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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.

Poll

Lynn Margulis

4%1 votes
16%4 votes
8%2 votes
60%15 votes
4%1 votes
8%2 votes

| 25 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (7+ / 0-)

    An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

    by don mikulecky on Fri Oct 19, 2012 at 01:43:08 PM PDT

  •  I communicated with her some ? years back (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky, Bob Guyer

    urging her to get involved with Bb the spirochetes of Lyme disease as she had done so muh research on other spirochetes.  As I recall she did get involved with another female researcher( whose name escapes me at the moment) to do some study of Bb.   It wowed me that she bothered to respond to someone totally not in her academic world.  

    She was a strong and innovative thinker.   I admired her greatly.

    "I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong." Richard Feynman

    by leema on Fri Oct 19, 2012 at 01:57:30 PM PDT

  •  I loved her "apology" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky, awhitestl

    in "Five Kingdoms" for overstating (by over-representation) the importance of "humans" . . . (we're mentioned once, as an example, in the brief section on chordata . . .).

    Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

    by Deward Hastings on Fri Oct 19, 2012 at 02:15:28 PM PDT

  •  I have long admired Margulis (0+ / 0-)

    My brother was a student in her department, but he never knew how important she was until a chance remark got me to singing her praises.

    That said, I was not aware that she had fallen in with the troofers.  This gives me a sad; I prefer to remember her putting the smackdown on Dawkins.

    The White Race can not survive without dairy products - Herbert Hoover (-8.75,-8.36)

    by alain2112 on Fri Oct 19, 2012 at 06:40:28 PM PDT

  •  met her in 1988 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    don mikulecky

    at a National Science Teachers Association conference.  She was gracious, not condescending at all talking with a humble community college educator.  Have loved her books.  Thanks for the heads-up to the biography.

    "The will must be stronger than the skill." M. Ali

    by awhitestl on Sat Oct 20, 2012 at 12:24:51 AM PDT

  •  I couldn't vote in your poll (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AaronInSanDiego

    because none of the options fit how I would vote.

    I saw Margulis speak when I was a graduate student.  I was immediately struck by her dismissive attitude toward an entire branch of evolutionary biology in an offhand comment at the beginning of her talk.  This was followed by her argument that basically all cellular structures evolved through endosymbiosis.  Sweeping dismissal of some ideas with no argument presented followed by an interesting idea that was being pushed way harder than the evidence suggested.

    I think this quote from here sums up my opinion.

    Margulis’s legacy in science is secure: because she walked among us, we understand much more about nature than we would have otherwise.  Her pushing the theory, in the teeth of doubt and criticism, that some cellular organelles descend from ancient bacteria, is a major advance in our understanding of life.

    But her legacy is not unmixed, and her life leaves us with another lesson: if a scientist has a Big Idea that turns out to be right, that does not automatically make her right about everything else. None of us, however famous, should be immune to the criticism that characterizes our discipline. As we remember her on this sad occasion, let us at least have a balanced view of her life.

    The thing is that her ideas are not at all incompatible with the modern synthesis (i.e. NeoDarwinism).  The synthesis is a product of the 1930s and 1940s when much less was known about molecular biology, cellular biology, development, and microbial biology than is now the case.  Gaps in knowledge were widely recognized at the time.  The idea that mutualism can evolve through natural selection dates back to Darwin (in a different context than Margulis' work) if not before.  Her findings on the evolution of mitochondria and chloroplasts are entirely consistent with a model of natural selection favoring the mutualistic association with gradual genetic changes over time (including the transfer of most of the genome of the endosymbiont to the nucleus of the host cell).

    Claims of ubiquity of endosymbioses in evolution by Margulis and Wlliamson fall into the category of extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  I don't see this as an either or situation but as a matter of degree and, over time, genomic analysis can tell us a lot more about that.  But even if her hypotheses are completely vindicated, what she has discovered is that endosymbiosis is a source of genetic variation similar to sex.  So endosymbiosis and sex are producing new genetic variation upon which evolutionary forces can act.  While that would certainly rank as one of the most astounding advances in our understanding of evolution it hardly means that all the evolutionary biologists who don't study microbes didn't understand evolution.

