Re: Gould and Krugman (was: Fermi's Paradox)

Chris Hibbert (
Wed, 27 Jan 1999 22:24:14 -0800 (PST)

A good exploration of how biologists think of Dawkins and Gould is in
"The Third Culture" by John Brockman. Brockman's thesis is that there
is a new emerging intellectual class that bridges C.P. Snow's "Two Cultures" [*] and it's very explicitly a science-based culture. Literate practicing scientists write up their work for this culture, and manage to talk across disciplines. The people who used to read Scientific American now constitute a significant audience among the book-buying public, and some of the people writing for them are significant researchers who can write clearly, and like talking directly to the educated layman.

Brockman interviewed more than 20 impressive scientists who write for this audience, and turned his transcripts into a conversation among them. It seems to me to be both a good presentation of their respective points of view, and a good presentation of their respective views of each other. The core of the discussion covers evolutionary biology, and focuses on the disagreements between Dawkins and Gould.

The biologists Brockman talked to seem to agree that Dawkins and Gould typify two archetypal points of view that normally have trouble communicating with one another. (According to Brockman) they agree on how evolution works, but disagree on what's important to focus on about it. Brockman claims it's partly a capitalist vs. socialist thing. (and we should all be expected to take Dawkins' side. I do.) Until I read Brockman, I thought of Stephen Jay Gould as "just a popularizer," but he now appears to be truly a good scientist who has contributed several crucial insights to the field, and has in addition written approachable explanations of evolution for the scientifically literate layman.

The other people Brockman presents in conversation in the book include Several biologists, reaching as far afield as Lynn Margulis; Computer Scientists including Marvin Minsky, Roger Schank, and Daniel Dennett, (along with the misclassified Steven Pinker and Roger Penrose); half a dozen physicists including Lee Smolin and Paul Davies; and systems thinkers such as Murray Gell-Mann, Chris Langton, J. Doyne Farmer, and Danny Hillis.

I recommend the book.


Chris Hibbert         It is easy to turn an aquarium into fish soup, but    not so easy to turn fish soup back into an aquarium.
                        -- Lech Walesa on reverting to a market economy.
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