04 July 2007

Ricketts' nonteleology

I spent most of last night reading an essay on "non-teleological thinking" by the legendary biologist Ed Ricketts. Ricketts' one claim to fame was his friendship with the novelist John Steinbeck. In 1940, the 2 of them went on an expedition in the Gulf of California that was later chronicled in their joint book The Sea of Cortez and later in the abridged (without the list of species collected) The Log From the Sea of Cortez.

Ricketts never published the subject essay, but it was turned by Steinbeck into chapter 14, "March 24, Easter Sunday", of the Sea of Cortez with the addition of 2 introductory paragraphs and some minor changes in the text. The last known draft of Ricketts' original essay, dated March 1941, was published last year in Breaking Through, Essays, Journals, and Travelogues of Edwards F. Ricketts (Ed. K.A. Rodger). Yesterday, I was able to obtain a copy of the book from a local university library, thanks to a friend who checked it out for me in return for a sandwich (actually, she is so nice she would have done it even if I hadn't offered to buy her lunch).

I like to mark, highlight, underline, add notes to what I am reading. But to avoid desecrating a library book, I made a reading copy of Ricketts' essay. It was a good thing I did so, because when I finished reading it, there was red and blue ink all over it.

nonteleological thinking

Ricketts' main arguments were not too difficult to follow, although a careful reading was necessary to comprehend what he was trying to say. I think I understood the essence of his main point. Some words and phrases from the essay may give clues to the scope of Ricketts' arguments: the 1931 depression; sea hare, Tethys, a shelless flabby sea slug; Darwin; second law of thermodynamics; teleological; non-teleological; universality of variation; Van Gogh; why are some men taller than others?

If time and mood permit, I may write in the future more about non-teleological thinking. For now, one sentence from Ricketts to summarize it:

The truest reason for anything being so is that it is.


Anonymous said...

Another of Ricketts's claims to fame is his authorship, with Jack Calvin, of the book "Between Pacific Tides," a wonderful (and for generations of west coast students and tidepool aficionados, inspirational) compendium of what Steinbeck called "the lovely animals of the sea, the sponges, tunicates, anemones, the stars and brittlestars, and sun stars, the bivalves, barnacles, the worms and shells, the fabulous and multiform little brothers, the living moving flowers of the sea, nudibranches and tectibranches, the spiked and nobbed and needly urchins, the crabs and demi-crabs, the little dragons, the snapping shrimps, and ghost shrimps so transparent they hardly throw a shadow." -- Barry Roth


I have to get a copy of Between Pacific Tides.

budak said...

me too!! :-O

Anonymous said...

You may also want to check out this biography of Ricketts, "Beyond the Outer Shores."

Anonymous said...

This comes a bit late to the party, but people interested in Ed Ricketts may be interested in a 2012 film about him and a few of his spiritual descendents: Between The Tides. See: http://www.betweenthetides.net/