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E-PUB ì Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin Ï The Human Mind Has A Trusty Device For Simplifying A Complex World Reduce To Averages And Identify Trends Although Valuable, The Risk Is That We Ignore Variations And End Up With A Skewed View Of Reality In Evolutionary Terms, The Result Is A View In Which Humans Are The Inevitable Pinnacle Of Evolutionary Progress, Instead Of, As Stephen Jay Gould Patiently Argues, A Cosmic Accident That Would Never Arise Again If The Tree Of Life Could Be Replanted The Implications Of Gould S Argument May Threaten Certain Of Our Philosophical And Religious Foundations But Will In The End Provide Us With A Clearer View Of, And A Greater Appreciation For, The Complexities Of Our World Probably not one for those without an interest in statistical distributions, but I found it an interesting analysis of the way in which our perception of some effects can mask their true nature in particular with reference to the idea that evolution drives towards greater complexity The ideas seem obvious once explained but do run counter to some accepted wisdom Sources of the Divine In the two decades or so since the publication of Stephen Jay Gould sFull House , it has attracted attention and criticism from many corners evolutionary scientists, religious spokespersons, even from some of his allies in promoting humanistic rationality Gould s central point is that Darwinian evolution is not a progressive process, specifically that the species Homo sapiens is not the top most branch of an evolutionary tree Rather, for Gould, the development of species is like an expanding spider s web my metaphor not Gould s , stretching out in multiple directions with numerous interconnections which are mutually dependent This deconstruction of evolutionary hierarchy in which later is presumed better and complex is superior to simple is a brilliant insight So brilliant that I would like to suggest it goes beyond biology It is an insight which actually accomplishes what religious fundamentalists mistakenly feared about Darwin Gould provides what is essentially a natural theology, by which I mean he articulates the source of the apparently universal human instinct for contemplating the miracle of their existence Just how profound a miracle is revealed by Gould s analysis of the origin and maintenance of life on Earth, both of which depend upon an invisible, effectively omnipotent, beneficent, yet impassive entity the domain of bacteria.Bacteria are neither plant nor animal yet they are necessary for all plant and animal life Some bacteria have the capacity for photosynthesis others eat various organic and inorganic material in chemical reactions They stabilise global ecology, create our food, digest our dinners as well as our oil spills , manufacture our vitamins, consume our waste, and sometimes kill us in large numbers Some have a complex genetic structure than human beings They can even extract DNA from their environment Bacteria are both top and bottom of the food chain If all other life disappeared, they could live on each other We need them but they do not need us.Bacteria arrived on the planet long before we did and they will probably outlast us because their mutational processes allow them to adapt quickly to almost any environment There are consequently a lot of them than us no matter how you measure it sheer numbers, gross mass, or prevalence They are everywhere, on or in everything Without bacteria, the human species would simply not exist Collectively bacteria are what we typically mean by the word God the source and destination of our existence which protects us, and lovingly returns us to the dust whence we came We are not caretakers of the planet but its in patients Bacteria are the ones in charge.So the biblical story of creation is certainly deficient, as well as species centric Even before the command Fiat Lux much less the division of the waters and the separation of land, Fiat Prokaryote necessarily mixing Latin and Greek , Let there be bacteria, should have sounded But, of course, bacteria are mute as far as we know Then again, so is God yet another data point suggesting bacterial divinity Perhaps this was what Spinoza was trying to articulate in his pantheistic philosophy God everywhere, in everything, the universal divine spark Even the intuition of the Christian Trinity concisely describes the situation of bacterial dominance God within us, God among us, God entirely separate from us.According to Gouldhumans can occupy no preferred status as a pinnacle or culmination Life has always been dominated by its bacterial mode It is bacteria which created us and it is bacteria which sustain us It is bacteria, if anything, that will redeem and save us from the destruction we have wrought on the planet and its other species Long live the bacteria Thanks to Gould, we know to whom the religions of the world are really dedicated or should be Bacteria are at the centre of the web which is nowhere, and its circumference which is everywhere The divine bacterial mind is as inscrutable as any mythical figure It deserves our devoted respect and, who knows, perhaps even our prayers I m thinking of a revolutionary mantra THE FIRST SHALL BE LAST Dawkins once criticised Gould for being too good a writer Now, there s a criticism you don t read every day.This is a stunning book In it Gould discusses Plato s forms, his fight with cancer and his explanation of evolution as not being about increasing complexity Prepare to have your fundamental assumptions about evolution shaken to the core.I love this man s writing over the years he taught me about the world than just about anyone else I ve ever read In fact, if there was anyone I would quite like to have been The ideas outlined in this book can easily get a 5 star rating My understanding of evolution after reading it is entirely different from what it was before doing so Gould shattered some old concepts and replaced them with powerful and concrete ideas that helped me appreciate life even so especially after knowing how improbable our own existence is There is indeed grandeur in this view of life.I deducted one star because of the part about baseball, which was too painful to read for a non American who doesn t know a thing about the game, but most importantly because the author was repetitious regarding the main premise of the book, i.e the history of life is void of any drive towards progress when all living things Full House are taken into account I believe the book could have been shorter, but I won t deny that it was a very enjoyable read I strongly recommend it to anyone who s interested in Evolution.