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The Evolution of Everything: How Selection Shapes Culture, Commerce, and Nature
Author Mark Sumner AKA DevilsTower
Publisher PoliPointPress
220 Pages; About $12.00 New

Today we review and interview a book and an author that need no introduction. He's written 32 books and his writing has been gracing this site since 2007. I'm talking of course about the talented Mark Sumner. I've read his latest book and, trust me, like everything else Mark writes, it's just a joy to read. The Evolution of Everything is absolutely written for the layperson and still a delight for the scientifically inclined, stuffed full of great analogies, unexpected anecdotes, and thoughtful comparisons. And you can win a free signed copy in comments below.

DarkSyde: The title is the evolution of everything, what's that mean?

Mark Sumner: When I first started writing about evolution, one of the things that was frustrating was that a lot of people seemed to have a very vague idea of how it happens. Which is odd, because the principle that Darwin and Wallace discovered -- natural selection -- may be the simplest, most straightforward idea in science. One of the things that made it hard for people seemed to be the great spans of time involved. Once you start talking about millions or billions of years, people's eyes roll up. Then it struck me that while natural selection operates over generations, there are other kinds of selective pressure that operate much more quickly. Look at the smart phone market as an example. There's been an explosion of variety and steady growth in capability just in the last few years. Those changes, like changes in the natural world, have come in response to changes in the environment, only that environment isn't the Serengeti, it's customers and carriers.

Yes, consumer pressure and changes in the marketplace are only a metaphor for natural selection -- but I think it's a good one. And this idea goes both ways. Not only can we learn about evolution using the products around us as examples, we can look at evolution for lessons in areas outside of biology. People want to draw a bright line between things we do and things that are "natural," but there is no line. It's all the natural world.

DS: What's gave you the idea to write about a book about everything evolving?

MS: I think it was the Ford Mustang idea that came up first. I was researching an article on the evolution of horses and looking for something to give the piece a little color. A 1973 Mustang (351 Cobra Jet black & gold for those that like old Mustangs) was the first car I ever owned, and I thought it would be fun to talk about the Mustang just to ease into 3,000 words on fossil toe bones and teeth. I was only looking for just a few lines of material, but what I found was a really interesting story. The Mustang II -- the one that Mustang lovers are supposed to hate -- actually turned out to be a hero of the first oil crisis. It was one of the first American cars built to very high quality standards, and it got decent mileage at a time when other cars really didn't. Sales of that first Mustang II were actually higher than the original car. It was one of the few success stories of that time when a lot of cars, and car companies, were floundering. The Mustang II practically saved Ford and it's definitely the reason that the Mustang is the only "pony car" that has been in continuous production since the 1960s.

Once I had that story, it was fun to fit it together with events in natural history. The oil crisis became an "extinction event" and the Mustang II -- like the real horses that outlived a lot of their Ice Age competitors -- became the thrifty little generalist that outlived all the big, bulky specialists.

DS: What's the difference between everything evolving, and the social & market Darwinism used or misused by various ideologies, from free market fundamentalists to fascists, and the specific cultural or commercial items in your book?

MS: In the essays I wrote for Daily Kos, I spent a lot of time on the product comparisons -- how sea cows are like hardware stores, what extinct Mammoths can tell us about one hour TV dramas. But when I wrote the book I felt compelled to go back and fill in some of the gaps. Why do people have such odd ideas about evolution? Why are reporters still asking about a "missing link," when that idea comes from Medieval folklore? Why are so many people quick to associate Darwin with everything from ruthless business practices to the Nazis? Why is "Social Darwinism" based on ideas that Darwin wouldn't recognize? I didn't know the answers to those questions myself, which meant I got the chance to spend several months digging through 19th century journals, 1920s newspapers, and books that went back to the 1500s. Which is my idea of fun.

What I found was that those who scream out against Darwin and those that distort his ideas to support their own agendas are really working for the same thing: preservation of the social hierarchy. What makes Darwin's idea dangerous isn't so much that things change, People realized that long before Darwin. What makes Darwin scary, then and now, is that his idea is so simple. So easily understood. So obvious. So egalitarian. On both sides of the aisle, what people are really saying is "there has to be more to it than that. After all,  I'm important and whatever brought me here has to have been designed especially with me in mind." But, errr... no. No it doesn't. And wasn't. And isn't.

It seems like every year in physics brings with it more complexity. That "standard model" I was taught as a kid looked simple enough, but now it's crowded with strange quarks and tau neutrinos and gauge bosons. On a larger scale, most of the matter and energy in the universe is invisible to us, and the resolution of basic forces doesn't look a lot closer than it did decades ago. I like the fact that biology, in some ways the most complex of physical sciences, is driven by one of the simplest ideas. An idea that kids can grasp in an afternoon. A hundred and fifty years of trying to disprove evolution, conducted at great expense by dedicated opposition, has proven that Darwin was not only right, but more right than he knew. Evolution by natural selection is, by an overwhelming degree, the origin of new species in the natural world.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun May 30, 2010 at 09:57 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  and the eighttrack is extinct. (6+ / 0-)
  •  Very interested in this book (6+ / 0-)

    I just finished reading Richard Dawkins' latest book and want to read more on the subject. Is this book written for a layperson or for actual smart people with biology degrees?

      •  Natural selection as metaphor versus (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RhymesWithUrple

        natural selection as real phenomenon.  I'll reply here so that you see it but so that it's not clamoring for attention by being off the tip jar.

