George Gaylord Simpson

One day, someone who had dropped by saw me reading a book and asked what it was about.

“Evolution,” I replied.

“Oh, Darwin!”

“No, Simpson.”

” . . . ”

We moved on to other topics. It’s hard for a layperson like me to explain who Simpson was and why evolutionists do rank him, and a few other 20th-century researchers, right up there with Charles Darwin.

Nevertheless, I must describe how Simpson made it possible for me to start work on this ebook series.

Like everyone else, I had the general picture linking Charles Darwin with evolution. We don’t often think about the details, but I had the idea a few years ago of writing an ebook about how cats evolved.

To do this, I first had to check up on how evolution has progressed since Darwin’s time. Gah!

Evolution, apparently. (Source)

That’s one of the more extreme examples, and I don’t know how widely this particular paper is accepted. Reportedly, it was a breakthrough.

Nevertheless, most papers I checked to learn more about the evolutionary mechanisms that shaped today’s cat family did involve math as well as a mysterious concept called an “adaptive landscape.”

Whatever happened to natural selection and the survival of the fittest?

The short answer is, genetics.

GDJ at Pixabay

Darwin came before this 20th-century scientific field existed. All of his discoveries had to be reinterpreted through newly discovered genetic insights. The details of this work, and Simpson’s role in it, are described here.

If you visited that link, you saw that it was the preface to a collection of papers honoring the 50th anniversary of a book you have probably never heard of called Tempo and Mode in Evolution.

Simpson published it in the 1940s, with the help of family and friends, while he was off somewhere fighting WWII.

It’s a literary masterwork for its concise and clear presentation of complex information, especially if you know the background, which I didn’t at that point beyond noting as I read that, while the writer respected some people named Wright and Dobzhansky, he had his own take on things.

Scientifically, it rocked the world.

G. G. Simpson described in easy-to-read and ordinary English a way to use genetics and math to graph out evolutionary processes. The way he described it, for example, it was clear to me how and why prehistoric horses switched over from browsing on leaves to grazing grass, because it was just a matter of two graphs overlapping, sort of.

Simpson used a couple of simply U-graphs on an X-Y axis. Things have progressed over the years. (Source, CC BY 2.0)

All this sounded like what little I had found thus far on adaptive landscapes, but I never saw the term in that book. I did not realize then that Simpson basically invented the concept with Tempo and Mode in Evolution.

He was among the very few people in human history to use math to model the real world successfully, enabling lots of progress. And he did it without computers, during World War II, using short, simple words and sentences that even a layperson can follow.

Thanks to Simpson, I can now understand the evolution of cats a little bit better.

G. G. Simpson biography (Wikipedia)

George Gaylord Simpson: Natural Selection and the Fossil Record. (PBS)

Featured image: Source.

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