In his characteristically iconoclastic and original way, Gould argues that progress and increasing complexity are not inevitable features of the evolution of life on Earth. Further, if we wish to see grandeur in life, we must discard our selfish and anthropocentric view of evolution and learn to see it as Darwin did, as the random but unfathomably rich source of 'endless forms most beautiful and wonderful'. LIFE'S GRANDEUR is abundant with the fascinating arcana of palaeontology and biology, the subtleties of mathematical analysis, and the heroic achievements of baseball players and the occasional scientist. But behind it all, as always in Gould's popular writing, is a passionate belief in the completion of an intellectual revolution. Plato believed that abstract ideals are the fundemental reality, while the stones, flora and fauna of the world are merely its flawed and secondary reflection. Such a view may encourage us to see ourselves as closer than a gibbon to the ideal of life, but we flatter ourselves. We can and should appreciate human glory in human spheres. But any rational view of nature tells us that we are a simple branch on an immense bush.
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Stephen Jay Gould is the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Porfessor of Geology at Harvard University, and the Curator for Invertebrate Palaeontology in the university's Museum of Comparative Zoology. His books include Ever Since Darwin, The Panda's Thumb, Wonderful Life, Eight Little Piggies and, most recently, Dinosaur in a Haystack.
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