Artgames: The Infinite Shelf and the Market Shadow
Reiss Against Adaptation

Feedback Request: Myths of Evolution

This coming Tuesday the Summer of Evolutionary Mythology closes with an interview with evolutionary biologist John O. Reiss that bookends this series of posts. Hope you enjoyed these extracts from Myths of Evolution - I should probably leave it there for now, and concentrate on getting the draft manuscript completed. 

Thoughts on the kind of work I'm doing in this book would be most welcome, even if you're not really familiar with the subject material. Does this kind of critical approach to evolutionary theory interest you? Are these essays too complicated to follow? Did you learn something new from reading them? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Also: please help me refine my subtitle. I was going to use Scientific Metaphor and the Nature of Life but it's been pointed out to me that "metaphor" is a pretty academic word. I'm now thinking Revealing the Nature of Life is a better subtitle. Thoughts on this also welcome!


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

A survey / criticism of what's already out there approach interests me, though a survey needs more references. Evolution is a controversial subject, and I feel you need to be able to indicate your sources for what are otherwise your assertions so that those people who might otherwise bristle at an assertion can refer to its source.

From what I've read so far, I don't believe Myths of Evolution is a critical work, however. It is, instead, your own take on evolution, viewed through the glasses of your own prejudices on at least communication, storytelling and science - and no doubt other areas. This is no bad thing - the fresh viewpoint provides a useful challenge in the field - but I confess to reading through it with the eye of someone who writes journal papers and thinking "how would Chris defend that point against challenge?" again and again. If that's not an issue for you, that's fine.

For me, the essays are relatively simple to follow. They would be simpler with pointers to the material being referenced, so that I could read up on areas where I felt my own knowledge was incomplete. I suspect very few people will have read as widely as you around the differing views on the subject, and it seems an incredible waste for me, as a consumer of your work, to be unable to access that reading where I find it useful.

I've learned at least two things from reading these essays:
- There are more divergent views on evolution than I thought;
- Chris Bateman has his own views, quite strongly held, that shine through his descriptions of others' viewpoints.

I strongly dislike "Revealing the Nature of Life" as a subtitle based on the essays I have seen so far. What new revelation on the nature of life (as opposed to our perception of the nature of life) does the book contain? I much prefer your original title. The new one feels to me like it should be in a yellow multi-pointed star embossed on a lurid paperback cover of a book sitting on the shelf in a motorway service station or in Waterstone's 3-for-2 pile, which probably isn't the message you wish to convey.

Just my £0.02; as you know, I come at these ideas from a very different angle to yours, and I may well be right at one edge of your intended audience.

Hi Peter, thanks for sharing your views. Your input is invaluable and always welcome!

Regarding references, I removed the actual references that this material draws from when I converted them for the blog, but the book itself has 164 references (and counting!). Although I do hope to add my own perspective to the subject matter, I actually make very few assertions that aren't in some way related to specific papers or books. About the only thing I'm doing that goes beyond the source materials is proposing specific new myths of evolution as alternatives to those already circulating.

Although I certainly didn't set out to create a critical work, I have ended up doing something of this kind - but I draw heavily from philosophical critique of evolutionary science, as well as from the science itself. The book occupies what I hope is an interesting intermediate position between philosophy and science. Your concerns about references should be met in the book itself, I should think, which is meticulously and exhaustively referenced.

Regarding the subtitle, I won't go back to the original title - I'm convinced that saying "scientific metaphor" in the title will put off some readers in the intelligent-but-not-expert camp who would get something from the book. I'm in no way set on "Revealing the Nature of Life" but I do want the term "Nature of Life" in the subtitle.

"What new revelation on the nature of life (as opposed to our perception of the nature of life) does the book contain?"

Well that's just it, isn't it? Precisely what this book does is critique others who have advanced specific beliefs about the nature of life and reveals them to be merely metaphors (or myths) that spin the facts and theories in a specific fashion. In this, I'll admit that the keyword "Revealing" is something akin to legerdemain - although I think books sometimes have to engage in this in order to get people to pick them up.

Your comment re: Waterstones suggests to me that the new title is closer to where it needs to be - your analytic mind no-doubt doesn't like the kind of marketing-friendly nonsense that dominates the book shelves, but subtitles like that do help books sell. That the bargain bins are filled with similarly structured subtitles is an indication of the volume of books that follow this pattern, not of the necessary commercial failure of that approach.

For instance, on the New York Times bestsellers list right now:

"Outliers: The Story of Success"
"The Original Argument: The Federalists' Case for the Constitution"
"Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History"
"The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America"

Now of course, I don't expect to get onto this list with this book! :) But it behooves me to try and work with marketing strategies that have wider appeal.

I'm totally open to new options for the subtitle - but going back to "scientific metaphor and the nature of life" is off the table as an option. I'll happily entertain alternatives to "revealing", though - I've already wracked my brains over this quite a lot, and I would welcome some outside input.

Thanks again for sharing your views!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)