Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History
Stephen Jay Gould
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
"[An] extraordinary book. . . . Mr. Gould is an exceptional combination of scientist and science writer. . . . He is thus exceptionally well placed to tell these stories, and he tells them with fervor and intelligence."―James Gleick, New York Times Book Review
High in the Canadian Rockies is a small limestone quarry formed 530 million years ago called the Burgess Shale. It hold the remains of an ancient sea where dozens of strange creatures lived―a forgotten corner of evolution preserved in awesome detail. In this book Stephen Jay Gould explores what the Burgess Shale tells us about evolution and the nature of history.
consideration rather than to convince you that Marrella is not a trilobite. Yet Schuchert, as committed as Walcott to the larger theme that all Burgess creatures belong in known groups, never suggested uniqueness for Marrella, but only hinted at a different home among well-known arthropods. To give some idea of the conceptual barriers that Whittington faced when he began to redescribe the arthropods of the Burgess Shale, I must now exemplify what I shall call, throughout this volume, “Walcott’s
comfortably squeeze all the Burgess forms into his Trilobitoidea. Four genera stumped him, and he tacked them onto the end of his classification as “subclass Uncertain”—a solution neither elegant nor Latin. I have presented this detailed contrast of Størmer’s system with Walcott’s original scheme for two reasons. First, the power of the shoehorn can be illustrated by demonstrating that all taxonomic solutions, however divergent in a plethora of details, worked within this unchallenged postulate.
laughter of his colleagues at Oxford as the sound of puzzlement, not derision—but it really shook him up nonetheless. Both Simon Conway Morris and Derek Briggs, his two superb students, agree that this Oxford reaction marked a turning point in Harry’s work on the Burgess Shale. He simply had to resolve and diffuse that unanticipated and incongruous laughter. He had to overwhelm his colleagues with a reconstruction of Opabinia so incontrovertible that all its peculiarities could pass into the
terrestrial onychophorans, projection of the body behind the posterior pair of lobopods [limbs] seems to represent nothing more than minor modification to improve sanitation by slight displacement of the anus. Such body design is less important to animals living in water, where currents aid separation of toxic waste from the body. Thus, posterior shape of the body may be more indicative of habitat than phylogenetic affinity (1985, p. 227). Why then did Whittington separate Aysheaia from the
chance. The history of any surviving set is sensible, but each leads to a world thoroughly different from any other. If the human mind is a product of only one such set, then we may not be randomly evolved in the sense of coin flipping, but our origin is the product of massive historical contingency, and we would probably never arise again even if life’s tape could be replayed a thousand times. But we can wake up from this nightmare—with a simple and obvious conventional argument. Granted,