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Ontogeny and Phylogeny [Paperback]

Stephen Jay Gould
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
Price: CDN$ 42.79 & FREE Shipping. Details
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Book Description

Feb. 16 1985 0674639413 978-0674639416 Reprint

"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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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 Nature)

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 New York Times Book Review)

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 American Scientist)

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 Quarterly Review of Biology)

A distinguished and pioneering work. (Ernst Mayr)

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 Science)

About the Author

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).

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Ontogeny and Phylogeny June 2 2002
Ontogeny and Phylogeny by Stephen Jay Gould is an enlightening book filled with facts, history, knowledge, science, sociology, biology and mixed with this is the Gould Factor.
By this, Gould Factor, what I mean is this. There are illustrative bits woven into the tapestry of this scientific work. I always liked how Gould did this... always bringing more information into the mix. Then, when you think you know how he is going to arrive at the conclusion he brings you into a whole different level of thinking and you become enlightened and then, only then, do you see... you arrived at the conclusion... via the Gould Factor.
Now, some may say that, why doesn't he get to the point... ah those are the impatient ones... as knowledge to be wisdon has to be appreciated... thought through to the end and only then... will the enlightenment be appreciated. The same has to be said about Ontogeny and Phylogeny, as the development of the individual leads to the development of the whole (type).
Gould's clever brilliance is evidenced here and you'll see him working the esoterics, bringing the reader on, interlacing ideas, and ultimately to the conclusion. A learning process that is evident here as only Gould could do. Gould also brings the reader a broad base of knowledge at the begining forming a foundation. From this foundation, the book begins to construct the major points of Gould's perseptiveness, then later we get the major point of the work.
I found the book to be very well written with excellent documentation and a classic of felicity of style.
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This is one of the three most influential books I've read in the last 20 years.
"The world was a better place when I was young," "Kids today are worse than they were 20 years ago," are two of the more egregious examples I hear of people confusing ontogeny (development of an individual) with phylogeny (development of a type or collective). The world has always been a complicated and widely mixed placed. It is far more likely for an individual's perceptions to change in the course of a lifetime than the world that we perceive.
Gould's essays (and books collecting them) are pleasant bits of fluff that entertainingly (and sneakily) deliver well-informed and timely bits of science. "Ontogeny and Philogeny" goes the next level down, using interesting bits of (mostly) science to deliver well-informed and timely bits of philosophy.
I bought this book because I was curious about the relationship between ontogeny and philogeny. "Does ontogeny recapitulate phylogeny?" was on my mind. No, says Gould. Better, he describes what that relationship is. Along the way, he explains how humans are differentiated from other species (a topic well expanded by Jared Diamond in "The Third Chimpanzee").
Gould starts with the history of science (Lamarck, Ernst Haeckel); philosophy (Anaximander, Aristotle); and psychology (Cesare Lombroso; Freud). He starts by showing the history of the perceived relationship between phylogeny and ontogeny.
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5.0 out of 5 stars ontology & phrenology June 28 2001
Stephen Jay Gould's brilliance is evident as always in his ability to make the esoterics of great science available to people who have not thoroughly studied his field. He doesn't dumb it down, nor remove such huge slices that we are fools walking that dangerous tightrope of a little knowledge. Equal evidence of his genius is his broad base of real knowledge. He knows linguistics, for example; he would recognize that he does not know as much as Noam Chomsky, but he knows a great deal more than the typical lay person.
He uses this knowledge at the beginning of this book to construct a carnival of phrenology and psychoanalysis that gives a social context to his later discussion of ontogeny and phylogeny. Looking at the subject of the title outside of this context would make a reader feel awfully disconnected from the people who believed this. It helps to rememeber that history is the story of a species and its learning process.
One hundred years from now, people may know things that make them skake their heads at our use of protease inhibitors in treating AIDS, CD-ROM's in computer operations, or at the fact that only autistic kids, and not even all of them used weighted vests to develope proprioceptive skills.
The book made me feel superior, and at the same time humbled. No single person is capable of what our species can do as a whole.
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By taamutz
To the reviewer from New Haven (the first to review this book) and anyone who has read his/her review: If you feel that "getting to the point" should be the purpose of all scientific writing, then I suggest reading textbooks and scientific journals. To the people (like myself) who read books like the ones that Gould writes, Science is perceived not as a mere collection of facts and the development of theories (though these are central), it is also seen as a rich part of our culture, past and present. It seems to me that the technical works of Gould and Ian Stewart and Richard Dawkins comprise Science, and have been published in professional journals. On the other hand, their non-technical works appeal to more intellectual and cosmopolitan tastes, and follow closer to the principles of The Enlightenment; that is, these authors expand from their subjects to examine the very nature of Science itself and of knowledge in general. If I want to "get to the point," I will consult the journal Nature (for instance) or my local academic library. But if I wish to explore The Big Picture, I will consult Gould. Anything by Gould. And especially Ontogeny and Phylogeny.
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