How An Idea Makes Something Valuable

White people discovered the Galapagos Islands in 1535 when a Spanish ship came upon them after being blown off course by a storm. Nobody was living there, nor were remains of any human settlement ever found there.

This unlucky ship wished nothing more than to carry the Bishop of Panama to Peru, never losing sight of the South American coast. There was this storm which rudely hustled it westward, ever westward, where prevailing human opinion insisted there was only sea and more sea.

But when the storm lifted, the Spaniards found that they had delivered their bishop into a sailor's nightmare where the bits of land were mockeries, without safe anchorage or shade or sweet water or dangling fruit, or human beings of any kind. They were becalmed, and running out of water and food. The ocean was like a mirror. They put a longboat over the side, and towed their vessel and their spiritual leader out of there.

They did not claim the islands for Spain, any more than they would have claimed hell for Spain. And for three full centuries after revised human opinion allowed the archipelago to appear on maps, no other nation wished to own it. But then in 832, one of the smallest and poorest countries on the planet, which was Ecuador, asked the peoples of the world to share this opinion with them: that the islands were part of Ecuador.

No one objected. At the time, it seemed harmless and even comical opinion. It was as though Ecuador, in a spasm of imperialistic dementia, had annexed to its territory a passing cloud of asteroids.

But then young Charles Darwin, only three years later, began to persuade others that the often freakish plants and animals which had found ways to survive on the islands made them extremely valuable, if only people would look at them as he did-from a scientific point of view.

One one English word adequately describes his transformation of the islands from worthless to priceless: magical.


Vonnegut relates how the Galapagos Islands were worthless until Darwin's revolutionary idea made them a huge tourist attraction.

Folksonomies: evolution ideas idea perspectives intrinsic value value

/technology and computing/consumer electronics/camera and photo equipment/telescopes (0.450666)
/sports/running and jogging (0.442296)
/travel/tourist destinations/south america (0.394683)

Galapagos Islands (0.924844 (negative:-0.024671)), huge tourist attraction (0.892286 (positive:0.401837)), South American coast (0.841818 (neutral:0.000000)), human opinion (0.838125 (neutral:0.000000)), young Charles Darwin (0.801503 (neutral:0.000000)), unlucky ship (0.617321 (negative:-0.491854)), dangling fruit (0.612992 (negative:-0.258042)), White people (0.610697 (negative:-0.426508)), Spanish ship (0.609868 (negative:-0.426508)), freakish plants (0.601857 (positive:0.280061)), human settlement (0.598340 (neutral:0.000000)), imperialistic dementia (0.592341 (negative:-0.590478)), safe anchorage (0.588058 (negative:-0.258042)), human beings (0.584542 (neutral:0.000000)), poorest countries (0.584518 (negative:-0.323269)), spiritual leader (0.582574 (negative:-0.277072)), sweet water (0.574040 (negative:-0.258042)), English word (0.568038 (negative:-0.429116)), scientific point (0.567460 (neutral:0.000000)), storm (0.499106 (negative:-0.493739)), Ecuador (0.464887 (neutral:0.000000)), bishop (0.405796 (negative:-0.421809)), sea (0.392580 (neutral:0.000000)), Spain (0.388228 (negative:-0.373399)), longboat (0.379645 (neutral:0.000000)), Vonnegut (0.375162 (positive:0.401837)), Spaniards (0.373407 (negative:-0.351765)), spasm (0.364109 (negative:-0.590478)), Idea (0.359854 (positive:0.401837)), archipelago (0.358683 (neutral:0.000000))

Galapagos Islands:GeographicFeature (0.774033 (negative:-0.095342)), Ecuador:Country (0.331656 (neutral:0.000000)), Spain:Country (0.316255 (negative:-0.366188)), Charles Darwin:Person (0.289048 (neutral:0.000000)), Darwin:OperatingSystem (0.272791 (positive:0.401837)), Bishop of Panama:Facility (0.269269 (negative:-0.491854)), Vonnegut:Person (0.254287 (positive:0.401837)), Peru:Country (0.229740 (negative:-0.491854)), three years:Quantity (0.229740 (neutral:0.000000))

Galápagos Islands (0.948986): geo | dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
Charles Darwin (0.943248): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
Ecuador (0.723914): dbpedia | ciaFactbook | freebase | opencyc | yago
Pacific Ocean (0.665840): geo | dbpedia | ciaFactbook | freebase | opencyc
Darwin's finches (0.664407): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Race (0.618880): dbpedia | yago
Africa (0.544959): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Natural selection (0.474507): dbpedia | freebase

Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Vonnegut , Kurt (1985), Gala'pagos, Delacorte / Seymour Lawrence, Retrieved on 2011-03-12
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: politics evolution culture fiction science fiction darwin