Thursday 14 August 2014


I was looking at the portrait of Charles Darwin on a £10 note just now when a little thought experiment occurred to me... There was Darwin, the very image of a big-brained, bearded, wise old ape, brooding on his huge and discomfiting Idea. Evolution could have no better icon. But suppose, I wondered, suppose Darwin looked like Herbert Spencer (above). The Idea, of course, would still be there - but its iconic force would surely be much diminished.
 Similarly, suppose Einstein had not looked like everyone's idea of the mega-brained, wild-haired professor, his head bursting with world-shattering ideas and profound insights? Suppose he had looked more like, say, Niels Bohr, who could have passed for a bank manager...
 Or suppose Stephen Hawking, instead of being the very image of a mighty mind trapped in a useless body, had been able-bodied? Hard to believe he'd have been quite the world-conquering celeb he is today...
 At least Richard Dawkins, for all his fame, is unlikely to become an Icon, blesses as he is with the bland, polished features of an Anglican bishop - albeit one who looks after himself and has a good barber.


  1. Never in a million years did Jacob Bronowski look like a man who made eggs from coal dust, he was the epitome of the Jewish intellectual, not a bloke who rummaged around nutty slack.
    The philosophers walk behind Heidelburg Castle was populated by genius, all walking with their hands behind their back, muttering oh no, here comes another bloody genius. Is there, do we think, an appearance gene peculiar to clever clogs, or is there out there a budding nuclear physicist who looks like Ronnie Corbett.

  2. One thing's for sure Malty - if Bronowski had looked like Ronnie Corbett he wouldn't have got that Ascent of Man gig. On the other hand, Prof Brian Cox gets a lot of work, and he looks like... Prof Brian Cox!
    Ken Dodd would have made a good mad scientist...