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KINDLE [I Have Landed The End of a Beginning in Natural History]

Makes the essays remarkable is not that they offer laypersons a deeper understanding and appreciation for natural history although they do exactly that It s that Gould has a tremendous nack for imparting lessons in scientific method scientific progress and morality from his vast nowledge of the history of science And in the process you learn to share his love of Joyce s Ulysses Gilbert Sullivan Richard Wagner Robert Frost the Yankees and of course Darwin Lamarck Huxley Any fan of Gould s will see great repetition in these essays in both manner and substance But that doesn t make the stories any less captivating and it doesn t make the writing any less fabulousSome classic SJ We must always struggle to avoid the primary error of historiography the anachronistic use of later conclusions to judge the cogency of an earlier claimGreat works of science condemn themselves to oblivion as they open floodgates to reforming nowledge while classics of literature can never lose relevanceAll historical studies whether of human biography or of evolutionary lineages in biology potentially suffer from this presentist fallacy Modern chroniclers Megalodon: Fact or Fiction? know the outcomes that actually unfolded as unpredictable conseuences of past events and they often and inappropriately judge the motives and actions of their subjects in terms of futures unknowable at the timeThe vigorous branching of life s tree and not the accumulating valor of mythical marches to progress lies behind the persistence and expansion of organic diversity in our tough and constantly stressful world And he never fails to have a few Carl Sagan moments I do not pretend tonow why the documentation of unbroken heredity through generations of forebears brings us so swiftly to tears and to such a secure sense of rightness definition membership and meaning I simply accept the primal emotional power we feel when we manage to embed ourselves into something much largerAnd embedded in these larger lessons there are always a million historical bits The great Linnaeus tried extending his very effective classification schemes for species into a clumsy binomial system for rocks and his categorization of human races were pretty awful Freud speculated on some batshit ideas rooted in Lamarckian theory Nabokov was for six years a very effective research fellow studying butterflies Darwin would not use the label evolution given that in his time it meant predictable and directional unfolding This particular volume was the last of his collections to be published so I read it with than the usual amount of nostalgia Gould naturally had a good sense of his own mortality understood his place in the cosmos and had an unparalleled grasp of chance and contingency I will never run out of unkept promises or miles to walk and that I may even continue to sprinkle the journey remaining before sleep with a new idea or twoI get a lump in my throat reading that even nowThe interesting bit is that Gould may very well one day become a footnote in the history of paleontology as the co author of a lesser appreciated theory of the punctuated nature of evolution But in so many of these essays he aims to lift the legacies of the forgotten and debunked scholars from centuries past I have no idea how his contributions to his field will be seen by those on the cutting edge Gould understood well that most scholars by the time they are in their old age are forced to witness their own decline But I expect he felt very lucky too and that comes through in his writingMy point here is really that his essays are a wonderful legacy And hell I m pretty sure he was on a Simpsons episode once You could do a lot worse Rest in peace Stephen and thanks for leaving behind your words The tenth and final collectionI was a little bit disconcerted when I saw the title of this Stephen Jay Gould s last collection of essays I thought has he anticipated his own sadly premature death with the metaphoric I Have Landed or is this a ind of melancholy coincidence or perhaps I am reading into the title something different from what it warrantsAs it turns out I Have Landed is not a reference to the Lethe shore of the poet but a reference to his grandfather s arrival at Ellis Island on September 11 1901 exactly to the day one century before the attack on the World Trade Center in New York It is from this coincidence that Gould embarks upon some musings that form the touchstone for this his tenth and last collection of essaysHe is a man who will be sorely missed a complete original at once the very embodiment of a meticulous scientist and an establishment New York liberal He is one of our greatest essayists a humanist and a ui Gould is one of the all time great essayists and this final volume of his work in the form is well worth picking upSome of the essays are as good as anything he ever wrote I d point at the title essay The First Day of the Rest of Our Life and The Great Physiologist of Heidelberg in particular Others especially the shorter ones not written for Natural History magazine are a bit thin Still the good definitely outweighs the less goodThe final section a uartet of essays written in response to the September 11th attacks is both beautiful and deeply deeply sad Gould died less than a year after the attacks it