Good Reminder: Bacteria Rule the Earth

(… modern horses represent the single surviving twig of a once luxurious, and now depleted, clade, and not the apex of a continually progressing trend). By the same argument, generalized to all of life, we understand the stability and continued domination of bacteria as the outstanding feature of life’s history, with the much vaunted progress of complexity towards mammalian elegance reinterpreted as a limited drift of a minor component of diversity into the only open space of complexity’s theoretical distribution… Hominid evolution must also be rethought as reduction of diversity to a single species of admittedly spectacular (but perhaps quite transient) current success. Stephen Jay Gould

Stephen Jay Gould (2002) The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Harvard University Press.

Stephen Jay Gould’s magnum opus rewards serious study (and study you will to understand his ramblings). For electronic medicine, there is no more important field of study than the evolution of microorganisms, and understanding evolutionary theory is basic to gaining depth in the area.

Evolutionary theory is one of the few great ideas in the history of science, and the only idea where the work of the original proponent, Charles Darwin himself, is as relevant to evolutionary arguments today as the year in which he wrote the first edition of his work.

I recommend the book only to those who love the pain of intellectual discovery, the joy of insight, and the wrenching voyage of new understanding. You may or may not agree with Gould in the end and the journey will be as painful (although potentially enlightening) as a pilgrimage to Mt. Kailash in Tibet. You will need a dictionary and access to the internet to make sense of his terminology and concepts if you are not an expert in the field.

“The world’s most revered and eloquent interpreter of evolutionary ideas offers here a work of explanatory force unprecedented in our time–a landmark publication, both for its historical sweep and for its scientific vision. With characteristic attention to detail, Stephen Jay Gould first describes the content and discusses the history and origins of the three core commitments of classical Darwinism: that natural selection works on organisms, not genes or species; that it is almost exclusively the mechanism of adaptive evolutionary change; and that these changes are incremental, not drastic. Next, he examines the three critiques that currently challenge this classic Darwinian edifice: that selection operates on multiple levels, from the gene to the group; that evolution proceeds by a variety of mechanisms, not just natural selection; and that causes operating at broader scales, including catastrophes, have figured prominently in the course of evolution. Then, in a stunning tour de force that will likely stimulate discussion and debate for decades, Gould proposes his own system for integrating these classical commitments and contemporary critiques into a new structure of evolutionary thought. In 2001 the Library of Congress named Stephen Jay Gould one of America’s eighty-three Living Legends–people who embody the “quintessentially American ideal of individual creativity, conviction, dedication, and exuberance.” Each of these qualities finds full expression in this peerless work, the likes of which the scientific world has not seen–and may not see again–for well over a century. Stephen Jay Gould is the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University and Vincent Astor Visiting Professor of Biology at New York University. A MacArthur Prize Fellow, he has received innumerable honors and awards and has written many books, including Ontogeny and Phylogeny and Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle (both from Harvard).”

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