Niles Eldredge Pattern of Evolution

ISBN 13: 9780716730460

Pattern of Evolution

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Do similarities exist between the ways the living and nonliving worlds function and evolve?

In The Pattern of Evolution, Niles Eldredge--one of the world's most accomplished scientific thinkers--examines the history of ideas on evolution from the beginning of the modern scientific era about two centuries ago to the present. Seizing on evidence of similar patterns across disciplines, he shows how key issues and events have brought us to the brink of a more comprehensive understanding of the Earth. Eldredge believes that exploring these similarities will lead to the realization that biological evolution is driven by the same underlying forces that shape the geology of our planet.

Full of fascinating events, from global geologic catastrophes and mass extinctions to the fine-scale events of day-to-day ecology, The Pattern of Evolution explores the Earth's past to explain its present, and to light the way toward the future. But it also tells the story of modern science itself--an intellectual "system" that has had to diversify and subdivide in order to advance. The result is a fascinating exploration of the way we investigate and understand the evolution of Earth and the life on it.

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What drives biological evolution? Celebrated theorist Niles Eldredge shows us how the adaptation of organisms to their environment mirrors other natural processes in The Pattern of Evolution, and while he's at it, he gets in a few jabs at "ultra-Darwinians" like Richard Dawkins. The well-known theory of punctuated equilibrium, which Eldredge conceived and promoted with Stephen Jay Gould, holds that species remain stable for long intervals between literally earthshaking events that rewrite the evolutionary roster. Eschewing the traditional view differentiating between historical sciences, like his beloved paleontology, and functional sciences, like physics and chemistry, Eldredge proposes that evolutionary theory, by explaining patterns found in nature, can give us just as much "hard" knowledge as Newton's laws. His intriguing ideas are fleshed out with descriptions of illustrative sites (particularly the Puerto Rican rain forest) and dramatic arguments from before, during, and after Darwin's publication of The Origin of Species. As much a pleasure to read as his better-known colleague Gould, Eldredge shares his passions with his readers and is one of the few writers who can make theory both accessible and engrossing. While not all readers will agree with his attitude toward the "selfish gene" model of evolution, few will argue that his arguments for interdisciplinary synthesis in The Pattern of Evolution are anything but necessary and profound. --Rob Lightner

About the Author:

NILES ELDREDGE is a Curator in the Department of Invertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, where he has worked as an active research paleontologist since 1969. He is the author of 20 books and more than 200 research papers, including several with Stephen Jay Gould announcing the theory of punctuated equilibria. He speaks regularly on aspects of evolutionary theory and biodiversity issues.

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