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A collection of quotes and sayings by Stephen Jay Gould on evolution, politics, process, baseball, music, people, science, time, life, history, innovation etc.

56 Interesting Quotes By Stephen Jay Gould

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One of the renowned names in the field of paleontology, evolutionary biology and history of science, Stephen Jay Gould, was noted for his theory on Pleistocene and Recent History of the Subgenus Poecilozonites in Bermuda. His other works included his thesis of Punctuated equilibrium and non-overlapping magisterial. Gould’s essays on evolution titled ‘This View of Life’ were published in the Natural History magazine. These essays were later released as best-selling books titled ‘Ever Since Darwin’, ‘The Panda's Thumb’, ‘Hen's Teeth’, ‘Horse's Toes’ and ‘The Flamingo's Smile’. His endless list of accolades includes the National Book Award, Paleontological Society Medal, and Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Apart from his work in science, Gould was also an ardent fan of baseball and sabermetrics. His essays on baseball statistics were posthumously released as ‘Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville’. Here are some of the most interesting quotes from this legend of evolutionary biology.

Nothing is more dangerous than a dogmatic worldview - nothing more constraining, more blinding to innovation, more destructive of openness to novelty.

- Stephen Jay Gould

I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.

- The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History, Stephen Jay Gould

The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best - and therefore never scrutinize or question.

- Stephen Jay Gould

The most important tactic in an argument next to being right is to leave an escape hatch for your opponent so that he can gracefully swing over to your side without an embarrassing loss of face.

- Stephen Jay Gould

Skepticism is the agent of reason against organized irrationalism--and is therefore one of the keys to human social and civic decency.

- Stephen Jay Gould

Life is short, and potential studies infinite. We have a much better chance of accomplishing something significant when we follow our passionate interests and work in areas of deepest personal meaning.

- Stephen Jay Gould

Science is not a heartless pursuit of objective information; it is a creative human activity.

- Stephen Jay Gould

Homo sapiens [are] a tiny twig on an improbable branch of a contingent limb on a fortunate tree.

- Stephen Jay Gould

When people learn no tools of judgment and merely follow their hopes, the seeds of political manipulation are sown.

- Stephen Jay Gould

People talk about human intelligence as the greatest adaptation in the history of the planet. It is an amazing and marvelous thing, but in evolutionary terms, it is as likely to do us in as to help us along.

- Stephen Jay Gould

Obsolescence is a fate devoutly to be wished, lest science stagnate and die.

- Stephen Jay Gould

Science is an integral part of culture. It's not this foreign thing, done by an arcane priesthood. It's one of the glories of the human intellectual tradition.

- Stephen Jay Gould

Current utility and historical origin are different subjects.

- Stephen Jay Gould

I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein's brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and seeatshops

- Stephen Jay Gould

Nothing matches the holiness and fascination of accurate and intricate detail.

- Stephen Jay Gould

The dogmatist within is always worse than the enemy without.

- Stephen Jay Gould

Geology gave us the immensity of time and taught us how little of it our own species has occupied.

- Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History, Stephen Jay Gould

The causes of life's history [cannot] resolve the riddle of life's meaning.

- Stephen Jay Gould

So much of science proceeds by telling stories.

- Stephen Jay Gould

If we use the past only to creature heroes for present purposes, we will never understand the richness of human thought or the plurality of ways of knowing.

- Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History, Stephen Jay Gould

Alter any event, ever so slightly and without apparent importance at the time, and evolution cascades into radically different channel.

- Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, Stephen Jay Gould

Knowledge and wonder are the dyad of our worthy lives as intellectual beings.

- Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History, Stephen Jay Gould

Scientific questions cannot be decided by majority vote in any case.

- Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, Stephen Jay Gould

We must categorize and simplify in order to comprehend. But the reduction of complexity entails a great danger, since the line between enlightening epitome and vulgarized distortion is so fine.

- Stephen Jay Gould

This new consensus seemed so compelling that Ernst Mayr, the dean of modern Darwinians, opened the ashcan of history for a deposit of Geoffrey's ideas about anatomical unity.

- Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms: Essays on Natural History, Stephen Jay Gould

Evolution is one of the two or three most primally fascinating subjects in all the sciences.

- Stephen Jay Gould

A lot of scientists hate writing. Most scientists love being in the lab and doing the work and when the work is done, they are finished.

