I was very pleased to be surprised by the package in the mail from Chelsea Green Publishing containing this book and a note asking me to review it.  

“When Margulis passed away in 2011, she left behind a groundbreaking scientific legacy that spanned decades. In this collection, Dorion Sagan, Margulis’ son and longtime collaborator, gathers together the voices of friends and colleagues to remark on her life and legacy, in essays that cover her early collaboration with James Lovelock, her fearless face-off with Richard Dawkins during the so-called “Battle of Balliol” at Oxford, the intrepid application of her scientific mind to the insistence that 9/11 was a false-flag operation, her affinity for Emily Dickinson, and more”

“Margulis was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1983, received the prestigious National Medal of Science in 1999, and her papers are permanently archived at the Library of Congress. Less than a month before her untimely death, Margulis was named one of the twenty most influential scientists alive— one of only two women on this list, which include such scientists as Stephen Hawking, James Watson, and Jane Goodall.”

“Lynn Margulis was a scientist whose intellectual energy and interests knew no bounds. Best known for her work on the origins of eukaryotic cells, the Gaia hypothesis, and symbiogenesis as a driving force in evolution, her work has forever changed the way we understand life on Earth.”

If you know about Margulis’ work you still need to read this book because it is a multifaceted view of this magnificent person and her ideas and puts her wok into a context that enriches our understanding.  I venture to guess that, if you are like me, you might have thought you knew about it and will be amazed to find how little of its totality you actually had a hold of.

I write this review at very special time for me for the book Jim Coffman and I wrote together (Global Insanity: How Homo sapiens Lost Touch with Reality while Transforming the World, being published by Emergent Publications) is being set in type as I write this and we expect to see the proofs any day now.  The two books are related in many ways even though they are very different as well. Read on below the break and I'll try to give you a glimpse at this splendid memorial work.

The book has

contributions from:
•    Dorion Sagan
•    Jorge Wagensberg
•    Moselio Schaechter
•    Andre Khalil
•    James Lovelock
•    Bruce Clarke
•    Niles Eldredge
•    Michael F. Dolan
•    Jan Sapp
•    Michael J. Chapman
•    Martin Brasier
•    Denis Noble
•    Josh Mitteldorf
•    Stefan Helmreich   
•    David Ray Griffin
•    John B. Cobb Jr.
•    David Abram
•    Peter Westbroek
•    Rich Doyle
•    Lynn Margulis
•    Joanna Bybee
•    Terry Y. Allen
•    Penny Boston
•    Emily Case
•    David Lenson
•    Betsey Dexter Dyer   
•    William Irwin Thompson
.  Margulis and I were very close in age, I being the older by about two years.  Our paths crossed in many ways starting with our origins in Chicago.  She; however was a prodigy going to the Lab School at the University of Chicago, while I was a working class type and only began to grow out of my background in college at the Illinois Institute of Technology.  I finally came in touch with the University of Chicago in 1960 when I entered graduate school there. My contacts with her work and people we had interacted with in common came even later.  Hence the reading of this book was very revealing and made me very much aware of my own shortcomings as my career slowly developed to the point where I was sharing interests with Margulis unaware of them beforehandFrom wikipedia.
“She attended the University of Chicago at age 14 having entered "because she wanted to go and they let me in".
At 19, she married astronomer Carl Sagan. Their marriage lasted 8 years. Later, she married Dr. Thomas N. Margulis, a crystallographer. Her children are popular science writer and co-author Dorion Sagan, software developer and founder of Sagan Technology, Jeremy Sagan, New York City criminal defense lawyer Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, and teacher and author Jennifer Margulis.
Dorion, her son, edited this book.  Our paths first really crossed when he and a close friend, Eric Schneider, coauthored Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics and Life a book that I had some influence on due to my working with Eric and the late James Kay over the years.

I have reviewed other works by Dorion and the publisher sent me this one with the hope that I would do so again.  I don’t think anyone could have predicted the coincidence I mentioned about the two books coming out so close together.

Dorion has collected some deep as well as moving accounts of Margulis’ work and the effect it and she had on others.

“The underlying theme of endosymbiotic theory, as formulated in 1966, was interdependence and cooperative existence of multiple prokaryotic organisms; one organism engulfed another, yet both survived and eventually evolved over millions of years into eukaryotic cells. Her 1970 book, Origin of Eukaryotic Cells, discusses her early work pertaining to this organelle genesis theory in detail. Currently, her endosymbiotic theory is recognized as the key method by which some organelles have arisen and is widely accepted by mainstream scientists. The endosymbiotic theory of organogenesis gained strong support in the 1980s, when the genetic material of mitochondria and chloroplasts was found to be different from that of the symbiont's nuclear DNA.”

