Unreal Nature

March 20, 2016

Gateway to a New World

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 4:34 am

… please bear with the details, they are accessible and they are the gateway to a new world.

This is from the ‘Preface and Acknowledgments’ of Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History by Stephen Jay Gould (1989):

… I have fiercely maintained one personal rule in all my so-called “popular” writing. … The concepts of science, in all their richness and ambiguity, can be presented without any compromise, without any simplification counting as distortion, in language accessible to all intelligent people. Words, of course, must be varied, if only to eliminate a jargon and phraseology that would mystify anyone outside the priesthood, but conceptual depth should not vary at all between professional publication and general exposition.

… Of course, these high-minded hopes and conceits from yours truly also demand some work in return. The beauty of the Burgess story lies in its details, and the details are anatomical. Oh, you could skip the anatomy and still get the general message (Lord knows, I repeat it enough times in my enthusiasm) — but please don’t, for you will then never understand either the fierce beauty or the intense excitement of the Burgess drama. I have done everything I could to make the two technical subjects — anatomy and taxonomy — maximally coherent and minimally intrusive.


… I did briefly consider (but it was only the Devil speaking) the excision of all this documentation, with a bypass via some hand waving, pretty pictures, and an appeal to authority. But I could not do it — and not only for reasons of general policy mentioned above. I could not do it because any expunging of anatomical arguments, any derivative working from secondary sources rather than primary monographs, would be a mark of disrespect for something truly beautiful — for some of the most elegant technical work ever accomplished in my profession, and for the exquisite loveliness of the Burgess animals. Pleading is undignified, but allow me one line: please bear with the details, they are accessible and they are the gateway to a new world.

To be continued next week.




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