Social Evolution

Gear Butterfly Gears Butterfly

I’ve mentioned already my love for the sheer magic of the extended order – the traditions and unspoken rules that we all obey, from the grand to the minutiae of specialists. One of the most exciting things around this is the idea that society is constantly evolving, ever changing.

Adam Smith and the great Scottish economists of the 1700s understood this and their ideas around economic evolution were taken up by Darwin, who applied them to the natural sciences and introduced them to the mainstream.

I think social media is a great case in point that demonstrates this. Just the other week I was having a discussion with some colleagues at work, and one made a passing comment about, ‘those people who invented social media…’.

This clanged about in my brain, and travelling back on the train it struck me that no-one invented social media. Various companies developed websites for specific purposes (rating other people at college, new ways for taxi drivers to communicate), and over time these sites grew and morphed and the users drove them in unexpected directions as the companies themselves struggled to keep up and develop the sites while keeping them commercially viable. At no stage did anyone sit down and think, “I know, I’ll invent social media today and it will be one of the greatest developments of the Internet of the 21st century!”

This never, ever happens, because nearly always the good things in life evolve over time, shaped by many people, not just the people that invented them. This is why socialism will always be doomed to fail. The extended order can never be controlled or predicted by individual minds, the great planners of the world will never second guess society.

I think there is a key aspect of life that explains this, that I’ll explore tomorrow.

Darwin and Dadd

Charles Darwin Evolution

Back in 2010, I took it upon myself to attempt, purely for fun, to adapt Terry Pratchett’s ‘The Wee Free Men’ into a screenplay. At some point during the process, around the point where Tiffany finds herself in a dream not too dissimilar to Richard Dadd’s incredible painting, “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke”, I took the opportunity to print a copy of the painting to hang next to my desk.

The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke
by Richard Dadd

While mulling over the image, marvelling at the curious nature of the painting and the precision with which Dadd had placed everything, I noticed strange deformities in some of the Fairy’s depicted in the scene.

Two things in particular jumped out at me. If you take a look at the painting you’ll see the Fairy Feller, his axe held aloft waiting for the sign from the grey-haired Patriarch. It struck me that the heads of the fairies between the Feller and the Partriarch were particularly deformed; they almost looked like eyes. What’s more, the folds of one of the fairy’s cloak looked like a nose, and the Feller’s hat looked like a mouth.

I looked more closely and noted that the mound upon which Oberon and Titania stand (just above the Patriarch), looked like the curve of the top of a head, and the coat of the fairy to the left of the pinky-red cloaked fairy looks like an ear.

The Hidden Man

It must be a face, I concluded. Now that I could see it, it looked too prominent to be a coincidence. All I could see when I looked at the picture was the face, and wondered why I hadn’t noticed it before.

I threw the image into Photoshop and messed around with the levels a little and a few things started to bug me:

Firstly, the pinky-red cloak of the (female?) squashed head fairy, directly below the Patriarch’s beard, lacks detail (which doesn’t match the clothes of the rest of the Fairies).

Secondly, if her head is meant to be an eye, it doesn’t quite tie up with the head of her partner (the other ‘eye’).

Thirdly, what’s with her partner’s foot? He’s crossing his legs at a very awkward angle.

Fourthly, the hidden face is almost at the centre of the painting but not quite, it felt a little too far to the right and off balance.

Then I noticed the gold curve that stretches round the right hand side of the Patriarch’s hat.

And I saw it.

The Ape

The profile of an Ape!

What’s more, it’s the profile of an Ape overlaid over the profile of a man’s face, much like Apple’s Finder icon.

Suddenly, it all made sense.

The cloak is the smooth pink part of the Apes face.

The eyes don’t match as the Ape’s eye is looking to the right, and the man’s eye is looking forward.

The awkwardly placed foot of the partner makes up the Ape’s nose.

Man and Ape

When you put the outline of the Ape and the Man together it’s right, slap bang in the middle of the picture, thusly:

This got my brain whirring. Ape and Man… Evolution?

A small amount of research on the internet revealed Charles Darwin, father of the theory of Evolution, and Richard Dadd were contemporaries. I also found quite a few similarities between the two men.

Both travelled extensively in their early careers,

Both apparently suffered from Bi-polar disorder,

Both had strong links with Kent,

Dadd painted The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke between 1855 and 1864,

Darwin published Origin of the Species on the 22 November 1859.

So would Dadd, locked away in Bethlem in Beckenham, Kent, have known of Darwin’s ideas, perhaps even known Darwin, who, after all, lived a mere seven miles away in Downe?

Dadd painted The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke for one George Henry Hayden, the head steward at Bethlem Royal Hospital at the time.

A quick Google search revealed records of correspondence between George Henry Hayden and Charles Darwin at While the contents of the letters remain unknown, it’s not the greatest leap of logic to think that Hayden knew Darwin, possibly treated him for his depression, and spoke to Dadd about Darwin and his theories. As a gift, Dadd hid the image of the man and the ape in the painting for Hayden. Perhaps the hidden man is Hayden?

Who knows?