Ontogeny and Phylogeny

Overview

"Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" was Haeckel's answer--the wrong one--to the most vexing question of nineteenth-century biology: what is the relationship between individual development (ontogeny) and the evolution of species and lineages (phylogeny)? In this, the first major book on the subject in fifty years, Stephen Gould documents the history of the idea of recapitulation from its first appearance among the pre-Socratics to its fall in the early twentieth century.

Mr. Gould explores recapitulation as an idea...

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Overview

"Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" was Haeckel's answer--the wrong one--to the most vexing question of nineteenth-century biology: what is the relationship between individual development (ontogeny) and the evolution of species and lineages (phylogeny)? In this, the first major book on the subject in fifty years, Stephen Gould documents the history of the idea of recapitulation from its first appearance among the pre-Socratics to its fall in the early twentieth century.

Mr. Gould explores recapitulation as an idea that intrigued politicians and theologians as well as scientists. He shows that Haeckel's hypothesis--that human fetuses with gill slits are, literally, tiny fish, exact replicas of their water-breathing ancestors--had an influence that extended beyond biology into education, criminology, psychoanalysis (Freud and Jung were devout recapitulationists), and racism. The theory of recapitulation, Gould argues, finally collapsed not from the weight of contrary data, but because the rise of Mendelian genetics rendered it untenable.

Turning to modern concepts, Gould demonstrates that, even though the whole subject of parallels between ontogeny and phylogeny fell into disrepute, it is still one of the great themes of evolutionary biology. Heterochrony--changes in developmental timing, producing parallels between ontogeny and phylogeny--is shown to be crucial to an understanding of gene regulation, the key to any rapprochement between molecular and evolutionary biology. Gould argues that the primary evolutionary value of heterochrony may lie in immediate ecological advantages for slow or rapid maturation, rather than in long-term changes of form, as all previous theories proclaimed.

Neoteny--the opposite of recapitulation--is shown to be the most important determinant of human evolution. We have evolved by retaining the juvenile characters of our ancestors and have achieved both behavioral flexibility and our characteristic morphology thereby (large brains by prolonged retention of rapid fetal growth rates, for example).

Gould concludes that there may be nothing new under the sun, but permutation of the old within complex systems can do wonders. As biologists, we deal directly with the kind of material complexity that confers an unbounded potential upon simple, continuous changes in underlying processes. This is the chief joy of our science."

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Editorial Reviews

Nature

Steve Jay Gould has given us a superb analysis of the use of ontogenetic analogy, the controversies over ontogeny and phylogeny, and the classification of the different processes observable in comparing different ontogenies. His massive book (in each chapter of which there is as much material as in whole books by other writers) is both a historical exposition of the whole subject of ontogeny and phylogeny, and...a fascinating attempt at a functional interpretation of those phylogenetic alterations that involve changes of timing developmental processes in related organisms.
— A. J. Cain

New York Times Book Review

In Gould's...new book...Ontogeny and Phylogeny, a scholarly study of the theory of recapitulation, he not only explains scientific theory but comments on science itself, with clarity and wit, simultaneously entertaining and teaching...[This] is a rich book.
— James Gorman

American Scientist

It is rare indeed to read a new book and recognize it for a classic...Gould has given biologists a new way to see the organisms they study. The result is a major achievement.
— S. Rachootin

Quarterly Review of Biology

Gould's book—pervaded, I should say, with an erudition and felicity of style that make it a delight to read—is a radical work in every sense...It returns one's attention to the roots of our science—the questions about the great pageant of evolution, the marvelous diversity of form that our theory is meant to explain.
— D. Futuyma

Science

This [is a] fat, handsome book crammed with provocative ideas...Ontogeny and Phylogeny is an important and thoughtful book which will be a valuable source of ideas and controversies for anyone interested in evolutionary or developmental biology.
— Matt Cartmill

