HOW THE LEOPARD CHANGED ITS SPOTS: The Evolution of Complexity by Brian Goodwin

HOW THE LEOPARD CHANGED ITS SPOTS: The Evolution of Complexity

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KIRKUS REVIEW

It may come as a surprise that there are still scientific dissenters from Darwinism, but here's the proof, in a book that calls on biologists to put organisms, not molecules, at the center of the science. Goodwin (Biology/Milton Keynes College, England) begins with the proposition that specifying the chemical composition of a substance tells us nothing about its form: graphite, diamonds, and fullerenes all consist of pure carbon but differ radically in shape. Similarly, where many biologists assume that the makeup of an organism's DNA tells them all they need to know about it, Goodwin brings to the table the disciplines of physics and mathematics. He applies the insights of chaos theory to the activity of an ant's nest and to children's play, to the growth of slime molds and algae, and to fibrillation in the human heart. An older mathematical discovery, the Fibonacci series (in which each new number is the sum of its two immediate predecessors), appears to play a role in the position of leaves on a branch, as well as in the structure of quadruped limbs. But as important as his specific illustrations of his points is his contention that Darwinism has taken on a rhetoric not dissimilar to the Puritan ethic, with each organism struggling to overcome a harsh world and become fitter. Eventually, he believes, Darwinian natural selection will be seen as part of a larger physical and mathematical structure, in which the entire organism, as opposed to its DNA alone, is seen in context. In the concluding chapter, he cites several biologists who are working toward a comprehensive new biology, in which the rights of organisms and of nature are set against the claims of genetic engineering and other forms of meddling with the environment. An often exciting look at frontiers of biology beyond the well-tilled fields of gene research.

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 1994
ISBN: 0691088098
Page count: 243pp
Publisher: Scribners