Evolutionary History Through Macro and Micro Observations

Everything in the cosmos has a history. The old dichotomy between the "historical" sciences (like geology, paleontology and evolutionary biology) and the (for want of a better term) "functional" sciences (like physics and chemistry—some would call them the "real sciences") was always supposed to be that fields like physics study dynamic processes and discover immutable laws of interaction among particles composing the cosmos—while the historical sciences study, well, history—the supposed outcome of such interactions over time.

But the dichotomy was never so simple as that: within evolutionary biology itself, there has always been something of a split between those determined to understand the causes of evolutionary change, and those who prefer to reconstruct life's history. Much the same distinction has always pervaded geology—a modem manifestation being plate tectonics—with, again, those who seek to understand the dynamics of plate interactions by and large forming a group distinct from those interested in the actual configuration of plates through geologic time.


"Not long ago paleontologists felt that a geneticist was a person who shut himself in a room, pulled down the shades, watched small flies disporting themselves in bottles, and thought that he was studying nature. A pursuit so removed from the realities of life, they said, had no significance for the true biologist. On the other hand, the geneticists said that paleontology had no further contributions to make to biology, that its only point had been the completed demonstration of the truth of evolution, and that it was a subject too purely descriptive to merit the name 'science.1 The paleontologist, they believed, is like a man who undertakes to study the principles of the internal combustion engine by standing on a street comer and watching the motor cars whiz by." (Simpson, 1944, p. xv).

Simpson's larger point—one that still needs emphasis—is that any theory of process must be accountable to the known patterns of history supposedly generated by that process. Simpson thought there were elements to the history of life revealed in paleontological data that would not be evident to those who restricted their gaze to the short-term dynamics observed in fly bottles and rat cages in genetics labs. Logically, the two—study of process, study of history—are inter-related. You might be able to study history without thinking about process (though in my opinion this is a largely dull and incomplete enterprise); but your best grasp of process comes from checking your predictions based on your causal theory against your best estimate of what history has looked like.


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 Chemical Evolution Across Space and Time: From the Big Bang to Prebiotic Chemistry
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Zaikowski, Lori and Friedrich, Jon M. (2008215), Chemical Evolution Across Space and Time: From the Big Bang to Prebiotic Chemistry, Retrieved on 2017-11-21
Folksonomies: chemistry