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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  May 2002

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE May 2002

Subject:

Gould on progress--Achilles heel for a crypto_Darwinian fundamentalist?

From:

John Landon <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 29 May 2002 08:21:35 EDT

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text/plain

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Some wakes are all tributes, mine is critical. There was never a book of his
I didn't enjoy, but I think moving on is indicated.
Below is the Edge link.
Gould's position on evolutionary progress (don't kick a man when he is down,
but...) is eloquent and a theme to reckon with. But this is, speaking without
profundity or complete confidence, is the one weak spot where his 'synthesis'
 will desynthesize.
Look at the entire record of fossils since the onset of life. What grounds do
we have for this conclusion that evolutionary progress is absent? What makes
the Darwinists the experts here, to be able to say this, that is, say this
conclusively? (I am glad they said it, in this debate this is an essential
position to dialectically attempt, but conclusively?). To be sure, if it is
wrong then scientific reductionism as current is wrong and the laws of
physics must be incomplete....??? So small wonder this seems like a safe bet.
But is it right?
I think the term 'progress' misleads us here. Gould is reacting to the
Victorian ideology of progress which makes many puke. Or the New and Better
Twinkies version of progress. But in a more general sense the legacy of the
Idea of Progress, e.g. a la Bury, is itself a crucial component of modernism,
a statement which does not prove it to be correct. But the modern period
emerged against medievalism armed with the legacy of the debate of the
Ancients and the Moderns, and this Idea assisted, then, the emergence of the
modern. In that context, rejecting progress would, just to be annoying here,
tantamount to siding with the Ancients (yes???).
But then, post Marx, the challenge to the idea of progress becomes implicit
in the challenge to 'current ideology of progress', i.e. the direction that
the new bourgeois system assumes by its very existence, as it were. So
'progress' in the future, as a left challenge to the 'system mechanics'
future, is a revolutionary redirection of progress.
Note the boundary of past and future. We see progress leading to modernism,
we suppose, but deny progress to a certain future outcome of that modernism.
So there is a contradiction here, revolving around backward looking analysis
of history, and forward looking deliberations of 'my action'.
All theories of evolution tend to fail here, because of this implicit yet
false universal generalization crossing from the past to the future.
They just can't handle the contradiction, because evolutionary
generalizations are not laws of physics, or laws at all.
We could split hairs ad infinitum here with many points back and forth. But
the more general issue is that Gould's challenge to the idea of progress
really assumes the idea of progress and then finds this to be a problem in
the realm of the fossil record. There is something to it, but the
contradiction is there.
There is a problem here that historical ideas of progress and deliberations
about fossils aren't the same subject.
What does the fossil record show? I don't know, and I don't think Gould knows
either.
I would conclude the same thing about fossils that I conclude about history
is that the past and future partition the idea, and that we should see bumps
in the record because there is evolutionary progress!!!  A better idea might
be 'progression', that is stepping advance that halts, and maybe changes
direction, as in our 'idea of progress' ideology.
So maybe the juiciest example is the one example Gould gives, the Cambrian,
in Wonderful Life, as the counterexample!!! Maybe the Cambrian is evidence,
if not of progress, of progression, meaning, that some unknown process of
evolutionary progress is at work leaving this bump in the fossil record. We
know not what.

So we very easily move from one viewpoint to its opposite, albeit with
equally unsound proof. But Gould's dogmatism here as the claim so insistently
indignant is probably wrong at step one, and always has been.



STEPHEN JAY GOULD: THE PATTERN OF LIFE'S HISTORY [5.23.02]


There is no progress in evolution. The fact of evolutionary change through
time doesn't represent progress as we know it. Progress isn't inevitable.
Much of evolution is downward in terms of morphological complexity, rather
than upward. We're not marching toward some greater thing.

Introduction

Stephen Jay Gould died on May 20 at his home in New York City. To remember
and honor Steve, to think about his ideas, I present "The Pattern of Life's
History", Chapter 2 in The Third Culture (Simon & Schuster, 1995). Included
in the chapter are commentaries on Steve and his work by many other
participants in the book such as Stewart Kauffman, Marvin Minsky, Niles
Eldredge, Murray Gell-Mann, Francisco Varela, J. Doyne Farmer, Steven
Pinker, Nicholas Humphrey, Brian Goodwin, Steve Jones, George C. Williams,
and Daniel C. Dennett.

‹ JB


STEPHEN JAY GOULD was an evolutionary biologist, a paleontologist, and a
snail geneticist; professor of zoology at Harvard University; MacArthur
Fellow; author of, among others, Ontogeny and Phylogeny, The Mismeasure of
Man, The Flamingo's Smile, Wonderful Life, Bully for Brontosaurus, Dinosaur
in a Haystack, Rock of Ages, Full House, I Have Landed, and The Structure of
Evolutionary Theory.

Stephen Jay Gould's Edge Bio Page

------------------------------------------------------------------------
Stuart Kauffman: Steve is extremely bright, inventive. He thoroughly
understands paleontology; he thoroughly understands evolutionary biology. He
has performed an enormous service in getting people to think about
punctuated equilibrium, because you see the process of stasis/sudden change,
which is a puzzle. It's the cessation of change for long periods of time.
Since you always have mutations, why don't things continue changing? You
either have to say that the particular form is highly adapted, optimal, and
exists in a stable environment, or you have to be very puzzled. Steve has
been enormously important in that sense.


STEPHEN JAY GOULD
The Pattern of Life's History

[Chapter 2 in The Third Culture by John Brockman - Simon & Schuster, 1995]

Comments by Stewart Kauffman, Marvin Minsky, Niles Eldredge, Murray
Gell-Mann, Francisco Varela, J. Doyne Farmer, Steven Pinker, Nicholas
Humphrey, Brian Goodwin, Steve Jones, George C. Williams, and Daniel C.
Dennett

<SNIP>

--------------------

To read this article in its entirety, go to

<http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/gould/gould_index.html>


John Landon
Website on the eonic effect
http://eonix.8m.com
 [log in to unmask]
[log in to unmask]

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