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Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin Paperback – September 16, 1997
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The human mind has a trusty device for simplifying a complex world: reduce to averages and identify trends. Although valuable, the risk is that we ignore variations and end up with a skewed view of reality. In evolutionary terms, the result is a view in which humans are the inevitable pinnacle of evolutionary progress, instead of, as Stephen Jay Gould patiently argues, "a cosmic accident that would never arise again if the tree of life could be replanted." The implications of Gould's argument may threaten certain of our philosophical and religious foundations but will in the end provide us with a clearer view of, and a greater appreciation for, the complexities of our world. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
In his first single-subject book of original writing since Wonderful Life (LJ 9/1/89), Harvard paleontologist Gould examines trends in natural variation throughout organic evolution, thereby discrediting the abstract ideas of eternal forms, fixed essences, and intrinsic progress. His insightful study even applies to sports systems, accounting for the apparent extinction of .400 hitting in baseball. In light of fossil evidence and overwhelming biodiversity, he concludes that there is no linear pattern or ultimate design to evolution. Instead, life is a spreading web or a branching bush; variation, rather than progression, is nature's expression of excellence. Consequently, our species is not the inevitable end-goal of evolution. It remains for Gould to consider in his next book the ethical and theological implications of his nonprogressive and naturalistic world view. (Are bacteria really as important as human beings?) Gould's book is rather a dense read for the average patron, but his ideas are important. Recommended for all academic and public library science collections.
-?H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, N.Y.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Drawing examples from several of his favorite topics including baseball, Gould addresses the popular misconception that evolution necessarily moves in any direction or necessarily favors either the process that resulted in the human being or any singularly upward trend.
By making the argument that bacteria can rightfully claim to be the dominant life form across the history of Earth as a living planet Gould deliberately disorients those readers who had been taught that humans are dominant .
On a more abstract level he demonstrates a scientific model known as the drunkard's walk. This is a classic thought problem wherein it is shown that if you have an absolute minimum value like zero that all variation must exist at some higher number. The analogy is to a drunken person stumbling out of a bar where if there is a wall to the left of his intended path and therefore his stumbling root must favor the other direction.
The third leg of his argument allows him to use sports mostly baseball to demonstrate not only can there be a right wall where in the variations effectively exist between two values one absolute and the other less easily defined but relatively easy to demonstrate. He has his own argument for why the .4000 hitter has disappeared from professional baseball. There is no absolute reason why this number has become unobtainable but the evidence would suggest that some combination of factors effectively created a right-hand wall.
By combining arguments that are usually easy for a scientifically oriented reader to follow Stephen Gould's Full House walks the careful reader through a sequence of arguments that effectively address a number of problems in understanding the statistics of the evolutionary process.
This is a rereading by me of this particular book. As much as science is moved forward in the 20 years since publication of I believe this content is sufficiently general to still be consistent with more recent finds. More than this I've always found it a pleasure to follow Gould as he helps me to answer questions about evolution and to enjoy myself with his friendly and personal writing style.
Particularly useful are the statistical modeling examples...experiments the students love doing ('hands-on'), such as the drunkard's walk (random deviation from a left wall). Using a coin-flip, the students can repeat the experiment several times and record some excellent data, especially when the entire class is compiled. Then, of course, simulate the data with Excel.
There are several lucid examples which are excellent for class discussion...although the baseball stats get a bit long for the typical HS student.
In 2000, I took a small group of students to the AAAS meeting in Washington DC to meet with SJ after we'd studied his book thoroughly in class. He met with us several times, and it seemed as though we already knew him. He was gracious and engaging, and the students were inspired.
The prose in this book is intimate, honest, and illuminating.
I miss this beautiful man.
Most recent customer reviews
Gould's message is pure, and correct. We take complexity as a trend ("thing") that is presumably advancing with time, rather than recognizing it as a part of the...Read more