Mission to Abisko: Stories and Myths in the Creation of Scientific "Truth"

By Anders Karlqvist | Go to book overview

5 BECOMING MAUREEN— A STORY OF DEVELOPMENT

JACK COHEN

There is a great part of all languages devoted to processes, additional to those usages for things and for events, and we find those concepts, even the words, difficult. Nouns like embryo, child, adolescent, abstract nouns like development, construction, flight, verbs like to become, to grow, even to die are very difficult to handle mentally for most people. We cannot imagine becoming nothing when we die, and the concept of a continuing soul is a way out of that inability; similarly, early microscopists "saw" a homunculus in the spermatozoon, which saved them from having to imagine a real increase of complexity during development.

The major problem most lay people have with the evolution of animal and plant adaptations is "But what did it have to start with?", sometimes forced into the question "What use is half an eye?" Dawkins 1 has beautifully illuminated that one with 'Any light-sensitivity is better than none!" and Nilsson and Pelger 2 have shown how easy complex eyes are to develop over mere thousands of generations. Nature, too, finds it easy: many different evolutionary lines have done it. Dawkins' explanation of the gradual acquisition of camouflage to answer the question "How did an insect come to look so perfectly like a twig, or a leaf?" starts with a poor-sighted, not very hungry predator in twilight! Even Stephen Jay Gould, evolutionary biologist par excellence,

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