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Who said: “I have no satisfaction in formulas unless I feel their arithmetical magnitude.”
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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index F > Category: Fossil Record

Fossil Record Quotes (10 quotes)

An evolutionary perspective of our place in the history of the earth reminds us that Homo sapiens sapiens has occupied the planet for the tiniest fraction of that planet's four and a half thousand million years of existence. In many ways we are a biological accident, the product of countless propitious circumstances. As we peer back through the fossil record, through layer upon layer of long-extinct species, many of which thrived far longer than the human species is ever likely to do, we are reminded of our mortality as a species. There is no law that declares the human animal to be different, as seen in this broad biological perspective, from any other animal. There is no law that declares the human species to be immortal.
Co-author with American science writer Roger Amos Lewin (1946), Origins: What New Discoveries Reveal about the Emergence of our Species and its Possible Future (1977), 256.
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I want to argue that the ‘sudden’ appearance of species in the fossil record and our failure to note subsequent evolutionary change within them is the proper prediction of evolutionary theory as we understand it ... Evolutionary ‘sequences’ are not rungs on a ladder, but our retrospective reconstruction of a circuitous path running like a labyrinth, branch to branch, from the base of the bush to a lineage now surviving at its top.
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On a perfect planet such as might be acceptable to a physicist, one might predict that from its origin the diversity of life would grow exponentially until the carrying capacity, however defined, was reached. The fossil record on Earth, however, tells a very different story.
In 'The Evolution of Diversity in AAncient Ecosystems: a Review', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (28 Feb 1998), 353, No. 1366, 327.
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Palaeontologists cannot live by uniformitarianism alone. This may be termed the Phenomenon of the Fallibility of the Fossil Record.
In The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record (1973), 26.
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Several very eminent living paleontologists frequently emphasise the abruptness of some of the major changes that have occurred, and seek for an external cause. This is a heady wine and has intoxicated palaeontologists since the days when they could blame it all on Noah's flood. In fact, books are still being published by the lunatic fringe with the same explanation. In case this book should be read by some fundamentalist searching for straws to prop up his prejudices, let me state categorically that all my experience (such as it is) has led me to an unqualified acceptance of evolution by natural selection as a sufficient explanation for what I have seen in the fossil record
In The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record (1973), 19-20.
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Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists–whether through design or stupidity, I do not know–as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. Transitional forms are generally lacking at the species level, but they are abundant between larger groups.
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Somehow we believe it is normal and natural for us to be alone in the world. Yet in fact, if you look at the fossil record, you find that this is totally unusual—this may be the first time that we have ever had just one species of humans in the world. We have a history of diversity and competition among human species which began some five million years ago and came to an end with the emergence of modern humans. Two million years ago, for example, there were at least four human species on the same landscape.
In interview with Amy Otchet, 'The Humans We Left Behind', UNESCO Courier (Dec 2000), 53, No. 12, 47.
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The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism: 1. Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they disappear; morphological change is usually limited and directionless. 2. Sudden appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and ‘fully formed.’
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The question of the origin of life is essentially speculative. We have to construct, by straightforward thinking on the basis of very few factual observations, a plausible and self-consistent picture of a process which must have occurred before any of the forms which are known to us in the fossil record could have existed.
The Origin of Life (1967), 2.
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We might expect that as we come close upon living nature the characters of our old records would grow legible and clear; but just when we begin to enter on the history of the physical changes going on before our eyes, and in which we ourselves bear a part, our chronicle seems to fail us: a leaf has been torn out from Nature’s book, and the succession of events is almost hidden from our eyes. [On gaps in the Pleistocene fossil record.]
As quoted by Hugh Miller in Lecture First, collected in Popular Geology: A Series of Lectures Read Before the Philosophical Institution of Edinburgh, with Descriptive Sketches from a Geologist's Portfolio (1859), 82-83.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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