        I'm sympathetic to the use of natural selection as metaphor, but it's worth noting that many professional evolutionary scientists hate it, hate it, HATE IT (or at least they did back when I swam among them in the 1980s) because they thought that it turned people away from an understanding of a real non-metaphorical process.  Natural selection is a function of differential gene reproduction in future generations, sometimes described for simplicity's sake as "who has the most grandchildren."  It involves actual gene reproduction, through recombination and selection of mutations and "normal" gene variants within an environment.

        Debasement (as my former profs would have it) of the idea by reducing it to a metaphor risks going the way of Herbert Spencer's Social Statics, whence we get Social Darwinism and (in a later book) the notion of "survival of the fittest."

        Personally, I think that the idea of adaptation to an environment -- in which certain characteristics are favored (and flourish) and other are selected against, leading to "evolution" -- is useful as a sociological phenomenon, although I cannot recommend highly enough that people dig into Stephen Jay Gould if they want to see the limits on such metaphors.  But, there's a far cry between that and something that would pass muster in the natural sciences.

        I certainly hope that Devilstower noted some of the great chestnuts in this sort of discussion, such as that more people know and practice the principles of blacksmithing now then they did back in the age where that craft was necessary.  Evolution doesn't always go in the direction we think it "should."  When you're dealing with human choices rather than describing the selection of genes, you have to make a lot of space to allow for the operation of culture, perversity, and whimsy on the result.

        "So if you don't have any teeth, so what? ... Isn't that why they make applesauce?" -- GOP leader Rush Limbaugh

        by Seneca Doane on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:48:15 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Since the main focus of the book... (5+ / 0-)

          is on how Social Statics and works like it kidnapped evolution as a means of promoting a rigid social hierarchy, I'd like to think I avoided the same trap.

          I tried to use metaphors in the service of one central thought: natural selection is that simple, it's not at the service of some great design, there is no direction or pressure that drives toward what we view as "improvement," and any perception that there's a goal in this process is just that -- a perception.

          And I still expect that some folks in the field will scream about some of the analogies I've used, but I can live with that.

          •  I'd like to hear more (if you're so disposed) (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            melo, walkshills, RhymesWithUrple

            of how you take on the Social Statics trap.  You can accept the Gouldian (for lack of a better term) notions of evolution as non-directive and still have people making a claim that their success (which is often these days their grandfather's success) "proves" their greater worthiness for their social station given that our present environment is what it is.  (Wealthy people might concede that others would be better adapted to living in the slums of Bombay, but most of us are not typing from there.)

            I think that the notion that evolution does not imply hierarchy is good and correct, but I'm wondering whether you (and my) conclusion stems from our politics more so than our science.  So my question to you (as, after all, like everyone else I'm functioning here to gin up interest in your book by discussion) is: granted that the anti-hierarchical arguments in your analysis would be convincing to a liberal, would they also be convincing to a conservative?  Would they tend to demonstrate -- as have arguments that "miscegenation" actually leads to healthier and more adaptive babies -- that the "liberal" approach to hierarchies is actually better than the conservative approach, or does your argument just knock out one of the Calvinist-cum-perverted-Darwinist pegs supporting the Spencerian approach.  (In other words, I suppose, I'm asking whether you are playing solely defense, or offense as well?)

            "So if you don't have any teeth, so what? ... Isn't that why they make applesauce?" -- GOP leader Rush Limbaugh

            by Seneca Doane on Sun May 30, 2010 at 11:11:24 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  I found your discussion of this point (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            melo

            very helpful, Mark. I teach college sociology and it's such an important point to get across (given that Spencer is essential to the discipline). You've provided me with excellent material for the purpose.

            "Statistics are people with the tears washed away." Sociologist Ruth Sidel

            by Vicky on Sun May 30, 2010 at 06:46:41 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Natural selection can also be structured (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mcmom

          as a poetics. As a poetics, it certainly informs a way of seeing the world. But in coming at this from the humanities, I might be diving headlong into another trap.

        •  Even deeper... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          melo

          Evolution doesn't always go in the direction we think it "should."  When you're dealing with human choices rather than describing the selection of genes, you have to make a lot of space to allow for the operation of culture, perversity, and whimsy on the result.

          There is no such thing as "should". What you're describing is a very common error, and one that, at least based on what we see here, is one that liberals seem to be especially vulnerable to.

          That error is confusing "is" with "should be".

          Evolution, even broadly defined as any complex system driven by differential survival in a changing environment, simply does not incorporate the concept of "should be".

          What is is what should be, and the proof is simply that it exists.

          We humans, and I think especially those of us who are mentally structured toward political and social liberalism, seem to really, really want to live in a world where what should be has an influence on what is. We want to believe that "goodness", however we define it, has an influence on existence.

          It doesn't, except by accident.

          In any system governed by selection, continued existence is the only metric that matters. What survives is what is good, simply because it survives.

          The total lack of any moral judgment in evolutionary change makes a lot of people uncomfortable. And the very reason that it does so drives their judgment of it... they think that their personal comfort with an idea has a bearing on the truth value of that idea. We're more likely to believe those things that would make us happier if they were true.

          --Shannon

          "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." -- Emiliano Zapata Salazar
          "Dissent is patriotic. Blind obedience is treason." --me

          by Leftie Gunner on Sun May 30, 2010 at 08:29:55 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  VERY INTERESTING COMMENT, (0+ / 0-)

            in a great diary/discussion.

