Neuron Culture

Bloggingheads.tv just posted a conversation Greg Laden and I had about the second-biggest scientific controversy of Darwin’s time, and of Darwin’s life: the argument over how coral reefs form. The coral reef argument was fascinating in its own right, both scientifically and dramatically — for here a very capable andn conscientious scientist, Alexander Agassiz, struggled to reconcile both two views of science and the legacies of the two scientific giants of the age, one of whom was his father.

His story — and the tumultuous 19th-century struggle to define science and empiricism — is the subject of my book Reef Madness: Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz, and the Meaning of Coral . Greg and I here cover some of the same ground the book covers.

You might also check out the long review of Reef Madness that Greg posted a couple days ago.

On the multimedia side, though, you can view the whole talk (or selected sections) at Bloggingheads, or, for starters, sample some short clips I’ve created below:

Here’s one on what the incredible overlap between the reef and species arguments:

Another clip I built, about a minute long, describes what makes Alexander Agassiz’s particular story so important and intriguing.

Don’t let the photo on me in the freeze frame scare you. They managed to freeze a frame where I look like I’m angry, but was probably just getting ready to sneeze. It was a quite amiable conversation. And if you watch it, or read the book, you’ll know of the biggest, weirdest, longest, and most confounding scientific controversy of the 19th-century, or of Darwin’s life and career, for that matter. And isnt’ that something you should know?

Many thanks to Greg Laden for proposing this conversation.