Lynn Margulis

Died a couple of weeks ago, though I didn’t notice until I saw the pieces in the current edition of The Edge.

I like Dawkins comment:

I greatly admire Lynn Margulis’ ….  theory that the eukaryotic cell is a symbiotic union of primitive prokaryotic cells. This is one of the great achievements of twentieth-century evolutionary biology ….

She was Carl Sagan’s first wife (of 11 years). I find myself pretty well aligned with Sagan as a Spinozan.

Some people think God is an outsized, light-skinned male with a long white beard, sitting on a throne somewhere up there in the sky, busily tallying the fall of every sparrow. Others—for example Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein—considered God to be essentially the sum total of the physical laws which describe the universe. I do not know of any compelling evidence for anthropomorphic patriarchs controlling human destiny from some hidden celestial vantage point, but it would be madness to deny the existence of physical laws.

When it comes to Gaia, Dawkins is ruthless in pointing out the fallacy in seeing progressive Darwinian processes at the level of the whole earth as organism, even though any number of complex adaptive systems could be explained that way – provided they are subject to selection pressures as part of a larger competitive environment. Dennett is more balanced – sure, evolution involves collaborative processes, important processes in the long run, clearly, but they cannot be the primary process.

And Gaia again in Margulis own words …

Lovelock would say that Earth is an organism. I disagree with this phraseology. No organism eats its own waste. I prefer to say that Earth is an ecosystem, one continuous enormous ecosystem composed of many component ecosystems. Lovelock’s position is to let the people believe that Earth is an organism, because if they think it is just a pile of rocks they kick it, ignore it, and mistreat it. If they think Earth is an organism, they’ll tend to treat it with respect. To me, this is a helpful cop-out, not science. Yet I do agree with Lovelock when he claims that most of the things scientists do are not science either. And I realize that by taking the stance he does he is more effective than I am in communicating Gaian ideas.

If science doesn’t fit in with the cultural milieu, people dismiss science, they never reject their cultural milieu! If we are involved in science of which some aspects are not commensurate with the cultural milieu, then we are told that our science is flawed. I suspect that all people have cultural concepts into which science must fit.

I’d say, Gaia is a useful analogy, but not a scientific explanation. And I’ve said before, science is its own cultural belief system. Some excellent corollaries in there, not least that not all helpful things in the world need be amenable to science. And of course mitochondria organelles are the focus of Margulis key work in evolution, coincidentally the subject of the Hunter Gatherer diet piece below.

(Quite a few straw men to disagree about about what she says other evolutionary biologists believe in her “Gaia is a Tough Bitch” piece. Why do people feel the need to use that kind of rhetoric to set up a fight ?)

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