on long walks and podcasts….

Now that I am walking, well, everywhere, I have become even more enamoured of my iPhone. I really do appreciate only having to carry/deal with/find one device to carry my music, some notes, and also act as a phone. I hadn’t really ventured much beyond some music and audio books for listening to at the gym until I moved to Manchester.
With that move, and the resulting walking to the office, and the store, and the doctor’s office, I am quickly finding that I sometimes like some “company” on the various treks I make each day. I’ve spent time with the brothers from Car Talk, the Friday Night Comedy Hour, Adam and Joe, and a bunch of one off lectures I’ve downloaded from random universities. I’ve recently found a series of lectures, though, that are a cut above the rest. They’re on serendipity and presented as a part of the Darwin Lectures.
As is often true of things found on the internet, my own encounter with them was serendipitous: both random and fortuitous. They had the additional benefit of being entertaining and thought provoking as well. I’ve not listened to them in order, the first I heard was from Richard Leaky, and his discussion on serendipity and scientific study was wide ranging and inspiring. It also twinned interestingly with Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book in that Leakey emphasized that while some of his fossil and skeletal discoveries may be called serendipitous (or part of the infamous “Leakey Luck”) none of his scientific advances or discoveries deserved that term. He was quite firm in his belief (and this is where he runs parallel with Gladwell) that science is pushed forward more with difficult and diligent work than any other way.
He said, instead, that serendipity played a part in the evolutionary process. He spent some time pointing out that many of the greatest “leaps” in evolution (to complex eyes or the ability to create complex language) may have happened for reasons that will forever stay mysterious. Whatever the evolutionary result was, the original problem solved by it may be forever lost in the past–and that serendipity lies in the myriad of options that were opened up with each evolutionary step.