For me, Darwin's bravery in the face of a theocratic establishment, his open-mindedness and realisation of new ideas, his brilliance at communicating those ideas and his genius in general make him the greatest contributor to the understanding of what it is to be human, or to be alive at all.
Below is a quick drawing of Mr Darwin taking Indohyus for a walk. Indohyus fits somewhere very early on in one of my favourite evolutionary tales - that of the whale, a mammal that went from the land back to the sea and of which the fossil record, including some stunning examples of the intermediate stages, tells a remarkable story. Look at a whale or dolphin skeleton today and you will see one of the many irrefutable proofs of evolution - vestigial organs, for sea mammals retain rudimentary bones that were once hind legs, though they don't do a lot now they have become fully aquatic.
Another fascinating clue to the whale's terrestrial origins is the manner in which it swims, not like a fish, waving its body side to side, but in the same way that a dog or a cat runs, with the spine undulating like a ripple.
Spines... that brings me to a completely different topic, but something I thought I'd share. That drawing of Darwin above is the first thing I've drawn in over two weeks, a rather miserable couple of weeks if I'm honest. Two weeks ago I leant down to pick up a leaflet that had come through the letterbox and did my back in. Big ouch. My back is susceptible for a couple of reasons and I'm used to having a bit of a stiff back every other month or so. But once in a while, maybe every two or three years, it really goes, and this has been one of those times. The piercing muscle spasms render me almost immoveable to begin with, and the trouble this time is that after I started to get some freedom of movement back, I became over-confident and it went again, this time worse, prolonging everything.
Another big ouch. But in time, as it always does, things got better - the remedy beginning with a bag of frozen peas and lots of rest and moving on to heat patches, a back support and light movement as soon as I could. Interestingly, as things improve, the pain moves around, from the middle left, to the lower right, to the left side and eventually up to my right shoulder (just to make sure I really couldn't draw even at the end!). Today is the first day I feel virtually pain free, though sitting too long at the desk still produces an ache or two - so I'm being careful. (Of course, sitting at the desk for too long was the cause in the first place, picking up the leaflet was just the accurately proverbial straw (it broke the camel's back, you see, and the camel, being an even-toed ungulate, is a paraphyletic cousin of the whale - just to keep things Darwinian). Anyway, a regime of daily walks is now on the schedule.)
This, unfortunately, has consequences for the Rainbow Orchid publication date, though I'm not sure yet to what extent. In addition, none of this has done much for my mental attitude, and where the intense work ethic required for graphic storytelling is concerned, that is a hurdle to overcome - which I will, as I get back into things (so don't worry).
I do have one other remaining symptom of my back going, and that is an irregular sharp pain in my right heel. It's slowly fading, but I often have such hurtiness in my foot arches and just yesterday I realised that this may well be related to the state my back's in at the time, so I'll keep an eye on that.
Hm... and that brings me back to Darwin. An article in Science this week has shown how Australopithecus afarensis, an ancestor of modern humans who lived over 3 million years ago (the most famous example of which is Lucy), almost certainly had arched feet, evidence for bipedality - standing and walking upright. The thing about walking upright, wonderful as it is, is that we have not fully adapted to it - as with the entire evolutionary process, it's a matter of compromise after the fact. I became interested in evolutionary medicine after I saw Richard Dawkins interview Randolph Nesse, especially when he talked about how the spine is a mechanism that developed horizontally and is just about ideal for that kind of creature, but when it is moved into an upright position, a recent development, the internal organs that once hung perpendicularly now drape down, causing a few problems - for instance entangled intestines, a number of issues relating to pregnancy and, not related to the organs but to the new posture, good old back ache. Understanding evolution shines a very illuminating light onto all kinds of things - thanks, Mr Darwin!