Lynn Margulis


American Author, Evolutionary Biologist and Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst known for Theory on the Origin of Eukaryotic Organelles or Endosymbiotic Theory, William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement

Author Quotes

[History will ultimately judge neo-Darwinism as ] a minor twentieth-century religious sect within the sprawling religious persuasion of Anglo-Saxon biology.

Life learned early on to recognize itself.

The Gaia hypothesis states that the temperature of the planet, the oxidation state and other chemistry of all of the gases of the lower atmosphere (except helium, argon, and other nonreactive ones) are produced and maintained by the sum of life. We explored how this could be. How could the temperature of the planet be regulated by living beings? How could the atmospheric gas composition ? the 20-percent oxygen and the one to two parts per million methane, for example ? be actively maintained by living matter?

All I ask is that we compare human consciousness with spirochete ecology.

Life on earth is more like a verb. It repairs, maintains, re-creates, and outdoes itself.

The urgency to mate persists in all people as in all other mammals because of the evolutionary drive to continue the species, the inborn imperative for genes to reproduce and hormonal differences that evolved over millions of years.

All living beings, not just animals, but plants and microorganisms, perceive. To survive, an organic being must perceive - it must seek, or at least recognize, food and avoid environmental danger.

Life on earth is such a good story you cannot afford to miss the beginning... Beneath our superficial differences we are all of us walking communities of bacteria. The world shimmers, a pointillist landscape made of tiny living beings.

There is no scientific reason to think that we, even with space travel, are going to survive as a species forever, certainly not by biting off the hand that feeds us, which is exactly what we are doing.

All of us from fertile egg to embryo to corpse, are exactly that: warm, wet, furry animals compelled by the sexuality of our forefathers and foremothers to be, either directly or indirectly, our own exciting and excitable, provocative and provocable selves.

Lovelock would say that Earth is an organism. I disagree with this phraseology. No organism eats its own waste. I prefer to say that Earth is an ecosystem, one continuous enormous ecosystem composed of many component ecosystems. Lovelock's position is to let the people believe that Earth is an organism, because if they think it is just a pile of rocks they kick it, ignore it, and mistreat it. If they think Earth is an organism, they'll tend to treat it with respect. To me, this is a helpful cop-out, not science. Yet I do agree with Lovelock when he claims that most of the things scientists do are not science either. And I realize that by taking the stance he does he is more effective than I am in communicating Gaian ideas.

To me, the human move to take responsibility for the living Earth is laughable - the rhetoric of the powerless. The planet takes care of us, not we of it. Our self-inflated moral imperative to guide a wayward Earth, or heal our sick planet, is evidence of our immense capacity for self delusion. Rather, we need to protect ourselves from ourselves.

All scientists agree that evolution has occurred - that all life comes from a common ancestry, that there has been extinction, and that new taxa, new biological groups, have arisen. The question is, is natural selection enough to explain evolution? Is it the driver of evolution?

My primary work has always been in cell evolution, yet for a long time I've been associated with James Lovelock and his Gaia hypothesis. In the early seventies, I was trying to align bacteria by their metabolic pathways. I noticed that all kinds of bacteria produced gases. Oxygen, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, ammonia ? more than thirty different gases are given off by the bacteria whose evolutionary history I was keen to reconstruct. Why did every scientist I asked believe that atmospheric oxygen was a biological product but the other atmospheric gases ? nitrogen, methane, sulfur, and so on ? were not? "Go talk to Lovelock," at least four different scientists suggested. Lovelock believed that the gases in the atmosphere were biological. He had, by this time, a very good idea of which live organisms were probably "breathing out" the gases in question. These gases were far too abundant in the atmosphere to be formed by chemical and physical processes alone. He argued that the atmosphere was a physiological and not just a chemical system.

To romp along the connected rooftops and fire escapes of Chicago's second city of garages was my young life's passion.

Although the detail of our sexual energies and their objects and objectives vastly vary, the existence of our sexuality itself is an undeniable truth.

