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Slick explanation of evolution

September 26, 2010

You should read the entire thing, but here’s an excerpt:

As a tribute to human ingenuity, the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould maintained an odd collection of sandals made from recycled automobile tires, purchased during his travels through the developing world. But he also saw them as a metaphor for the patterns of innovation in the biological world. Nature’s innovations, too, rely on spare parts.

Evolution advances by taking available resources and cobbling them together to create new uses. The evolutionary theorist Francois Jacob captured this in his concept of evolution as a “tinkerer,” not an engineer; our bodies are also works of bricolage, old parts strung together to form something radically new. “The tires-to-sandals principle works at all scales and times,” Mr. Gould wrote, “permitting odd and unpredictable initiatives at any moment—to make nature as inventive as the cleverest person who ever pondered the potential of a junkyard in Nairobi.”

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