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No. 50: Mar-Apr 1987

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The fossil record and the quantization of life!

A recent article on the possible quantization of galaxies was placed immediately before an interview with S. Stanley, one of the proponents of punctuated evolution. Either fate or the mysterious forces of seriality seemed to be saying that it is now time to broach the subject of the quantization of life itself. The reader can blame Stanley only for the stimulus and his discussions of speciation and the discontinuous (quantized?) fossil record.

(Campbell, Neil A.; "Resetting the Evolutionary Timetable," BioScience, 36:722, 1986.)

Comments. When we suggest quantization in biology, two phenomena come to the fore:

1. The obvious splitting of life into well-defined states -- the species -- as defined morphologically and/or by the genetic code; and 2. The gaps in the fossil record, which imply a frequent lack of transitional forms from one species to another.

As Stanley asserts repeatedly in his interview, the fossil record is actually quite good in many places, despite the long-voiced claims of the gradualists that transitional forms do not exist merely because of the deplorable state of the fossil record. In physics the analogous phenomena would be: (1) The chemical elements and their isotopes (or an atom's energy levels); and (2) The lack of transitional forms.

Straining the analogy still further, the evolution of one species into another simply means that life-as-a-whole moves from one quantized state to another. There need be no transitional forms, just as there are none when elements are transmuted or galaxies change redshifts (?). Atomic physicists, long since mystical about this whole business, no longer try to explain what happens during a quantum transition. The only observables are the quantum states -- or species, if you will. Is life no more than a Table of Isotopes, defined once and forever by eerie quantum selection rules?

Reference. Many of the anomalies in the fossil record are cataloged in ESB in: Anomalies in Geology. For a description of this book, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #50, MAR-APR 1987. 1987-2000 William R. Corliss