David E Romm

Rhetoric 1152W

Oral presentation 2/22/01

Misia Landau, "Paradise Lost: The Theme of Terrestriality in Human Evolution"

In "Paradise Lost: The Theme of Terrestriality in Human Evolution", Misia Landau proposes that we change how we look at one aspect of evolution. He (or she, we never did find out for sure) says that the move from apes living in trees to living on the ground is not the major turning point that most scientists ascribe. This is one of the few papers we've read that explains enough of the science involved to then talk about the language so that the reader can follow. I think he makes a valid point, though it slips into sophistry at the end.

Any paper that begins with a reference to Larry Gonick's "Cartoon History of the Universe" can't be all bad. In general, the writing style is breezy and personal and the mutli-syllable words are used appropriately. His dissection of the language used to describe the current paradigms is quite good, down to examining the hyphens.

Why, Landau asks, is coming down from the trees such a big deal? Clearly the ability to walk upright was already built somewhere in the ape adaptive structure. Was the brain first or the bipedalism? In the absence of observing the change, the answer is largely a matter of your initial viewpoint. Your initial paradigm determines what facts you'll look at and how you order the evidence. Landau argues that people conclude their initial premise.

The two archetypal evolutionary models are that of Expulsion and Escape. One model says that the climate changed, so there were fewer trees to hang out in. One says that walking upright meant that they could see predators earlier and run away faster. Can these two be reconciled? Landau seems surprised that they can. He continues to argue that the models shouldn't be quite so archetypal and not subject to further research.

Then there's the theory that man learned to walk to feed the kids. The specialization of sex roles is a major evolutionary force, says Lovejoy's theory of human evolution. Landau pooh-pooh's this theory saying that there is poor fossil evidence for it. It's hard to imaging paleontology resolving this argument; it seems better suited for biology.

After laying out some good points about early hominoid's abilities, Landau descends into arguments that aren't particularly persuasive. He changes his wording so that "the myth of the turning point" moves from an "archetype" to phrasing it as a "bias". He uses Feyerabend's attack on orthodoxy, which is a weak argument, in my view. Sure, bureaucracies tend to get stodgy and self-propagating, but that doesn't mean that a theory is automatically right if the bureaucracy says it's wrong. It's good that he looks at the world a little differently than some, but the mere difference doesn't add to his credibility. He's on much more solid ground when he sticks to teleological arguments; that the shift to being bipedal and carnivorous was already present in apes before they moved primarily to the living on the ground.

Also, I like how he handles his footnotes. They are relevant and allow for further parenthetical comments.

In general, his argument is well written until he starts sounding a bit desperate near the end. He raises valid questions about biological speculation using paleontological evidence, and the structural mechanisms of evolution. This is another article arguing for a paradigm shift.

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