Tara D, Ev E, Suzie G, Nalph L, Julia D, Aysha N, Noah K, James P, Helen C, Roger P
or did you single me out?
NB: the above is not even a complete list of members who registered with an initial in place of a family name. These are as many as I could find without making a serious effort, that is to say within a time limit of five minutes.
Your tone grows more sour with each message. I don't understand why you attack people every time you comment on something. And I am not saying that just because I am second on your list (coincidence or not).
And almost everyone on that list is under the age 18, unlike you. I'm sure everyone on that list who is under 18 registered without using their full name for their own protection.
You on the other hand can't really use that excuse... And since you're so nosey I thought you would have seen my last name in my blog url...
Paul, I didn't attack anybody, I asked a question why I am being singled out when there are many others who aim to protect personal information just like I do. I think the people on that list are smart and none of them should be expected to have their family names displayed online, neither should I. Age is irrelevant because identity theft and online fraud is not limited to people of a certain age group.
>who of these three men changed history most? Who influenced our daily thinking most? Our culture? Who has had the most direct effect on my own life?<
A - Lincoln changed our history and culture the most.
B - Darwin changed our daily thinking
C - Mendelssohn has had the most direct affect on my own life.
Though each of these men had monumental impacts to society in general, it has been Mendelssohn that touches me closest. The day that I played his octect with several extremely talented teenagers will live with me forever. It was the day that the divide between generations completely disappeared forever.
Ben, thanks for the book list. I've read Dawkins' God Delusion, but not the Selfish Gene. The other 2 are new to me. Do you have any thoughts yourself? Or anyone else?
Lincoln and Darwen will go down in the history books as great men. But consider this - do they touch your heart. Mendelssohn is always touching your heart - so as a lover of music -he will always get my vote.. To the scientists and politicians -I say fight among yourselves - to my fellow fiddlers I say - listen to this or that version of the Mendelssohn - Enjoy. I think the two best performances of the Mendelssohn I ever heard was by Stzjgetti and Kreisler and I am sure other people will have other views of other great violinists . So Mendelssohn lives on for me and gets the vote.
The answer is that none of them would be missed. Think of the innumberable things that never happened, both good and bad. People are satisfied or not; a quality all its own.
Very wise and philosophical comment, Jim. But you will be missed by v.commies if you stop posting. Who really care the good or bad things didn't happen? They are insignificant because they are no-things! The fact is, some things have happened and we need to say it to us in different ways that, yes, it matters and matters a lot that these people did exist.
Ride your bike with care:)
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February 14, 2009 at 03:47 AM ·
I voted "Lincoln" because I am from Kentucky, and he is my favorite president.
I can't really comment on Darwin, maybe Karen can talk about what he did for science. Karen?
Also, Mendelssohn was a great composer, and he did all musicians a great favor by dusting off the Old Bach scores, but probably someone else would gotten around to it. Makes you think though...