            Daily Kos: Book Review: The Evolution of Everything

            The total lack of any moral judgment in evolutionary change makes a lot of people uncomfortable. And the very reason that it does so drives their judgment of it... they think that their personal comfort with an idea has a bearing on the truth value of that idea. We're more likely to believe those things that would make us happier if they were true.

            there is a capacity for affirmation in the human heart, a form of denial that helps us face difficulty, it is often derided as 'magical thinking', but i feel it has a place next to pure reason in human consciousness.

            the placebo effect is wound into this.

            whatever philosophy espoused, there is a mercy in being able to see over the present and clearly state a vision of betterment, (as long as one is ready for some surprising results, both from one's fellow humans, and the rest of reality itself.

            it takes courage to face the idea of an utterly unsentimental vision of creation, without or with a 'god' by/on one's side.
            iow, there's a fuzzy line between creating a future by incarnating an idea (a laborious project, full of sweat and hard work), and pure 'thishful winking', just as there is an equally fuzzy border between acknowledging the gravity of one's fate, and wallowing in paralytic, unfruitful panic because of it...

            sanity rides that line in both cases, i believe.

            thanks for the wonderful, thought provoking diary, and comments.

            why? just kos..... *just cause*

            by melo on Mon May 31, 2010 at 07:46:47 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Very much for a lay person... (14+ / 0-)

      And pretty well by a lay person. My biology and geology degrees are both thirty years out of date, so don't expect a lot of the latest data on the mathematical modeling behind evolution. It's very much intended as a look at some of the history of the idea of evolution, and how natural selection fits into the idea of "Darwinism" as it's often handed to us today.

      •  this is probably a great asset to your writing! (4+ / 0-)

        The most important thing is to be able to understand what your readers will have trouble with.

        http://www.shelterboxusa.org/

        by TexMex on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:10:43 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I love to read E. O. Wilson (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        walkshills, RhymesWithUrple

        But I think he can be a stretch for some people.

        http://www.shelterboxusa.org/

        by TexMex on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:11:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Who doesn't love E. O. Wilson? (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          walkshills, TexMex, mcmom, RhymesWithUrple

          There's a podcast out there of him reading some of his text and participating in a Q&A at a couple of difference colleges last year as a part of celebrating Darwin's 200th birthday.

          Well worth listening to.

          And it goes almost without saying that his books have been a terrific inspiration for me going back several decades.

          •  *I* don't love E. O. Wilson (0+ / 0-)

            I appreciate his activism when it comes to maintaining global genetic diversity, but when it comes to science he's a reductionist's reductionist.  He certainly has a legitimate place within the dialog, but he has a blind spot the size of a small planet.

            "So if you don't have any teeth, so what? ... Isn't that why they make applesauce?" -- GOP leader Rush Limbaugh

            by Seneca Doane on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:51:17 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Wilson is far too much the genetic determinist (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              melo, Seneca Doane

              Humans have infested the entire planet precisely because we are NOT socio-biological--we are NOT merely or even largely creatures of our genes. If we had been required to depend upon genetic changes for our development, we'd still be chipping lava cobbles on the African veldt like we did 200,000 years ago.  Instead, our behavior is plastic and adaptible precisely because it is NOT dependent on our genes-- allowing us to go from the Stone Age to the Space Age in a geological eyeblink.

              Wilson's speciality was ants.  Humans, though, are not ants.

              Our genes can "determine" our behavior only to the most general and broad degree.  Whether we are or are not naturally aggressive as an individual is probably the product of our genes, but whether that "aggressive personality" manifests itself by our becoming a mammoth hunter, a football linebacker, a Roman general, a serial killer, a Presidential candidate, or a jungle explorer, is entirely cultural, social, economic and political. Genes have virtually nothing to do with it--beyond the generalized and amorphous "aggressive personality".

              We have become, in essence, something that no other organism is -- an agent of non-genetic Lamarckian evolution.

              That is the complaint I have against Wilson's "sociobiology", Dawkin's gene-centered view, and the newer "evolutionary psychology" incarnations.

              We simply are not creatures of our genes.  Indeed, we are successful precisely because we are not.

            •  well.... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Seneca Doane

              His parents, Edward and Inez Wilson, divorced when he was seven. In that same year, he blinded himself in one eye in a fishing accident.

              http://www.shelterboxusa.org/

              by TexMex on Sun May 30, 2010 at 12:37:55 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  I'm in the process of reading (4+ / 0-)

      "The Beak of the Finch" by Jonathan Weiner, a book about a couple who spent 20 years in one of the Galapagos islands.  On the island named Daphne Major, natural selection is "neither rare nor slow.  It is taking place by the hour, and we can watch."  This has been an excellent read: a scientific account written as a dramatic story, one that not only educates but sparks the imagination.

      I really look forward now to reading this book by DevilsTower (thank you, DarkSyde), as  it sounds as though it  will be another story both accessible to the non-scientist and also thought-provoking.  I'll be downloading it to my e-reader as soon as I leave here.

      "In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican." - H. L. Mencken

      by SueDe on Sun May 30, 2010 at 11:10:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the review & for reminding me of 'fun' (5+ / 0-)

    I didn't know the answers to those questions myself, which meant I got the chance to spend several months digging through 19th century journals, 1920s newspapers, and books that went back to the 1500s. Which is my idea of fun.

    "...calling for a 5" deck gun is not parody. Not by a long shot." (gnaborretni)

    by annieli on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:03:27 AM PDT

  •  I can't wait to get my hands on it. (8+ / 0-)

    The general public needs more literature on this topic especially in a format they can process.
    This is great!!!!
    Hubby gave a talk last week on evolution and insect sex and Darwin. They all ate it up!  (Although there was one person who asked about intelligent design in private.) sheeesh!

    Congratulations, Mr. Mark Sumner!

    Thanks, DarkSyde for the review!

    http://www.shelterboxusa.org/

    by TexMex on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:08:49 AM PDT

  •  If you do a book promo in the S.F. area, (6+ / 0-)

    consider Kepler's.  

