THE CONCEPT OF “PUNCTUATED EQUILIBRIA”

August 22, 2010 at 10:29 pm | Posted in Books, History, Philosophy, Research, Science & Technology | Leave a comment

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Stephen Jay Gould and “Punctuated Equilibria.”

Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard University, the famous American paleontologist, died of cancer in 2002.

Gould made a major contribution to the development of modern science with his theories on evolution. Prior to his studies scientists had accepted Darwin’s view of a very slow and gradual process of evolution. Together with Niles Eldredge in the early 1970s, beginning with a study of land snail shells, he discovered that there was another pattern to the evolutionary process. They saw that what the fossil records showed was not one continuous gradual process, but a series of sudden bursts of change followed by relatively long periods of very slow development. Gould and Eldredge coined the term “punctuated equilibria” to describe this process.

In his book Ever Since Darwin, he refers to Engels’ essay The Part Played by labor in the Transition from Ape to Man and he says the following:

Indeed, the nineteenth century produced a brilliant exposé from a source that will no doubt surprise most readers—Frederick Engels. (A bit of reflection should diminish surprise. Engels had a keen interest in the natural sciences and sought to base his general philosophy of dialectical materialism upon a “positive” foundation. He did not live to complete his Dialectics of Nature, but he included long commentaries on science in such treatises as his book, Anti-Dühring.)

In 1876, Engels wrote an essay entitled, The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man It was published posthumously in 1896 and, unfortunately, had no visible impact upon Western science.

Engels considers three essential features of human evolution: speech, a large brain, and upright posture. He argued that the first step must have been a descent from the trees with subsequent evolution to upright posture by our ground-dwelling ancestors.

He wrote, “These apes when moving on level ground began to drop the habit of using their hands and to adopt a more and more erect gait. This was the decisive step in the transition from ape to man.” Upright posture freed the hand for using tools (labor, in Engels’ terminology); increased intelligence and speech came later.

Gould understood the limitations of Western thought when he wrote that a “deeply rooted bias of Western thought predisposes us to look for continuity and gradual change.”

Punctuated equilibrium

Early in his career, Gould and Niles Eldredge developed the theory of punctuated equilibrium, in which evolutionary change occurs relatively rapidly, as compared to longer periods of relative evolutionary stability.[2] According to Gould, punctuated equilibrium revised a key pillar “in the central logic of Darwinian theory.”[5] Some evolutionary biologists have argued that while punctuated equilibrium was “of great interest to biology,”[18] it merely modified neo-Darwinism in a manner that was fully compatible with what had been known before.[19] Others however emphasized its theoretical novelty, and argued that evolutionary stasis had been “unexpected by most evolutionary biologists” and “had a major impact on paleontology and evolutionary biology.”[20]

1. Shermer, Michael (2002). “This View of Science”. Social Studies of Science 32 (4): 489-525.

2. a b Eldredge, Niles, and S. J. Gould (1972). “Punctuated equilibria: an alternative to phyletic gradualism.” In T.J.M. Schopf, ed., Models in Paleobiology. San Francisco: Freeman, Cooper and Company, pp. 82-115.

3. a b Gould, S. J. (1997). “Nonoverlapping magisteria”. Natural History 106 (March): 16-22.

4. a b Green, Michelle (1986). “Stephen Jay Gould: driven by a hunger to learn and to write”. People 25 (2 June): 109-114.

5. a b Gould, S. J. (2002). The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-00613-5

6. a b Gould, S. J. (1981). “Official Transcript for Gould’s deposition in McLean v. Arkansas”. (Nov. 27). Under oath Gould stated: “My political views tend to the left of center. Q. Could you be more specific about your political views? A. I don’t know how to be. I am not a joiner, so I am not a member of any organization. So I have always resisted labeling. But if you read my other book, The Mismeasure of Man, which is not included because it is not about evolution, you will get a sense of my political views”. p. 153.