Nature - A. J. Cain
Steve Jay Gould has given us a superb analysis of the use of ontogenetic analogy, the controversies over ontogeny and phylogeny, and the classification of the different processes observable in comparing different ontogenies. His massive book (in each chapter of which there is as much material as in whole books by other writers) is both a historical exposition of the whole subject of ontogeny and phylogeny, and...a fascinating attempt at a functional interpretation of those phylogenetic alterations that involve changes of timing developmental processes in related organisms.
New York Times Book Review - James Gorman
In Gould's...new book...Ontogeny and Phylogeny, a scholarly study of the theory of recapitulation, he not only explains scientific theory but comments on science itself, with clarity and wit, simultaneously entertaining and teaching...[This] is a rich book.
American Scientist - S. Rachootin
It is rare indeed to read a new book and recognize it for a classic...Gould has given biologists a new way to see the organisms they study. The result is a major achievement.
Quarterly Review of Biology - D. Futuyma
Gould's book--pervaded, I should say, with an erudition and felicity of style that make it a delight to read--is a radical work in every sense...It returns one's attention to the roots of our science--the questions about the great pageant of evolution, the marvelous diversity of form that our theory is meant to explain.
Ernst Mayr
A distinguished and pioneering work.
Science - Matt Cartmill
This [is a] fat, handsome book crammed with provocative ideas...Ontogeny and Phylogeny is an important and thoughtful book which will be a valuable source of ideas and controversies for anyone interested in evolutionary or developmental biology.
Nature
Steve Jay Gould has given us a superb analysis of the use of ontogenetic analogy, the controversies over ontogeny and phylogeny, and the classification of the different processes observable in comparing different ontogenies. His massive book (in each chapter of which there is as much material as in whole books by other writers) is both a historical exposition of the whole subject of ontogeny and phylogeny, and...a fascinating attempt at a functional interpretation of those phylogenetic alterations that involve changes of timing developmental processes in related organisms.
— A. J. Cain
New York Times Book Review
In Gould's...new book...Ontogeny and Phylogeny, a scholarly study of the theory of recapitulation, he not only explains scientific theory but comments on science itself, with clarity and wit, simultaneously entertaining and teaching...[This] is a rich book.
— James Gorman
American Scientist
It is rare indeed to read a new book and recognize it for a classic...Gould has given biologists a new way to see the organisms they study. The result is a major achievement.
— S. Rachootin
Quarterly Review of Biology
Gould's book--pervaded, I should say, with an erudition and felicity of style that make it a delight to read--is a radical work in every sense...It returns one's attention to the roots of our science--the questions about the great pageant of evolution, the marvelous diversity of form that our theory is meant to explain.
— D. Futuyma
Science
This [is a] fat, handsome book crammed with provocative ideas...Ontogeny and Phylogeny is an important and thoughtful book which will be a valuable source of ideas and controversies for anyone interested in evolutionary or developmental biology.
— Matt Cartmill
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674639416
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 1/17/1985
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 518
  • Product dimensions: 1.04 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Jay Jay Gould
Stephen Jay Gould was the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University and Vincent Astor Visiting Professor of Biology at New York University. A MacArthur Prize Fellow, he received innumerable honors and awards and wrote many books, including Ontogeny and Phylogeny and Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle (both from Harvard).

Biography

Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould was arguably the leading science writer for the contemporary literate popular audience. His explications of evolutionary theory and the history of science are peppered with oddball cultural and historical references, from Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak to Catherine the Great's middle name. But Gould insisted that his work wasn't dumbed-down for nonscientists.

"I sort of operate at one end of what's called popular science," he told a Salon interviewer. "Not because I don't appreciate the other end, I just wouldn't do it well, somehow. But the end I operate on really doesn't sacrifice any complexity -- except complexity of language, of course, complexity of jargon. But I like to think that my stuff is as conceptually complex as I would know how to write it for professional audiences."