    Her contributions to our understanding of evolution are huge but I think she was her legacy's own worst enemy.

    "We are normal and we want our freedom" - Bonzos

    by matching mole on Sat Oct 20, 2012 at 07:23:05 AM PDT

    •  As we said Neo-Darwinists don't like her. (0+ / 0-)

      I too am dismissive of their fundamentalist rigid beliefs.  They are becoming an albatross to good science.

      An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

      by don mikulecky on Sat Oct 20, 2012 at 11:25:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  is it true that she (0+ / 0-)

    was an HIV/AIDS denialist?

    "Okay, until next time. Keep sending me your questions, and I will make fun of you... I mean, answer them." - Strong Bad

    by AaronInSanDiego on Sat Oct 20, 2012 at 09:55:36 PM PDT

    •  no she saw AIDS as a real problem (0+ / 0-)

      she was working on a different agent being the cause...a spirochete

      An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

      by don mikulecky on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 06:52:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  if she denied that HIV is the cause (0+ / 0-)

        then that is HIV/AIDS denial. I spouse there may be scientists working on factors other than human-released greenhouse gases as the cause of global warming, but if they deny that human-caused greenhouse gases are the principal factor, then I would call them denialists.

        "Okay, until next time. Keep sending me your questions, and I will make fun of you... I mean, answer them." - Strong Bad

        by AaronInSanDiego on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 08:00:56 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  she questioned....not denied... (0+ / 0-)

          your comparison is obnoxious!

          An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

          by don mikulecky on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 10:49:50 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  from an interview I read (0+ / 0-)

            She said there was no evidence for the existence of HIV, let alone it bring the cause of AIDS. I don't see how that isn't denial. The denial that HIV causes AIDS has real world negative consequences just like the denial of vaccine efficacy or human-caused global warming.

            "Okay, until next time. Keep sending me your questions, and I will make fun of you... I mean, answer them." - Strong Bad

            by AaronInSanDiego on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 11:06:11 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  an interview? oh come on. n/t (0+ / 0-)

              An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

              by don mikulecky on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 12:38:31 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  yes, an interview. (0+ / 0-)

                What's wrong with that?

                "Okay, until next time. Keep sending me your questions, and I will make fun of you... I mean, answer them." - Strong Bad

                by AaronInSanDiego on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 01:11:47 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  well there is stuff with greater depth n/t (0+ / 0-)

                  An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

                  by don mikulecky on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 01:47:40 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I'm sure there is, (0+ / 0-)

                    and I did download a paper she co-wrote on the subject, but haven't read it yet. Maybe she should be judged based on her work rather than her statements in an interview, and maybe she clarified her views differently elsewhere. But to me as someone who is not an expert on the subject, the connection between HIV and AIDS looks pretty clear. Clearly, she disagrees with the mainstream view on the subject, as she has on other subjects. That in itself is not a reason to disparage her views, if they are consistent with the evidence. I look at your sig line and think it applies here.

                    Anyway, this is the excerpt from the interview that concerned many people:

                    Wait—you are suggesting that AIDS is really syphilis?

                    There is a vast body of literature on syphilis spanning from the 1500s until after World War II, when the disease was supposedly cured by penicillin. Yet the same symptoms now describe AIDS perfectly. It’s in our paper “Resurgence of the Great Imitator.” Our claim is that there’s no evidence that HIV is an infectious virus, or even an entity at all. There’s no scientific paper that proves the HIV virus causes AIDS. Kary Mullis [winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize for DNA sequencing, and well known for his unconventional scientific views] said in an interview that he went looking for a reference substantiating that HIV causes AIDS and discovered, “There is no such document.”
                    Other views expressed in that interview, while unconventional, were quite interesting, I thought. Whether she's right or not, I can't say.

