The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance

The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance

The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance

The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance

Synopsis

No one in this century can speak with greater authority on the progress of ideas in biology than Ernst Mayr. And no book has ever established the life sciences so firmly in the mainstream of Western intellectual history as The Growth of Biological Thought. Ten years in preparation, this is a work of epic proportions, tracing the development of the major problems of biology from the earliest attempts to find order in the diversity of life, to modern research into the mechanisms of gene transmission.

Excerpt

Much of modern biology, particularly the various controversies between different schools of thought, cannot be fully understood without a knowledge of the historical background of the problems. Whenever I made this point to my students, they would ask me in what book they could read up on these matters. To my embarrassment, I had to admit that none of the published volumes filled this need. To be sure, there is much literature on the lives of biologists and their discoveries, but these writings are invariably inadequate as far as an analysis of the major problems of biology are concerned or as a history of concepts and ideas in biology. While some of the histories of individual biological disciplines, like genetics and physiology, are indeed histories of ideas, there is nothing available that covers biology as a whole. To fill this gap in the literature is the object of this work. This volume is not, and this must be stressed, a history of biology, and it is not intended to displace existing histories of biology, such as that of Nordenskiöld. The emphasis is on the background and the development of the ideas dominating modern biology; in other words, it is a developmental, not a purely descriptive, history. Such a treatment justifies, indeed necessitates, the neglect of certain temporary developments in biology that left no impact on the subsequent history of ideas.

When I first conceived the plan to write a history of ideas in biology, the goal seemed impossibly remote. The first years (1970- 1975) were devoted to reading, notetaking, and the preparation of a first draft. Soon it became obvious that the subject was too vast for a single volume, and I decided to prepare first a volume on the biology of "ultimate" (evolutionary) causations. But even this limited objective is a hopelessly vast undertaking. If I have been successful at all, it is because I have myself done a considerable amount of research in most areas covered by this volume. This means that I was already reasonably familiar with the problems and some of the literature of the areas involved. I hope to . . .

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