    My Karma just ran over your Dogma

    by FoundingFatherDAR on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:11:55 AM PDT

  •  How the body plugs leaks.... (11+ / 0-)

     title=

    A suggestion  for Dr. Chu's team looking for the best shape to inject into the BOP.- There is probably a reason that platelets are not shaped like golf balls.

    Perhaps we can look to the wisdom of evolutionary experience to help us stop the spill.

    If cats could blog, they wouldn't.

    by crystal eyes on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:12:27 AM PDT

  •  Young Einstein? (5+ / 0-)

    That "standard model" I was taught as a kid...

    Man, and I thought I was ahead of the pack working at SLAC as an engineering student at Stanford and listening to the particle physicists talk about such things....

    "Certainly the game is rigged. Don't let that stop you; if you don't bet, you can't win." Lazarus Long

    by rfall on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:16:10 AM PDT

    •  How can you keep up (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      melo

      these days?

      We start off with Newton and the universe makes sorta sense. Then you toss in special relativity and general relativity and it gets Weird. Then you toos in Hawking, string theory et al and suddenly we barely exist and we and the universe arent anything remotely like we percieve it...

      The Republicans want to give your Social Security to Wall Street

      by cdreid on Sun May 30, 2010 at 03:55:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  i wish I had more confidence in Mark (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    melo, scott5js, Seneca Doane

    but given the complete has he made of the evolution of senescence this morning, I don't.  As a former evolutionary biologist, I am worried.

    There should be a STRONG distinction drawn between using selection as an analogy or metaphor, as Mark does, and evolutionary biology as a science.

    As a science, evolutionary biology has to go far beyond story telling to include solid evidence, and typically rather a lot of it.  Sadly, the history of people applying evolutionary storytelling to humans has  a particularly dismal history to justify everything from genocide to rape (as Mark does point out, and I'm glad for that)  It is exceptionally dangerous territory and requires a good deal of intellectual rigor to do well.

    If we are talking metophors for why products disappear, that's one thing. Using selective processes as a way of modeling how products and economies work has been done extensively (but probably not explained by any as well as Mark, I'd wager) but going the other direction is just asking to walk into all manner of anthropomorphic traps.

    I wish more people were thoughtful and honest but being outraged is too much fun I suppose

    by Guinho on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:16:19 AM PDT

    •  There's a review over at The Panda's Thumb... (5+ / 0-)

      where you can see several folks kicking the tires, so to speak, of the analogies.

      Plenty of folks with similar concerns.

      •  thanks! (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TexMex, RhymesWithUrple

        I'm probably buying it anyway, even post tire kicking.

        Congrats.

        What is your reaction to that?  I don't mean to harsh on you, I just have my worries

        I wish more people were thoughtful and honest but being outraged is too much fun I suppose

        by Guinho on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:28:39 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I've had real concerns from the beginning... (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          melo, shpilk, mcmom, RhymesWithUrple, KelleyRN2

          about how folks in the field would react to the book. It is awfully reliant on story telling, building metaphors, and relaying ideas -- and sometimes the connections can be a bit... sketchy. But I think that the book as a whole builds up a pretty good picture of how natural selection works, and more importantly for the purposes of this project how it doesn't work.

          A lot more of the book is set against 19th century events than I (or the publisher) really anticipated when I started in, but if I can get people to understand where Darwin and Wallace fit into the picture and why their idea is better than those of guys like Lamarck, Herbert Spencer, or Francis Galton, I'll be happy.

          And genuine evolutionary biologists will still give me well-deserved bonks for using the failure of NBC's prime time lineup to explain island dwarfism.

          •  but gentle ones (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RhymesWithUrple

            if you do a second edition (how's that for thinking ahead), I'd be happy to give a read for some pre-bonking.

            I suspect that if you are taking down those 19th century ideas which are sadly still so prevalent, you'll end up in a number of classrooms.

            I wish more people were thoughtful and honest but being outraged is too much fun I suppose

            by Guinho on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:52:04 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I can't seem to get through a week... (4+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              cdreid, melo, mcmom, RhymesWithUrple

              without hearing some reporter ask about "the missing link" or offering up some creation of Spencer as if it's what evolution is all about. Why Spencer's socioeconomic framework and Ernst Haeckel's weirder ideas seem to stick better with the public that the real consequences of natural selection is beyond me.

              Between that and how the news media mangles the energy industry in every story, I do a lot of screaming at my TV.

              Oh, and I know there's been something of a Haeckel revival, with many people pointing out that he was unfairly maligned over his ontology sketches. I'd say that's true -- and that Haeckel was still a racist whack job whose exceptional skill at freehand sketches doesn't make up for smearing German romanticism all over the popular perception of evolution.

              •  Most "reporters" (0+ / 0-)

                have a garbage education and no real critical thinking skills. And if ive explained once that evolution specifically does NOT  state that we evolve from chimpanzees ive explained it a thousand times... usually followed by "oh ok well i still dont see why you would want to tell me i'm evolved from a monkey" sigh

                The Republicans want to give your Social Security to Wall Street

                by cdreid on Sun May 30, 2010 at 04:05:08 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

    •  We have to engage the public (3+ / 0-)

      from all dfferent angles.
      I agree with this point of what you are saying.

      As a science, evolutionary biology has to go far beyond story telling to include solid evidence, and typically rather a lot of it.

      I think we are on the way. The psycology dept at "my school" is very strong in evolutionary ecology in their research as are some of our economics professors.  I am not explaining enough to be sure.

      cricekts rock and roll!

      http://www.shelterboxusa.org/

      by TexMex on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:26:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  This is a bit bizarre (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Vicky, Bronx59

      and strikes me as people protecting their "pet pony". It is exactly the equivalent of a biologist saying "you cannot use Organic behavior to analyse business" and it is both strange and loaded with hubris.

