Essay 53: Incomplete One-Field Analysis

Prof. Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago is an outstanding paleontologist/evolutionary theorist and has written marvelous books such as Your Inner Fish:  A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body.

“Cleverly weaving together adventures in paleontology with very accessible science, Neil Shubin reveals the many surprisingly deep connections between our anatomy and that of fish, reptiles, and other creatures.  You will never look at your body in the same way again—examine, embrace, and exalt Your Inner Fish!”

Prof. Shubin has done outstanding work in trying to understand post-dinosaur mammalian history and timelines.  (Rise of the Mammals was a recent PBS program that is relevant.)

What is inadequate about all such “bones-and-stones” approach to “how we got here” is that the human creature is ultimately downstream from culture as expressed in language (epic poems) and images (e.g., the Lascaux caves in France, say) and fossils, as wonderfully intelligent as the detective work is, are one flashlight and not the system of “searchlights” one really needs to understand anything.

The very first lines of Homer’s great epic, the Odyssey shows you this:

“Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of that man skilled in all ways of contending, the wanderer…”

(Quoted from Robert Fitzgerald’s translation.)

Here one sees the cultural soul of the human: the invocation of muses, gods, the telling of stories, the singing of songs, contending and wandering.

All evolution: cosmic, earthbound, whatever, does not capture the essence of humanity as the first words of Homer’s Odyssey where words, songs, stories take us into the human while the fossils and fossil archaeology are fascinating material infrastructure, as Prof. Shubin’s outstanding skeletal digs and “detective work” show us.