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Wonderful Life

I have to disagree with the general theme of Stephen Jay Gould's “Wonderful Life”. I don't place as high an emphasis on chance/luck as he does. I think if you were to wind back time you could predict the outcome again with a high degree of certainty. The problem, which is easier to explain if you say it is luck, is that the number of variables that go into one species surviving over another are too difficult to track and analyze over any reasonable time scale. Evolution is still about adaptation to the changing environment, the problem is the environment is constantly changing, so what made one species the most adapted a minute ago might have changed (think asteroid hitting the earth). This is why I think you can predict what will survive if you play out all of the what-if scenarios, provided you can think of them all. The shear number of interdependencies between everything makes this unrealistic, hence luck can instead be used to explain the outcome.

The author's discussion on the impact that visual representation can have on a concept was great and I think has lead to the misconception of equating evolution with progress, which is isn't. I could have done without the middle section of the book where every creature from the Burgess Shale was described in detail. I felt like the author wanted to give the reader a taste of what it was like to reread all of the highly technical descriptions of those animals by the teams that reexamined them.


32: Evolution, to professionals, is adaptation to changing environments, not progress.
38: Branches in the tree of life don't join for animals but can in plants.
39: Typical tree of life graphs promote a “placement in time is conflated with judgment of worth” view.
44: Perhaps we are only an afterthought, a kind of cosmic accident, just one bauble on the Christmas tree of evolution.
48: Evolution is part luck, the “replaying life's tape” experiment.
54: History of life is not a continuum, but includes brief periods of extreme change such as geological mass extinction.
56: Why did multicellular life appear so late?
129: Science is a process of correction.
213: Homology and analogy similarities play an important role. Homology is simple inheritance of features present in common ancestors An example is the number of neck vertebrae is the same for humans, giraffes, and bats. Analogy is separate evolution for the same function. An example is the wings of birds, bats, and pterosaurs.
228: Three evolutionary theories on the disparity in the Burgess:
1.There was an abundance of empty space to fill allowing almost any kind of organism design to be tried and survive for awhile.
2.The organisms were more flexible allowing more designs to be tried for the same solution by sharing a common ancestor.
3.Organisms experienced large jumps that allowed certain ones to flourish as the multicellular life form was still in the early stages of evolving.
234: Better survival is a prediction to be tested, not a definition of adaptation.
276: Scientific innovation is usually stifled by conceptual problems, but factual.
284: The replay concept is appealing since it is a history that did not have to be, any number of changes in the reply would have produced a different outcome.
320: Homo sapiens are an entity, not a tendency.

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