LEONARDO'S MOUNTAIN OF CLAMS AND THE DIET OF WORMS

LEONARDO'S MOUNTAIN OF CLAMS AND THE DIET OF WORMS

STEPHEN JAY GOULD
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 432
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2jbsdx
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  • Book Info
    LEONARDO'S MOUNTAIN OF CLAMS AND THE DIET OF WORMS
    Book Description:

    With his customary brilliance, Gould examines the puzzles and paradoxes great and small that build nature’s and humanity’s diversity and order.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06336-5
    Subjects: General Science, Biological Sciences, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction PIECES OF EIGHT: CONFESSION OF A HUMANISTIC NATURALIST
    (pp. 1-14)

    I can easily understand why, for most naturalists, the highest form of beauty, inspiration, and moral value might be imputed to increasingly rare patches of true wilderness—that is, to parcels of nature devoid of any human presence, either in current person or by previous incursion. When we recognize that all but the last geological eyeblink of life’s history evolved in competence and fascination (but to whose notice?) before humans intruded upon the scene—and when we acknowledge that most of our substantial incursions cannot be viewed as fortunate either for local organisms or environments—why should we not glory...

  4. I. Art and Science
    • 1 THE UPWARDLY MOBILE FOSSILS OF LEONARDOʹS LIVING EARTH
      (pp. 17-44)

      Morgan describes his despair as their captors string up King Arthur for a hanging: “They were blindfolding him! I was paralysed; I couldn’t move, I was choking, my tongue was petrified … They led him under the rope.” But, in the best cliff-hanging traditions, and at the last conceivable instant, Sir Lancelot comes to the rescue with five hundred knights—all riding bicycles. “Lord, how the plumes streamed, how the sun flamed and flashed from the endless procession of webby wheels! I waved my right arm as Lancelot swept in. I tore away noose and bandage, and shouted: ‘On your...

    • 2 THE GREAT WESTERN AND THE FIGHTING TEMERAIRE
      (pp. 45-56)

      Science progresses; art changes. Scientists are interchangeable and anonymous before their universal achievements; artists are idiosyncratic and necessary creators of their unique masterpieces. If Copernicus and Galileo had never lived, the earth would still revolve around the sun, and earthlings would have learned this natural truth in due time. If Michelangelo had never lived, the Sistine Chapel might still have a painted vault, but the history of art would be different and humanity would be a good deal poorer. This “standard” account of the differences between art and science belongs to our distressing but prevalent genre of grossly oversimplified dichotomies—...

    • 3 SEEING EYE TO EYE, THROUGH A GLASS CLEARLY
      (pp. 57-74)

      We laugh at the stuffiness of Victorian pronouncements, as typified by the quintessential quotation from the woman who gave her name to the age—the Queen’s reaction to an imitation of herself by her groom-in-waiting (as stated in the regal first person plural): “We are not amused.” Yet we (that is, all of us poor slobs today, not her majesty alone) must also admire the unquestioned confidence, in matters both moral and material, of our Victorian forebears, especially from the ambivalent perspective of our own unsure and fragmented modernity.

      In a popular book of the mid-1850s, Shirley Hibberd (an androgynous...

  5. II. Biographies in Evolution
    • 4 THE CLAM STRIPPED BARE BY HER NATURALISTS, EVEN
      (pp. 77-98)

      In Benjamin Britten’s operatic setting of Henry James’s Turn of the Screw, the boy Miles sings a little ditty to his governess during their Latin lesson:

      Malo: I would rather be

      Malo: in an apple tree

      Malo: than a naughty boy

      Malo: in adversity

      Britten embodies all the fear and mystery of James’s eerie story in setting this doggerel as a searing and plaintive lament that then cycles throughout the opera, emerging at the very end, but this time intoned by the Governess as Miles lies dead on the stage. Britten’s device works well because Miles’s text is so insipid...

    • 5 DARWINʹS AMERICAN SOULMATE: A BIRDʹS-EYE VIEW
      (pp. 99-118)

      I have long considered Abraham Lincoln as Charles Darwin’s American soulmate—for they were born on the same day, February 12, 1809. But perhaps the accidents of joint beginnings should not define a concept of such intimacy. If soulmates must be linked more tightly by their active choices, then Darwin’s American alter ego can only be his fellow scientist James Dwight Dana (1813–1895)—geologist, biologist, longtime professor at Yale, and surely America’s preeminent indigenous natural historian of the nineteenth century. (Louis Agassiz, the other obvious contender, was born in Switzerland and did his important scientific work in Europe before...

