Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Ecology and evolution

I decided almost a year ago that I wanted to specialize in the rhetoric of science. The question, then, becomes, which science?

Evolutionary biology has always been a major interest of mine. I've been a fan of Stephen Jay Gould's work since I was about eleven. But I'm also fascinated by the implications of quantum mechanics. Unfortunately, I don't have the math I need to speak the language of quantum mechanics, and I don't kid myself into thinking I can truly understand it just by reading the popular works about it.

I've kind of fallen into the work of Pasteur and Lavoisier, even though I don't consider it in my primary area. I could stick with chemistry, but I'm not sure I want to.

I'd been thinking lately about ecology, and especially its connection with evolution. At first, there didn't seem to be much of a connection (except in the sense that everything is connected). Then I read something pointing out that the theory of evolution is essentially an ecological theory. Ecology is the study of how organisms interact with their environments; natural selection explains how organisms adapt to these environments.

Scott Sampson, a Canadian paleontologist, seems to feel even more strongly about this connection than I do: "To my mind, of the many diverse concepts within science, the two most in need of broad understanding are ecology and evolution. These revolutionary ideas--actually flipsides of the same coin--are the unifying themes of all the natural sciences" (Intelligent Thought 220-221).

Fortunately, we're not alone in seeing a connection. The University of Minnesota puts both of these disciplines in the same department: Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior. They offer a minor that seems fascinating: Quaternary paleoecology. I'm not sure yet if I can minor in that, or if I want to, but it certainly seems worth looking into.


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