How is it that we came to be here? Searching for answers to that question has preoccupied humans for millennia. For science, clues have been sought in the genes of living things, in the physical environments of Earth from mountaintops to the depths of the ocean, in the chemistry of this world and those nearby, in the tiniest particles of matter, and in the deepest reaches of space.
In Islands in the Cosmos, Dale A. Russell traces a path from the dawn of the universe to speculations about our future on this planet. He has centred his story on the physical and biological processes in evolution, which interact to favour more successful and eliminate less successful forms of life. Marvellously, these processes reveal latent possibilities in life's basic structure, and propel a major evolutionary theme: the increasing proficiency of biological function.
It remains to be seen whether the human form can survive the dynamic processes that brought it into existence. Yet the emergence of the ability to acquire knowledge from experience, to optimize behaviour, to conceptualize, to distinguish 'good' from 'bad' behaviour all hint at an evolutionary outcome that science is only beginning to understand.
"Dale Russell is one of the great creative thinkers of all time in palaeontology. This book – clearly the product of a full life considering these questions – does not disappoint."
– David E. Fastovsky, author of Evolution and Extinction of the Dinosaurs.
"[P]rofessionals, graduate students, advanced undergraduates, and geologically literate amateurs – even philosophers of science and science fiction authors [...] will find it enlightening and stimulating."
– Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology
Foreword by Simon Conway Morris
1. Time Travel
2. The Extraterrestrial Pre-Hadean
3. The Hadean Eon
4. The Archean Eon
5. The Proterozoic Eon
6. Phanerozoic Marine Life
7. Origin of Complex Terrestrial Ecosystems
8. Toward the Coal Age
9. Ascendancy of Life on Land
10. Bridging the Eras
11. The Natural History of Natural Selection
12. An Age of Giants
13. One Earth, Two Worlds
14. The Modern Earth
Epilogue: The Way of Life
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Dale A. Russell is senior curator of paleontology at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and author of A Vanished World: The Dinosaurs of Western Canada and An Odyssey in Time: The Dinosaurs of North America.