Theory of symbiotic relationships driving evolution
She later formulated a theory to explain how symbiotic relationships between organisms of often different phyla or kingdoms are the driving force of evolution. Genetic variation is proposed to occur mainly as a result of transfer of nuclear information between bacterial cells or viruses and eukaryotic cells. While her organelle genesis ideas are widely accepted, symbiotic relationships as a current method of introducing genetic variation is something of a fringe idea.
She did however, hold a negative view of certain interpretations of Neo-Darwinism, excessively focused on inter-organismic competition, as she believed that history will ultimately judge them as comprising "a minor twentieth-century religious sect within the sprawling religious persuasion of Anglo-Saxon Biology."] She also believed that proponents of the standard theory "wallow in their zoological, capitalistic, competitive, cost-benefit interpretation of Darwin – having mistaken him... Neo-Darwinism, which insists on [the slow accrual of mutations by gene-level natural selection], is in a complete funk."
She opposed such competition-oriented views of evolution, stressing the importance of symbiotic or cooperative relationships between species.

 It is hard to summarize the profound difference between this view of evoulution and the Neo-Darwinists.  
In 1995, prominent evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins had this to say about Lynn Margulis and her work:
“    I greatly admire Lynn Margulis' sheer courage and stamina in sticking by the endosymbiosis theory, and carrying it through from being an unorthodoxy to an orthodoxy. I'm referring to the theory that the eukaryotic cell is a symbiotic union of primitive prokaryotic cells. This is one of the great achievements of twentieth-century evolutionary biology, and I greatly admire her for it.
This comes from someone who she has repeatedly criticized for his reductionist approach.  It is the antithesis of that approach that goes to the heart of what Margulis and others, including Coffman and I have in common.

The ideas of Margulis come from very well grounded observations in the field and laboratory as the various authors in this collection all testify to.  She is a unique thinker in that she has created deep theoretical concepts all of which are deeply rooted in the living matter she studied.

Her collaborations on the Gaia hypothesis with James Lovelock are where we have some very convergent ideas.  My own coming to see the earth system, or Gaia, as something akin to a living organism comes from the work of Robert Rosen who developed a very abstract way of coming to this kind of thinking.  Rosen, a theoretical biologist, developed a model that was abstract but could be manipulated to create a strict dichotomy between the organism and the machine.  When applied to the earth system the side of the dichotomy it falls into is unquestionably the non-machine or generalized organism.

Words make the discussion of these matters difficult because they carry unintended baggage when used for new ideas.  Hence a lot of quibbling has gone on about words like machine and organism and the baggage has not been totally shed.  One reason I find Rosen’s model so useful is that the definitions are clean and unambiguous.  However as soon as you take the words out of that cleanly formulated context there is trouble and it appears throughout discussions of Margulis’ work on evolution and the earth system as the scenario for evolution.  In the context of Rosen’s abstract models there is no muddiness.  The only problem left, as far as I can see, is to marry the more empirical and history laden context that Margulis and others work with to this clean definition and we can see immediately that the what is important is not someone’s definition of organism but the distinction between the Cartesian reductionist worldview and one that treats complex wholes for what they are: irreducible entities that loose identity when broken apart.

The earth is a system.  The breaking it down into parts like “biosphere” and “geological” and other reductions obscures the very essence of what life is all about on the planet.  Margulis has done something truly remarkable because she has seen that the evolutionary origins of  the system as a whole include the various parts in ways that can not be dissected apart without severe loss of meaning and understanding.  No amount of picking about words can overcome the severe loss of knowledge reducing the system as we have been prone to do for hundreds of years have produced.  Margulis has opened the door to seeing the planet as a “living” whole that is evolving in very special ways since Homo sapiens began to transform it.  That is where her work converges with ours.  I welcome the next round of understanding for it should be very fruitful.

There is but one chapter in the book by Margulis herself :Two Hit, Three Down-The Biggest Lie:  David Ray Griffin’s Work Exposing 9/11.  There is also a chapter by Griffin on Margulis where he very briefly mentions his  work on the idea that 9/11 was a “false-flag operation”.  I am not going to try to react to this.  I have been a student of history long enough to know that the ability for governments to falsify and cover up goes back a long way.  The history of the United States is replete with examples.  This may indeed be another.  I asked Dorion about the chapter but he would only respond with a request for specific questions.  Therefore I can not add any insight as to why the chapter is here among all the rest except to make my own interpretation.  The earth system is a whole.  War and its consequences are as much a part of the contribution of our species to the whole as is our choice of carbon energy and other things such as the widespread use of poison and now genetic manipulation.  If anything, this book is too kind to us as a species so this chapter reminds us of something about us that has had great influence on the earth system.  I can guarantee that my book with Coffman will fill in quite a bit of the rest.

Originally posted to don mikulecky on Fri Oct 19, 2012 at 01:43 PM PDT.

Also republished by Systems Thinking, Readers and Book Lovers, Anti-Capitalist Chat, and Postcapitalism.


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