Gould Dies

Stephen Jay Gould, Biologist and Theorist on Evolution, Dies at 60: "Stephen Jay Gould, the evolutionary theorist at Harvard University whose research, lectures and prolific output of essays helped to reinvigorate the field of paleontology, died today at his home in Manhattan. He was 60."

Back in 1994, I saw Gould speak at a very weird three-day symposium at Dartmouth College. I’ve already forgotten exactly what the conference was about (the fact that I was all night the night before, uh, starting a new relationship may have had something to do with some gaps in my memory, I was struggling to stay awake that first day) but it featured Paul Churchland, Daniel Dennett, Gould, Roger Penrose, and many other luminaries in modern science, mathematics, and philosophy. Gould and Dennett got into a lively debate. Gould was describing his theory of the evolution of intelligence. He compared intelligence to medieval spandrels in arches. Basically, if you build a room with four arches (instead of four walls) and a dome ceiling, at each corner you will have a large triangle of unused space that’s outside the arches and below the dome. Medieval artisans painted scenes in the spandrels. The spandrels were not there for the art, rather an interesting use was made of this extra, leftover space. He feels that intelligence is the same way in our brains. That, for other reasons, our brains grew larger and intelligence was a by-product of this extra space, not the point of it. Dennett flatly disagrees. It would have become a shouting match except neither man wanted to let the other think that he was respected so comments were always cloaked in sad head shaking or derisive laughter. Dennett was sitting in front of me for that particular show and it was hysterical to watch his reactions.

Like him or not, Gould was a fantastic writer and a baseball fan as well. I’ll miss his wonderful, thought provoking essays and his insightful thoughts.