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Charles Darwin and ‘The Tree of Life’

Charles Darwin and ‘The Tree of Life’

Charles Darwin was an English naturalist and geologist whose most prolific work was in the field of evolutionary theory. He suggested that all species were linked and had descended from common ancestors. He further proposed that the branching pattern of evolution was a result of what he called natural selection and the survival of the fittest.

In 1859, he published his theory of evolution entitled The Origin of Species which is still seen as a seminal text on the subject. Darwin is thought to be one of the most influential figures in human history.

‘The Tree of Life’ is just one of the many ideas which are explored in The Origin of Species. It is a metaphor for the relationships between organisms both living and extinct. Darwin suggested that the use of a tree as the central image for describing the interconnected nature of all things was appropriate because however a tree may change as it grows and enters its life cycle, it remains grounded by its roots – the part of its make-up which contains all the information about its physiological being. He goes onto suggest that the behaviour of a tree is reminiscent of the way that all other species behave in the fight to survive: the tree’s branches extend and grow and try to surpass those which already exist in order to become the strongest (or fittest) of their kind. To end the metaphor, Darwin proposes that at the end of its life, a tree may fall but, its presence and impact is lasting and strong.

‘The Tree of Life’ as a metaphor is an interesting image and idea to use as a basis for the exploration of what it means to be alive and to form relationships that will ensure humanity’s lasting impact on the planet.

Find extracts from the book below read by Annie Coleman Rothenberg & Kara Shallenberg:

Terence Mallick's 2011 film The Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Sean Penn, explores the meaning of life through one man’s memory and wider ideas about life in the universe ...