7. Gasper, Phil (2002). “Stephen Jay Gould: Dialectical Biologist”. International Socialist Review 24 (July–August).

8. Lewontin, Richard and Richard Levins (2002). “Stephen Jay Gould—what does it mean to be a radical?” Monthly Review 54 (Nov. 1). “The public intellectual and political life of Steve Gould was extraordinary, if not unique. First, he was an evolutionary biologist and historian of science whose intellectual work had a major impact on our views of the process of evolution. Second, he was, by far, the most widely known and influential expositor of science who has ever written for a lay public. Third, he was a consistent political activist in support of socialism and in opposition to all forms of colonialism and oppression. The figure he most closely resembled in these respects was the British biologist of the 1930s, J. B. S. Haldane, a founder of the modern genetical theory of evolution, a wonderful essayist on science for the general public, and an idiosyncratic Marxist and columnist for the Daily Worker who finally split with the Communist Party over its demand that scientific claims follow Party doctrine.”

9. Gould, S. J. (1985). “The Median Isn’t the Message”. Discover 6 (June): 40-42.

10. Bakalar, James and Lester Grinspoon (1997). Marihuana, the Forbidden Medicine. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 39-41.

11. Gould, S. J. (1993). “Dinomania”. New York Review of Books 40 (August 12): 51-56.

12. Gould, S. J. (1983). Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-31103-1.

13. a b Harvard News Office (2002). “Paleontologist, author Gould dies at 60”. The Harvard Gazette. (May 20). Retrieved on 2009-6-4.

14. Krementz, Jill (2002). “Jill Krementz Photo Journal”. New York Social Diary. Retrieved on 2009-6-4.

15. a b Allen, Warren (2008). “The Structure of Gould”. In Warren Allen et al. Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on His View of Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 24, 59.

16. Masha, Etkin (2002). “A Tribute to Stephen Jay Gould ’63”. Antiochian (Winter ed.). Retrieved on 2009-6-4.

17. Linnean Society of London (2008). “The Darwin-Wallace Medal”. Retrieved on 2009-6-4.

18. Dawkins, Richard (1999). The Extended Phenotype. Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press. p. 101. ISBN 0-19-288051-9.

19. a b Maynard Smith, John (1984). “Paleontology at the high table”. Nature 309 (5967): 401–402.

20. Mayr, Ernst (1992). “Speciational Evolution or Punctuated Equilibria”. In Steven Peterson and Albert Somit. The Dynamics of Evolution. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 21-48. ISBN 0-8014-9763-9.

21. ^ Gould, S. J. and Steven Rose, ed. (2007). The Richness of Life: The Essential Stephen Jay Gould. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., p. 6.

22. Thomas, R.D.K. (2009). “Gould, Stephen Jay (1941–2002)”. in M. Ruse and J. Travis (eds). Evolution: The First Four Billion Years. Cambridge MA: Belknap Press. pp. 611-615.

23. Prum, R.O., & Brush, A.H. (March 2003). “Which Came First, the Feather or the Bird?” Scientific American, vol.288, no.3, pp.84-93

24. Gould, S. J. and E. Vrba (1982). “Exaptation—a missing term in the science of form”. Paleobiology 8 (1): 4-15.

25. Wilson, E. O. (1975). Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

26. Allen, Elizabeth, et al. (1975). “Against ‘Sociobiology'”. [letter] New York Review of Books 22 (Nov. 13): 182, 184-186.

27. Gould, S. J. (1980). “Sociobiology and the Theory of Natural Selection”. In G. W. Barlow and J. Silverberg, eds., Sociobiology: Beyond Nature/Nurture? Boulder CO: Westview Press, pp. 257-269.

28. Gould, S. J. and Richard Lewontin (1979). “The spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian paradigm: a critique of the adaptationist programme”. Proc. R. Soc. Lond., B, Biol. Sci. 205 (1161): 581–98. DOI PMID; for background see Gould’s “The Pattern of Life’s History” in John Brockman The Third Culture. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1996, pp. 52-64. ISBN 0-684-82344-6.

