Earlier this year we took note of the American Museum of Natural History and its superbly produced magazine, Natural History. If you are not a subscriber, check out the newsstand for the current issue (December 2000/January 2001), celebrating the magazine's 100th anniversary. That milestone alone would be enough to guarantee that the issue will become a collector's item, but there's more: the 300th and last essay in Stephen Jay Gould's column, "This View of Life," one of the most brilliant sustained achievements in the history of American journalism.
Given the occasion, it is no surprise that this issue also puts forward a manifesto of sorts, in the form of a special section entitled "On Being Human." And it is no surprise, either, to see how editor Ellen Goldensohn frames that subject. "During the magazine's past 100 years," Goldensohn writes,
the natural sciences have altered humanity's self-image. Discoveries of fossil hominids—from the delicate Lucy to the robust Australopithecus boisei—have undercut the notion of human singularity. The new technology of DNA sequencing has further closed the gap between us and the other primates on our family tree. (That we share 98 percent of our genetic material with chimpanzees is stated so often that it is by now a cliche.) The emergence of sociobiology and behavioral ecology—as well as their controversial offshoot, evolutionary psychology—reflects our growing sense of connectedness with the rest of the animal kingdom. These days, we are perhaps less inclined to see ourselves as fallen angels than as above-average mammals.
Goldensohn's reference to "fallen angels" (apparently conflating the identity of Lucifer, the fallen angel, with the notion that human beings are a little lower than ...1
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