In 1972, Gould and fellow paleontologist Niles Eldredge shook up the field of evolutionary theory with their idea of "punctuated equilibrium," which suggests that the evolution of a species is not gradual and continual, but marked by long periods of stasis and brief bursts of change. Over the next several decades, Gould would continue to develop his critique of evolutionary theory, questioning assumptions about evolutionary progress and provoking debates with the likes of evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker, philosopher Daniel Dennett and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

From early on in his career, Gould was interested in reviving the scientific essay, in the tradition of Galileo and Darwin. Gould began writing a series of monthly essays for Natural History, the magazine of the American Museum of Natural History. Published as "This View of Life," the well-received essays addressed a broad range of topics in the biological and geological sciences. In his essays, Gould not only explained scientific facts for the lay reader, he critiqued the shortcomings of certain scientific viewpoints and the cultural biases of particular scientists.

Armed with a historical view of evolutionary theory, he tackled the problem of human intelligence testing in The Mismeasure of Man (1981). The book won a National Book Critics' Circle Award, while a collection of essays, The Panda's Thumb (1980), won the American Book Award. Together the books established Gould's presence as one of the country's most prominent science writers.

Gould's popularity continued to widen with the publication of such unlikely bestsellers as Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (1989), which challenged the notion that humans are the necessary endpoint of evolutionary history. "Not only does [Gould] always find something worth saying, he finds some of the most original ways of saying it," The New York Times said in its review of Bully for Brontosaurus (1993), another collection of essays.

In 1998, Gould was elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and his description of that office could apply to his whole life's work. He pledged to "make people less scared of science so they won't see it as arcane, monolithic, and distant, but as something that is important to their lives." Stephen Jay Gould died in May of 2002 of cancer.

Good To Know

In a Mother Jones interview, Gould mentioned that he was teased as a child for his fascination with paleontology. The other kids called him "fossil face." Gould added, "The only time I ever got beat up was when I admitted to being a Yankee fan in Brooklyn. That was kind of dumb."

Gould was diagnosed in 1982 with abdominal mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer. In one of his most famous essays, "The Median Isn't the Message," he explained how statistics are often misinterpreted by nonscientists, and why the grim statistics on his own disease -- with a median mortality of eight months, at that time -- didn't deter him from believing he would live for many more years. "[D]eath is the ultimate enemy -- and I find nothing reproachable in those who rage mightily against the dying of the light," he wrote. He died in May 2002 -- 20 years after his diagnosis.

Gould made a guest appearance as himself on The Simpsons in 1997, participating in a town debate over the authenticity of an "angel skeleton" found in Springfield.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Stephen Jay Gould
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 10, 1941
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      May 20, 2002
    2. Place of Death:
      Boston, Massachusetts

Table of Contents

    • 1. Prospectus


  • Part I: Recapitulation
    • 2. The Analogistic Tradition from Anaximander to Bonnet
      • The Seeds of Recapitulation in Greek Science?
      • Ontogeny and Phylogeny in the Conflict of “Evolution” and Epigenesis: The Idyll of Charles Bonnet
      • Appendix: The Revolution in “Evolution”


    • 3. Transcendental Origins, 1793–1860
      • Naturphilosophie: An Expression of Developmentalism
      • Two Leading Recapitulationists among the Naturphilosophen: Oken and Meckel
      • Oken’s Classification of Animals Linear Additions of Organs
      • J. F. Meckel’s Sober Statement of the Same Principles
      • Serres and the French Transcendentalists
      • Recapitulation and the Theory of Developmental Arrests
      • Von Baer’s Critique of Recapitulation
      • The Direction of Development and Classification of Animals
      • Von Baer and Naturphilosophie: What Is the Universal Direction of Development?
      • Louis Agassiz and the Threefold Parallelism


    • 4. Evolutionary Triumph, 1859–1900
      • Evolutionary Theory and Zoological Practice
      • Darwin and the Evolution of Von Baer’ Laws
      • Evolution and the Mechanics of Recapitulation
      • Ernst Haeckel: Phylogeny as the Mechanical Cause of Ontogeny
      • The Mechanism of Recapitulation
      • The American Neo-Lamarckians: The Law of Acceleration as Evolution’s Motor
      • Progressive Evolution by Acceleration
      • The Extent of Parallelism
      • Why Does Recapitulation Dominate the History of Life?
      • Alpheus Hyatt and Universal Acceleration
      • Lamarckism and the Memory Analogy
      • Recapitulation and Darwinism
      • Appendix: The Evolutionary Translation of von Baer’s Laws


