2003 Seattle Annual Meeting (November 2–5, 2003)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM


ALLMON, Warren D., Paleontological Rsch Institution, 1259 Trumansburg Rd, Ithaca, NY 14850-1398, wda1@cornell.edu

The volume and breadth of Stephen J. Gould’s productivity obscures a central fact that is essential for adequate understanding of his science: despite the variety of his interests, almost all were interconnected in a coherent intellectual view, not only of the history of the Earth and its life, but also of the philosophy of science and the nature of human thought (especially the connection between humanities and sciences). Although he wrote about a huge range of subjects, through all ran a limited number of core ideas. From an early interest in evolution, form, politics, and the humanities, he grew a mature and integrated world view that is perhaps unique in its comprehensiveness, consistency, and detail. Even within evolutionary biology, his contributions on apparently disparate topics such as speciation, adaptation, hierarchy, sociobiology, and human evolution were tightly connected to a view of how evolution occurs and how this ramifies into observations and explanations at different temporal scales. The observation of widespread stasis, for example, led to logical (although not necessarily empirically confirmed) conclusions about the role of natural selection and adaptation (fueled as well by his interest in form), and then to a critique of progress and sociobiology (fueled as well by his left-leaning politics). It also led to ideas of the pace of geological change, hierarchical evolution, the importance of contingency and mass extinction. These are not separate ideas, but parts of an internally consistent whole. Most of all, everything he did was infused with a pervasive humanism that required him to connect science with art, literature, and history. His insistence on examining the history and social setting of ideas was not merely an antiquarian exercise, but rather central to his view of how humans do and should think. His insistence on connecting disparate thoughts was not just rhetorical flourish, but central to how his mind worked. Understanding how he thought is necessary to understand the ideas he produced, which have profoundly shaped our views of the history of the Earth and its life. The impact of these ideas, however, is generally underestimated. Steve Gould did not convince everyone that everything he thought was true, but, whether we admit or like it, we live today in a Gouldian world.