The Mermaid's Tale: Four Billion Years of Cooperation in the Making of Living Things

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Overview

Even after 150 years, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is irresistibly compelling. But how can this idea—in which competition prevails—be consistent with all that we know about the thoroughly cooperative nature of life at the genetic and cellular level? This book reconciles these discrepancies.

Assembling a set of general principles, authors Kenneth Weiss and Anne Buchanan build a comprehensive, unified theory that applies on the evolutionary time scale but also on the developmental and ecological scales where daily life is lived, and cells, organisms, and species interact. They present this story through a diversity of examples spanning the fundamental challenges that organisms have faced throughout the history of life. This shows that even very complex traits can be constructed simply, based on these principles. Although relentless competitive natural selection is widely assumed to be the primary mover of evolutionary change, The Mermaid’s Tale shows how life more generally works on the basis of cooperation. The book reveals that the focus on competition and cooperation is largely an artifact of the compression of time—a distortion that dissolves when the nature and origins of adapted life are viewed primarily from developmental and evolutionary time scales.

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Editorial Reviews

Ian Tattersall
As an attempt to replace the dominant selectionist paradigm, The Mermaid's Tale is sure to raise more than a few eyebrows among evolutionary biologists. At the very least, it ought to make them think very hard--as they should--about entertaining alternatives to our current received wisdom.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674031937
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 2/15/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 904,241
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Kenneth M. Weiss is Evan Pugh Professor of Anthropology and Genetics, Pennsylvania State University.

Anne V. Buchanan is Senior Research Scientist, Department of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University.

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Table of Contents

  • Preface: A Biography of Life


  1. Part I. The Time of Life: A Broadening Perspective
  2. Life as History
  3. Opening the Pentagon
  4. Principles of Life
  5. Inheritance with Memory
  6. Walking down Memory Lane

  7. Part II. The Logic of Life: Complexity Made Simply
  8. Cells as Cytospecies
  9. Life on the Devo Scale: Cytospeciation and the Logic of Development
  10. Life on the Eco Scale: Directed Change from a Threatening, Unpredictable World
  11. Life on the Eco Scale: Making Sense of Complexity

  12. Part III. The Consistency of Life: EcoDevoEvo
  13. Form Emerges in Many Ways
  14. The Cooperative Genome
  15. “Ligand Seeking Receptor. Objective: Binding Relationship”

  • Appendix A
  • Appendix B
  • Appendix C
  • Suggested Reading by General Category
  • References
  • Index

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