“Most clams live in deep, fairly dark waters. Among one group of clams is a species whose ancestors ingested algae—a typical food—but failed to digest them and kept the algae under their shells. The shell, with time, became translucent, allowing sunlight in. The clams fed off their captive algae and their habitat expanded into sunlit waters. So there’s a discontinuity between the dark-dwelling, food-gathering ancestor and the descendants that feed themselves photosynthetically. ”
“Viewing life as one giant network of social connections has set Margulis against the mainstream in other high-profile ways as well. She disputes the current medical understanding of AIDS and considers every kind of life to be “conscious” in a sense.” *
“The way I think about the whole world is that it’s like a pointillist painting. You get far away and it looks like Seurat’s famous painting of people in the park (jpg). Look closely: The points are living bodies—different distributions of bacteria. The living world thrived long before the origin of nucleated organisms [the eukaryotic cells, which have genetic material enclosed in well-defined membranes]. There were no animals, no plants, no fungi. It was an all-bacterial world—bacteria that have become very good at finding specialized niches. Symbiogenesis recognizes that every visible life-form is a combination or community of bacteria.”
Crescendo finale of iconic interview here:
Your perspective is rather humbling.
The species of some of the protoctists are 542 million years old. Mammal species have a mean lifetime in the fossil record of about 3 million years. And humans? You know what the index fossil of Homo sapiens in the recent fossil record is going to be? The squashed remains of the automobile. There will be a layer in the fossil record where you’re going to know people were here because of the automobiles. It will be a very thin layer.
Do we overrate ourselves as a species?
Yes, but we can’t help it. Look, there are nearly 7,000 million people on earth today and there are 10,000 chimps, and the numbers are getting fewer every day because we’re destroying their habitat. Reg Morrison, who wrote a wonderful book called The Spirit in the Gene, says that although we’re 99 percent genetically in common with chimps, that 1 percent makes a huge difference. Why? Because it makes us believe that we’re the best on earth. But there is lots of evidence that we are “mammalian weeds.” Like many mammals, we overgrow our habitats and that leads to poverty, misery, and wars.
Why do you have a reputation as a heretic?
Anyone who is overtly critical of the foundations of his science is persona non grata. I am critical of evolutionary biology that is based on population genetics. I call it zoocentrism. Zoologists are taught that life starts with animals, and they block out four-fifths of the information in biology [by ignoring the other four major groups of life] and all of the information in geology.
You have attacked population genetics—the foundation of much current evolutionary research—as “numerology.” What do you mean by that term?
When evolutionary biologists use computer modeling to find out how many mutations you need to get from one species to another, it’s not mathematics—it’s numerology. They are limiting the field of study to something that’s manageable and ignoring what’s most important. They tend to know nothing about atmospheric chemistry and the influence it has on the organisms or the influence that the organisms have on the chemistry. They know nothing about biological systems like physiology, ecology, and biochemistry. Darwin was saying that changes accumulate through time, but population geneticists are describing mixtures that are temporary. Whatever is brought together by sex is broken up in the next generation by the same process. Evolutionary biology has been taken over by population geneticists. They are reductionists ad absurdum. Population geneticist Richard Lewontin gave a talk here at UMass Amherst about six years ago, and he mathematized all of it—changes in the population, random mutation, sexual selection, cost and benefit. At the end of his talk he said, “You know, we’ve tried to test these ideas in the field and the lab, and there are really no measurements that match the quantities I’ve told you about.” This just appalled me. So I said, “Richard Lewontin, you are a great lecturer to have the courage to say it’s gotten you nowhere. But then why do you continue to do this work?” And he looked around and said, “It’s the only thing I know how to do, and if I don’t do it I won’t get my grant money.” So he’s an honest man, and that’s an honest answer.
Do you ever get tired of being called controversial?
I don’t consider my ideas controversial. I consider them right.
Lynn Margulis, Discover Magazine
Read Dick Teresi’s terrific interview here.
[*Ed: Look closely at the word conscious. This one word obviates the HIV/AIDS theory.]