Our traditionalist is now beginning to worry, but he will grant this one last point pour mieux sauter. OK, the very first Cambrian fauna included a plethora of alternative possibilities, all equally sensible and none leading to us. But, surely, once the modern fauna arose in the next phase of the Cambrian, called Atdabanian after another Russian locality, then the boundaries and channels were finally set. The arrival of trilobites, those familiar symbols of the Cambrian, must mark the end of craziness and the inception of predictability. Let the good times roll.
This book is quite long enough already, and you do not want a “second verse, same as the first.” I merely point out that the Burgess Shale represents the early and maximal extent of the Atdabanian radiation. The story of the Burgess Shale is the tale of life itself, not a unique and peculiar episode of possibilities gone wild. – SJ Gould Wonderful Life (1989)
Had it in my head, tindered by a typically turgid comment I left over at Jerry Coyne’s blog, to write something about the phantasmic Fezouata fauna. About contingency and determinism and prehistoriography.
this is what the late eighties was like
[I biked over the library after Schluter’s talk and grabbed some books. “That’s a small book,” the librarian remarked about the paperback version of WL, recut into hardback form, “but I’m sure it’s filled with big ideas”]
About Caratacus and the Ordovices and predictable outcomes. About the Cincinnati arch and Creation Museum atop it. About how those that ignore history are doomed to not worry about it too much, along the way.
And ultimately about how, really, all of this maybe shows not so much about the fickle nature of history or the inevitability of intelligence or even about foolish it is to draw deep philosophical lessons from a crappy fossil record. But that, well, the Earth was a really weird place 550, 450, 250, 50, 5 million years ago and that we have a lot more surprises in store and a lot more to learn. But we will, in fits and starts, and what we do discover will change our picture of our place in the universe. Or maybe it won’t.
[I hit delete.]
Because it’s Friday afternoon, and that all sounds pretty damn pretentious and sappy and inconclusive. Why not throw together a link-heavy meta-post [I thought], then sit back and watch the links decay over the years until all that’s left is an ambiguous smear that’s difficult to make any sense of.