✈ [PDF / Epub] ✅ Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History By Stephen Jay Gould ✸ – Uroturk.info
Writing a review of an anthology like Stephen Jay Gould s Bully For Brontosaurus Reflections in Natural History seems a thankless task because one could craft a review for each of Gould s individual essays attempting to synthesize an entire book of them seems almost impossible I have read the essays in this volume over many months, some of them than once The anthology is nearly 30 years old but remains an interesting cornucopia of rather analytical stances on scientific questions the people who were a party to them, but also many others, including Tolstoy, Captain Bligh, Kropotkin the Brothers Grimm, folks who are quite beyond the normal framework of the world of science It is Gould s wondrous power to form analogies that lifts this book far beyond the ordinary.For starters, I realize every time I read one of the essays that the late Prof Gould had a considerable gift for expression, for rendering fairly abstract scientific topics so that they are within the realm of someone without a background in science That said, Gould had a extreme fascination with words, some quite scientific, as befits a Harvard professor but also others, many of which are far from common usage Thus, some many of us will need to keep a dictionary at the ready Among the rarely heard words is epigone, describing a 2nd rate imitator, or a follower, as of a philosopher , a word I have committed to memory plan to use at some point in a G R review, but not this one The use of arcane words is a distraction, at least until one comes to grips with the author s heightened pleasure with the expansiveness of the English language his often playful use of words.Gould spends time debunking commonly held notions, such as in the essay Knight Takes Bishop with regard to the confrontation between Prof Thomas Henry Huxley Darwin s bulldog a prominent cleric of the time just after Darwin s findings appeared in print, Samuel Wilberforce, the Bishop of Oxford It turns out that there was no debate , merely some opposing statements by the two after a much longer now forgotten oration by a visiting American professor on the Intellectual History of Europe Gould does a kind of postmortem to convey what actually occurred on that long ago day in 1860 tells us that there were no written accounts that the event was embellished over time via the fog of memory by some who were not even present when the 2 figures faced off against one another in an impromptu manner Beyond that, it seems that the bishop was felt to have gotten the better of Prof Huxley in the brief interchange between the two.Here is where it becomes even compelling, for in this an ensuing essay, Genesis Geology , Gould explains But no battle exists between science religion the two most separate spheres of human need A titanic struggle occurs, always has, always will, between questioning authority, free inquiry frozen dogma but the institutions representing these poles are not science religion These struggles occur within each field, not primarily across disciplines The general ethic of science leads to greater openness, but we have our fossils, often in positions of great power Organized religion, as an arm of state power so frequently in history has tended to rigidity but theologies have also spearheaded social revolution Official religion has not opposed evolution as a monolith many prominent evolutionists have been devout, while many churchmen have placed evolution at the center of their personal theologies.Gould then concludes the essay by suggesting that the struggle for free inquiry against authority is so central, so pervasive that we need all the help we can get from either side and inquiring scientists must join hands with questioning theologians The 2nd of the two linked essays, one involving political differences between Disraeli Gladstone, begins with some humorous lines from Gilbert Sullivan s Iolanthe and attempts to respond to the question In what helpful ways may science religion coexist Gould finds that the lack of correlation in Genesis among the development of animal species is unimportant does not compromise the power purpose of religion, or its relationship to the sciences, for Genesis is not a treatise on natural history I for one find Prof Gould s dialectic approach to almost everything rather formidable and even uplifting.One of my favorite essays is The Godfather of Disaster , which begins with a reference to Gulliver Jonathan Swift s use of satire There is a consideration of a man named William Whiston, someone who saw the world in purely theological vs scientific terms who succeeded Sir Isaac Newton at Cambridge, recommended in fact by Newton but whose 17th century lens was appropriate to a time when science as a separate subject did not really exist, when the world was viewed in terms of divine inspiration alone Yet, Gould is sympathetic to Whiston s quirky deductive scheme, which was Newtonian in format but not in outcome While demonstrating how Prof Whiston s findings were limited by his worldview, so that even while the man s methodology was not unlike Newton s, their conclusions differed greatly This essay is just one example of how Prof Gould looks compassionately on historical figures, while reexamining past circumstances, almost akin to performing an experiment in front of a class The essays are always probing while employing different angles of investigation Literary Bias on a Slippery Slope examines how we craft stories to make scientific reality palpable, finding that a distinguished scientist s statement detailing his own discoveries do not match his own journals, something Prof Gould uncovered while examining