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The Pony Fish's Glow: And Other Clues To Plan And Purpose In Nature Paperback

ISBN-13: 978-0465072835 ISBN-10: 0465072836 Edition: New edition

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; New edition edition (September 25, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465072836
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465072835
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #555,080 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Renowned evolutionary biologist George C. Williams promises Clues to Plan and Purpose in Nature in the subtitle of The Pony Fish's Glow, but he's being ironic. The clues he discusses all point to no plan, and most emphatically to there being no planner. Williams claims to be promoting the "adaptationist program," yet he is an advocate for the middle ground between Stephen Jay Gould and Daniel Dennett. Like the majority of working biologists, Williams believes that most features of organisms can be explained as useful adaptations, but they are adaptations with a past. People are the products of an evolutionary history that leaves even their best- designed features, such as the eye, with bugs that any competent engineer would iron out. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

Williams (Ecology and Evolution/SUNY, Stony Brook) explores how organisms have evolved in nature to ``solve the problems of life.'' Williams accepts the so-called ``adaptationist program'' of ``plan and purpose'' in biology: that is, the idea that each attribute of an organism relates in some way to its efforts to survive and pass on its genes. The fish referred to in the book's title possesses light-generating cells that glow through its belly. The point of this uncanny quality, Williams suggests, has to do with the fish's habitat: It lives in deep ocean waters, and the light cells in its belly will match whatever faint sunlight penetrates the water, rendering the fish invisible to potential predators lurking below. There are also some teacherly essays on Darwinism in nature, rehearsing the old vitalism versus mechanism debates, describing with clarity and skill how natural selection operates to keep what has proven to be adaptive and cull the extremes. Williams uses as his examples such disparate events as the long evolution leading to the right size egg for a given species or the process leading to establishing the right number in a litter of young. He considers such essential matters as sex, pregnancy, aging, and death in a series of chapters exhibiting a fascination with the art of conflict and compromise in nature. Among the topics: why we have sex, why sperm are so small and eggs, in comparison, so big, why women get morning sickness and sometimes develop high blood pressure or diabetes while pregnant. Considering the evolution of body parts, Williams makes clear that we are flawed creations, demonstrating both ``the power and the limitations of the evolutionary process.'' In sum, some old, some new variations on the question of design (or the lack of it) in nature, by an old hand, who, if he hasn't quite the style of Stephen Jay Gould, is nonetheless well worth reading. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Wyote VINE VOICE on November 16, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this book because Richard Dawkins called it a classic in an endnote. It's not bad, and if you enjoy reading about biology you'll certainly enjoy it.
But I'd recommend books by Richard Dawkins, especially "River Out of Eden," and Matt Ridley, especially "The Red Queen," and "Genome," ahead of this one. Williams also wrote "Why we Get Sick." Although the writing in "Pony Fish" is better, "Why we Get Sick" has a lot more information for the curious, and you might prefer it if you've read a bit of Dawkins and Ridley already.
In this book, Williams basically explains adaptionist storytelling and shows the coherence and power of modern Darwinism. To readers of Dawkins and Ridley, there will be very little new information. But it won't bore you either. He covers material such as the perfections and flaws of bodies, the evolution of sexuality and the human experience of reproduction. Again, Ridley and Dawkins cover all this in more depth, and they are more readable authors.
The highlight of the book is the last chapter, "Philosophical Implications." It's fairly understated; but it's interesting to see a great scientist take a stab at the religious and philosophical significance of his science. If there's a reason to read the book, it's just because George Williams wrote it, and you probably don't have the privilege of sitting down with him for coffee and picking his brain. This is what he'd tell you if he had the chance, and it's an opportunity to listen.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT on January 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
Besides his excellent explanations of 'past evolutions' and the 'evolution at work', the author discusses some essential religious, moral and scientific items.
With bees and ants as examples, Prof. Williams explains clearly that the Darwinist evolution is about genes, not about living beings. He also discusses the advantage of sex and aging for a successful gene reproduction.
Other important remarks are, firstly, the fact that the brain erupted only to propel genetic success, not to investigate philosophical or other problems. Secondly, there is a probable discrepancy between adaptations dated from the Stone Age and our actual living conditions, which could be at the origin of actual defects (e. g. myopia) or inadaptations.
But the more important items lay on a different level.
On the religious front, Prof. Williams attacks righteously the God-is-good gospel. Living beings on earth have only one purpose: the success of their own genes. This brings us to a second very important point: natural selection, albeit stupid, is a story of 'unending arms races, slaughter and sufferings'. It is a law of nature and its immorality has to be accepted and, at least, to be thought about.
On the scientific front, the author castigates what he calls domain (field) confusion: the mingling of physics, morality, mind and data processing.
A frequent example is the mixing of the biological (the working of the brain) and the data processing fields.
But more important is the mix up of religion and biology. Prof. Williams declares courageously that it is biologically speaking untenable to declare that a human being exists from the moment of conception. Only a full-term baby is that.
This book attacks essential everyday problems and is a must read.
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By Felicia on September 2, 2013
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I always get my school books used so there's always a risk that it will be beat up or ripped or suffering from water damage or stained or whatever. This book was perfect. Perfect book and perfect condition.
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By Ken Braithwaite on April 23, 2012
Format: Paperback
George Williams is one of the clearest thinkers in biology. Here he covers a wide range of topics related to Darwinism, with admirable and tough minded clarity. Super.
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