Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday TED Talk: Elaine Morgan and the Naked Darwinist

Today's TED Talk from the 2009 TED Global Conference at Oxford is given by Elaine Morgan, who set a record by being (at 85+) one of the oldest speakers to address a TED audience. (As she notes toward the end of her talk, "I am older now than George Burns was when he said, 'At my age, I don't even buy green bananas.'") She demonstrates in just seventeen minutes her feisty personality, which has equipped her for her one-woman crusade over the last thirty-odd years to get scientists to come to terms with the so-called "Aquatic Ape" Hypothesis, first suggested a half century ago by marine biologist Sir Alister Hardy as an evolutionary explanation for why humans have much less skin hair than apes, and a layer of subcutaneous body fat, and are bipedal. He hypothesized that unlike their nearest ancestors, who remained in the trees, humans had come down from the trees and had undergone an aquatic evolutionary phase before returning to dry land. The idea has never attracted scientific support, and as you listen to Elaine Morgan tell her story with wit and charm, you can almost buy into the David-and-Goliath picture she describes:

But be wary: while most scientists have more things to do than to answer her arguments, there is at least one Website which makes a serious effort to do so. (See also this post, by anthropologist John Hawks; and note that anthropologist Nina Jablonski, whom I featured in an earlier Friday post, and who specializes in the study of the evolution of skin, does not buy into the hypothesis either). Elaine Morgan was a highly successful TV writer in her day, and so she knows how to put together a good story (a bio with links is here). She writes as entertainingly as she speaks: her latest book, The Naked Darwinist, can be downloaded as a free .pdf file from her own Website. (Be sure, however, to take a look at Jim Moore's detailed critique of it also.) It is not often that you can find such an entertaining point-counterpoint debate taking place between supporters of evolutionary theory.

As always, you may watch Elaine Morgan's talk in high-res video from this link, and you may download the talk in other formats from this page.

1 comment:

  1. Just an update: the above link to Elaine Morgan's website no longer works. Here's the new link to her website: