Orchids were not made by an ideal engineer; they are jury-rigged from a limited set of available components.

— Stephen Jay Gould

The most impressive Stephen Jay Gould quotes that will add value to your life

I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.

105

Science is an integral part of culture.

It's not this foreign thing, done by an arcane priesthood. It's one of the glories of the human intellectual tradition.

81

The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as a trade secret of Paleontology. Evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils.

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We cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well - for we will not fight to save what we do not love.

58

The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their only common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos.

57

Ordinary speciation remains fully adequate to explain the causes and phenomenology of punctuation.

54

Advocates for a single line of progress encounter their greatest stumbling block when they try to find a smooth link between the apparently disparate designs of the invertebrates and vertebrates.

54

Nothing is more dangerous than a dogmatic worldview - nothing more constraining, more blinding to innovation, more destructive of openness to novelty.

53

If genius has any common denominator, I would propose breadth of interest and the ability to construct fruitful analogies between fields.

50

If evolution almost always occurs by rapid speciation in small, peripheral isolates, then what should the fossil record look like? We are not likely to detect the event of speciation itself. It happens too fast, in too small a group, isolated too far from the ancestral range.

50

Goethe died in 1832. As you know, Goethe was very active in science. In fact, he did some very good scientific work in plant morphology and mineralogy. But he was quite bitter at the way in which many scientists refused to grant him a hearing because he was a poet and therefore, they felt, he couldn't be serious.

50

Objectivity cannot be equated with mental blankness;

rather, objectivity resides in recognizing your preferences and then subjecting them to especially harsh scrutiny - and also in a willingness to revise or abandon your theories when the tests fail (as they usually do).

49

About Stephen Jay Gould

Quotes 249 sayings
Nationality American
Profession Scientist
Birthday October 16

I am particularly fond of [Emmanuel Mendes da Costa's] Natural History of Fossils because this treatise, more than any other work written in English, records a short episode expressing one of the grand false starts in the history of natural science and nothing can be quite so informative and instructive as a juicy mistake.

49

The center of human nature is rooted in ten thousand ordinary acts of kindness that define our days.

48

Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists-whether through design or stupidity, I do not know-as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups.

48

Creationist critics often charge that evolution cannot be tested, and therefore cannot be viewed as a properly scientific subject at all. This claim is rhetorical nonsense.

48

Evolution is an obstacle course not a freeway;

the correct analogue for long-term success is a distant punt receiver evading legions of would-be tacklers in an oddly zigzagged path toward a goal, not a horse thundering down the flat.

48

When people learn no tools of judgment and merely follow their hopes, the seeds of political manipulation are sown.

44

'Creation science' has not entered the curriculum for a reason so simple and so basic that we often forget to mention it: because it is false, and because good teachers understand exactly why it is false.

31

The real tragedy of human existence is not that we are nasty by nature, but that a cruel structural asymmetry grants to rare events of meanness such power to shape our history.

27

Perhaps I am just a hopeless rationalist, but isn't fascination as comforting as solace? Isn't nature immeasurably more interesting for its complexities and its lack of conformity to our hopes? Isn't curiosity as wondrously and fundamentally human as compassion?

24

The enemy is not fundamentalism; it is intolerance. In this case, the intolerance is perverse since it masquerades under the "liberal" rhetoric of "equal time." But mistake it not.

22

Obsolescence is a fate devoutly to be wished, lest science stagnate and die.

21

Human consciousness arose but a minute before midnight on the geological clock.

Yet we mayflies try to bend an ancient world to our purposes, ignorant perhaps of the messages buried in its long history. Let us hope that we are still in the early morning of our April day.

21

Skepticism is the agent of reason against organized irrationalism--and is therefore one of the keys to human social and civic decency.

20

Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.

16

The absence of fossil evidence for intermediary stages between major transitions in organic design, indeed our inability, even in our imagination, to construct functional intermediates in many cases, has been a persistent and nagging problem for gradualist accounts of evolution.

13

Nothing is more dangerous than a dogmatic worldview.

13

Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups.

13

Misunderstanding of probability may be the greatest of all impediments to scientific literacy.

10

Antiessentialist thinking forces us to view the world differently.

We must accept shadings and continua as fundamental. We lose criteria for judgment by comparison to some ideal: short people, retarded people, people of other beliefs, colors, and religions are people of full status.

9

We have become, by the power of a glorious evolutionary accident called intelligence, the stewards of life's continuity on earth. We did not ask for this role, but we cannot abjure it. We may not be suited to it, but here we are.

8

Humans arose ... as a fortuitous and contingent outcome of thousands of linked events, any one of which could have occurred differently and sent history on an alternative pathway that would not have led to consciousness.

7

We must [it has been arued] go beyond reductionism to a holistic recognition that biology and culture interpenetrate in an inextricable manner.

7

The human mind delights in finding pattern—so much so that we often mistake coincidence or forced analogy for profound meaning. No other habit of thought lies so deeply within the soul of a small creature trying to make sense of a complex world not constructed for it.

7

Life is a copiously branching bush, continually pruned by the grim reaper of extinction, not a ladder of predictable progress.

7

The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best - and therefore never scrutinize or question.

7

Science is all those things which are confirmed to such a degree that it would be unreasonable to withhold one's provisional consent.

6

Evolution is an inference from thousands of independent sources, the only conceptual structure that can make unified sense of all this disparate information.

6

The spirit of Plato dies hard. We have been unable to escape the philosophical tradition that what we can see and measure in the world is merely the superficial and imperfect representation of an underlying reality.

6

We must shed the old stereotype of anarchists as bearded bomb throwers furtively stalking about city streets at night.

6

Look in the mirror, and don't be tempted to equate transient domination with either intrinsic superiority or prospects for extended survival.

6

The proof of evolution lies in those adaptations that arise from improbable foundations.

6

I like to summarize what I regard as the pedestal-smashing messages of Darwin's revolution in the following statement, which might be chanted several times a day, like a Hare Krishna mantra, to encourage penetration into the soul: Humans are not the end result of predictable evolutionary progress, but rather a fortuitous cosmic afterthought.

5

[G]enes make enzymes, and enzymes control the rates of chemical processes.

Genes do not make "novelty seeking" or any other complex and overt behavior. Predisposition via a long chain of complex chemical reactions, mediated through a more complex series of life's circumstances, does not equal identification or even causation.

5

Any human being is really good at certain things.

The problem is that the things you're good at come naturally. And since most people are pretty modest instead of an arrogant S.O.B. like me, what comes naturally, you don't see as a special skill. It's just you. It's what you've always done.

5

Pictures are not incidental frills to a text; they are essences of our distinctive way of knowing.

5

We are glorious accidents of an unpredictable process with no drive to complexity, not the expected results of evolutionary principles that yearn to produce a creature capable of understanding the mode of its own necessary construction.

4

Life is short, and potential studies infinite.

We have a much better chance of accomplishing something significant when we follow our passionate interests and work in areas of deepest personal meaning.

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