      In evolution we arent seeing some "worshipful truth" to be referenced only by its priests. Rather we're glimpsing one of the base mechanisms of reality.
      Evolution effects Everything from the type of matter and energy in existence to.. yes.. the kind of cars produced by GM (Btw proud owner of a convertable mustang gt and mom owns an awesome little mustang 2 that still runs great).

      Evolution simply describes the forces that make pressure something in an environment to fit. And how that leads , over time, to the things that work best in that environment existing.

      Evolution is a base mechanism of the universe. It is not to be "guarded" by the priests of biology. It is to be explored, understood and used as a tool by each and every human being. Thats called science.. and it isnt a religion.

      The Republicans want to give your Social Security to Wall Street

      by cdreid on Sun May 30, 2010 at 04:03:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's about rigor (0+ / 0-)

        Some things have good support and others are demo stray wrong. Are we going to sit by and let known falsehoods and misapprehensions be promulgated just because we have a knee jerk reaction against the authority of those who spend their lives understanding it?  I'm sorry but I do not hold with the idea that people should just make stuff up without tests of real rigor.   That's the scientist in me speaking. Evolutionary biology is in fact a fiendishly complex area that is easy to make mistakes in in fact b selection is a simple idea with dynamics that are probably more complicated than the human brain can really grasp.  Easy and facile explanations shouldn't be given a pass

        itbisnt a pet pony to insist on rigor in science.  In fact its a bedrock principle.  

        I wish more people were thoughtful and honest but being outraged is too much fun I suppose

        by Guinho on Sun May 30, 2010 at 04:38:03 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I understand your point completely (0+ / 0-)

          especially with ignorant wingnut loons and neonazis spouting abou t darwin/evolution.

          But you risk the huge mistake physicists and medical doctors have in the past.. seting themselves up as a priesthood. Its a trait of the same flaw that caused the authorities to condemn gallileo, copernicus et al.

          As far as evolutionary science though you're certainly right (and more educated than i). Just the work with computer modelling has produced some astounding results. Evolutionary scientists research must  be incredibly fascinating.

          The Republicans want to give your Social Security to Wall Street

          by cdreid on Mon May 31, 2010 at 05:13:33 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Congratulations! (6+ / 0-)

    I'd forgotten about the Mustang II. It may have been ahead of its time, but I remember seeing those awful ads for it: "Mustang II, Boredom, Zero!" and thinking "That just might be the most boring car, ever!" Well, at least at the time . . .

    Once again, congrats on the book! I'll have to check it out! :-)

    This ain't no party. This ain't no disco. This ain't no foolin' around!

    by Snud on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:16:24 AM PDT

    •  Well, my '79 Mustang (bought new), (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cdreid, Snud

      was a pile of junk, from the get go. I hated that car.

      I think, therefore I am. I think.

      by mcmom on Sun May 30, 2010 at 12:17:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  My moms mustang 2 still runs (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Snud

      Its fun to drive and uses almost Zero gas. Love that car. HATED them when they came out! Its grandchild.. a convertable gt.. has all the testosterone the II is missing. But i gotta tell ya sometimes i wish i were driving the II

      The Republicans want to give your Social Security to Wall Street

      by cdreid on Sun May 30, 2010 at 04:06:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  What about evolution by specific selection? (7+ / 0-)

    Evolution by natural selection is, by an overwhelming degree, the origin of new species in the natural world.

     My dad was a "breeder" plant geneticist (*not* for Monsanto) who developed several fruit hybrids.

    My Karma just ran over your Dogma

    by FoundingFatherDAR on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:18:46 AM PDT

  •  Some of the best, most interesting, exciting (7+ / 0-)

    and informative things I've ever read have been by writers who interpret science for the general public.

    This sounds like a brilliant idea. Teaching by analogy, ones that people can understand from their own life experience, that's one of my own favorite tricks. And, pardon the expression, but God knows there's a great need in America for understanding evolution!

    Can't wait to read it, but I'll have to get it at the library. I'll bug them for it! Not to suck up or anything, but you are one of the reasons I am here at dkos! Best wishes to you in selling lots and lots of copies.

    you (Repubs) lie down with "Nazi"-chanters, you get up with a responsibility for what they might do. -David Corn

    by Gorette on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:19:55 AM PDT

  •  Exciting Review/Interview (5+ / 0-)

    Leaves me with a "big" question, though.

    If the evolution via selection of Everything is demand driven -- then what drives demand?

    Just the obvious stuff? Survival and pleasure?

    And, can a visionary leader inspire an artificial demand that changes the course of evolution? Of people and things?

    ::
    The Pluto Chronicles. You want reality? You can't handle reality!

    by Pluto on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:25:12 AM PDT

  •  Congratulations (6+ / 0-)

    Just put a copy on hold at my favorite bookstore here in Phoenix, Changing Hands.  Getting it for my son's b-day. He will really enjoy it...he's reading The Origin of Species this summer...for fun!  :)

  •  This book has sounded fascinating (6+ / 0-)

    since I first heard of it. Now it sounds even more so.

    I can see working some of this book in when my AP classes read Inherit the Wind.

    I'll be getting it soon.

    When it comes to Democrats, criticize, don't demonize. As for the GOP, I love Republicans--especially flame-broiled.

    by Dragon5616 on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:26:54 AM PDT

  •  Correction: (8+ / 0-)

    Devils Tower's been gracing the pages of the front page of Daily Kos since 2007.  He's been around a lot longer than that!