- Stephen Jay Gould

There wasn't much technical terminology, and then, most academics are not trained in writing. And there is what is probably worse than ever before, the growing use of professional jargon.

- Stephen Jay Gould

I don't think academic writing ever was wonderful. However, science used to be much less specialized.

- Stephen Jay Gould

At a minimum, in explaining evolutionary pathways through time, the constraints imposed by history rise to equal prominence with the immediate advantages of adaptation.

- Stephen Jay Gould

If I don't make it, I'll be very sad that there are things I didn't do, but I'm happy that I've done what I have.

- Stephen Jay Gould

With copious evidence ranging from Plato's haughtiness to Beethoven's tirades, we may conclude that the most brilliant people of history tend to be a prickly lot.

- Stephen Jay Gould

Death is the ultimate enemy - and I find nothing reproachable in those who rage mightily against the dying of the light.

- Stephen Jay Gould

I dreamed of becoming a scientist, in general, and a paleontologist, in particular, ever since the Tyrannosaurus skeleton awed and scared me.

- Stephen Jay Gould

The more important the subject and the closer it cuts to the bone of our hopes and needs, the more we are likely to err in establishing a framework for analysis.

- Stephen Jay Gould

Look in the mirror, and don't be tempted to equate transient domination with either intrinsic superiority or prospects for extended survival.

- Stephen Jay Gould

All evolutionary biologists know that variation itself is nature's only irreducible essence... I had to place myself amidst the variation.

- Stephen Jay Gould

I love the wry motto of the Paleontological Society, meant both literally and figuratively, for hammers are the main tool of our trade: Frango ut patefaciam - I break in order to reveal.

- Stephen Jay Gould

We pass through this world but once.

- Stephen Jay Gould

Contrary to current cynicism about past golden ages, the abstraction known as 'the intelligent layperson' does exist - in the form of millions of folks with a passionate commitment to continuous learning.

- Stephen Jay Gould

Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.

- Stephen Jay Gould

The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their only common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos.

- Stephen Jay Gould

Creationist critics often charge that evolution cannot be tested, and therefore cannot be viewed as a properly scientific subject at all. This claim is rhetorical nonsense.

- Stephen Jay Gould

What you see is that the most outstanding feature of life's history is a constant domination by bacteria.

- Stephen Jay Gould

Life began three and a half billion years ago, necessarily about as simple as it could be, because life arose spontaneously from the organic compounds in the primeval oceans.

- Stephen Jay Gould

What an odd time to be a fundamentalist about adaptation and natural selection - when each major subdiscipline of evolutionary biology has been discovering other mechanisms as adjuncts to selection's centrality.

- Stephen Jay Gould

Science is not a heartless pursuit of objective information. It is a creative human activity, its geniuses acting more as artists than as information processors.

- Stephen Jay Gould

The proof of evolution lies in those adaptations that arise from improbable foundations.

- Stephen Jay Gould

Evolution is a process of constant branching and expansion.

- Stephen Jay Gould

I'm not a great deductive thinker, but I will admit to having competence in a very wide range of things - not being afraid to try to write about baseball, choral music and dinosaurs in the same week and see connections among them.

- Stephen Jay Gould

In science, 'fact' can only mean 'confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.' I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.

- Stephen Jay Gould

My own field of paleontology has strongly challenged the Darwinian premise that life's major transformations can be explained by adding up, through the immensity of geological time, the successive tiny changes produced generation after generation by natural selection.

- Stephen Jay Gould

We are glorious accidents of an unpredictable process with no drive to complexity, not the expected results of evolutionary principles that yearn to produce a creature capable of understanding the mode of its own necessary construction.

- Stephen Jay Gould

People perceive me as a commodity. They just don't think anything of asking for five minutes of my time. It never occurs to them that if they're asking for it and another thousand people are asking, I don't have 1,000 five minutes to give.

- Stephen Jay Gould

I think there have to be Bachs and Beethovens. We may have - there are so many more people. Musical training is available to so many more, but it may be that we've hit a right wall in terms of accessible styles and since we demand innovation as a criterion of genius, there may not be more innovative styles to be found.

- Stephen Jay Gould

Goethe died in 1832. As you know, Goethe was very active in science. In fact, he did some very good scientific work in plant morphology and mineralogy. But he was quite bitter at the way in which many scientists refused to grant him a hearing because he was a poet and therefore, they felt, he couldn't be serious.

- Stephen Jay Gould