Pony Fish's Glow: And Other Clues to Plan and Purpose in Nature

Overview


We may regard ourselves as the most advanced species on the planet, but have we really reached our optimum design? Isn’t there always room for improvements? Before you answer, let noted evolutionary biologist George C. Williams remind you of both the exquisite adaptations and absurd maladaptations nature has bestowed upon us, the self-proclaimed ”pinnacle of evolution.”Picking up where Darwin left off, Williams combines philosophical perspective and scientific method to provide a foundation for the answers to ...
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The Pony Fish's Glow: And Other Clues To Plan And Purpose In Nature

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Overview


We may regard ourselves as the most advanced species on the planet, but have we really reached our optimum design? Isn’t there always room for improvements? Before you answer, let noted evolutionary biologist George C. Williams remind you of both the exquisite adaptations and absurd maladaptations nature has bestowed upon us, the self-proclaimed ”pinnacle of evolution.”Picking up where Darwin left off, Williams combines philosophical perspective and scientific method to provide a foundation for the answers to some fascinating questions. He explains why our bodies have to deteriorate so disastrously with old age. He gives us logical reasons to explain why we crave foods like sugar and fat that have been proven time and again to be detrimental to our health. And Williams single-handedly deflates our Homo sapiens sapiens ego with such insights as: Our eyesight—it may seem superior, but not when compared to that of the invertebrate squid, whose eye has developed over time to prove more efficient than ours. And wouldn’t it make more sense to have a third eye, located on the back of the head? We could have stereoscopic vision in front and rear-vision warning us of danger sneaking up behind. Rear-view mirrors would become a thing of the past. And why stop at three eyes?This fascinating new book is markedly different from all previous work on evolutionary biology. Using the pony fish and its luminescent abdomen as the perfect evolutionary mystery, Williams explores the intricacies of nature’s designs. Rather than telling us how or why the pony fish got its light, Williams explains the functional reasons why the pony fish keeps its light. He also explains why our species keeps arbitrary or malfunctioned features like the reproductive and excretory systems’ sharing of parts.George C. Williams, one of today’s most qualified evolutionary biologists, has written an important, entertaining, and thought-provoking addition to a science that has captivated the world for almost 150 years.
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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Williams (Ecology and Evolution/SUNY, Stony Brook) explores how organisms have evolved in nature to "solve the problems of life."

Williams accepts the so-called "adaptationist program" of "plan and purpose" in biology: that is, the idea that each attribute of an organism relates in some way to its efforts to survive and pass on its genes. The fish referred to in the book's title possesses light-generating cells that glow through its belly. The point of this uncanny quality, Williams suggests, has to do with the fish's habitat: It lives in deep ocean waters, and the light cells in its belly will match whatever faint sunlight penetrates the water, rendering the fish invisible to potential predators lurking below. There are also some teacherly essays on Darwinism in nature, rehearsing the old vitalism versus mechanism debates, describing with clarity and skill how natural selection operates to keep what has proven to be adaptive and cull the extremes. Williams uses as his examples such disparate events as the long evolution leading to the right size egg for a given species or the process leading to establishing the right number in a litter of young. He considers such essential matters as sex, pregnancy, aging, and death in a series of chapters exhibiting a fascination with the art of conflict and compromise in nature. Among the topics: why we have sex, why sperm are so small and eggs, in comparison, so big, why women get morning sickness and sometimes develop high blood pressure or diabetes while pregnant. Considering the evolution of body parts, Williams makes clear that we are flawed creations, demonstrating both "the power and the limitations of the evolutionary process."

In sum, some old, some new variations on the question of design (or the lack of it) in nature, by an old hand, who, if he hasn't quite the style of Stephen Jay Gould, is nonetheless well worth reading.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465072835
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 4/1/1998
  • Series: Science Masters Series
  • Pages: 184
  • Lexile: 1260L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.01 (h) x 0.58 (d)

Meet the Author


George C. Williams taught at the State University of New York at Stony Brook for thirty years where he was instrumental in establishing the Marine Science Research Center and the Department of Ecology and Evolution, from which he retired in 1990. He has earned many honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, election to the National Academy of Sciences, and recognition as Ecologist of the Year in 1989 by the Ecological Society of America.
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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
Introduction: Plan and Purpose in Nature 1
1 Adaptationist Storytelling 5
2 Functional Design and Natural Selection 20
3 Design for What? 39
4 The Adaptive Body 59
5 What Use Is Sex? 76
6 The Human Experience of Sex and Reproduction 94
7 Old Age and Other Curses 112
8 Medical Implications 132
9 Philosophical Implications 152
Notes 168
Index 180
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