29. Gould, S. J. (1997). “The exaptive excellence of spandrels as a term and prototype”. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 94 (20): 10750–5. DOI PMID

30. Maynard Smith, John (1995). “Genes, Memes, & Minds”. The New York Review of Books 42 (Nov. 30): 46–48. “By and large, I think their [Spandrels] paper had a healthy effect. . . . Their critique forced us to clean up our act and to provide evidence for our stories. But adaptationism remains the core of biological thinking.” A similar appraisal is reflected by Ernst Mayr in his 1983 paper “How to Carry Out the Adaptationist Program?” The American Naturalist 121 (3): 324–334; and George C. Williams, Natural Selection: Domains, Levels, and Challenges. New York: Oxford University Press. 1992.

31. Lloyd, E.A. (2005). The Case of The Female Orgasm: Bias in the science of evolution. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

32. Gould, S.J. (1992). “Male Nipples and Clitoral Ripples”. In Bully for Brontosaurus: Further Reflections in Natural History. New York: W. W. Norton. pp. 124-138.

33. Gould, S. J. (1996). Full House: The Spread of Excellence From Plato to Darwin. New York: Harmony Books.

34. Dawkins, Richard (1997). “Human chauvinism”. Evolution 51 (3): 1015–1020.

35. Gould, S. J. (1991). “The disparity of the Burgess Shale arthropod fauna and the limits of cladistic analysis”. Paleobiology 17 (October): 411-423.

36. Baron, Christian and J. T. Høeg (2005). “Gould, Scharm and the Paleontologocal Perspective in Evolutionary Biology”. In S. Koenemann and R.A. Jenner, Crustacea and Arthropod Relationships. CRC Press. pp. 3–14. ISBN 0-8493-3498-5.

37. Wolpert, Lewis and Alison Richards (1998). A Passion For Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 139-152. ISBN 0-19-854212-7

38. Gould, S. J. (1996). “A Cerion for Christopher”. Natural History 105 (Oct.): 22-29, 78—79.

39. Google Scholar. http://scholar.google.com. Retrieved on 2009-8-22.

40. Prothero, Donald (2000). “Evolution Revolution: Paleontology, History, Biography”. Skeptic Festschrift lecture for Stephen Jay Gould. October 7, 2000.

41. Shermer, Michael (2002). “This View of Science”. Social Studies of Science 32 (4): 518.

42. Gould, S. J. (2003). Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. See his essays: “The Streak of Streaks”, “Thcience Studies”, and “Baseball’s reliquary: the oddly possible hybrid of shrine and university”

43. Gould, S. J. (1982). “Nonmoral Nature”. Natural History 91 (Feb.): 19–26.

44. PBS (1984). “Stephen Jay Gould: This View of Life”. NOVA. December 18.

45. Sacks, Oliver (2007). Forward. In Steven Rose, ed. The Richness of Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, p. xi. Video

