A Dream Transformed
Historical accounts of the accomplishments of Ernst Haeckel have not been kind. He has been frequently dismissed as derailing Darwin’s theory by focusing only on phylogenetics and systematics, and by even committing fraud in conducting his embryological analyses. He was, with little doubt, a provocative and redoubtable polemicist. Yet he drew to his small outpost in Jena students who would become the most notable biologists of the next generation. His magnetic power resided in his inventiveness as a research scientist and innovator of methods, a scientist willing to push beyond the current horizon. Whereas Darwin, in the German context, had been thought only to argue that evolution was possible, Haeckel set out to demonstrate through experimentation and experimental observation that it was real. Moreover, he would show another side of the evolutionary process by revealing through extraordinary artistic works the beauties of nature – a romantic and even dream-like endeavor. In doing so, Haeckel literally painted new horizons for biology, ones which seemed to his contemporaries, among them Darwin, almost fantastical. Ultimately, however, more individuals learned of evolutionary theory through his voluminous works than from any other author, including Darwin himself. This chapter asks, how and why?
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