Sep. 10, 1999
The Sun Rising
Poem: "The Sun Rising" by John Donne, available in collections including Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne, Modern Library Series.
It's the birthday in New York City, 1941, of paleontologist, biologist, and writer, STEPHEN JAY GOULD, who has taught paleontology and zoology at Harvard University since the late 1960s, and along the way, published eight essay collections, each one subtitled, Reflections in Natural History; books of science written for laypeople, and that have won him The National Book Award, The National Book Critics Circle Award, and others. Gould's main work is noting how oddities in the natural world serve as historical evidence that evolution is an actual process, that it's real. For instance, his 1981 book, The Panda's Thumb, makes the case by describing the odd thumb of the panda " which isn't really a thumb at all, but an enlarged wristbone that lets the panda strip leaves from bamboo shoots. Other books that take that same tack: Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes, and The Flamingo's Smile. His best known book came out in 1981, The Mismeasure of Man, where he focuses on the development of IQ testing and debunks scientists who claim to measure human intelligence objectively; a book that Gould says "is about the abstraction of intelligence as a single entity, its location within the brain, its quantification as one number for each individual, and the use of these numbers to rank people in a single series of worthiness, invariably to find that oppressed or disadvantaged races, classes, or sexes, are innately inferior and deserve their status." Gould's most recent essay collection came out last fall, Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms. "All great science," he says in the title essay, "indeed all fruitful thinking, must occur in a social and intellectual context and contexts are just as likely to promote insight as to constrain thought."
It's poet MARY OLIVER's birthday today in Cleveland, born in 1935, winner of 1984's Pulitzer Prize for her collection, American Primitive, and the National Book Award in 1992, for her New and Selected Poems, in which she wrote: "When it's over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms."
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