was a tragedy Gould overcomitted himself to a number of big the attacks it was a tragedy Gould overcomitted himself to a number of big over the course of his career including but not limited to punctuated euilibrium spandrels and his ideological objection to evolutionary psychology as well as introducing such stultifying notions as NOMA but his powers of explanation have nevertheless been so highly praised by otherwise intellectually capable people that I had to check him out for myself Overall his arguments lack the force and clarity of other titans of popular biology writing like Dawkins or Pinker I will say that I once new a diehard creationist who absolutely loved reading Gould make of that what you will There are plenty of examples of of that what you will There are plenty of examples of s weak reasoning decorated with lots of rhetorical flourishes and embellished with uotes by capable writers but the meat of what he really wants to say is usually buried beneath a lot of 10 words that allow one to gloss over his lack of substance In that way Gould reminds me of the teacher for advanced students in the Simpsons episode Bart the Genius The teacher makes a truly objectively terrible joke but does it in such an ostentatiously grandiose way that you almost forget how bad the joke is So y r cubed over 3 And if you determine the rate of change in this curve correctly I think you ll be pleasantly surprised Don t you get it Bart Derivative dy 3 r suared dr over 3 or r suared dr or r dr r In the same way Gould will constantly belabor a point that simply isn t as clever or original as it soundsI hope one example of Gould s sloppy thesis construction suffices for illustration In expounding on the joint significance of the year 1859 to the lives of Darwin Humboldt and Frederic Church Gould details the Humboldt s profound influence on Church s landscape painting Humboldt believed that the forces of nature were ordered and harmonious When Darwin published Origin of Species Humboldt s philosophy shattered Gould argues that with Church s guiding principle undermined his muse abandoned him he simply couldn t bring himself to paint landscapes any longer Okay pretty compelling stuff except Gould later reluctantly and almost as an afterthought grants that it s also just possible that Church s losing the use of his painting arm might alternatively explain why he stopped doing landscapes Hmm d ya thinkOne recurring theme in this collection is the resurrection long dead and discredited beliefs or practices and proceeding to give them entirely too much respect while also admitting that yes we were right to discard them His mo here is constructing a straw man argument that assumes that CrollianFreudianpre Adamitepreformationists etc adherentspractitioners weren t engaging in a good faith attempt to understand the world to the best of their limited nowledge at the time He then goes on to defend these CrollianFreudianpre Adamitepreformationist ideas as the best that a particular thinker could do at the time within their particular scientific cultural context This particular bugbear of his became uite tiresome very uickly and it s one he returns to repeatedlyListen the guy does his homework Gould is a highly intelligent highly literate writer Maybe I m just bitter because this book wasn t everything I wanted it to be Maybe this collection of essays his final one doesn t represent his best ideas because he d already used them up over the previous 25 years All I now is that I didn t enjoy it I found Gould an insufferable pedant who belabors inane points to show how clever he thinks he is eg one might argue that he used the wrong tense confusing the compound past of continuous action with an intended simple past to designate a definite and completed event It s really a shame because Gould has been a primary point of contact for learning about evolution for a huge number of people I d hoped that would have a deep reserve of books that I could fall in love with I might eventually give his books another shot but I m hardly excited to do so. Logy to consider scientific theories of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in a new light and to recognize the limitations our own place in history may impose on our understanding of those ideas Part V explores the op ed genre and includes two essays with differing linguistic formats which address the continual tug of war between the study of evolution and creationism In subseuent essays in true Gould fashion we are treated to moments of good humor especially when he leads us to topics that bring him obvious delight such as Dorothy Sayers novels and his enduring love of baseball and all its dramas There is an ardent admiration of the topsy turvy world of Gilbert and Sullivan wonderfully demonstrated in the jacket illustration who are not above inclusion in all things evolutionary This is truly Gould's most personal work to date How fitting that this final collection should be his most revealing and in content the one that reflects most clearly the complexity breadth of nowledge and optimism that characterize Gould himself I Have Landed succeeds in reinforcing Gould's underlying and constant theme from the series' commencement thirty years ago the study of our own scientific intellectual and emotional evolution bringing reader and author alike to what can only be described as a brilliantly written and very natural conclusion From the Hardcover editi. ,