46. Fox. The Simpsons. “Lisa the Skeptic“, November 23, 1997. Audio here.

47. Scully, Mike (2006). The Simpsons. Season 9 DVD Commentary for “Lisa the Skeptic”. DVD. 20th Century Fox.

48. Shermer, Michael (2002). “This View of Science”. Social Studies of Science 32 (4): 518.

Awards include a National Book Award for The Panda’s Thumb, a National Book Critics Circle Award for The Mismeasure of Man, the Phi Beta Kappa Book Award for Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes, and a Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Wonderful Life, on which Gould commented `close but, as they say, no cigar’. Forty-four honorary degrees and 66 major fellowships, medals, and awards bear witness to the depth and scope of his accomplishments in both the sciences and humanities: Member of the National Academy of Sciences, President and Fellow of AAAS, MacArthur Foundation ‘genius’ Fellowship (in the first group of awardees), Humanist Laureate from the Academy of Humanism, Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Fellow of the European Union of Geosciences, Associate of the Muséum National D’Histoire Naturelle Paris, the Schuchert Award for excellence in paleontological research, Scientist of the Year from Discover magazine, the Silver Medal from the Zoological Society of London, the Gold Medal for Service to Zoology from the Linnean Society of London, the Edinburgh Medal from the City of Edinburgh, the Britannica Award and Gold Medal for dissemination of public knowledge, Public Service Award from the Geological Society of America, Anthropology in Media Award from the American Anthropological Association, Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers, Distinguished Scientist Award from UCLA, the Randi Award for Skeptic of the Year from the Skeptics Society, and a Festschrift in his honour at Caltech.

49. Leda Cosmides and John Tooby (1997) write:

John Maynard Smith, one of the world’s leading evolutionary biologists, recently summarized in the NYRB the sharply conflicting assessments of Stephen Jay Gould: “Because of the excellence of his essays, he has come to be seen by non-biologists as the preeminent evolutionary theorist. In contrast, the evolutionary biologists with whom I have discussed his work tend to see him as a man whose ideas are so confused as to be hardly worth bothering with, but as one who should not be publicly criticized because he is at least on our side against the creationists.” (NYRB, Nov. 30th 1995, p. 46). No one can take any pleasure in the evident pain Gould is experiencing now that his actual standing within the community of professional evolutionary biologists is finally becoming more widely known. . . But as Maynard Smith points out, more is at stake. Gould “is giving non-biologists a largely false picture of the state of evolutionary theory”—or as Ernst Mayr says of Gould and his small group of allies—they “quite conspicuously misrepresent the views of [biology’s] leading spokesmen.” Indeed, although Gould characterizes his critics as “anonymous” and “a tiny coterie,” nearly every major evolutionary biologist of our era has weighed in a vain attempt to correct the tangle of confusions that the higher profile Gould has inundated the intellectual world with.* The point is not that Gould is the object of some criticism—so properly are we all—it is that his reputation as a credible and balanced authority about evolutionary biology is non-existent among those who are in a professional position to know. *These include Ernst Mayr, John Maynard Smith, George Williams, Bill Hamilton, Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, Tim Clutton-Brock, Paul Harvey, Brian Charlesworth, Jerry Coyne, Robert Trivers, John Alcock, Randy Thornhill, and many others.

It should be noted that Ernst Mayr in this quotation is not speaking of Gould in particular, and does not mention him by name, but is speaking generally of the critics of the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis. Some of the names Tooby and Cosmides cite are also questionable. For example, Mayr, Williams, Hamilton, Dawkins, Wilson, Coyne, and Trivers have shown great respect for Gould as a scientist. In reference to Maynard Smith’s comments, Gould writes “Darwinian Fundamentalism” New York Review of Books 44 (June 12, 1997): 34-37:

A false fact can be refuted, a false argument exposed; but how can one respond to a purely ad hominem attack? This harder, and altogether more discouraging, task may best be achieved by exposing internal inconsistency and unfairness of rhetoric. . . . It seems futile to reply to an attack so empty of content, and based only on comments by anonymous critics . . . Instead of responding to Maynard Smith’s attack against my integrity and scholarship, citing people unknown and with arguments unmentioned, let me, instead, merely remind him of the blatant inconsistency between his admirable past and lamentable present. Some sixteen years ago he wrote a highly critical but wonderfully supportive review of my early book of essays, The Panda’s Thumb, stating: “I hope it will be obvious that my wish to argue with Gould is a compliment, not a criticism.” He then attended my series of Tanner Lectures at Cambridge in 1984 and wrote in a report for Nature, and under the remarkable title “Paleontology at the High Table”, the kindest and most supportive critical commentary I have ever received. He argued that the work of a small group of American paleobiologists had brought the entire subject back to theoretical centrality within the evolutionary sciences. . . . So we face the enigma of a man who has written numerous articles, amounting to tens of thousands of words, about my work—always strongly and incisively critical, always richly informed (and always, I might add, enormously appreciated by me). But now Maynard Smith needs to canvass unnamed colleagues to find out that my ideas are “hardly worth bothering with.” He really ought to be asking himself why he has been bothering about my work so intensely, and for so many years.

