Christopher Columbus is a polarising figure in American history. He was a hero! He was a villain! But what if we look past the immediate consequences and look at his broader, unintended impacted on the human species as a whole?
That's exactly what Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson does in this short video. Dr. Tyson was the headlining speaker at last week's First Comes the Dream event our mates over at Gizmodo threw with io9 at the American Museum of Natural History. After his talk, rather than sneak away in a gigantic, star cluster-shaped limo, he spent hours standing around answering peoples' questions.
To put this into context, this is what Dr. Tyson was saying leading up to his statement about Columbus:
No life-form on Earth either lives or dies in vain. Because the fact that you die from some virus removes your gene-pool from what remains on the Earth, so that those who did not die from it have the immunity to it allowing them to continue forward. So you didn't die in vain and you didn't live in vain. And that process that continued for millions of years, in the evolutionary tract of the tree of life on Earth, has created what is today a portfolio of living organisms that have survived this far. And we've got germs within us that are not killing us, that would have killed earlier versions of us, but we survived it. Now you bring aliens down, they don't have those millions of years of naturally selected immunity, from our diseases. This is what happened when Columbus crossed the Atlantic.
It's a variation on a theory known as the Columbian Exchange, but this looks at it from a more holistic perspective, viewing the human species almost as a single living organism. Notice that Dr. Tyson doesn't say Columbus landing in America was the best thing to happen to humanity or the worst thing — he leaves that for you to decide — he says "most important". From an evolutionary standpoint, his case is certainly a strong one, at least for anything that has happened in recorded history.
Video was shot on a Motorola Atrix HD; apologies for the quality.