the journals at the Smithsonian of Prof Charles Doolittle Walcott 1850 1927 , the world s leading expert on Cambrian rocks fossils once the most powerful scientific administrator in America During his time at the Smithsonian examining the Walcott archives, Gould concludes that all the key points of the story of Walcott s main discovery are false He indicates that memory is a fascinating trickster, that words images have enormous power that can easily displace actual experience over the years For, so much of science proceeds by telling stories and we are especially vulnerable to constraints of this medium because we rarely recognize what we are doing, with even the most distant abstract subjects, like the formation of the universe or the principles of evolution, falling within the bounds of necessary unreliable narrative Throughout Bully For Brontosaurus Gould displays a keen interest in history a sardonic wit Who else would title one essay, To Be a Platypus , while another, Male Nipples Clitoral Ripples yet another, George Canning s Left Buttock the Origin of Species Always, in the midst of articulate statements of scientific purpose, Gould seems to insist that we must not devalue past notions simply because they are not in synch with current ideologies In essence, Gould s approach might be viewed a guide to living in a world full of dissension conflict, a self help book for humanity The author encourages us to rage against the dying of the light and although Dylan Thomas spoke of bodily death in his famous line, we must also apply his words to the extinction of wonder in the mind, by pressures to conformity in an anti intellectual culture In an essay entitled The Dinosaur Rip Off , Prof Gould is impressed that in a New York Times article on science education in Korea, a 9 year old girl being interviewed states that Stephen Hawking is her personal hero, not some sports star or Hollywood figure apparently in Korea science whizzes are class heroes Gould comments that we livein a profoundly non intellectual culture in America, made all the worse by a passive hedonism abetted by the spread of wealth its dissipation into countless electronic devices that impart the latest entertainment in short loud doses of easy listening Can we not invoke dinosaur power to alleviate unspoken tragedies Can t dinosaurs be the great levelers integrators the joint passion of the class rowdy the class intellectual I will know that we are on our way when the kid who names Chasmosaurus as his personal hero also earns the epithet of Mr Cool Dinosaurs are to be seen as metaphors, as iconic images that can inspire even provoke us Moving on from that thought is Gould s belief that linguistic evolution must be taken seriously as well and he uses analogies to make his point, suggesting that the power these analogies convey is important that we must search within language for clues to evolutionary development, well beyond analyzing DNA fossils Thus, for Gould the tales of the Brothers Grimm are not mere fables but involve a linkage between genetics language and we must never doubt the power of names as Rumpelstiltskin learned to his horror This may seem a leap but in reading the essays by Stephen Jay Gould, I see a resemblance to fables, or at least an assembling of stories with a scientific bent that holds a fabalistic touch.By way of a caution, Bully for Brontosaurus has considerable density is not a book to be read from cover to cover rather, it is like a box of fine chocolates, to be savored individually over time And, rereading the essays can yield greater clarity, an additional reward. This review was written in September 1991, not long after the book s publication Stephen Jay Gould has been writing monthly essays for Natural History magazine for over eighteen years, and he has gotten pretty good at it by now His newest collection is the best one so far While Gould has always been able to impress with the depth and breadth of his scientific knowledge, this collection contains personal insight, humor, and humility than some of his previous work.Gould makes no secret of his intellectual passions baseball, the French Revolution, geology, science and scientists of the 19th century, dinosaurs, classical music, and evolutionary theory Not every one of his readers shares these passions, of course I, for one, have always been bored by baseball , but he has a gift for making his subjects come alive regardless of what he writes about For example, one essay, The Chain of Reason versus the Chain of Thumbs deals with animal magnetism, a craze in the late 1780s The German physician Franz Mesmer believed that a magnetic fluid pervaded the universe, uniting everything When flow was blocked in people, disease could result Mesmer claimed to have performed many cures by locating the magnetic poles on a sufferer s body, and re establishing flow by touching knees and fingers, and staring into the person s usually a woman s eyes The essay describes how the Royal Commission of Louis XVI in 1784 went about evaluating Mesmer s claims, and the story is funny and surprising Gould creates a picture of the famous scientists on the commission, which included Benjamin Franklin and Anton Lavoisier, sitting around one of Mesmer s big vats of magnetic fluid, joined by a rope, each holding an iron rod, and making from time to time, the chain of thumbs Everyone reads about Franklin flying a kite in a thunderstorm, but his participation in the chain of thumbs is less well documented and at least as interesting The essay also explains that Dr Mesmer s name is where the word mesmerize comes from.The book is full of historical tidbits like this, such as why keyboards are laid out with QWERTY on top, or why glowworms are evenly spaced