The meaning of evolution. A study of the history of life and of its significance for man

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Reviews the book, The meaning of evolution. A study of the history of life and of its significance for man by George G. Simpson (1949). An up-to-date revision of Raymond Pearl's sage list of fundamental reading for graduate students in biology would surely include the present volume. Indeed, I would nominate it as a “required” item for a psychology graduate student's “To Begin With,” which Professor Boring should be persuaded to prepare. The book is based on the Terry Lectures delivered at Yale University in 1948 by the Curator of Fossil Mammals and Birds at the American Museum of Natural History. Its three major sections attempt to answer in sequence three fundamental questions: What has happened in the course of the evolution of life? How has this been brought about? What meaning has this in terms of the nature of man, his values and ethical standards, and his possible destiny? The volume is modestly addressed to the “intelligent layman”; nonlaymen, however, also take notice! I think psychologists can learn much from this work. The more general attitudinal and scientific aspects have already been discussed. More specifically related to psychology are the discussions of “orthomania,” reminiscent of some of the conflicts among “schools of psychology” of the not-too-distant past, the discussion of the evolution of intelligence and of the “organism-society” analogy. There are lessons for them also in the author's discussion of the succession of events in history, and in his consideration of the problem of opportunism and nature's willingness to accept the “sufficiently good.” The author's style is simple, alive, pointed, and touched by humor. It is not difficult to see why the book should have an appeal to the serious-minded lay public. He can be straightforwardly critical; on some occasions, he will be devastatingly so; on others, he will dismiss certain notions more gently as merely “silly.” In either case, one has the feeling that the judgment is demanded by the facts. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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