Old age and extinction in fossils
Proceedings Geological Association
R ru! .Tune u th , HJI9. A BI OLOGI CAL VI E W-POINT. I H AVE been asked to put forward c. few th ough ts on old age and exti nct ion in fossils. Any considerations suggested by th e phenomena of old age and extinction in fossil-species are at least correlated with. if not biassed and contro lled by, general biological views. And since. a t most, these views may be fundamentally divergent, and. at least, approxima tely vary as th e minds of those th at hold them. it has seem ed convenient
... arious views canno t now be discussed at length, first to put forward a definit e biological view-point, and then to consider in its light certain ph enomena of old age and ex tinction among fossils, in order to see if thereby the phenomena are fu rther illuminated, In so far as th e proffered biology is accept abl e. any exp la nati on it can giv e to the phe nomena will be correspondin gly convin cing. But. sin ce it is likely th at some will be profoundly dissatisfied with th e biological pr emises, it is possibl e th at the ph enomena of old ag e and exti nction will afford such persons the oppor t unity perhaps of controverting c. heresy . perhaps of provin g th at real pr ogr ess is only to be achieved by synthetisin g heresy and orthodo xy . I t is th e met hod of science to consider phe nomena first, and then t o draw logical concl usions. And it may appear perverse t o start with a readv-made biology , and then to see how it fits the fac ts. But th e ap parently read y-mad e view was really slowly built from considerations of observed faet . and the pr oposed pro ceedin g is merely to exa mine its reacti on as the view rebounds or is reflect ed on to certain phenomena. If you will all0\\' me to proceed in this rather un conventional manner, yo u will see th at th e idea of this pap er is tent at ive rather than dogmatic; th at questions arc ask ed rather tha n ans wers given . It may help to introduce this view if we consider the lifehistory of man, Sha kespea re has made us familiar with human growth-stages from the mewling and puking infant to gerontic second childishness, Now why does a man grow old ? I suppose that most people consider old age inevitable; but othe rs hold that, given sufficient kn owledge of our environment and of our life-processes, we could so pertectly adjust our manner of life to our bionomic needs th at disease (including ' old-age ' diseases) would become non-existent. and, exce pt for violent death. there is no reason whv we should not liv e for eve r. In a delightful essay on " Decad ence," Balfour* has viewed his pr oblem in this • A . J. Balfour, 19°8, U Decadence ," Henry S idgwick ) l(>w orial Lr cture. Carnb, Uni v. Press.