My work more than didn't fit in. It crossed willy-nilly the boundaries that people had spent their lives building up. It hits some 30 subfields of biology, even geology.

Anthropocentric writers with a proclivity for the miraculous and a commitment to divine intervention tend to attribute historical appearances like eyes, wings, and speech to ?irreducible complexity? (as, for example, Michael Behe does in his book, Darwin?s Black Box) or ?ingenious design? (in the tradition of William Paley who used the functional organs of animals as proof for the existence of God). Here we feel no need for supernatural hypotheses. Rather, we insist that today, more than ever, it is the growing scientific understanding of how new traits appear, ones even as complex as the vertebrate eye, that has triumphed. What is the news?

Natural selection eliminates and maybe maintains, but it doesn't create.

Body concentrates order. It continuously self-repairs. Every five days you get a new stomach lining. You get a new liver every two months. Your skin replaces itself every six weeks. Every year, 98 percent of the atoms of your body are replaced. This non-stop chemical replacement, metabolism, is a sure sign of life.

Neo-Darwinists say that new species emerge when mutations occur and modify an organism. I was taught over and over again that the accumulation of random mutations led to evolutionary change [which] led to new species. I believed it until I looked for evidence.

By "codifying ignorance" I refer in part to the fact that they miss four out of the five kingdoms of life. Animals are only one of these kingdoms. They miss bacteria, protoctista, fungi, and plants. They take a small and interesting chapter in the book of evolution and extrapolate it into the entire encyclopedia of life. Skewed and limited in their perspective, they are not wrong so much as grossly uninformed. Of what are they ignorant? Chemistry, primarily, because the language of evolutionary biology is the language of chemistry, and most of them ignore chemistry. I don't want to lump them all together, because, first of all, Gould and Eldredge have found out very clearly that gradual evolutionary changes through time, expected by Darwin to be documented in the fossil record, are not the way it happened. Fossil morphologies persist for long periods of time, and after stasis, discontinuities are observed. I don't think these observations are even debatable. John Maynard Smith, an engineer by training, knows much of his biology secondhand. He seldom deals with live organisms. He computes and he reads. I suspect that it's very hard for him to have insight into any group of organisms when he does not deal with them directly. Biologists, especially, need direct sensory communication with the live beings they study and about which they write. Reconstructing evolutionary history through fossils ? paleontology ? is a valid approach, in my opinion, but paleontologists must work simultaneously with modern-counterpart organisms and with "neontologists" ? that is, biologists. Gould, Eldredge, and Lewontin have made very valuable contributions. But the Dawkins-Williams-Maynard Smith tradition emerges from a history that I doubt they see in its Anglophone social context. Darwin claimed that populations of organisms change gradually through time as their members are weeded out, which is his basic idea of evolution through natural selection. Mendel, who developed the rules for genetic traits passing from one generation to another, made it very clear that while those traits reassert, they don't change over time. A white flower mated to a red flower has pink offspring, and if that pink flower is crossed with another pink flower the offspring that result are just as red or just as white or just as pink as the original parent or grandparent. Species of organisms, Mendel insisted, don't change through time. The mixture or blending that produced the pink is superficial. The genes are simply shuffled around to come out in different combinations, but those same combinations generate exactly the same types. Mendel's observations are incontrovertible.

New mutations don't create new species; they create offspring that are impaired.

Despite our very recent appearance on the planet, humanity combines arrogance with increasing material demands, even as we become more numerous. Our toughness is a delusion. Have we the intelligence and discipline to vigilantly guard against our tendency to grow without limit?

Of course, the plea for respect for nonhuman life goes far beyond the scientific delight of familiarity with our planet mates. The nonhuman forms of life with which we 6,000 million talking, upright apes share this finite planet are directly or indirectly connected to our well-being.

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American Author, Evolutionary Biologist and Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst known for Theory on the Origin of Eukaryotic Organelles or Endosymbiotic Theory, William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement