Friday, August 31, 2012

The unreasonables

Here is one very, very brief thought inspired by a friend’s passion for literature in the heat of US Presidential politics. This friend called my attention to the following quotation.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
― George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

Of course, my first thought was of eco-evolutionary dynamics (not partisan politics, as my friend undoubtedly had hoped). To some, the idea that the (sometimes small) evolutionary changes of organisms may alter the environment in ways that matter for ecosystems and, ultimately, for evolution itself may seem unlikely, especially when these changes are compared to large-scale geological processes. And perhaps the majority of species, those studied by reasonable evolutionary biologists, are those that adapt to the world around them. But that leaves the others – the niche constructors, keystone species, foundation species, and ecosystem engineers – as the unreasonable species that change the environments around them (either intentionally or unintentionally). And perhaps it is the unreasonable eco-evolutionary biologists that study them. But if we are to believe Shaw (he is the only person to have ever won both a Nobel prize in literature and an Oscar), all progress depends on these unreasonables.
George Bernard Shaw – Nobel prize in literature (1925), Oscar winner for the film Pygmalion (1938), and previously unidentified early adopter of eco-evolutionary thinking.

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