Saturday, December 10, 2005

Ma! I can read!!!

Well now that I've become attuned to his style of writing, I can say he definitely uses a Thesaurus at times; he even admits to it. But his style of writing is at least continuous, so after a little exposure, I'm understanding it much better now.

So far all of it has been about laws of variation and diversity among animal species, sports, and all kinds of stuff. He explores misconceptions about averages in how they don't tell the story when the data is skewed in different directions... and how our ignorance of this has led to many errors in judgement about all kinds of things.

One example pertains to horses, previously claimed as one of the more successful species alive, and has more research applied to it than any other mammal. Always shown (as much of evolution described in textbooks) as a ladder of 'evolving' from old to new (and presumed even in our writing, bad to good). While the real data totally overlaps itself. There were 16 species of horse in North America 15 million years ago... and today there is only one major genus; and it covers modern horses, zebras, donkeys, etc. Horses actually evolved in North America and migrated to Eurasia; only barely surviving by the skin of their teeth (only one genus left) and then being brought back.

It goes on to describe how variation is truly the medium of success and you cant take sheer numbers or ladder-based systems to show its 'progress' or evolution. Modern horses are described as nothing but a twig on a big tree of horses and their ancestors (called Old-world horses). Humans are very similar; we're a twig on a twig on a big tree of primates heh. How is that possible? Well our species name is Homo Sapiens Sapiens.... thats right, we're a sub-species of Homo Sapiens, which is also a dead end of a certain family of primates (there's no one left!).
Basically it shows our error in showing a ladder when instead its more like a bush. He also goes into the .400 batting average myth and early statistics of Mesothelioma (which he was diagnosed with early in life but beat the odds of an '8 month median of mortality).

Interesting book so far, and its all leading up to his main arguments later in the book... like laying a foundation to place his arguments upon. And I apologize if I got any facts incorrect, I usually reread a chapter to make sure I understand and get it right. For posterity of course :D

Funny phrase from the book, at the close of a chapter discussing horses and their success (or lack thereof): "As a footnote to life's little joke [species numbers with no variation isnt a successful species], I remind readers that one other prominent (or at least parochially beloved) mammalian lineage has an equally long and extensive history of conventional depiction as a ladder of progress--yet also lives today as the single surviving species of a formerly more copious bush [subtree on the tree of life]. Look in the mirror, and don't be tempted to equate transient domination with either intrinsic superiority or prospects for extended survival." It made me laugh out loud. LOL in fact.

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