50. Brown, Andrew (1999). The Darwin Wars: The Scientific Battle for the Soul of Man. London: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-8050-7137-7

51. Rose, Steven (2002). “Obituaries: Stephen Jay Gould”. The Guardian (May 22): 20.

52. Blume, Harvey (2002). “The Origin of Specious”. The American Prospect (September 22): 41–43.

53. a b Sterelny, Kim (2007), Dawkins vs. Gould: Survival of the Fittest, Cambridge, U.K.: Icon Books, ISBN 1-84046-780-0 Also ISBN 978-1-84046-780-2

54. Maynard Smith, John (1981). “Did Darwin get it right?” The London Review of Books 3 (11): 10-11; Also reprinted in Did Darwin Get it Right? New York: Chapman and Hall, 1989, pp. 148-156.

55. Maynard Smith, John (1995). “Genes, Memes, & Minds”. The New York Review of Books 42 (Nov. 30): 46–48.

56. Maynard Smith, John (1981). “Review of The Panda’s ThumbThe London Review of Books pp. 17–30; Reprinted as “Tinkering” in his Did Darwin Get It Right? New York: Chapman and Hall. 1989, pp. 94, 97.

57. Wright, Robert (1999). “The Accidental Creationist: Why Stephen J. Gould is bad for evolution”. The New Yorker 75 (Dec. 13): 56-65.

58. Gould, S. J. (1981). “Evolution as fact and theory”. Discover 2 (May): 34-37.

59. Dawkins, Richard (1989). The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Endnotes to chapter 5, p.287) ISBN 0-19-286092-5 The endnote online

60. Gould, S. J. (1997). “Evolution: The pleasures of pluralism”. The New York Review of Books 44 (June 26): 47–52.

61. Wilson, E. O. (2006). Naturalist New York: Island Press, p.337 ISBN 1-59726-088-6.

62. Pinker, Steven (2002), The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, New York: Penguin Books, ISBN 0142003344

63. Gould S. J. (1996). The Mismeasure of Man: Revised and Expanded Edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., p. 36. ISBN 0-14-025824-8

64. a b Gould, S. J. (1992). “Biological potentiality vs. biological determinism”. In Ever Since Darwin. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., pp. 251-259.

65. Conway Morris, S., and S. J. Gould (1998). “Showdown on the Burgess Shale”. Natural History 107 (Dec./Jan.): 48-55.

66. Briggs, Derek, Richard Fortey (2005). “Wonderful Strife: systematics, stem groups, and the phylogenetic signal of the Cambrian radiation.” Paleobiology 31 (2): 94–112.

67. Fortey, Richard (1998). “Shock Lobsters”. London Review of Books 20 (Oct. 1).

68. Gould, S. J. (1981). The Mismeasure of Man. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. p. 20.

69. In 1981 The Mismeasure of Man won the National Book Critics Circle Award for non-fiction. It was voted as the 17th greatest science book of all time by Discover magazine vol. 27 (8 Dec. 2006); 9th best skeptic book by The Skeptics Society (Frank Diller, “Scientists’ Nightstand” American Scientist); and ranked 24th place for the best non-fiction book by the Modern Library.

70. Blinkhorn, Steve (1982). “What Skulduggery?” Nature 296 (April 8): 506.

71. Jensen, Arthur (1982). “The Debunking of Scientific Fossils and Straw Persons”. Contemporary Education 1 (2): 121–135.

72. a b c d Gould, S. J. (2002). Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life. New York: Ballantine Books.

73. Shermer, Michael (2002), p.496

Stephen Jay Gould and “Punctuated Equilibria.”

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