Proteus – Ernst Haeckel

Selections from the the film Proteus, a documentary about the life, work, and philosophy of Ernst Haeckel, a 19th century naturalist and early evolutionist. The film tells of Haeckel’s character and influences while animating his magical detailed engravings of Radiolaria, single celled marine organisms.

When Charles Darwin first published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), no remains of human ancestors had yet been found. Haeckel postulated that evidence of human evolution would be found in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), and described these theoretical remains in great detail. He even named the as-of-yet unfound species, Pithecanthropus alalus, and charged his students to go find it. Well, one student did find the remains: a young Dutchman named Eugene Dubois went to the East Indies and dug up the remains of Java Man, the first human ancestral remains ever found. These remains was originally named after Haeckel’s Pithecanthropus label, though they were later reclassified as Homo erectus.

Ernst Haeckel was one of the first to consider psychology as a branch of physiology. He also proposed many now ubiquitous terms including “phylum”, “phylogeny”, “ecology”, and proposed the kingdom Protist in 1866. His chief interests lay in evolution and life development processes in general, including development of nonrandom form, which culminated in the beautifully illustrated Kunstformen der Natur (Art forms of nature).

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