    • 6 A SEAHORSE FOR ALL RACES
      (pp. 119-140)

      Richard Owen, England’s greatest anatomist, awaited with keen anticipation the monthly installments of Charles Dickens’s latest novel, Our Mutual Friend. Owen needed no special reason to join his countrymen in reading the serialized work of England’s most beloved writer. But Owen did have a personal stake in the new book, for Dickens had shaped the character of Mrs. Podsnap for his scientific friend: “A fine woman for Professor Owen, quantity of bone, neck and nostrils like a rocking-horse, hard features, majestic head-dress in which Podsnap has hung golden offerings.”

      Our Mutual Friend appeared in full form in 1865. In the...

    • 7 MR. SOPHIAʹS PONY
      (pp. 141-158)

      If a stolen purse counts only as trash compared with a good name lost, how shall we judge the happily expiring custom of addressing a married woman by her husband’s name? Perhaps I was an incipient feminist from my cradle, but I do remember wondering, at a very early age, why my mother, Eleanor, often received letters addressed to a Mrs. Leonard Gould.

      Among several possible redresses, the game of turning tables in favorable circumstances surely has appeal. Samuel Gridley Howe (1801–1876) did good work as an educator of the blind, but I once took great pleasure in identifying...

  6. III. Human Prehistory
    • 8 UP AGAINST A WALL
      (pp. 161-178)

      We are, above all, a contentious lot, unable to agree on much of anything. Alexander Pope caught the essence of our discord in a couplet (though modern technology has vitiated the force of his simile):

      ’Tis with our judgments as our watches, none

      Go just alike, yet each believes his own.

      Most proclamations of unanimity therefore convey a fishy odor—arising either from imposed restraint (“elections” in dictatorial one-party states), or comedic invention to underscore an opposite reality (as when Ko-Ko, in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, reads a document signed by the Attorney-General, the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of...

    • 9 A LESSON FROM THE OLD MASTERS
      (pp. 179-196)

      The most famous literary tale of a hump invokes an evolutionary theme of sorts. “In the beginning of years,” Rudyard Kipling tells us in his Just-So Stories, “when the world was so new and all, and the animals were just beginning to work for Man, there was a camel, and he lived in the middle of a Howling Desert because he did not want to work.” Instead, when urged to service by the horse, dog, and ox, the recalcitrant camel merely snorted, “Humph.” So the most powerful of resident Djinns, converting utterance to substance, put a hump on the camel’s...

    • 10 OUR UNUSUAL UNITY
      (pp. 197-212)

      A truly stupid mistake often initiates a path to enlightenment. Fortunately, my latest experience of this common phenomenon occurred (and got corrected) in total privacy—so I can avoid embarrassment because no one need know! The Herald, Zimbabwe’s major newspaper, printed a government notice in its issue for January 14, 1997: Licensing of dogs and cycles. The annual fee, they reported, would be twenty Zimbabwean dollars (about $2.00 U.S.) for a bicycle, and thirty for a tricycle. I laughed to myself at the blatant absurdity of charging more for a kid’s toy than an adult’s necessity—an amusement no doubt...

  7. IV. Of History and Toleration
    • 11 A CERION FOR CHRISTOPHER
      (pp. 215-230)

      If China had promoted, rather than intentionally suppressed, the technology of oceanic transport and navigation, the cardinal theme for the second half of our millennium might well have been eastward, rather than westward, expansion into the New World. We can only speculate about the enormously different consequences of such an alternative but unrealized history. Would Asian mariners have followed a path of conquest in the Western sense? Would their closer ethnic tie to Native Americans (who had migrated from Asia) have made any difference in treatment and relationship? At the very least, I suppose, any modern author of a book...

    • 12 THE DODO IN THE CAUCUS RACE
      (pp. 231-250)

      Most members of my immigrant Jewish family took pride in their supposed assimilation (often more imagined than real), and derided as “greenhorns” those who stuck to old ways and tongues. Nonetheless, I well remember the lilt of Yiddish, liberally sprinkled into heavily accented English, used exclusively for a wide range of jokes and stories, or spoken as a mother tongue by the recalcitrants. In 1993, the last native Yiddish speaker of my extended family died. She was one hundred years old.

      When such valued parts of natural or human diversity disappear as active, living presences, we take special interest—verging...

    • 13 THE DIET OF WORMS AND THE DEFENESTRATION OF PRAGUE
      (pp. 251-266)

      I once ate an ant (chocolate covered) on a dare. I have no awful memories of the experience, but I harbor no burning desire for a repeat performance. I therefore feel poor Martin Luther’s pain when, at the crux of his career, in April 1521, he devoted ten days to the Diet of Worms (washed down with a good deal of wine, or so I read).

      I am a collector by nature, and mental drawers have more room for phrases and facts than physical cabinets maintain for specimens. I therefore reserve one cranial shelf for the best funny or euphonious...

