Start Your Day With Lynn Margulis, Ponder Translucent Clams, Symbiogenesis, Bacterial Origins, and [UH OH,] Might We Be Mammalian Weeds?

Archive The Wonderful World

“Most clams live in deep, fairly dark waters. Among one group of clams is a species whose ancestors ingested algae—a typical food—but failed to digest them and kept the algae under their shells. The shell, with time, became translucent, allowing sunlight in. The clams fed off their captive algae and their habitat expanded into sunlit waters. So there’s a discontinuity between the dark-dwelling, food-gathering ancestor and the descendants that feed themselves photosynthetically. ”

–Lynn Margulis


“Viewing life as one giant network of social connections has set Margulis against the mainstream in other high-profile ways as well. She disputes the current medical understanding of AIDS and considers every kind of life to be “conscious” in a sense.” *

–Dick Teresi

Lynn Margulis, Puffers Pond, 2010 Photo by Celia Farber
Lynn Margulis, Puffers Pond, 2010
Photo by Celia Farber

“The way I think about the whole world is that it’s like a pointillist painting. You get far away and it looks like Seurat’s famous painting of people in the park (jpg). Look closely: The points are living bodies—different distributions of bacteria. The living world thrived long before the origin of nucleated organisms [the eukaryotic cells, which have genetic material enclosed in well-defined membranes]. There were no animals, no plants, no fungi. It was an all-bacterial world—bacteria that have become very good at finding specialized niches. Symbiogenesis recognizes that every visible life-form is a combination or community of bacteria.”

–Lynn Margulis

Lynn Margulis with "jellyball," Puffers Pond, Amherst, June 2011
Lynn Margulis with “jellyball,” Puffers Pond, Amherst, June 2011

Crescendo finale of iconic interview here:


 Your perspective is rather humbling.

The species of some of the protoctists are 542 million years old. Mammal species have a mean lifetime in the fossil record of about 3 million years. And humans? You know what the index fossil of Homo sapiens in the recent fossil record is going to be? 
The squashed remains of the automobile. There will be a layer in the fossil record where you’re going to know people were here because of the automobiles. It will be a very thin layer.

Do we overrate ourselves as a species?

Yes, but we can’t help it. Look, there are nearly 7,000 million people on earth today and there are 10,000 chimps, and the numbers are getting fewer every day because we’re destroying their habitat. Reg Morrison, who wrote a wonderful book called The Spirit in the Gene, says that although we’re 99 percent genetically in common with chimps, that 1 percent makes a huge difference. Why? Because it makes us believe that we’re the best on earth. But there is lots of evidence that we are “mammalian weeds.” Like many mammals, we overgrow our habitats and that leads to poverty, misery, and wars.

Why do you have a reputation as a heretic?

Anyone who is overtly critical of the foundations of his science is persona non grata. I am critical of evolutionary biology that is based on population genetics. I call it zoocentrism. Zoologists are taught that life starts with animals, and they block out four-fifths of the information in biology [by ignoring the other four major groups of life] and all of the information in geology.

You have attacked population genetics—the foundation of much current evolutionary research—as “numerology.” What do you mean by that term?

When evolutionary biologists use computer modeling to find out how many mutations you need to get from one species to another, it’s not mathematics—it’s numerology. They are limiting the field of study to something that’s manageable and ignoring what’s most important. They tend to know nothing about atmospheric chemistry and the influence it has on the organisms or the influence that the organisms have on the chemistry. They know nothing about biological systems like physiology, ecology, and biochemistry. Darwin was saying that changes accumulate through time, but population geneticists are describing mixtures that are temporary. Whatever is brought together by sex is broken up in the next generation by the same process. Evolutionary biology has been taken over by population geneticists. They are reductionists ad absurdum. 
Population geneticist Richard Lewontin gave a talk here at UMass Amherst about six years ago, and he mathematized all of it—changes in the population, random mutation, sexual selection, cost and benefit. At the end of his talk he said, “You know, we’ve tried to test these ideas in the field and the lab, and there are really no measurements that match the quantities I’ve told you about.” This just appalled me. So I said, “Richard Lewontin, you are a great lecturer to have the courage to say it’s gotten you nowhere. But then why do you continue to do this work?” And he looked around and said, “It’s the only thing I know how to do, and if I don’t do it I won’t get my grant money.” So he’s an honest man, and that’s an honest answer.

