Extinction, Evolution, and Being Right

I recently finished The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. It was good, but much of it was over my head. My feeble understanding of family, genus, clan, kingdom, and poor knowledge of ages and epochs of the earth meant I missed a lot.

The book (from what I did understand) had two key points.

First. The explicit one was that we may be entering another extinction. Kolbert’s thesis is that the earth has undergone five major extinctions and we are currently in a sixth. Rather than asteroids or glaciers, this one is being caused by humans.

When I finished I didn’t have the same conclusions at Kolbert, but again, she understood the material much better than me. What I did conceptualize was the second and implicit point of the book.

Second. Solving difficult problems requires multidisciplinary thinking. The best answers for things often come from domains outside the one the problem resides in.

In the book Kolbert explains how anatomy helped zoology clear an identification obstacle and how nuclear explosions helped paleontology. Neither of the solutions  were in the domain of the questions.

Unrelated domains were synthesized to synergize a solution.

So what? 

The takeaway from this is to acknowledge that science is hard and you don’t know where the answers are. Scientific discoveries exist in a pitch black stadium. You need scientists who walk around and feel. Some to crawl around and smell. Some  to edge along the wall and listen. Each way someone gets around a room is a different domain of science.


Then it takes effort to understand why a “feeler” solved a “listener” problem. That’s difficult.  From Copernicus to Darwin, scientific discoveries are condemned without refute. Rather we should prove why they aren’t true. We should find the “black swans.”


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