on the ceiling of a grotto It is also full of explanations and sympathetic characterizations of obscure scientific figures, as well as little known stories about famous ones He devotes an entire essay to William Jennings Bryan, who attacked the teaching of evolution in schools in the Scopes trial in 1925 Gould is an ardent anti fundamentalist, anti creation science evolutionary biologist, and he admits he thinks Bryan s position was yahoo nonsense, yet he is able to draw a sympathetic picture of Bryan, who believed that the philosophy of Darwinism as Bryan mistakenly understood it played a role in the rise of German militarism and capitalist exploitation, and thus should be suppressed.Finally, I would like to add as a personal note, that I enjoyed one essay, Bligh s Bounty, in particular because it had a section on my own field the mammalian visual system However, in that section, Gould makes a statement containing a factual error which should be clear to anyone who has taken introductory neuroanatomy It didn t change the basic conclusion or overall integrity of his essay, but did show that, in spite of a great deal of evidence to the contrary, Gould doesn t know everything. I read the first half of this book about 10 years ago, and went back a few days ago to read the rest Why the break It was a good read.I have no idea why I came to a halt.Having finished the book I went back and looked at some of the earlier essays Bully For Brontosaurus.a wonderful discussion about the rules governing how zoologists name animals These rules are laid out in the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature and the 1985 edition runs to 338 pages That is a lot of regulation Gould s discussion centred on issues around a set dinosaur stamps issued by the post office and people s objections to the name given to one of these critters, and what he felt the proper response ought to have been The essay gave marvellous insights into the process and variables of naming, and what Gould felt ought to take priority.I also couldn t resist re reading The Panda s Thumb Of Technology a wonderfully funny and interesting essay on how we ended up using the QWERTY keyboard The story was as eccentric and fascinating as the keyboard itself Besides being an academic giant, Gould was well linked to typewriters his father was a court stenographer, his mother a typist, and Gould himself was still using a typewriter in 1991.To be honest though I was less smitten with the later essays I read like an outsider Gould s passion for planets in The Face of Miranda This is undoubtedly my shortcoming, not his I just can t get excited by astronomy Several other essays under the heading Evolution and Creation dealt with the arguments put up by people who have defended creationism, and the counter arguments Again, not a subject that presses my buttons It feels like arguing with people who say the world is flat, or the sky is going to fall down Life is just too short Having said that, Wikipedia says that a Gallup poll in 2010 showed the 40% of Americans still believe in a strict interpretation of creationism This suggests that many arguments against creationism are needed, however much it may seem boring to me I enjoyed the three essays about numbers, statistics and probability though I am extremely small brained in this area, but even I could sense the wonder and excitement of the ideas Gould was discussing, and his enthusiasm is a delight He even managed to infuse me with wonder at Joe DiMaggio achievements in baseball in 1941.So, for me a bit of a mixed bag, but Gould is a wonderful person for me to read I am normally one of those shallow dilettantes that he is so critical of, and it does me the world of good to really immerse myself in ideas, and the background to ideas in the way Gould makes one do so well in his essays. Gould s essays on evolution and natural history inform the reader, for sure, but as importantly, they prompt the reader to question our conventional wisdom on not only biology, but a whole host of matters He challenges the assumptions of his colleagues, he questions both the religious and the irreligious, he examines the ongoing conflicts between evolutionists and creationists all in an engaging, funny and personal manner He talks about his experience with cancer which sadly eventually got him and his love of baseball, ties together disparate bits of human history to arrive at intriguing observations on causality, chance, and human knowledge He never lets us forget that ideology can aid us as well as blind us, and that the tools of science are the best we have to learn about our world, so long as we don t mistake the map for the road. Definitely a favorite author Great historical perspective on a wide variety of topics ranging from history of science including current ish science education to topical stories and ties them together seemlessly The essays are good for people who have curious minds, not just of interest to scientists And of course probably left over since childhood, topics dealing with dinosaurs that give information always entertain me. I ve read two other essay collections by Gould before this one, and this is or less the same as those quite good.However I m not sure if it s Gould or whether it s the essay format, but I m really tired of the frequent reference and name dropping that seems to serve few other purposes but the author s vanity look what I ve read, look what I know, look what I can do Why not just stick to the subject matter, let your light shine that way, and leave out all the fancy but unnecessary references The Marquis de Condorcet, enthusiast of the French Revolution but not radical enough for the Jacobins and therefore forced into hiding from a government