Do you ever get tired of being called controversial?

I don’t consider my ideas controversial. I consider them right.

Lynn Margulis, Discover Magazine

Read Dick Teresi’s terrific interview here.


[*Ed: Look closely at the word conscious. This one word obviates the HIV/AIDS theory.]


7 thoughts on “Start Your Day With Lynn Margulis, Ponder Translucent Clams, Symbiogenesis, Bacterial Origins, and [UH OH,] Might We Be Mammalian Weeds?”

  1. Celia: Thank you ever so much for posting this! Lynn Margulis was a giant of science, a Nobel-worthy scientist, and she most certainly was right. We live in a sea of bacteria, and they are clearly in charge, orchestrating our immune system and choreographing brain function. Germ theory is just as dead as speciation through genetic mutation. All multi-cellular creatures contain symbionts, and couldn’t exist without them. Telling, the anecdote she told about the researcher who honestly admitted he wouldn’t get grant money if he attempted to do real science. This is why much of what gets published today in scientific journals is hogwash. This is why clowns like Ian Lipkin can subvert an honest search for the etiology of autism, allowing the horrid damage to countless children to continue unabated, and continuing the damage to the reputation of another honorable scientist, who was, and is, also right, Andrew Wakefield.

  2. Actually, Darwin was totally misinterpreted by the ruling class of his day. He NEVER argued survival of the fittest — that was how his work was interpreted to justify the sociopathology and greed of the rich folks who owned the newspapers. (Remember, Stalin said freedom of the press belongs to the one who owns the press.)

    The truth is that Darwin argued that cooperation was the basis for survival, not competition — which is what Lynn Margulis is saying. Peter Kropotkin said the same thing. Although he is remembered primarily as an anarchist writer, Kropotkin was also a brilliant scientist who was making the “cooperation not competition” argument back in 1902.

    Too many scientists are dogmatists, not truth-seekers. For example, it has been known since the 1930s that the speed of light is not a constant (although it doesn’t vary by much). But for a scientist to say that publicly is to risk ridicule from the so-called scientific community. I was publicly ridiculed by Neil DeGrasse Tyson back in the 1990s for talking about the existence of extra-terrestrials. (He referred to me as a representative of the “lunatic fringe.”) Yet given the size of the universe, it is totally absurd to believe that ours is the only inhabited planet — especially given the extensive evidence otherwise. My friend Daniel Pinchbeck (a noted writer) thought the entire UFO phenomenon was absurd until he examined the literature. Now he recognizes the existence of extraterrestrials as reality. Just last week on “60 Minutes” an aerospace billionaire acknowledge the existence of extra-terrestrials and admitted to personal encounters. No one has called him a lunatic.

    Lynn Margulis is a true scientist. Someday her views, along with her predecessors such as Kropotkin, will become completely mainsteam instead of marginalized.

    1. Marcy,

      How absolutely right you are, (about Darwin, for starters) and it’s amazing you should say this because Lynn and Jim Mcallister spoke of this often and I was always struggling to grasp it. Now I do. I’ll go look for some videos of Jim talking about this…it’s quite stunning isn’t it. You are one of the rare people who are aware of all this. I did not KNOW that about Kropotkin!

      I like him and read him many years ago but did not know this. Thank you. What a small world it is–I heard Pinchbeck speak (I think, must double check) at a conference I attended with Dorion Sagan, Lynn’s son. And that does not surprise me about N.D. Tyson.

  3. Potent and treasureable pondering, for sure. Thank you.

    Pray tell, mademoiselle, how doth the one word, “conscious”, obviate the HIV/AIDS theory? I strained to find the path of that logic, but could not. Please enlighten me. Most seriously, I really do want to see that path. Please open my eyes to it. I beg thee, have mercy on my blindness.

    For real.

    1. John: Since nature is “conscious,” it does not perform acts of random suicidality on itself. That is my thinking. Nature does not harbor “terrorists,” like “mutated” retroviral debris called “a deadly retrovirus” that travels via the medium of life, transforming it to death.

      Biology was hijacked by men with war-mentality, like Gallo and all the neo-Darwinists. The road not taken was McClintock (destroyed, then given Nobel at end of life,) Margulis–they saw nature as what it is, infinite cooperation, no “competition.”

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