The Living World

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Theme Convener: Kenneth Chapman ◦ Display Designers: Austin Frazer and Stirling Craig

In the foregoing sections of the Dome we have shown something of man’s achievement in exploration from the earth downward, outward and upward to the extremes of outer space where only intellect and imagination can carry him. The results are ever-increasing knowledge, and that knowledge is Science.

But this British desire to explore expresses itself in yet another way – as a probing deep inside nature to discover the secrets of the processes by which it works. Those who concern themselves with inanimate things are the physicists and chemists; the explorers of the world of living things are the biologists. The researches of these men and women are no less explorations than the journeys of Livingstone or the voyages of Cook. They do not necessarily have to travel far in pursuing their discoveries, but it so happens that some of them have been explorers by land or sea as well. A number of our own leading men of science to-day have been members of expeditions, for example to polar regions, the tropics or the Himalayas.

In exploring the living world, our biologists have been eminent in studying animals and plants as they occur in nature, why and how they live as they do and how they have come to be what they are. Here, in science, they have shown a trait characteristic of the British as a whole – a peculiar sympathy and understanding of the animals and plants around them. It expresses itself in many ways – not only in the work of our early naturalists but in stockraising and the English garden – to mention only two.

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Our early biologists

Of the early British biologists, three have been chosen to illustrate three of the directions from which the living world can be explored. They are John Ray who studied animals and plants so that he could classify them in their natural orders, Robert Brown, a laboratory scientist who was interested in their structure, and Gilbert White who made long and patient observations of the ways in which animals and plants live in their natural environment.

Charles Darwin

Dominating this section, just as his work still influences all modern biology, is Charles Darwin. The results of his work and thought, all through the world, are incalculably great. He had within him the sympathetic insight of the countryman, an accurate memory of distant explorations, the discipline of a naturalist and biologist and, above all, an intellect that could analyse and range his myriad observations into a theory that brought about a revolution in the scientific world. This was Natural Selection.

Associated with Darwin in the displays are the more notable of his contemporaries such as Huxley and Wallace, whose work also was strongly influenced by travel and exploration abroad.

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Modern research

The section culminates in a number of examples of modern work and research in biology – all of them showing an acceptance of the evolutionary principles that Darwin formulated, but pushing forward the frontiers of knowledge even further – study of mimicry in butterflies and the evolution of their form, to investigation of learning in birds. Pursuing the subject of learning, contemporary research on the brain and nervous mechanisms of octopuses and squids is demonstrated. The results of this have applications far beyond these creatures themselves and bear upon the working of the human nervous system.

Other displays are concerned with the mechanism of inheritance, with the intimate relationship between animals and their environment, migration, and the evolution of mankind. Taken together, all these examples show how the work of Charles Darwin has influenced the approach of those who to-day explore and discover in the Living World.

The visitor may notice that certain of our outstanding biological achievements with practical value are not included in this section. These are shown in those Pavilions to whose stories they particularly contribute. Pest control, for example, is in “The Land”, science in agriculture is in “The Country”, medicine and physiology are in the “Health” Pavilion.