Randomness in Evolution Hardcover – 24 Mar 2013
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"[I]ncredibly useful . . . refreshingly honest . . . witty and engaging."--Tiffany Taylor, Times Higher Education
"[F]orthright, informal, and humorous. His reminder that not every trait has a biologically adaptive function is a welcome lesson, as is his self-deprecating description of his ideas as just another 'just-so' story. . . . [A] call to the biologists who take over from him to do more research to confirm or to refute the often surprising ideas here."--Rob Hardy, Commercial Dispatch
"[Bonner] provides a well-written, well-documented collection of evidence suggesting randomness as a primary engine behind natural selection. . . . This is an excellent essay, valuable to a wide audience. Evolution is an important, timely topic, making Bonner's work a worthy contribution."--Choice
"[T]he book provides a careful analysis of the relationship between randomness and size in evolution and makes a good case for neutral morphologies."--James Bradley, Quarterly Review of Biology
"The main strength of this provocative book is that it undoubtedly provides a successful argument against the widespread tendency to give an adaptive explanation for any biological trait, and, above all, it opens the door to a fruitful way to reconsider the traditional view of evolution as mainly driven by natural selection."--Francesca Merlin, Biol Theory
-[I]ncredibly useful . . . refreshingly honest . . . witty and engaging.---Tiffany Taylor, Times Higher Education
-[F]orthright, informal, and humorous. His reminder that not every trait has a biologically adaptive function is a welcome lesson, as is his self-deprecating description of his ideas as just another 'just-so' story. . . . [A] call to the biologists who take over from him to do more research to confirm or to refute the often surprising ideas here.---Rob Hardy, Commercial Dispatch
-[Bonner] provides a well-written, well-documented collection of evidence suggesting randomness as a primary engine behind natural selection. . . . This is an excellent essay, valuable to a wide audience. Evolution is an important, timely topic, making Bonner's work a worthy contribution.---Choice
-[T]he book provides a careful analysis of the relationship between randomness and size in evolution and makes a good case for neutral morphologies.---James Bradley, Quarterly Review of Biology
-The main strength of this provocative book is that it undoubtedly provides a successful argument against the widespread tendency to give an adaptive explanation for any biological trait, and, above all, it opens the door to a fruitful way to reconsider the traditional view of evolution as mainly driven by natural selection.---Francesca Merlin, Biol Theory
From the Back Cover
"John Tyler Bonner, a distinguished developmental biologist, has long argued that a major driving force in the evolution of complexity is natural selection for large size. Here he takes a radically different view to explain the diversity of form among eukaryotic microorganisms: randomness, not selection, rules their lives. This stimulating and provocative theme is explored with ideas from a variety of fields. It simultaneously introduces students to the nature of a debate on the causes of diversity."--Peter R. Grant, coauthor of How and Why Species Multiply: The Radiation of Darwin's Finches
"Bonner makes a compelling case that the morphology of microorganisms is governed not by natural selection but by chance. He could be right. But right or wrong, this claim will be hugely controversial. It doesn't just 'approach heresy, ' as he puts it. It is heresy."--Dan McShea, Duke University
"The main point of Bonner's book is that the importance of randomness in evolution depends on size. What is new is the claim that small organisms are more likely to have selectively neutral morphological variation. This, if true, is very interesting and important. Randomness in Evolution is provocative and will lead to lively discussion."--Michael Foote, University of ChicagoSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
That being said, I was expecting a more general book summarises the different random processes in evolution and weighing up their relative importance. Therefore this book was less useful to me than I had hope, although it did provide some interesting food for thought.
I would suggest that this book would only be suitable for someone studying biology or related subject at university level or beyond.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
"All of evolutionary change is built on a foundation of randomness," writes Bonner. "It provides the necessary material for natural selection which then does indeed bring forth the order our inner mind so actively craves." The most well known aspect of randomness in evolution is mutation, the chance change of some DNA base, which Bonner reviews here. Evolution started somehow even before tiny, one-celled creatures existed, and its most obvious spectacular processes have been to go from small to large, from simple to complex. Smaller organisms have few developmental steps. In this way, there might be generated huge numbers of different small organism forms, especially given how quickly one generation succeeds another. The forms could be enormously varied. The cover of Bonner's book shows some of the famous drawings by Ernst Haeckel of radiolarians brought back from the voyage of the _HMS Challenger_. They are protozoa that possess fantastically diverse mineral skeletons that look like bizarre variations on the Platonic solids. It used to be that biologists argued that these differences were adaptive; perhaps different skeletal forms meant greater strength. "It has even been suggested to me," writes Bonner, "that each shape is a selective response to a specific predator, or a specific niche, but if so, where are those thousands of predators and niches?" Instead, Bonner says that most of these varieties are neutral; they are all pretty good at getting along in their own way, and the baroque changes of skeletons are so contrived because they do not really make a difference to the organism's survival. That sort of variety of morphology through randomness could never be expressed in larger organisms. Naturally, Bonner pulls examples from slime molds, his focus of research for sixty years. He also reflects upon the ability of some organisms to alternate a sexual with an asexual cycle. Smaller creatures can do it, and larger ones almost never do.