I Have Landed The End of a Beginning in Natural HistoryLike many people I am an admirer of Stephen Jay Gould This collection of essays like many of his works is full of wonder passion and consideration He explores many topics researches into the history of things to show how ideas change and like the slow movement of geological time so with the generations do our ideas change too Gould muses on them reflects on them and often presents how he thinks we can do betterThere isn t much overarching philosophy here Gould is pretty focused on topic with each essay He does present much of himself though through his interests He The usual mixture of essays Most of them connected in one way or another to Darwin He mentions that Origin was published in 1859 probably arou This is the tenth and final collection of essays from Stephen Jay Gould with most of these essays coming from his regular monthly essay in Natural History magazine And I am uite sorry that I have read all of the collections for that means an era has ended in my reading life But these essays in this current volume most having to do with some aspect of natural history and or evolution are very good and in some cases very personal and I recommend this book without reservationThe title of the book comes from his maternal grandfather s English grammar book that his grandfather began studying as soon as he got off the boat at Ellis Island after learning some English his grandfather wrote in the book I have landed September 11 1901 After the introductory essay which discusses his grandfather and continuity most of the rest of the essays concern Gould s usual subject of evolution and all aspects of natural historyThe author has a certain sense of humor revealed by the titles of his essays which include No Science Without Fancy No Art Without Facts The Lepidoptery of Vladimir Nabokov Syphilis and the Shepherd of Atlantis on how the disease was named What Does the Dreaded E Word Mean Anyway on the choosing of the word evolution for Darwin s theory and An Evolutionary Perspective on the Concept of Native Plants Several essays deal with continued attempts to remove the teaching of evolution from American schools and how Gould is mystified as to how people could feel personally or spiritually threatened by the theory of evolution When he died in 2002 the Creationist trend was dying but the Intelligent Design trend was gaining steamHe ends this collection with four short essays having to do with his personal response to the events of September 11 2001 and noting how acts of indness are what save this world from despair And I may at some point have to return to the first of his books of essays from Natural History magazine Ever Since Darwin 1977 and begin reading them all over again Why Not in WonderlandOnce again I have taken up a book of Stephen Jay Gould s essays There is no doubt that he was one of the best essayists of our times writing with humor intelligence and feeling But there is one theme that comes up far too often in his later essays to be ignored This theme is best summarized in his own words these two great tools of human understanding science and religion operate in a complementary not contrary fashion in their totally separate realms science as an inuiry about the factual state of the natural world religion as a search for spiritual meaning and ethical values p 214I am not interested in going to my critiue of science just yet but I do want to mention one of its central themes since it has some relevance to my present argument The early developers of modern science in the West Copernicus Bacon Galileo Newton were all christians They founded their scientific endeavor on a religious basis the idea that since the universe was created by god it must operate on universal natural laws It would reuire another long essay to even began to examine all the implications of this assumption that underlies modern scienceWhat I want to examine right now are the false premises by which Gould s liberal tolerance led him to uphold an institution that has long since proved itself to be a tool ofdomination oppression and forced ignorance as a source of spiritual and ethical guidanceFirst of all Gould simply accepts compartmentalization specialization and the division of social life and nowledge into separate spheres as a given He doesn t show any sign of recognizing the historical nature of this division If certain social divisions can be traced back to the origins of civilizations the compartmentalization of nowledge is a modern phenomenon as mentioned above at the time modern science arose religious concepts were integral to its birth Though Gould doesn t recognize the religious nature of the concept of universal natural laws he does recognize this concept as the assumed foundation upon which modern science operates Even starting from this foundation modern science has undermined the necessity for god But once god is gone there is no basis for assuming that there are universal natural laws Thus modern science by undermining the foundations of religion has brought its own foundations into uestionFrom its origins until the beginning of the modern era religion has not been a separate sphere within social life but rather the system of beliefs essential for upholding a society and its institutions in the minds of those make up that society As such