(Site under construction.)
Stephen Jay Gould

(September 10, 1941~May 20, 2002)

Why do I want to put SJG on my site? Because I find that reading his texts helps to develop the thinking process, to exercise the logic of Marxism, that is Dialectical Materialism. To his credit Gould was not affaid to recognise Marx and Engels as important contributers to the development of scientific theory. He consciously uses and counsels the use of the dialectic. He shows how to put questions in their global context.
"Punctuated Equalibrium," Gould's contribution (along with N. Eldredge) to evolutionary theory is revolutionary.

Some quotes that I like:

1 From “Nuturing Nature” in “An Urchin in the Storm”

Dialectical thinking should be taken more seriously by Western scholars, not discarded because some nations of the second world have constructed a cardboard version as an official political doctrine. The issues that it raises are, in another form, the crucial questions of reductionism versus holism, now so much under discussion throughout biology (where reductionist accounts have reached their limits and further progress demands new approaches to process existing data, not only an accumulation of more information).

When presented as guidelines for a philosophy of change, not as dogmatic precepts true by fiat, the three classical laws of dialectics embody a holistic vision that views change as interaction among components of complete systems, and sees the components themselves not as a priori entities, but as both products of and inputs to the system. Thus the law of "inter- penetrating opposites" records the inextricable interdependence of components: the "transformation of quantity to quality" defends a systems-based view of change that translates incremental inputs into alterations of state; and the "negation of negation" describes the direction given to history because complex systems cannot revert exactly to previous states.

Groucho Marx caught the spirit of academic pettiness well when he delivered his inaugural address in song as president of Darwin (or was it Huxley) College in Horsefeathers: "Whatever it is, I'm against it." By contrast, Lewontin, Rose, and Kamin (this quote is taken from a review of their book by Gould - GH) have entered a prime area of academic debunking and emerged with a positive program. Indeed, they are calling for no less than a revolution in philosophy. They are also not unmindful of that oldest chestnut in the Marxist pantheon (Karl this time), the last thesis on Feuerbach: philosophers thus far have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.

2 From “A Modest Proposal” in “Full House ”

I am asking my readers finally and truly to cash out the deepest meaning of the Darwinian revolution and to view natural reality as composed of varying individuals in populations -- that is, to understand variation itself as irreducible, as "real" in the sense of "what the world is made of." To do this, we must abandon a habit of thought as old as Plato and recognize the central fallacy in our tendency to depict populations either as average values (usually conceived as "typical" and therefore representing the abstract essence or type of the system) or as extreme examples (singled out for special worthiness, like 0.400 hitting or human complexity).

3 From “Evolution by Walking” in “Dinosaur in a Haystack”

All scientific theories call upon canonical icons for their illustration .. icons in my profession have presented the … fallacious view based on social traditions and psychological hopes rather than the fossil record -- namely, the idea of progress as an organizing principle.
The canonical icon of life's history presents a series in linear order, starting with something deemed primitive …, and ending with Homo sapiens

… we can switch our icon from ladders to trees and gain accuracy while shedding some prejudices. But this basic topological shift does not solve the problem of progressivist bias for another iconographic reason: trees have conventionally been drawn with their own more subtle set of geometric devices for depicting evolution as continuous advance. The traditional evolutionary bush is a "cone of increasing diversity…

Most museum halls are rectangles with a preferred linear flow of visitors in one direction along the major axis. All exhibits … that I have ever seen … use the bias of progress as a central principle for arranging organisms.
One favorite scheme simply organizes fossils in temporal order, oldest at one end of the hall, youngest at the other. …

All the fossils may be arrayed in temporal order, but what a peculiarly biased set of choices! (my emphasis – GH) After all, invertebrates didn't go away, or didn't stop evolving, once fishes arose. And fishes didn't stagnate just because one odd lineage crawled out on land. In fact, the rise of the Teleosti, or so-called "higher bony fishes," must be regarded as the most important event in all vertebrate ...

In other words, temporal order is not construed as a set of representative samples for all animal groups through time, but as a sequential tale of most progressive at any moment, with superseded groups dropped forever once a new "ruler" emerges, even though the old groups may continue to flourish and diversify.

What am I on about with this quote?

If evolution is directional, "we" are here because we should be. Just as humans are the necessary and inevitable outcome of evolution so is capitalism, and it's exploitative relationships, are the necessary and inevitable (and final) outcome of social evolution. On the other hand, if the very existance of human beings is an unlikely accident of history - how can it be pretended that capitalism is the end all and be all...
that's how I like to read it...