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In The Blink Of An Eye: How Vision Sparked The Big Bang Of Evolution Paperback – April 13, 2004

3.9 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Oxford University zoologist Parker tackles one of biology's biggest mysteries in this nontechnical account. He provides a relatively simple explanation for the sudden explosion of life forms that defines the boundary between the pre-Cambrian and Cambrian eras approximately 543 million years ago: "The Cambrian explosion was triggered by the sudden evolution of vision" in simple organisms. In Parker's "Light Switch" theory, active predation became possible with the advent of vision, and prey species found themselves under extreme pressure to adapt in ways that would make them less likely to be spotted. New habitats opened as organisms were able to see their environment for the first time, and an enormous amount of specialization occurred as species differentiated. Parker claims that his theory is far more robust than previous attempts to explain the surge in diversity, even those most recently advanced by proponents of a snowball earth (the theory presented by Gabrielle Walker in Snowball Earth). In readable prose, Parker provides detailed information on the fossil record as well as a wealth of interesting material on the role light plays in environments and how vision operates across a host of species. Although at times his tangents are a bit distracting, Parker's book will bring his controversial ideas to the general public. Photos and line drawings.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

The cause of the sudden appearance of major life-forms 540 million years ago, known as the Cambrian explosion, has been paleontology's biggest mystery and, next to the disappearance of the dinosaurs, its most fascinating to onlookers outside the science. Within the discipline, a new solution to the enigma has been boldly advanced, offered here in popular form by its expositor. Oxford zoologist Parker proceeds methodically, explaining, for example, what a phylum is, a point crucial to his theory because, contrary to popular perception, most phyla existed before the Cambrian explosion, he maintains. He believes that explaining the explosion means explaining the evolutionary advantages of organisms' external appearances, as discussed in the aptly titled Wonderful Life (1989) by Stephen Jay Gould. Building on Gould, Parker also revisits the celebrated Burgess shale central to that book, emphasizing the evolution of the eye in terms of its ability to detect light. Something fundamental changed in the earthly intensity of light and then in prey-predator dynamics, avers Parker, whose clarity will thrill science fans, as will his revolutionary theory. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (April 14, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465054382
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465054381
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,492,783 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 14, 2003
Format: Hardcover
There have been living creatures on Earth for about four billion years, but most of that time they were blind. Most of that time, also, they were very simple (single cell animals, sponges, and soft-bodied animals). The famous Cambrian explosion was the sudden boom in animal diversity that happened between 543 and 538 million years ago. It is when teeth and armor appeared. It is also when eyes appeared. It is easy for us to imagine the drama of, say, the destruction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, but according to Andrew Parker the Cambrian explosion is "the most dramatic event in the history of life." Other dramatic events have their explanations (an asteroid wiping out the dinosaurs, for instance), but there has not been a satisfactory explanation of the Cambrian boom. Until now, according to Parker, and he has come up with it. _In the Blink of an Eye_ (Perseus Publishing) is a convincing explanation that he first announced seven years ago: the Cambrian explosion was caused by the evolution of vision.
What happened in the explosion is that animals acquired armor, hard body parts, and a huge variety of different shapes. Parker explains that the shapes and armor came along because eyes came along. In the blind pre-Cambrian world, creatures took in sensation by smell / taste, sound, or touch. It did not matter what the creatures looked like, because no other creature could see them. It didn't matter if creatures had no armor, because predators weren't chasing them. Creatures scavenged upon dead animals, but did not need claws or jaws to catch those; catching prey was unlikely for a creature that was blind, so predation was not the rule. And then there was light!
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By A Customer on May 27, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
No thinking person can deny that the presence of light in the environment can be an important selective pressure. Indeed, as Parker argues, it may have been one of the most important influences on the evolution of locomoting organisms since locomotion began. In a very small nutshell, his thesis that adaptation to light, especially the development of sensory mechanisms to take advantage of light in the environment, is reasonably easy to believe.
I am a student of perception and I wanted to be persuaded by Parker's argument, but the book itself is not well done. There is a ridiculous attempt to generate suspense about the conclusion Parker ultimately draws...a conclusion that is basically no surprise if you read the dust jacket. The language is often stilted and pedantic, to my eye, making me wonder if this isn't a warmed-over dissertation recast as pop science.
The most irritating element of the book, however, is the routine citation of items from the research literature...but with no reference list to which to turn for the full citation. Even decent popular science books have at least a few sources for further reading, and notes of some sort for the particulars of research cited. Parker's book has neither.
The book has some value (hence the three stars) for pointing out a variety of interesting elements of invertebrate visual system evolution, but does not help at all if one wants to follow up such threads.
Okay, I'm not a paleontologist and not a biologist, so maybe I'm talking through my hat. Simon Conway Morris, however, IS an eminent paleontologist. If you want a truly informed review of Parker's book, see Morris's review in American Scientist, July/Aug 2003, p. 365 ff. Quoting very briefly: "The jaunty style becomes increasingly irritating, and the claims for scientific originality increasingly questionable."
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Format: Hardcover
In this illuminating [sorry!] study, Parker contends that light is the driving force behind evolutionary change. Light, he argues, is the most prevailing environmental element. Crossing biology, geology, ecology and physics with a bridge of optics, he shows how many body structures have varied due to light's availability and intensity. Most important to the reader, is his contention that when life developed a greater sensitivity to light, evolution was given a significant boost. We call the time of that "boost" the Cambrian Explosion. According to Parker, the mechanism driving the boost was the evolution of the eye. The wide diversity exhibited by evolution's abrupt advances around 550 million years ago produced creatures whose descendants are cats, bears, birds, and you. Parker provides a wealth of background material in developing his thesis. The forces of plate tectonics, the way light is absorbed, reflected, bent, and even biologically generated are all presented. He shows the relevance of each aspect in a slowly and carefully built concept.
Parker presents his theme with verve. "Let there be images!" is a concluding example. New ideas in science tend to use a forceful approach. Since he's laid a firm Darwinian foundation for this exclamation, perhaps his enthusiasm is warranted. He explains much about early life, the nature of light and how animals have adapted body plans to use light effectively. Parker shows how new research tools can analyse fossils to reveal the past wasn't the soft, dull, colourless world often portrayed. Some of the tricks developed by Nature millions of years ago weren't duplicated by human technology until very recently. Light, he explains, was both an attractant and a repellent in the shallow seas of early oceans.
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