it has society and its institutions in the minds of those who make that society As such it has been a search for spiritual meaning and ethical values but rather the imposition of a spiritual and moral conception of the world that upholds the values of the rulers of a society Etymologically religion refers to a joining back together of things that have been separated A lot of silly things have been said about this but I think that it is best understood if we look at the social divisions that "occurred at about the time religion arose This was when society divided into "at about the time religion arose This was when society divided into wealth and power getting concentrated into the hands of a few who lorded it over the rest In such a situation conflict was inevitable The task of religion was to create social unity through the imposition of a concept of life that justified existing social relationships and a morality that supported submission to one s social superiors It reunited society precisely by naturalizing its divisions Thus it originated as a tool for justifying domination exploitation and oppression and for eeping the exploited classes in ignorance As an imposed answer it left no place for searchingIn fact the association of religion with a search for spiritual meaning is a phenomenon of the modern era In earlier times where such a search has arisen it has been a uestioning of or a rebellion against religion in the form of heresy philosophy sorcery alchemy poetry As such the search was an ongoing process that was able to free ethics from the set rules of morality But the linking of the search for spiritual meaning to religion that began with the protestant Reformation was not an euation of the two Rather protestantism individualized religious conversion making it a personal voluntary decision Thus religion was not itself a spiritual search but was rather the answer to be found at the end of one s spiritual search It brought the search to an end John Bunyan s Pilgrim s Progress is a literary description of this processReligion was never intended to be a separate realm among specializations It was meant to be a total worldview encompassing all nowledge We now that it has failed completely in providing an understanding of the factual state of the natural world This is because it is by its nature a closed system of understanding a final answer How can we think that it would do any better as a guide in the search for spiritual meaning and ethical values Gould should have been able to see that in places where religious thought continues to be strong a nuanced approach to meaning and an open exploration of ethical uestions get suppressed along with the free exploration of the natural world The acceptance of evolution in Europe has gone hand in hand with a decline in religiosity and with an exploration of other sources of meaning and ethical values Where religion is having a resurgence in Europe it is generally tied to a resurgence of racism sexism national chauvinism and freuently even blatant fascism Put bluntly religion has repeatedly proven itself to be as worthless in the search for spiritual meaning and ethical values as it is in inuiries about the ways that the natural world functions How could it be otherwise when it originated as a tool of the ruling class for suppressing free exploration I can t help but wonder how someone as erudite as Gould with a broad nowledge of cultural and creative phenomena could have failed to notice a delightfully open ended realm for exploring what he calls spiritual values I am speaking of the realm of poetic wonderAs far as anyone can tell human beings have never encountered the world around them in a purely utilitarian way There is a basic human interaction with nature that has been called the marvelous poetic wonder etc Religion and myth spring out of social necessity and are thus utilitarian in nature Poetic wonder is evoked by the encounter of the uniue indiviudal with external and internal nature It is the process of making the world one s own The origi. Here is bestselling scientist Stephen Jay Gould's tenth and final collection based on his remarkable series for Natural History magazine exactly 300 consecutive essays with never a month missed published from 1974 to 2001 Both an intellectually thrilling journey into the nature of scientific discovery and the most personal book he has ever published I Have Landed marks the end of a significant chapter in the career of one of the most acclaimed and widely read scientists of our time Gould writes about the themes that have defined his career which his readers have come to expect and celebrate casting new light upon them and conveying the ideas that science professionals exchange among themselves minus the technical jargon Here of course is Charles Darwin from his centrality to any sound scientific education to little Leggiamo l'ora. Gioco e imparo. Ediz. a colori known facts about his life Gould touches on subjects as far reaching and disparate as feathered dinosaurs the scourge of syphilis and the frustration of the man who identified it and Freud's evolutionary fantasy He writes brilliantly of Nabokov's delicately crafted drawings of butterflies and the true meaning of biological diversity And in the poignant title essay he details his grandfather's journey from Hungary to America where he arrived on September 11 1901 It is from his