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Improbably Destinies, Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution

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In 1989, Stephen Jay Gould published Wonderful Life about the discoveries in the Burgess Shale in Canada.  His central theory was that the evolution of life forms was entirely a matter of chance and if you "rewind the tape of life" completely different events would occur.  He also developed the theory of punctuated equilibrium, which says that life forms continue in about the same level for long periods of time, punctuated by big explosions of evolutionary changes.   For many years, the evolutionary science world followed both of his points of view.


But then scientific studies began to show that convergent evolution (where organisms independently evolve similar traits) is much more common than previously realized and extremely common when the underlying organisms are relatively close together on the evolutionary tree.  And so perhaps that suggests that if your rewind the tape of life, pretty much the same thing will happen.


At the end, he finally decides that there's something to both points of view.  He's probably right, but that's not quite the huge sea change in evolutionary theory that I had expected.  Still, the writing was engaging and interesting and I recommend the book if you like evolutionary biology.  Which I do.

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