                    "Okay, until next time. Keep sending me your questions, and I will make fun of you... I mean, answer them." - Strong Bad

                    by AaronInSanDiego on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 03:03:03 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Here's a bit more...you need to read (0+ / 0-)

                      Margulis on HIV/AIDS

                      I heard a talk by a “medical scientist” from the Harvard Medical School at a meeting at Roger Williams Univ in Rhode Island from a supposed expert who attempts to design an HIV vaccine. He claimed the HIV virus mutates a billion times in 48hours. It became clear that the HIV virus has no clear identity. The HIV tests, nearly always positive for pregnant women, that vary significantly in the US, Europe and Australia are particularly disturbing. My son-in-law, James di Properzio spent several months researching this story for the Common Review (the Great Books Foundation in Chicago). His findings were consistent with Celia Farber’s and after encouragement from the editor the board reviewed and rejected his draft.

                      “Science is the search for truth” said David Bohm, “whether we like it [the truth] or not. From my readings, discussions with knowledgable scientists close to the story, I simply conclude, as does Kerry Mullis, the Nobel Lauriate who wrote a foreword to Duesberg’s classical work that there is no evidence that “HIV causes AIDS”. I have no special expertise. I simply seek the evidence for scientific claims, especially when they have dire consequences for the science itself and the treatment..not just medical..of so many people.
                      I have observed that the closer one comes to the study of humans the shoddier the quality of the scientific evidence. Maybe that is one of the reasons that I work with bacteria and protoctists (the eukaryotic microorganisms and their immediate descendants exclusive of plants, animals and fungi). The vast majority of these are harmless to human health.

                      Although I have written about the natural history of the anthrax bacterium, Beethoven’s and Nietzsche’s syphilis and the work of Hentry Taylor Ricketts with insect-borne pathgens (eg.g, ticks carrying Rocky Mt Spotted fever), in general I avoid the last 3 million years of evolution and any other studies thatrequire detailed knowledge of mammalian, including human, biology. Why? Because political bias, hearsay and gossip are inevitable whereas in the first part of the evolution story (from 3800 until 3 million years ago) politics intervenes far less obtrusively. In pursuit of the story of life and its effects on planet Earth one can be more honest if the earliest atages of evolution are the objects of study.

                      And this way I can lay low and not be “name-called” (i.e., “denialist”) because I ask hard questions and require solid evidence before I embrace a particular causal hypothesis. Indeed, is not my attitude of inquiry exactly what science is about?

                      An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

                      by don mikulecky on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 03:58:09 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  It's interesting that her search for truth (0+ / 0-)

                        required avoiding certain areas of science. Sounds pretty convenient to me.

                        "Okay, until next time. Keep sending me your questions, and I will make fun of you... I mean, answer them." - Strong Bad

                        by AaronInSanDiego on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 04:47:19 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  You are so off base. As a scientist I find her m (0+ / 0-)

                          ultra careful.  She never insists that you ignore those who disagree. She only asks that you look at the whole picture.  Do you have an ax to grind here?

                          An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

                          by don mikulecky on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 05:00:16 PM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  I'm only basing what I say (0+ / 0-)

                            on what I read. I don't know anything about her apart from that. I do admit that when I read about what she had to say about HIV, it set off alarm bells for me. Considering that the names she drops set of the same alarm bells, that didn't help.

                            "Okay, until next time. Keep sending me your questions, and I will make fun of you... I mean, answer them." - Strong Bad

                            by AaronInSanDiego on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 05:07:35 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  regarding avoiding areas of science (0+ / 0-)

                            this is what I was referring to:

                            ...in general I avoid the last 3 million years of evolution and any other studies thatrequire detailed knowledge of mammalian, including human, biology.
                            Her explanation about political bias sounds familiar. It's a common one used by those whose ideas are not accepted as mainstream, although she has an unusual twist on it.

                            "Okay, until next time. Keep sending me your questions, and I will make fun of you... I mean, answer them." - Strong Bad

                            by AaronInSanDiego on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 05:13:37 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

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