grandfather's journal entry of that day stating simply I have landed. N of poetic wonder in the individual and her specific uniue encounters guarantees its openness Once it gets transformed into a closed system the poetry and the wonder wither But its openness its basis in the uniue individual and its relational uality make it an ideal basis for an ever changing expanding exploratory and experimental source of meaning and values a true terrain for an ongoing search always satisfying but never satisfiedUnlike religion poetic wonder is grounded in the material world It does not push wonder joy and ecstasy into an invisible realm but rather bases them in concrete relationships that we develop here Certainly these relationships can spark imagination the capacity to see beyond what is here but this beyond is not a separate realm but rather an expression of possibilities whether those of the world or of our own minds William Blake said it well in Auguries of InnocenceTo see a World in a Grain of SandAnd a Heaven in a Wild FlowerHold Infinity in the palm of your handAnd Eternity in an hourThis relationship has also been describes like this We can term a relationship with external or internal nature one of wonder if it does not reproduce nature or the individuals who are involved in it Here we see the non utilitarian nature of this relationship The description continues By integrating nature as an element of their uniue individuality individuals make another reality appear one which is not a social reality but rather their own reality Constantly hidden behind the former the latter reality cannot appear when the realistic criteria inherent in every society are in place but only as a sense of wonder that is or less poetic This essentially individual nature of poetic wonder its opposition to social realism is of major importance in terms of the uestion of the creation of meaning and conseuently of ethical valuesThere is no evidence that the universe or life have any inherent universal meaning Rather it seems that all existence is contingent an accident Thus any meaning that exists is created by accidental beings it is contingent Socially created meaning will direct itself toward maintaining the society from which it springs Thus it will tend to present itself as universal and constant as inherent in the structure of nature rather than as contigent and historical This is religion and obviously it tends toward dogma and the perception of ethical values as absolute and universal moral laws On the other hand when individuals take the creation of meaning into their own hands its contigent and relational nature becomes evident This creation is never completed but is a continual search an ongoing journey It doesn t rest upon belief upon faith but rather on exploration experimentation and uestioningSocial meaning in the form of religion or in modern times ideology demands absolute acceptance But it is not capable of satisfying This is why it must be accepted by faith as a belief Its promise will be fulfilled in the future perhaps of an afterlife perhaps in a future realization of historyThe search for meaning on the individual level in poetic wonder makes no promise of ultimate satisfaction of providing a final answer Paradoxically precisely for this reason it is immediately satisfying encompassing a fullness of the moment that transforms that moment into an eternity When I taste the minty iciness of the full moon drink the warm golden sweetness of the sun feel soaring wild freedom of the hawk running through my veins in that moment I feel an overflowing fullness an expansive generosity that needs no tomorrow And yet I gladly embrace tomorrow precisely because it allows me to express my generosity to empty myself and fill myself back up againIn saying this though I don t want to be misunderstood as denying the existence of an objective realm The relational nature of poetic wonder has its basis in the fact that it is an encounter with an outside This outside has traits about which human beings can develop a shared understanding if they can overcome the social biases that assume universality for a specific society This is the realm of that which Gould calls the factual state of the natural world the realm he grants to scienceAs I pointed out above modern science has its foundations in an essentially religious concept the idea of universal natural laws This idea has its origins in the belief that a divine person created the universe and inscribed such laws into it It was made the basis of modern science because the early modern scientists of the Renaissance were good christians and the methods of science had to have some assumed foundation from which to operate if they were going to be able to create a usable understanding of the world The transformation of god into universal Reason in the Enlightenment was simply a secularization of the christian concept not its eradicationDespite the fact that modern science has its foundation in an assumption that originates in the closed system of religion its method of operation at least ideally observation and experimentation is supposed to be open ended encouraging ongoing exploration But its grounding in a basically closed conception of how the universe operates and its dependence upon funding from the state and corporationseeps this exploration within specific boundaries preventing scientists from seeing certain