Understanding The Thought Process Of Charles Darwin

Contrary to popular belief, Charles Darwin was not a brilliant thinker. In his 1986 commencement speech at the Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, biographer Charlie Munger said that he would have suspected Charles Darwin to graduate ranking in the middle of his Harvard class. Again, Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson agreed; he said that Darwin would have scored in the 130 range on a regular IQ test. Yet why was Darwin down in the history books next to genius, calculus-inventor Isaac Newton? Let’s find out.

Intense Focus and an Ever-Present Thirst for Knowledge

According to his autobiography, Darwin had the equivalent of a nose on a bloodhound for knowledge, at least in the topics he was interested in. While aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, he had acquired this skill of intense focus and attentive energy which he then utilized to do whatever he did in science.

Darwin didn’t only think broadly, but he also thought carefully. He constantly looked at and looked into the exceptions; the things that disproved previously known facts, and thus many discoveries were based on just this focus. His hunt was that of the truth, and he knew that to get it, you needed lots of details and time.

For many years, he studied and observed plants and animals, and when his baby son was born, he studied him too! His curiosity and drive were like an itch he just had to scratch, and it yielded results that continue to benefit us all today.

Darwin took many notes. He filled countless notebooks with the information he had gathered, he constantly took notes of the deficiencies in his understanding, and he sought to fill in the gaps where he could.

Darwin’s Golden Rule

Unlike most people, Darwin had no problem weighing ideas in his mind that previously were thought to be the opposite of true, or disproved known “facts”. No one likes being told that what they have always known could be wrong; people hate being contradicted and ideas that contradict are extremely uncomfortable. Darwin was an open-minded individual: counter-intuition was second nature to him. He had a very simple habit of thought. He was meticulous in collecting facts that did agree with his prior conceptions. This, he called his golden rule.

We owe a great part of biology and the history of the world to Darwin. His success carries through to this day. The Origin of Species, a book written by him, has stood the test of time for over 150 years of subsequent biological studies because he was so meticulous that his theory was almost impossible to disprove.

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