    You cannot save the Gulf. But you can make its death mean something. -- Crashing Vor

    by Land of Enchantment on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:30:18 AM PDT

  •  my favorite video on natureal selection (3+ / 0-)

    "Attempting to debate with a person who has abandoned reason is like giving medicine to the dead." - Thomas Paine

    by liberalconservative on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:36:02 AM PDT

  •  The great human misunderstanding: (6+ / 0-)

    After all,  I'm important and whatever brought me here has to have been designed especially with me in mind."

    lol a lot

    But, errr... no. No it doesn't. And wasn't. And isn't

    The reason we hold truth in such respect is because we have so little opportunity to get familiar with it. --Mark Twain

    by Desert Rose on Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:46:00 AM PDT

    •  Well We Do Have a 6,000 Year History In the West (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Desert Rose, RhymesWithUrple

      of our single most important unifying principles TELLING us the world was designed specifically with us in mind.

      We're not exactly starting from a psychological blank slate!

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Sun May 30, 2010 at 11:14:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Memes? (0+ / 0-)

    Seems to me he's talking about "Memes", a term coined by Richard Dawkins, which is, roughly, that culture (the transmission of infmormation within and across generations) is transmitted in units analagous to genes. As Dawkins presents it, the evolution of memes is analagous to the evolution of genes.  

    The "meme" metaphor is powerful and important, but has serious flaws. It has also been discussed extensively.  

    I haven't read the book, but the presentation here makes it sound as if the idea is new, and hasn't been subject to thoughtful consideration. This seems highly misleading.

  •  looks like a very interesting read (0+ / 0-)

    and I have a feeling that DarkSyde's review is not exactly unbiased.  ;-)

    "The more the Democrats pursue the center... the further to the right the "center" moves." -fellow kossack vacantlook

    by Hopeful Skeptic on Sun May 30, 2010 at 11:16:47 AM PDT

  •  What degrees does Sumner have? (0+ / 0-)

    I'm gonna go eat a steak. And fuck my wife. And pray to GOD - hatemailapalooza, 052210

    by punditician on Sun May 30, 2010 at 11:29:03 AM PDT

  •  Do we have to copy nature? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cdreid, Donna O

    This quote has been bothering me:

    I'm important and whatever brought me here has to have been designed especially with me in mind." But, errr... no. No it doesn't. And wasn't. And isn't

    Science has become central to all our lives as a source of metaphor as much as a source of explanation. The idea that man is unimportant to nature has become an increasingly powerful metaphor. Instead of emphasizing the ends of man, we emphasize big systems like The Economy. We regard inefficiencies in The Economy as a problem: inefficiencies for the individual are a byproduct. We prioritize bailing out The Economy: we don't even notice mere individuals that fall through the cracks.

    Human beings can be disgustingly arrogant creatures - they are always trying to dominate their fellow human beings as well as nature. It's good to occasionally point out the larger universe and take them down a peg or two. But just because Nature doesn't give a sh*t about people, does that mean that we should design our own culture to not give a sh*t about people as well?

    One of the greatest eras of creativity, technology, and discovery was the Renaissance. One of the ideas that fueled the Renaissance was the importance of man, the paragon of animals. Old aristocracies bemoaned that every person wanted to be a "phoenix" and people began to talk about democratic ideas. When people began to think of themselves as important, they became determined to achieve great things...or at least carve out a space for each person with individual rights.

    I don't mean to be Eurocentric or oversimplify three or four centuries. However, the Renaissance seems like the obvious example of how granting people some importance advanced civilization and improved all our lives. Interestingly, this was also an era when man was thrown out of the center of the universe and supposedly had to cope with not being the geocentric raison d'etre for everything. Yet did we respond by relegating human beings to worthlessness? No - we created a culture where we were important, at least in pursuing the project of our own civilization.

    Two days ago Lakoff called for Obama to display more "empathy". How is that possible to be empathetic when human beings are worthless? Didn't we already learn this lesson during the Holocaust? Yet all our leading scientists and intellectuals keep pressing the idea that nature doesn't give a sh*t, and by some biodeterministic logic that means that government, technology, and economy are not about improving the quality and/or meaning of life for individuals. Systems are there to be cultivated and perfected, while mere humans are whiners who tend to get in the way.

    If scientists really want to help humanity, they will go out and discover something that will justify the lives of individuals - because now there is very little reason to protect their very lives, much less allow them luxuries like "rights". We're currently living our lifestyle on momentum, but eventually the "humans are unimportant" message will bring us all down.

    •  That's one take. (5+ / 0-)

      I get asked all the time by my students if studying the universe doesn't make me feel small and insignificant.  My usual answer is no, not at all, because I find it amazing that we are capable of asking such questions and even answering some of them.  And certainly it is true that in the larger scheme of the physical universe, we simply don't matter.  But there is another way to look at it.  To me, it means that we must be all that much more important to each other, and to the future of our species, because if we don't help each other over the hurdles, and protect our fragile lifeboat of a planet, then the game is up.  And the universe won't care.  So we had better work together instead of tearing each other apart.

      "One person can make a difference and every person should try." - JFK

      by carolina stargazer on Sun May 30, 2010 at 12:24:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I wish more scientists would say so (0+ / 0-)

        This "humans are relevant" metaphor is expanding and getting dangerous. Devil's Tower seems to think it's the egalitarian counter to social darwinism, but what it does is make everyone equally meaningless.

        We need more science metaphors that encourage us to build civilization and value our lives.

