Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on His View of Life

Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on His View of Life

Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on His View of Life

Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections on His View of Life

Synopsis

Considered by many during his lifetime as the most well-known scientist in the world, Stephen Jay Gould left an enormous and influential body of work. A Harvard professor of paleontology, evolutionary biology, and the history of science, Gould provided major insights into our understanding of the history of life. He helped to reinvigorate paleontology, launch macroevolution on a new course, and provide a context in which the biological developmental stages of an organism's embryonic growth could be integrated into an understanding of evolution. This book is a set of reflections on the many areas of Gould's intellectual life by the people who knew and understood him best: former students and prominent close collaborators. Mostly a critical assessment of his legacy, the chapters are not technical contributions but rather offer a combination of intellectual bibliography, personal memoir, and reflection on Gould's diverse scientific achievements. The work includes the most complete bibliography of his writings to date and offers a multi-dimensional view of Gould's life-work not to be found in any other volume.

Excerpt

A teacher… can never tell where his influence stops.

—Henry Adams (1907, 300), used by Steve Gould
as an epigraph in The Panda’s Thumb

Although Steve Gould’s death on May 20, 2002, provided the immediate impetus for this book, its original motivation came from a review of his book Structure of Evolutionary Theory, published just before his death. That review—by someone who in our view clearly had no idea what punctuated equilibrium or species selection were about—suggested to us that Steve’s science was even more widely misunderstood than we had thought. We said to each other at the time that someone needed to “do something” about this situation.

Steve’s death took most of his students and close colleagues by surprise, although a few of us were aware that he had been ill. For many of us, it left a great hole in our lives. After his death and the several memorial services that followed, the three of us were asked to organize a symposium in Steve’s memory at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, which convened on November 2, 2003. We invited students and close colleagues of Steve to participate in this symposium, asking each to explore an aspect of his thought from his or her own relatively “intimate” perspective—that is, from the point of view of one who had known well, learned under, and/or worked with him for many years. Our logic was that such people would be more likely to have a clearer-than-average understanding of his . . .

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