Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time
“Is Uniformitarianism Necessary?”
“Punctuated Equilibria: An Alternative to Phyletic Gradualism,”
Ontogeny and Phylogeny
Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History
“The Spandrels of San Marcos and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme,”
The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History
The Mismeasure of Man
Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes
The Flamingo’s Smile: Reflections in Natural History
Ever since the appearance of Ontogeny and Phylogeny a decade ago, Stephen Jay Gould has continued to delight and inform a wide spectrum of readers and, in doing so, to defy C.P. Snow’s lament about the “two cultures” of the sciences and the humanities. Gould’s monthly column in Natural History magazine, published under the heading “This View of Life,” has led to a series of highly praised volumes of essays—Ever Since Darwin (1977), The Panda’s Thumb (1980), Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes (1983), and most recently The Flamingo’s Smile (1985). In addition, Gould’s Mismeasure of Man (1981), which won the National Book Critics’ Circle Award, analyzed the questionable character of intelligence testing and emphasized the many personal and cultural biases that have led researchers astray in this field. Given the sheer amount of Gould’s publications, which include numerous scientific publications as well, Gould’s readers have been kept busy indeed absorbing his prodigious output.
Now, with Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle, Gould has turned to the history of geology, a field very close to his main concerns as a paleontologist. In this new work he offers a revisionist historical account of the discovery of geological time. If anyone suspects that Gould has at last written a book on a rather dry historical question, I should emphasize that he has hit upon a rich subject and has written a highly perceptive and fascinating book. Furthermore, his latest volume offers his readers a valuable insight into his wider intellectual vision, providing them with a literary blueprint for a number of the basic concerns that unite his many essays and books. To understand Gould one should read his new book. In this review I shall try to illustrate some of the connections between it and the rest of his work.
Geological time is so immense compared with the human experience of time that we can only hope to grasp it dimly through analogies. “Consider the earth’s history,” Gould suggests, “as the old measure of the English yard, the distance from the king’s nose to the tip of his outstretched hand. One stroke of a nail file on his middle finger erases human history.” This discovery of “deep time,” which involved abandoning biblical standards of time for nearly incomprehensible eons, Gould ranks with the monumental intellectual revolutions associated with Copernicus and Darwin. He has picked three major figures in the history of geology, one traditional villain (Thomas Burnet) and two traditional heroes (James Hutton and Charles Lyell), to illustrate the nature of this discovery.
Standard textbook accounts of the achievements of these three figures have long provided what Gould describes as a “self-serving mythology.” These flimsy “cardboard” accounts vaunt the superiority of empiricism and inductivism over the scientific nemesis of religious bigotry. According to the textbooks, geology remained in the service of the Mosaic story of creation as long as armchair geological theorists refused to place fieldwork ahead of scriptural authority …