Thursday, February 8, 2007

One last thought on Pan's Travail

I was reading through all the posts on Pan's Travail and started thinking about different parts of the book that stood out to me, and I realized that one of the things that really struck me when I was reading, but no one has really brought up yet, was how many patterns in nature people really picked up on during the Ancient Greek/Roman times. You often hear about all of the ways people destroy their environments, and I guess when it comes to historical periods I often considered a significant amount of the destruction to be a result of a lack of knowledge. Which, although in a lot of cases it is, I was surprised at how many different people Hughes was able to cite when discussing the causes and results of problems such as deforestation, erosion and water pollution.
In a course I took last semester, we spent every class in discussions about ecological theories and ideas that have revolutionized how we think about ecosystems and our surrounding environments. What I found interesting while reading this book though, was how close a lot of writers/philosophers, that Hughes cites, came to many of these "new" ideas. Just to name one example that I found while going back through my notes, on page 63, Hughes talks about Herodotus and how he considered the relationship between predator and prey: "timid animals that are eaten by others produce young in abundance, while predators bring forth only a few offspring"...while I was unable to go back to the exact source to see how Herodotus stated it originally, I couldn't help but think of how close this observation is to the basic idea behind R and K selection--which is obviously a little more complex, but I found it interesting that two other philosophers from his time period also acknowledged this pattern. Perhaps my argument is a bit of a stretch, but I thought I would just throw the idea out there...


Chris Jennelle said...


A very interesting point you make in your post. Perhaps much more was understood about the different phenomena in nature than we give the 'ancients' credit for. To some degree, contemporary scientists and writers may be reinventing the wheel (unbeknownst to them) in their publications. I guess whoever is able to get an idea in print and spread it to a wide audience gets the credit for a discovery.

AleciaM said...

I thought that Pans Travail was a well written book. At first I thought that it was going to be a long dry book about the environment but I was drawn right in after the first page. I was really impressed by the similarities of the acient problems and the modern problems that we have today. Who would have thought that there was noise pollution and issues with rush hour traffic back in the days??