        •  should be "humans are irrelevant" lol - n/t (0+ / 0-)
        •  For me it only means... (2+ / 0-)

          That we have to determine our own relevance, and not look for it to either be written in the stars or painted on the rocks.  I find that pretty liberating.

          •  that's how you interpret it (0+ / 0-)

            The problem is the media does look to science for social commentary. You recognized that as the problem for social Darwinism. But I think the message that people are irrelevant could lead to even greater horrors.

            •  then . . . (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              cdreid, breakingranks

              The problem is the media does look to science for social commentary.

              The media is wrong.

              And you'd do far more good by correcting their error than by pandering to it.

              Science is not a philosophy, not a religion, not a way of life.  It is a method for learning about the natural world.  Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

              Those who turn to science for "social commentary" or "political ideology" or "the meaning of life", are abusing and mis-using science every bit as much as the creationists and climate-change-deniers do.

              It's not what science is for.

              But I think the message that people are irrelevant could lead to even greater horrors.

              I'm not seeing anybody say any such thing.  We utterly dominate life on this planet, and are powerful enough to change the global climate all by ourselves.  How on earth could anyone classify us as "irrelevant"?

              What we are is no more important than any other part of the universe. The universe doesn't exist for our benefit, any more than it does for banana slugs or bacteria or space comets.

              The universe simply doesn't revolve around us. Sorry if that bruises our human ego.  (shrug)

              •  The human ego (0+ / 0-)

                Human ego and overweening self-centeredness usually becomes a concern right when people have reason to worry they will be filtered out all together. Young people are now supposed to be more "selfish" and "less empathetic" than previous generations. But here they are being tumbled into an extremely competitive job market where all the efficiencies are going to the employers, they are saddled with immense student loans, and many may be facing the pressure of overcoming the failures of their parents as well.

                If people didn't have to worry about being filtered out of their ability to obtain a livelihood, keep a roof over their head, etc. then I think all the ego would subside in favor of community-wide and even world-wide goals.

          •  very Zen of you ;) (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            breakingranks

            I've never really understood why anyone would feel a need to have "science" tell them what the meaning of life is. I always figured it must be a relic of that inherent need to be told what to think that too many people seem to have--and for some, science must look like sort of the Ultimate Authority. After all, if TV commercials declare that "science proves my tablets cure heartburn better than my competitor's!!!!", then it's probably not too big a leap to demand that science act as the Ultimate Authority to tell us all what the Meaning of Life is.

            Silly.

            But then, far more people who search for the Meaning of Life are ANTI-science----everyone from the fundamentalist Christians to the New Agers.

            Just as silly.

    •  alas, science can't do this (2+ / 0-)

      If scientists really want to help humanity, they will go out and discover something that will justify the lives of individuals

      Science only describes reality.  It doesn't create it.

      The only meaning that life has, is the one that WE OURSELVES give to it.  If you are looking for science to provide that meaning, then you are looking in the wrong place.

      If you are looking for the proper place to find the meaning of life, as a Buddhist I would recommend a mirror.

      •  we set the research agendas (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cdreid, DawnN

        And culture helps shape how scientists interpret the data.

        Unfortunately for Buddhism, policy and the media still prefer science metaphors as the key to public persuasion. All I ask is that scientists recognize and call attention to things that make human beings worthwhile again.

        I don't believe life has to be suffering. I don't believe extinction is the answer (except for those who want to get rid of you). I believe human beings have to make the deliberate decision to value individual lives for their own sake, and not to regard each other as resources for something else.

        •  yeah verily (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          breakingranks

          we set the research agendas

          And culture helps shape how scientists interpret the data

          But irrelevant.  There is a big difference between "science" and "the cultural and social uses to which science is put".

          "What is the speed of light" is science. The speed of light is the same for everybody, whether they are capitalist or communist, saint or sinner, priest or prostitute, beggar or billionnaire, American or Sumerian. There is only one correct answer, and it is the same for everyone.

          "Should we find a way to travel at the speed of light" is culture, more particularly it is technology. It is not science. There is no correct answer, and everyone will answer differently according to their culture, history and society.

          The two are not the same.

          Science is a method of investigation.  It is not a religion, not a philosophy, not a way of life, and not a search for meaning. And every attempt to turn science into any of those things has only led to utter disaster.

          If you want those things, science cannot help you. It is an impossible task for science. Science can no more tell you why humans are valuable any more than it can tell you if chocolate ice cream tastes better than vanilla. Those are all subjective matters, and science can't deal with subjective matters. (shrug)

          I believe human beings have to make the deliberate decision to value individual lives for their own sake

          That's very Buddhist of you.  :)

          As I said before, the only meaning that life has, is the meaning that we ourselves give to it.

          And there is only one person in this entire universe who can decide what meaning "life" has to you. Not even God can do that for you.

          Hence the mirror that I recommended.

          •  My fear (0+ / 0-)

            Using scientistic language to persuade may be a media error, but it's working for them. I especially fear the influence scientistics has had on economic policy, including Nobel Prize winners in Economics. Every word Washington's experts have to say about the economy make me feel like a disposable resource who naturally serves the far more important cause of The Perfect Economy.

            Until people and their government representatives assert that the final end of government and society is to increase the quality/meaning of life for the individual, then we run the risk of all being treated like compost.

            I hope my use of the word "scientistic" above alleviates your concerns that I want society to somehow dictate the results of science. I'm not challenging the "speed of light"...I'm just wondering if we'd find facts more amenable to preserving the value of human beings if we were trying to find them.

            •  we find the facts that are there to find (0+ / 0-)

              Your fears, alas, don't matter stuff-all to what we find.  Mother Nature doesn't give a flying fuck what you fear. She does what she wants, whether you like it or not.

