Daryn Lehoux


On his book Creatures Born of Mud and Slime: The Wonder and Complexity of Spontaneous Generation

Cover Interview of November 13, 2017


Some years ago now, I came across a casual reference in Ptolemy to a fact that he just took for granted about the world: that if you get garlic on a magnet it will wreck the magnet. Tracing the history of this claim­­­—and it gets reiterated no small number of times—to its eventual dissolution proved a fascinating exploration of how obviousness infects our thinking about the world (see my What Did the Romans Know? for the details). When I started on the project that would become Creatures Born of Mud and Slime, I thought that spontaneous generation might work in much the same way as garlic-magnets. I was wrong.

Instead, spontaneous generation is a much richer, much more complex, and much more wonder-filled ground in which to explore fundamental questions about how people think about evidence, plausibility, matter and material forces, and processes that somehow transcend the materiality of those forces. True, as with garlic and magnets, what we think of as obvious is challenged again and again as we engage with very different ways of looking at the world and different ways of making sense of our experiences in it. That, to my mind, is both humbling and fascinating. I suppose it’s why I’m in this business.