    • 5. Pervasive Influence
      • Criminal Anthropology
      • Racism
      • Child Development
      • Primary Education
      • Freudian Psychoanalysis
      • Epilogue


    • 6. Decline, Fall, and Generalization
      • A Clever Argument
      • An Empirical Critique
      • Organs or Ancestors: The Transformation of Haeckel’s Heterochrony
      • Interpolations into Juvenile Stages
      • Introduction of Juvenile Features into the Adults of Descendants
      • What Had Become of von Baer’s Critique?
      • Benign Neglect: Recapitulation and the Rise of Experimental Embryology
      • The Prior Assumptions of Recapitulation
      • Wilhelm His and His Physiological Embryology: A Preliminary Skirmish
      • Roux’s Entwicklungsmechanik and the Biogenetic Low
      • Recapitulation and Substantive Issues in Experimental Embryology: The New Preformationism
      • Mendel’s Resurrection, Haeckel’s Fall, and the Generalization of Recapitulation




  • Part II: Heterocrony and Paedomorphosis
    • 7. Heterochrony and the Parallel of Ontogeny and Phylogeny
      • Acceleration and Retardation
      • Confusion in and after Haeckel’s Wake
      • Guidelines for a Resolution
      • The Reduction of de Beer’s Categories of Heterochrony to Acceleration and Retardation
      • A Historical Paradox: The Supposed Dominance of Recapitulation
      • Dissociability and Heterochrony
      • Correlation and Disociability
      • Dissociation of the Three Processes
      • A Metric for Dissociation
      • Temporal Shift as a Mechanism of Dissociation
      • A Clock Model of Heterochrony
      • Appendix: A Note on the Multivariate Representation of Dissociation


    • 8. The Ecological and Evolutionary Significance of Heterochrony
      • The Argument from Frequency
      • The Importance of Recapitulation
      • The Importance of Heterochronic Change: Selected Cases
      • Frequency of Paedomorphosis in the Origin of Higher Taxa
      • A Critique of the Classical Significance of Heterochrony
      • The Classical Arguments
      • Retrospective and Immediate Significance
      • Heterochrony, Ecology, and Life-History Strategies
      • The Potential Ease and Rapidity of Heterochronic Change
      • The Control of Metamorphosis in Insects
      • Amphibian Paedomorphosis and the Thyroid Gland


    • 9. Progenesis and Neoteny Insect Progenesis
      • Prothetely and Metathetely
      • Paedogenesis (Parthenogenetic Progenesis) in Gall Midges and Beetles
      • Progenesis in Wingless, Parthenogenetic Aphids
      • Additional Cases of Progenesis with a Similar Ecological Basis
      • Neotenic Solitary Locusts: Are They an Exception to the Rule?
      • Amphibian Neoteny
      • The Ecological Determinants of Progenesis
      • Unstable Environments
      • Colonization
      • Parasites
      • Male Dispersal
      • Progenesis as an Adaptive Response to Pressures for Small Size
      • The Role of Heterochrony in Macroevolution: Contrasting Flexibilities for Progenesis and Neoteny
      • Progenesis
      • Neoteny
      • The Social Correlates of Neoteny in Higher Vertebrates


    • 10. Retardation and Neoteny in Human Evolution
      • The Seeds of Neoteny
      • The Fetalization Theory of Louis Bolk
      • Bolk’s Data
      • Bolk’s Interpretation
      • Bolk’s Evolutionary Theory
      • A Tradition of Argument
      • Retardation in Human Evolution
      • Morphology in the Matrix of Retardation
      • Of Enumeration
      • Of Prototypes
      • Of Correlation
      • The Adaptive Significance of Retarded Development


    • 11. Epilogue


  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Glossary
  • Index

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