              If it makes you feel any better, reality doesn't care what I want, either. (shrug)

              As for economics, I once pissed off an entire roomful of economists by announcing that economics wasn't a science at all, just an apologetic for the existing social order.

  •  Sounds good. (0+ / 0-)

    This book sounds like a real winner, thanks for highlighting it with this diary!

    "The more laws, the less justice."

    by Denverlibertarian on Sun May 30, 2010 at 11:31:54 AM PDT

  •  Joe, aka, Old Timer just finished (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sardonyx, walkshills

    the book. It was Joan's copy, and he read it while she was here. He suggested we order a copy, asap, as I need to read it too. Joe loves all good writing about anything and everything related to physical science. He even reads National Geographic on line each day. Joe says "thanks for the great book, Mark. I should mention that Joe is a lurker, although he has been reading DKos as long as I have, and has an account.

    I think, therefore I am. I think.

    by mcmom on Sun May 30, 2010 at 11:37:48 AM PDT

  •  My first car was a brand new, baby-blue (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mnemosyne, walkshills, mcmom

    65 Mustang. I sold it in 1968 for $700, got married, and moved to Spain.

    Sigh... hopefully I have evolved beyond that particular level of stupidity. I miss that car a heck of a lot more than I miss my first husband.

    I believe that age is a state of mind...but, unfortunately, my body doesn't agree with me. -- D. Overall, 4-1-2010

    by Donna O on Sun May 30, 2010 at 12:01:57 PM PDT

    •  my first car was a 1973 MG Midget (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sardonyx, walkshills

      that I bought used in 1978. During the gas crisis in '79, when a $5 minimum was imposed (to stop people from just topping up their tanks), I got into several arguments at gas stations because the car literally could not hold five bucks worth of gas.

      But I know how you feel --- I drove that car for almost ten years, until parts for it became impossible to find (it did have the unfortunate habit of breaking down, a lot--an AWFUL lot). I've always missed my dear Maggie, and would give anything to have her back.

  •  Look forward to reading it. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    walkshills

    Regarding your comments on physics, I always have this sneaking hunch that the growing complexity of the framework of the standard model is just an indication that we're about to undergo a total phase transformation in our understanding.  Somehow whenever things get complicated, it just means we haven't really figured out the right way to look at them...

    "One person can make a difference and every person should try." - JFK

    by carolina stargazer on Sun May 30, 2010 at 12:09:06 PM PDT

  •  Oh goody, it's available on Kindle! Which, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    walkshills

    considering its subject matter, it should be.

  •  Key Difference Between Physics and Biology (0+ / 0-)

    As much as biostatisticians like to come up with an assortment of variables, when they comepare variables derived by different methods that should be covariates, often they are not. Similarly, principals that hold true for populations may not hold up at all for a given individual or locus.

    To say it another way - physics went through a period where everyone discovered constants and relationships between constants. Nothing like that has ever happened in biology.

    And so before one gets very deep at all into the number crunching of biology, you're lost in the weeds of error, noise, and uncertainty.

  •  Mark's writing has been gracing the site (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    walkshills

    since April 2003, and regularly on the front page since December 1, 2006; we've been lucky to have him.

    In fact, he posted interesting comments solely as Mark Sumner until the end of summer 2003, switching to the name Devilstower in mid-September.

    © sardonyx; all rights reserved

    by sardonyx on Sun May 30, 2010 at 01:32:05 PM PDT

  •  is this true? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    walkshills

    DNA proves evolution? It seems to me that DNA has conclusivly proven evolution and by using it to identify individuals in court etc the law itself admits evolution as a fact.

  •  I just bought a book from one of you guys. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    walkshills

    If ever we should meet, I am a at a loss as to whom I should ask to sign it.

    But seriously - I teach Economics. This book looks to be potentially very valuable when offering examples to basic economic concepts. Thank you for putting together a very intriguing collection of ideas.

  •  I think Connections encapsulates The Evolution of (0+ / 0-)

    Everything. Let wikiand You Tube decide.

    "They pour syrup on shit and tell us it's hotcakes." Meteor Blades

    by JugOPunch on Sun May 30, 2010 at 07:13:32 PM PDT

    •  Jeesh! I thought about this post for hours. I (0+ / 0-)

      knew there was something familiar about the subject. I loved Connections when it came out in the late 70's. Then, Reagan came in and underfunded everything.

      "They pour syrup on shit and tell us it's hotcakes." Meteor Blades

      by JugOPunch on Sun May 30, 2010 at 07:17:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Natural Selection isn't evolution. (0+ / 0-)

    Stunning that the author thinks it is so.

    While A mechanism for some types of evolution, it certainly doesn't explain evolution the the physical realm, nor in the realm of ideas (many times).

    Nor does it explain emergence very well.

    I know it is just a snippet, but seems very narrow to me.

    •  and herein we see the danger (0+ / 0-)

      In biology, "evolution" refers to the change in allele frequencies over time.  Period. It doesn't have stuff-all to do with "the physical realm" nor the "realm of ideas", any more than gravity does.

      Conflating biological evolution with social development or ideological changes or anything else, always leads to disaster. And our rather confused friend here, illustrates why it's such a bad idea.

      Science is not a religion, not a philosophy, not a worldview, not a way of life.

  •  Am I too late for the contest? (0+ / 0-)

    I'd love to be in it.

    Starboard Broadside: Politics, policy, news, & history, from left-of-center, since September 2008!

    by Cpt Robespierre on Mon May 31, 2010 at 12:03:10 PM PDT

  •  I'd like to enter the contest too (0+ / 0-)

    What's the time frame on the contest?  End time?

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