Physician and science writer Ryan (Virus X, 1997, etc.) forcefully argues that Charles Darwin overlooked the importance of interaction between and among life forms in his theory of evolution.
Viewing evolution as arising exclusively from the gradual accumulation of random mutations within individuals, governed by natural selection of the fittest, is too limited, contends the author. Another mechanism of evolutionary change is symbiosis, which can take place at the genomic as well as the behavioral level: when the genomes of two dissimilar species meld, as has been observed and demonstrated, a new life form results. Ryan traces the history of evolutionary theory in the 19th and 20th centuries and reports on the work of such scientists as James Lovelock, who developed the Gaia concept, which views all life on earth as a single living entity interacting with and shaping the environment, and biologist Lynn Margulis, who has explored and championed the concept of symbiosis since the 1960s. While Ryan’s accounts of scientific research can at times be challenging for the general reader, they are instructive, straightforward, and factual. When he moves away from hard science and into his beliefs about human behavior and psychology, the language presents no hurdles but the ideas may be harder to accept. The old, narrow Darwinian view, charges Ryan, led to an undue emphasis on struggle and competition. Oversimplified by Social Darwinists, the notion of survival of the fittest resulted in the eugenics movement, which reached its nadir in Nazi Germany. The new, widened concept of evolution introduces the counterbalancing concept of cooperation, which Ryan believes is imbedded in the human genome and evidenced by behaviors such as love and friendship. With symbiosis included as a creative force in the evolutionary equation, an optimistic Ryan sees human society “evolving to a more civilized stage in which aggression is being harnessed by the complex subtleties of the democratic ideal.”
A rewarding scientific journey, connecting laboratory with living planet and scientist with society.