Gould's Natural History

from Stephen Jay Gould's book Wonderful Life. ISBN 0-393-30700-X, WW Norton.

summary: tells the story of the precambrian explosion and the Burgess Shale in three ways:

it is the last of these that concerns us here.

for example on p28

Gould justifies `Contingency' in natural history. His prime thought experiment is ``replay the tape, and things would turn out completely different''. The main content of the book presents evidence from the fossils of the Burgess shale. He attacks the notion of evolution as progress towards perfection, and placing homo sapiens at the apex. Gould asserts that those few phyla that survived the shale to form life as we know it today were probably `lucky' rather than `more fit': in an environmental catastrophe survival is a lottery.

Later on Gould adds without argument or elaboration ``of of the thousands [of possible histories] only a few contain anything like self consciousness". Why? it seems to me that flops (aka smarts, information processing/communication) are in the limit very cheap, but have a large advantage (especially in adaptability and handling new and different situations---eg rapid environmental change. exactly what may cause decimation). the result would be alien intelligence.