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Reconstituted Chicken

Philip Kitcher, 2 October 1997

This is Biology 
by Ernst Mayr.
Harvard, 340 pp., £19.95, April 1997, 9780674884687
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... Ernst Mayr is one of the century’s pre-eminent Darwinian evolutionists, who, in the past two decades, has published a magisterial history of biology and many seminal philosophical essays. From the title of this new book, one might expect a tour of the current state of the life sciences, made accessible to non-specialists ...

Like books along a bookshelf

Mark Ridley, 9 May 1991

The Wisdom of the Genes 
by Christopher Wills.
Oxford, 351 pp., £6.99, January 1991, 0 19 286113 1
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... and see how natural selection works on them. Like all good things, however, it has its critics, Ernst Mayr, for instance, strongly objects to it. He says it makes evolution seem like changing the bean composition in a beanbag, and refers to it derisively as ‘beanbag genetics’. One of Mayr’s ...

Molecules are not enough

John Maynard Smith, 6 February 1986

The Dialectical Biologist 
by Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin.
Harvard, 303 pp., £18.50, August 1985, 0 674 20281 3
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... without a digression. A consistent proponent of the idea of co-operating groups of genes has been Ernst Mayr, whose earlier writings helped to educate the generation to which Levins, Lewontin and I belong. No one could be less Marxist than Mayr, but there are other sources for dialectical ideas. I remember once asking ...

Data Guy

Andrew Berry: Almost like a Whale by Steve Jones, 3 February 2000

Almost like a Whale: ‘The Origin of Species’ Updated 
by Steve Jones.
Doubleday, 402 pp., £20, September 1999, 0 385 40985 0
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... so flawed, how did he manage to hit the bull’s-eye with a theory that is dependent on genetics? Ernst Mayr has pointed out that, for Darwin, the simple knowledge that variation is out there was sufficient: ‘As a naturalist and reader of the animal breeding literature’, Darwin ‘knew that variation was always present, and this was all he had to ...

How to Make a Mermaid

Adrian Woolfson: A theology of evolution, 5 February 2004

Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe 
by Simon Conway Morris.
Cambridge, 464 pp., £18.95, September 2003, 0 521 82704 3
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... that eyes in general have evolved independently up to four dozen times. Salvini-Plawen and Ernst Mayr were happy to write in 1977 that ‘it requires little persuasion to become convinced that the lens eye of a vertebrate and the compound eye of an insect are independent evolutionary developments.’ But how wrong intuition can be. The fact that a ...

Living Things

Ian Hacking, 21 February 1991

Cognitive Foundations of Natural History: Towards an Anthropology of Science 
by Scott Atran.
Cambridge, 360 pp., £35, August 1990, 0 521 37293 3
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... on a timeless scheme. The species were defined by how they reproduced, which in turn entails what Ernst Mayr in the 1960s named the ‘species concept’: a species is a set of individuals that can interbreed. From here on Atran provides a more standard tale in which the ‘system’ begun by Cesalpino is completed by Linnaeus, and is challenged by the ...

On the Darwinian View of Progress

Amartya Sen, 5 November 1992

... paid to the dependence of the quality of our lives on the nature of the adjustable external world. Ernst Mayr, the distinguished zoologist and Darwinian theorist, claimed in One Long Argument that the worldview formed by any thinking person in the Western world after 1859, when On the Origin of Species was published, could not but be thoroughly different ...

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