Darwin's Blind Spot
In Darwin's Blind Spot, Frank Ryan counters the belief that evolution developed through simple survival of the fittest. He argues instead that life on the planet is not only a bloody battle for supremacy, but is also the result of a labyrinth of cooperation.
Darwin based his theory of evolution on competition between individuals, leading to the accumulation of gradual changes, dictated by natural selection. Evolution, he declared, could not make a sudden jump. Only later did biologists realize the importance of living interactions, whether as symbioses between different species or as cooperation within our human species. As Ryan explains, gigantic leaps in evolution have arisen from the blending of whole life-forms, giving rise to the great divisions of life, including the kingdoms of plants and animals, and ultimately to humanity itself.
The reader is taken on a fascinating journey through the history of evolutionary theory in the 19th and 20th centuries, where both hard science and human behavior are discussed as the author explains his wider view of evolution. Ryan gives a plethora of examples, from the union with bacteria that still powers our living cells to the flowering plants that depend on bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds for reproduction; and most startling of all, the retroviruses that live in the human genome and emerge to play their part in every pregnancy. In a book full of scientific wonders, he shows how the Genome of life lies at the heart of all evolutionary change - a force of symbiotic creativity that is far more powerful than conventional Darwinism assumes.
This has important ramifications for our understanding of human evolution and for the forces that still underlie and drive human society. With symbiosis introduced as a creative force in the evolutionary equation, Ryan sees human society evolving to a more civilized stage as our genetic hardwiring in favor of cooperation, love and friendship increasingly influences our behavior.
UK Publisher: Swift Publishers Ltd
US Publisher: Houghton Mifflin / Hardcover 2003 (re-issued by Texere Publishing)
"The role of symbiosis in evolution is intriguing and has not been adequately discussed or integrated into broad biological thought. This book will do much to remedy this lack of appreciation. Frank Ryan elegantly presents the concept, one that should be stressed in every high school biology text book, giving both wonderful direction and synthesis to the modern perspective on evolutionary theory, from Darwinism to symbiosis and Gaia to cooperation within human society.'
Douglas E Eveleigh, Professor of Microbiology, Rutgers University.
' a wonderful, up-to-date reimagination of the evolution of life on earth, from protobiotic chemical precursors through the first, ancient bacteria, all the way to terrestrial, science-book-review-reading humans.'
Anthony Doerr, Boston Globe
'"Red in tooth and claw" is how the evolutionary process has been viewed since Darwin first developed his theory of natural selection. True, there is a cut-throat competition between and within species for the right to pass on genes to the next generation. But Ryan gathers evidence to suggest that cooperation can be just as important..'
John Tyler Bonner, George M. Moffett Professor of Biology Emeritus at Princeton University, reviewing for New Scientist.
'I don't think I have read a more coherent accounting of the role of symbiosis on evolution ever and Ryan's broad definition of the concept (including aggressive symbiosis) goes far to eliminate confusion.'
Luis Villarreal, Professor, Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and Director of the Center for Virus Research, UC Irvine.
' Ryan covers a lot of territory -- some of it considered suspect by many evolutionary biologists -- but his assertions merit serious attention.'
Gregg Sapp, Library Journal, Science Library.
'The widespread acceptance of Darwin's one-sided account of evolution is a cultural anomaly that Frank Ryan's book sets out to correct through detailed evidence for cooperative interactions and networks in the web of evolving life. All of this is woven into a fascinating and historically detailed account.' Brian Goodwin, Professor of Biology, The Open University.
'A rewarding scientific journey, connecting laboratory with living planet and scientist with society.'
'It takes the broad mind and practical experience of a physician to understand the consequences of evolutionary biology. Dr Frank Ryan's most readable book is a welcome escape from many misinterpretations of Darwinism.'
James Lovelock, FRS, CBE, author of Gaia.
'Ryan's essay reads like a thriller... In all a commendable book, both for the biologist and the layman, to learn that to cooperate can be as fruitful as to compete: in nature and in human society alike.'
J. Carel von Vaupel Klein, Crustaceana.
'Darwin himself recognized that a crucial missing piece to his theory of evolution was a mechanism for heredity. Genetics seemed to solve the puzzle, evolution's so-called neo-Darwinian synthesis ... Yet this orthodoxy has had its doubters, and their stories unfold in this work. With an accessible reportorial style, Ryan enlivens a minority view of evolution.'
Gilbert Taylor, Booklist, the journal of the American Library Association.
'Ryan (Virus X)... attempts to find a common explanation for much in our natural world. Ranging widely from the origin of life to the creation of human civilization and from the origin of sex to the root causes of many mental illnesses, Ryan turns to symbiosis ("an association between different species that persists for a long period") as the natural force responsible for all this and much more.'
Charlie Munger ('Featured Book' at the 2003 Berkshire Hathaway meeting)