In many ways, _Randomness in Evolution_ extends the ideas Bonner put forth in another book, Why Size Matters. He does call upon some understanding of biological principles, but his style is forthright, informal, and humorous. His reminder that not every trait has a biologically adaptive function is a welcome lesson, as is his self-deprecating description of his ideas as just another "just-so" story. His current volume contains more speculation (reasoned speculation, to be sure) than his others, and it may be a call to the biologists who take over from him to do more research to confirm or to refute the often surprising ideas here.
Deamer acknowledges that it's possible a creator put those laws into existence, but the other two avoid the subject. None of the three seem to recognize that chance is not a causal force, so time + chance cannot explain anything.
Where did light come from and how did it contain information? How did cells know that it contained information and figure out a way to receive and decode it? How do "regulator cells" operate according to these laws? What is consciousness and at what point is life "life" such that it has "value?" All three of the authors reach the same conclusion as the cosmologists above-- we are a random collection of atoms that will one day be scattered, nothing more nothing less. Life has no meaning outside of a debatable definition regarding complex molecular processes, and any sentiment we attach to it is illogical-- there is no soul in science. I do not, therefore, understand how Lightman, Hawking, Richard Dawkins, etc. can argue that scattering people's atoms is "wrong," or where they get ethics. We're not special, only lucky in the sense of randomness.
These three biochemist authors, however, engage in less armchair philosophy than Hawking et al, and (unlike string theorists Hawking and Green) argue that science requires testable hypotheses and that the universe had a beginning. Each of these books have a good look at what actual laboratory research looks like. These are not just men working equations at a desk all day, although there is some of that. They're often out traveling the world in search of mineral samples and in the laboratory mixing chemicals in the search for the genesis of life. My next set of books will be on the scientific understanding of consciousness-- something these books do not address.**
There are essentially two premises in this book:
1. Randomness explains more of the variety of the life we see today than natural selection.
2. The effect of randomness varies depending on the size of the organism-- the larger the organism, the less variety of morphology can be expressed.
As a student of Daniel Kahneman and Nicholas Nassim Taleb, I enjoyed the same critique applied to the evolution of species that these apply to the wizards of wall street-- success is determined more by randomness, but our hindsight bias makes us think we see skill. Bonner argues that randomness is more important than adaptation/natural selection, in which certain traits evolve somehow to give the organism an adaptation it did not previously have. Randomness has to happen before natural selection can happen, "there can be no natural selection without randomness." So randomness is the "skeleton in the closet," that most "naturalists" would rather not think about. But he doesn't "throw Darwin out with the bathwater," these processes work together. "All of evolutionary change is built on a foundation of randomness. It provides the necessary material for natural selection which then does indeed bring forth the order our inner mind so actively craves." Natural selection by itself tends to ask for an intelligent designer because how else would a cell know what information to pass down, or how would "regulator cells" need to know what cells to form next? Bonner immediately discards creationists as fools. But I imagine some of these fools would be quick to point out that chance itself is not a causal force-- time + chance cannot produce something ex nihilo. Something isn't "caused" by chance, and to his credit Bonner is careful not to state it this way.
How do you know if something is an adaptation or randomness? So many times we consider an adaptation to be an adaptation because of hindsight bias when actually it was random mutation that just worked. Our biosphere today is the result of 14 billion years of these compounded mutations. Likewise, the maximum possible size of organisms increase over the millenia. Bonner describes the difference between prokaryotes and eukaryotes, from Nature.com: "In prokaryote cell organization there is a nucleoid containing genomic DNA but it is not surrounded by membranes such as what defines the eukaryote nucleus (Martin & Koonin 2006). Eukaryotes such as fungi, protozoa, plants, and animals, and thus we humans, have cells with complex structure with internal membranes and membrane-bounded organelles." http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/beyond-prokaryotes-and-eukaryotes-planctomycetes-and-cell-14158971
He discusses morphology and neutralism. He seems to answer the layman's question as to why we don't see more variety of species that have been around for millions of years. Even if morphology changes very little, an organisms biochemistry can change much. Whereas Wagner (Arrival of the Fittest) seems to argue "junk genes" and traits with no purpose are evidence of a previous purpose in an ancient environment, Bonner seems to argue that these were random mutations that did not really make a difference to an organism's survival, so they were not weeded out. Bonner's focus on research are slime molds.
I think one weakness of the book is in the discussion on how organisms evolve from single-cell to multicell. Bonner cites division of labor in developed organisms in nature and relates it back to multicell organisms. Bonner does a good job supporting his hypothesis about how processes differ in small organisms and larger organisms. Size matters just as randomness matters.
I give it 3.5 stars. It definitely earns points for its concise nature, this is the shortest of the three books. It is written a bit more toward the layperson than Andreas Wagner's Arrival. I would like to read counterarguments.
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