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Stephen Jay Gould (1941 – 2002)


American geologist, paleontologist, evolutionary biologist and popular-science author, who spent most of his career teaching at Harvard University and working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Stephen Jay Gould
Wallace's error on human intellect arose from the inadequacy of his rigid selectionism, not from a failure to apply it. And his argument repays our study today, since its flaw persists as the weak link in many of the most “modern” evolutionary speculations of our current literature. For Wallace's rigid selectionism is much closer than Darwin's pluralism to the attitude embodied in our favored theory today, which, ironically in this context, goes by the name of “Neo-Darwinism.”
Gould quotes
[Gould's] historical account is highly selective; he asserts the non-objectivity of science so that he can test for scientific truth, flagrantly, by the standards of his own social and political convictions; and by linking his critique to the quest for fairness and justice, he exploits the generous instincts of his readers.… In effect, we see here Lysenkoism risen again: an effort to outlaw a field of science because it conflicts with a political dogma.
Gould
In France, Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire attempted to portray the skeleton of vertebrates as a set of modifications upon an archetypal vertebra. In the 1820's, Geoffroy extended his ambitious plan to include annelids and arthropods under that same rubric. ...Vertebrates support their soft parts with an internal skeleton, but insects must live within their vertebrae (a reality, not a metaphor, for Geoffroy). This comparison led to... the claim that a vertebrate rib must represent the same organ as an arthropod leg - and that insects must therefore walk on their own ribs!




Gould Stephen Jay quotes
Complex organisms cannot be construed as the sum of their genes, nor do genes alone build particular items of anatomy or behavior by themselves. Most genes influence several aspects of anatomy and behavior—as they operate through complex interactions with other genes and their products, and with environmental factors both within and outside the developing organism. We fall into a deep error, not just a harmful oversimplification, when we speak of genes “for” particular items of anatomy or behavior.
Gould Stephen Jay
Now it is not very hard to find out, if you spend a little while reading in evolution, that Gould is the John Kenneth Galbraith of his subject. That is, he is a wonderful writer who is beloved by literary intellectuals and lionized by the media because he does not use algebra or difficult jargon. Unfortunately, it appears that he avoids these sins not because he has transcended his colleagues but because he does not seem to understand what they have to say; and his own descriptions of what the field is about—not just the answers, but even the questions—are consistently misleading.
Stephen Jay Gould quotes
In our struggle to understand the history of life, we must learn where to place the boundary between contingent and unpredictable events that occur but once and the more repeatable, lawlike phenomenon that may pervade life's history as generalities.
Stephen Jay Gould
True majorities, in a TV-dominated and anti-intellectual age, may need sound bites and flashing lights—and I am not against supplying such lures if they draw children into even a transient concern with science. But every classroom has one [Oliver] Sacks, one [Eric] Korn, or one [Jonathan] Miller, usually a lonely child with a passionate curiosity about nature, and a zeal that overcomes pressures for conformity. Do not the one in fifty deserve their institutions as well—magic places, like cabinet museums, that can spark the rare flames of genius?
Gould Stephen Jay quotes
Very little comes easily to our poor, benighted species (the first creature, after all, to experiment with the novel evolutionary inventions of self-conscious philosophy and art). Even the most “obvious,” “accurate,” and “natural” style of thinking or drawing must be regulated by history and won by struggle. Solutions must therefore arise within a social context and record the complex interactions of mind and environment that define the possibility of human improvement.
Gould
Evolution is the conviction that organisms developed their current forms by an extended history of continual transformation, and that ties of genealogy bind all living things into one nexus. Panselectionism is a denial of history, for perfection covers the tracks of time. A perfect wing may have evolved to its current state, but it may have been created just as we find it. We simply cannot tell if perfection be our only evidence. As Darwin himself understood so well, the primary proofs of evolution are oddities and imperfections that must record pathways of historical descent—the panda's thumb and the flamingo's smile of my book titles (chosen to illustrate this paramount principle of history).
Gould Stephen Jay
Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away while scientists debate rival theories for explaining them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air pending the outcome. And human beings evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to be discovered. [...] Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science, “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.” I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.
Stephen Jay Gould
There are no shortcuts to moral insight. Nature is not intrinsically anything that can offer comfort or solace in human terms—if only because our species is such an insignificant latecomer in a world not constructed for us. So much the better. The answers to moral dilemmas are not lying out there, waiting to be discovered. They reside, like the kingdom of God, within us—the most difficult and inaccessible spot for any discovery or consensus.




