Of Complex Character, Revisited

Gaia is a tough bitch.

Hot Cold Passion: a passion for science.

She was a Scientist, first.

And she was a Character — a very interesting, and complex character.

Having entered the science community as a woman, when men still dominated science, and being charmed by a huge scientific ego, Carl, she luckily had to explore the backwaters of evolutionary biology at the time, bacteria, not getting much support from him or her male contemporaries.  Of course, like all good science, that estuary of knowledge contained biological riches totally ignored by well established conventional scientific community.  Like Darwin before, she was sui generis: a driven, feisty, no holds barred, idea brawler — an intellectual maverick — by necessity and choice.  Initially ignored, she generated a fair amount of hostility from the conventional scientific community when they were challenged.

And intellectual mavericks, with persistence, are the only type to challenge the major ideas of conventional science, and win — somewhat.

Self-described as bossy, rude, hyperactive, and self-centered, Lynn Margulis, an Inventor Rational, evolutionary biologist and mother, died November 22, 2011.

There are two sides to personality, one of which is temperament and the other character. Temperament is a configuration of inclinations, while character is a configuration of habits. Character is disposition, temperament pre-disposition.  Please Understand Me II

“Scientists are mostly instrumentalists, but she’s an innovator—often ahead, not always right, but right enough of the time,” says Peter H. Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Gardens and author of a number of standard biology texts.

Margulis’s ideas on symbiosis are important additions to evolutionary theory against the prevailing scientific belief that random mutation was the only basis for species variation and evolutionary change.  She considered Darwin’s notion (and particularly Neo-Darwinism) of evolution driven by competition to be incomplete, but moreover, she still considered herself a Darwinist.

There is a production of a film about her in the works:

Lynn Margulis: Toward a Symbiotic Worldview

James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis
with Gaia Statue

She was also a strong proponent, and co-developer, of the Gaia hypothesis.

Lynn Alexander, at the age of 14 entered  the University of Chicago for her bachelors, earned a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1960, and received her Ph.D. in 1963 from UC Berkeley. In 1966 she wrote a theoretical paper entitled The Origin of Mitosing Eukaryotic Cells. The paper however was “rejected by about fifteen scientific journals,”  It was finally accepted by The Journal of Theoretical Biology and is considered today a landmark in modern endosymbiotic theory.

Her road to get some of her work accepted was not easy. Her first husband, Carl Sagan had the priority in where the family went. After Carl Sagan was offered a postdoc at the University of California, Berkeley, the family moved to Oakland, and Lynn continued her doctorate. Unable to spend a required semester at a marine laboratory because of the demands of childcare, she ended up focusing on genetics with a zoology thesis director, Max Alfert. Alfert was a formidable mentor: “He graduated almost no one,” Lynn said. When Sagan joined Harvard’s astronomy department in 1963, she left Berkeley with her dissertation almost completed. Difficulties in convening her committee kept her from filing for her degree until 1965, after she had published her thesis.

She had found the needs of two small children and an equally demanding husband overwhelming, and in 1964 she and Sagan divorced. She married again, to Thomas Margulis, and after two more kids, she divorced again. “It’s not humanly possible to be a good wife, a good mother, and a first-class scientist. No one can do it—something had to go.”

Her endosymbiotic theory has been accepted after her long, persistent, bulldog advocacy and its compelling scientific arguments won over even most of the conservative evolutionary biologists.  But her wider applicable, symbiotic evolution theory, as in her book Symbiotic Planet — a more Neo-Darwinian dogma crushing idea — is still not accepted and to a significant degree still ignored by the current mainstream evolutionary biologists.  This is natural; the Kuhnian effect is still in intact. The incorporation of these revolutionary ideas with Neo-Darwinism will be complex, for more detailed mechanisms and inferred history need to be discovered and accepted, and that may take decades. Lynn can no longer lead that charge, but never underestimate the power of an idea whose time has come.

“Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking” — Lynn Margulis
(Well, in my opinion, she is getting closer to the truth here — Life took over the globe by both combat and networking.  Lynn’s combative and networking style — creative destructive ideas illustrate that)

2 thoughts on “Of Complex Character, Revisited

  1. goodrumo June 4, 2013 / 9:05 pm

    Can’t wait to see this documentary.


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