that had decreed, and would eventually precipitate, his death wrote in 1793 that the perfectibility of man is really boundless It has no other limit than the duration of the globe where nature has set us As Dickens so aptly remarked, It was the best of times, it was the worst of times The essay in question for which this is the opening paragraph discusses evolutionary adaptations and how it s sometimes mistaken to think that because a certain trait is useful, it must have been selected for, or that because a certain trait or characteristic exists, it must serve some useful purpose, or it wouldn t exist The opening paragraph has absolutely nothing to do with any of this, and it appears to have been prompted by the publication year 1794 of a book by Erasmus Darwin, discussing the subject matter of the essay But the intro is just an awkwardly obvious example of the need to show off, pure and simple.The book was published in 1991, i.e the essays were written years before internet was easily available But the fact is that in this day and age that kind of stuff is just so much less impressive Is there anything embarrassing than a guy who s explaining basically what he read on Wikipedia on the crapper the previous day, without saying that that s his source and thus implying that he knows it the old way , i.e by reading specialist literature and or magazines The best thing in the essays are his insights into the theory evolution and the history of the theory, of course, as that s his speciality But I just wish he wouldn t have tried to tie them up with something else in a clever way, as if to show off that he can start from anywhere and still end make a graceful transition to his actual topic Because the fact is the transitions are not that graceful much of the time. Provocative And Delightfully Discursive Essays On Natural History Gould Is The Stan Musial Of Essay Writing He Can Work Himself Into A Corkscrew Of Ideas And Improbable Allusions Paragraph After Paragraph And Then, Uncoiling, Hit It With Such Power That His Fans Know They Are Experiencing The Game Of Essay Writing At Its Best John Noble Wilford, New York Times Book Review With essays like Male Nipples and Clitoral Ripples, you can enjoy science while also being amused by his sense of humor Great writing makes the natural world come alive What fun. I hadn t read such a large 511 pages large collection of essays by a single author before it proved to be a unique experience Being a collection of 35 mostly independent essays makes it particularly good for brief reading sessions, where you get a complete fully formed message in just 10 20 pages Gould covers a surprisingly large gamut of topics, some familiar to me, others totally alien, but all with a consistent approach Gould starts with some narrative, seemingly unrelated to the topic of the essay, and through a few acrobatic twists and turns he cleanly links it to the topic, develops his arguments and provides details, before closing with an overview and quip or two They don t all follow that precise formula, but by the time I got to the final few essays, I d anticipated the structure None of that is to say the essays are bad I thoroughly enjoyed quite a few of them, and those that I didn t particularly like were short enough to not drag I was most enthralled by the essays on nature of science, how it interacts with philosophy, history, and religion As a professional scientist though not working in natural history , I don t get to spend much time day to day considering these lofty questions concern the fundamentals of science, so it was a particular pleasure following SJG on his explorations here I ll admit, for some reason I d assumed that this was a very recent publication It s only after getting through 90% of it that I realized it was published in 1991, and the author had died in 2002 I suppose that s excusable as the subject material of the vast majority of the essays is timeless I d recommend this book to scientists, students, as well as to casual lovers of natural history If you d prefer a small taste before diving in, many of SJG s essays are available online for those on the fence this collection includes, at least by his judgement, the best of them. Rather than a book with a thesis sentence this is largely a collection of disconnected essays Most of them are about biology, but the last chapter worth of them are about astronomy He seems to take aim at current event issues, but then they are no longer current events by the time the book is published, and certainly not now, although one may still wonder how we have someone as incredibly stupid and uninformed as Scalia on the Supreme Court There were a lot of essays about Victorian biologists I d never heard of, and why they were wrong, or why they were accidentally right, or even, on occasion, why they were actually right but those were few and far between There were some interesting essays on platypuses and how they aren t really primitive even though biologists keep acting like they are My main problem with this book is that I picked up a book called brontosaurus hoping for some information about dinosaurs, and specifically what happened to my childhood hero the brontosaurus There were only 2 essays on dinosaurs in the entire 500 page book, and I was greatly disappointed although I did learn yet another new theory of what happened in the brontosaurus apatosaurus story If I had a dollar for every different story I ve heard about the two, I could make a car payment I guess I will look again for a book about dinosaurs to read Anyway Stephen Jay Gould is good at making science approachable by anyone in some essays, but in others he approaches topics that I can t imagine the average person actually cares about.