Stephen Jay Gould quotes
Gould's argument on reification purports to get at the philosophical foundation of the field. He claims that general intelligence, defined as the factor common to different cognitive abilities, is merely a mathematical abstraction; hence if we consider it a measurable attribute we are reifying it, falsely converting an abstraction into an “entity” or a “thing”—variously referred to as “a hard, quantifiable thing,” “a quantifiable fundamental particle,” “a thing in the most direct, material sense.” Here he has dug himself a deep hole.… Indeed, this whole argument is fantastic. The scientist does not measure “material things”: He measures properties (such as length or mass), sometimes of a single “thing” (however defined), and sometimes of an organized collection of things, such as a machine, a biological organ, or an organism. In a particularly complex collection, the brain, some properties (i.e., specific functions) have been traced to narrowly-localized regions (such as the sensory or motor nuclei connected to particular parts of the body).
Stephen Jay Gould
He confronts a basic tool of the measurers—the statistical technique called factor analysis, developed by the influential English psychologist Charles Spearman—and demonstrates persuasively how factor analysis led to the cardinal error in reasoning of confusing correlation with cause, or, to put it another way, of attributing false concreteness to the abstract. It is this sort of performance that makes the book's eventual refutation of Arthur Jensen seem incidental, for it is far more absorbing to have our powers of reason challenged than it is to have our social consciences shaken.
Gould quotes
Sociobiology is not just any statement that biology, genetics, and evolutionary theory have something to do with human behavior. Sociobiology is a specific theory about the nature of genetic and evolutionary input into human behavior. It rests upon the view that natural selection is a virtually omnipotent architect, constructing organisms part by part as best solutions to problems of life in local environments. It fragments organisms into “traits,” explains their existence as a set of best solutions, and argues that each trait is a product of natural selection operating “for” the form or behavior in question. Applied to humans, it must view specific behaviors (not just general potentials) as adaptations built by natural selection and rooted in genetic determinants, for natural selection is a theory of genetic change. Thus, we are presented with unproved and unprovable speculations about the adaptive and genetic basis of specific human behaviors: why some (or all) people are aggressive, xenophobic, religious, acquisitive, or homosexual.
Gould Stephen Jay
[E]volutionists sometimes take as haughty an attitude toward the next level up the conventional ladder of disciplines: the human sciences. They decry the supposed atheoretical particularism of their anthropological colleagues and argue that all would be well if only the students of humanity regarded their subject as yet another animal and therefore yielded explanatory control to evolutionary biologists.
Gould Stephen Jay quotes
Unfortunately, all life on earth - the only life we know - represents, for all its current variety, the results of a single experiment, for every earthly species evolved from the common ancestry of a single origin. We desperately need a repetition of the experiment (several would be better, but let's not be greedy!) in order to make a judgement. Mars represents our first real hope for a second experiment - the sine qua non - for any proper answer for the question of questions.
Stephen Jay Gould
If genius has any common denominator, I would propose breadth of interest and the ability to construct fruitful analogies between fields.
Stephen Jay Gould quotes
The vigorous branching of life's tree, and not the accumulating valor of mythical marches to progress, lies behind the persistence and expansion of organic diversity in our tough and constantly stressful world. And if we do not grasp the fundamental nature of branching as the key to life's passage across the geological stage, we will never understand evolution aright.
Stephen Jay Gould
Advocates for a single line of progress encounter their greatest stumbling block when they try to find a smooth link between the apparently disparate designs of the invertebrates and vertebrates.
Gould Stephen Jay
Bowing to the reality of harried lives, Rudwick recognizes that not everyone will read every word of the meaty second section; he even explicitly gives us permission to skip if we get “bogged down in the narrative.” Readers absolutely must not do such a thing; it should be illegal. The publisher should lock up the last 60 pages, and deny access to anyone who doesn't pass a multiple-choice exam inserted into the book between parts two and three.


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