historical figures in evolution

Evolution After Darwin: Stephen Jay Gould


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Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002)

Gould was one of the most influential evolutionary biologists and paleontologists during the second half of the 20th century. His greatest contribution, postulated together with his colleague Niles Eldredge, was the idea of punctuated equilibrium. They proposed that species appeared in the fossil record, became stable, and then could be subject to rapid events of branching speciation, as opposed to the idea that evolution occurs gradually. This idea arose as an explanation for the scarcity of the fossil record. Gould and Eldredge argued that the fossil record reflects very extended periods of time, during which organisms appear to undergo no changes (a state called stasis), interrupted by sudden leaps (in geological terms) where morphological changes occur. According to them, the lack of fossils is a feature of evolution and not an effect of the lack of data.

The following is one of Gould’s most famous quotes: “Homo sapiens is a tiny twig, born just yesterday on an enormously arborescent tree of life that would never produce the same set of branches if regrown from seed”.  Gould refers to those arrogant humans,  who believe the world was created for us by a god thinking about us.

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