  8. V. Evolutionary Facts and Theories
    • 14 NON-OVERLAPPING MAGISTERIA
      (pp. 269-284)

      Incongruous places often inspire anomalous stories. In early 1984, I spent several nights at the Vatican housed in a hotel built for itinerant priests. While pondering over such puzzling issues as the intended function of the bidet in each bathroom, and hungering for something more than plum jam on my breakfast rolls (why did the basket only contain hundreds of identical plum packets and not a one of, say, strawberry?), I encountered yet another among the innumerable issues of contrasting cultures that can make life so expansive and interesting. Our crowd (present in Rome to attend a meeting on nuclear...

    • 15 BOYLEʹS LAW AND DARWINʹS DETAILS
      (pp. 285-300)

      Two scenes from Florence beautifully illustrate the power of scientific revolutions to alter our view of the geometry of existence. A painting by the fifteenth-century artist Michellino hangs in the great cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Titled Dante e il suo poema (“Dante and His Poem”—that is, The Divine Comedy), it shows the entire universe on a single canvas. The earth occupies the center, symbolized by the city of Florence, with Dante in the middle and Brunelleschi’s magnificent dome for the cathedral to his left (an anachronism, to be sure, for Dante died in 1321 and Brunelleschi raised...

    • 16 THE TALLEST TALE
      (pp. 301-318)

      As a scholarly devotee of armchairs and ivory towers, I begin with two strikingly similar legends about standing up at events designed for sitting. In high culture’s version, the audience rises at the opening chords of the Hallelujah Chorus and remains standing throughout the piece. (Choral singers—I am one—love the ritual, for we thereby obtain our only guaranteed standing ovation. The intermission after part two of Handel’s Messiah directly follows this great chorus.) In pop culture’s primary example—the seventh-inning stretch—fans by the tens of thousands stand before their team comes to bat in the seventh inning...

    • 17 BROTHERHOOD BY INVERSION (OR, AS THE WORM TURNS)
      (pp. 319-336)

      As Hamlet, in the most celebrated soliloquy of English literature, weighs the relative values of life and death, he describes the attraction of suicide (“not to be”) as an escape from active insults, including “the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely.” But writers and intellectuals worry far more about an opposite fate on life’s potential “sea of troubles”—erasure and oblivion, the pain of being simply ignored. Samuel Johnson, as recorded by Boswell, expressed this silent arrow of outrageous fortune in a famous aphorism: “I would rather be attacked than unnoticed. For the worst thing you can do to an...

  9. VI. Different Perceptions of Common Truths
    • 18 WAR OF THE WORLDVIEWS
      (pp. 339-354)

      A yearning for the “good old days” infects us all, even though such times never existed outside our reveries. The nostalgic longing may be universal, but modes of expression vary by culture and social class. We all know the stereotypes. Plebeian Pete wishes that he could still smoke, drink, and eat red meat without raising eyebrows; while Patrician Percival laments that he just can’t find dependable servants these days.

      Stereotypes work by unfair exaggeration, to be sure, but they often build upon a kernel of reality. So consider this statement written in 1906 by a true Patrician Percival: “The latter...

    • 19 TRIUMPH OF THE ROOT-HEADS
      (pp. 355-374)

      I am not much of a betting man. For me, a Man o’ War is an old British fighting ship, and a Native Dancer inhabits Tahiti, wears grass skirts, and gyrates on the beach for Fletcher Christian and Captain Bligh in various Hollywood versions of Mutiny on the Bounty. Nonetheless, if compelled to put up or shut up, I would make an unconventional wager on the controversial subject of progress in evolution.

      In our culture’s focal misunderstanding of evolution, most people assume that trends to increasing complexity through time must impart a primary and predictable direction to the history of...

    • 20 CAN WE TRULY KNOW SLOTH AND RAPACITY?
      (pp. 375-392)

      The classic generalized statement of a common problem in intellectual and practical life may be found in Tennyson’s lament that his dearest (and deceased) friend Arthur Hallam seemed so close in loving memory, yet so unreachable in actuality:

      He seems so near, and yet so far.

      The classic particularized statement of the same problem describes Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, adrift in an utterly unusable but completely enveloping bounty:

      Water, water, every where,

      Nor any drop to drink.

      The common experience of being so close that you can almost touch, yet so utterly distant by any available way of knowing, provides a...

    • 21 REVERSING ESTABLISHED ORDERS
      (pp. 393-404)

      We all know how the world works. A fisherman asks his boss in Shakespeare’s Pericles: “Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea,” and receives the evident response, “Why, as men do a-land; the great ones eat up the little ones.” Consequently, when humorists invent topsy-turvy worlds, they reverse such established orders and then emphasize the rightness of their absurdity. Alice’s Wonderland works on the principle of “sentence first—verdict afterwards.” In Gilbert and Sullivan’s town of Titipu, the tailor Ko-ko, condemned to death by decapitation, is elevated instead to the rank of Lord High Executioner because—it...

  10. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 405-411)
  11. ILLUSTRATION CREDITS
    (pp. 412-413)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 414-422)