uncomfortable realitiesThis leaves me to wonder how one might explore the objective realm the external reality that we all encounter developing methods of observation and experimentation that operate from a different basis an open poetic and relational basisThe most essential change this would make is that it would do away with the concept of universal rational natural laws and with it the essentially uantified mechanistic view of the world This does not throw the universe into a state of absolute contingency of total randomness but it does significantly increase the importance of contigency of the element of chance in the world we encounter But as in human relationships in the relationships that make up the universe in which we live THERE ARE HABITS GENERAL TENDENCIES WAYS are habits general tendencies ways usually go and there are ualities inherent to certain beings and relationships ualities that define them But these are not laws they are traits characteristics relational forms that belong to the beings involved in the particular relationships not to the universe We can certainly come to understand such ualities through observation and experimentation but through a different sort of observation and experimentation one in which we make no pretense of being objective of being an external spectator but rather passionately encounter the beings of this world immersing ourselves fully into the life of our world which would then appear to us as a Wonderland I am not convinced that there is any reason to use the term spiritual in any positive sense any It is no longer necessary if it ever was to turn to god or a spiritual realm to explain any reality we encounter If we continue to use to speak of spirituality or spiritual meaning in any positive senseit is necessary to create clear new meanings for these terms that wrench them from their religious significance with its assumption of a separate spiritual realm I personal prefer to find other words that don t have such implications Like the marvelous the poetic wonder This opens uestions relating to the nature of the external and the internal and of consciousness as the place where the two meetThomas Kuhn and other recent philosophers of science have shown how science generally operates as a closed system reuiring ruptures to create openings for new ideas and information to get in I feel guilty for not liking this book Stephen Jay Gould is brilliant and well read and well spoken and highly respected in both his field and as a popular essayist But I hate this book There s hardly an essay therein that I was able to read in its entirety Gould is much too long winded couple that with a fascination for minutia and obscure historical subjects and your eyes glaze over and you find yourself skipping to every third word then every other paragraph then conclusion And frankly Gould comes off as a little smug and pedantic which I think is the result of his less than straightforward writing style Regardless I will the result of his less than straightforward writing style Regardless I will away what I feel is a common theme in his essays ideasphenomenonjudgments must be takenunderstoodmade in context something that far too many people do not consider I enjoy reading Gould and respect his efforts to avoid dumbing down and oversimplifying discussions in his essays but I do believe his description of himself as a street id is fairly silly and he does insist on it so in this collection This was one of those books which I could not resist arguing with the author in pencil in the margins Stephen Jay Gould s collections of essays on natural history found me at the right moment in my twenties when I had plenty of time to read and a mind that was primed for his wisdom Now that I m entering my sixth decade it s a comfort to me to be able to still reach for him and while I think the professor has a lot less to teach me now I like to think it s because many of those lessons actually got through to MeWhat. That The That the title was drawn This landing occurred 100 years to the day before our greatest recent tragedy also explored but with optimism in the concluding section of the book Presented in eight parts I Have Landed begins with a remembrance of a moment of wonder from childhood In Part II Gould explains that humanistic disciplines are not antithetical to theoretical or applied sciences Rather they often share a commonality of method and motivation with great potential to enhance the achievements of each other an assertion perfectly supported by essays on such notables as Nabokov and Frederic Church Part III contains what no Gould collection would be complete without his always compelling mini intellectual biographies which render each subject and his work deserving of reevaluation and renewed significance In this collection of figures compelling and strange Gould exercises one of his greatest strengths the ability to reveal a significant scientific concept through a finely crafted and sympathetic portrait of the person behind the science Turning his pen to three ey figures Sigmund Freud Isabelle Duncan and E Ray Lankester the latter an unlikely attendee of the funeral of Karl Marx he highlights the effect of the Darwinian revolution and its resonance on their lives and work Part IV encourages the reader through what Gould calls intellectual paleonto.

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