SparkNotes: Animal Dreams: Themes

The greatest scientists readily admitted that the theories and data of physics, that hardest of the hard sciences, drew highly limited descriptions of reality, and those scientists were usually, to one extent or another, . If textbook science falls far short of explaining reality, what can be said within its framework that is useful? Plenty. Our industrialized world is based on textbook science and feats such as putting men on the Moon were performed within the parameters of textbook science. With the waning of overspecialization and overreliance on reductionism in the last decades of the 20th century, multidisciplinary works have proliferated and will tend to dominate the references for this essay. I have found them not only very helpful for my own understanding, but they are appropriate references for a generalist essay. I have also avoided scientific terminology when feasible. For example, I use “seafloor” instead of “,” and if a non-specialized term will suffice for a scientific concept, I will often use it.

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Here is a brief summary of this essay. Ever since more than three billion years ago and about a billion years after the Sun and Earth formed, organisms have continually invented more effective methods to acquire, preserve, and use energy. after three billion years of evolution and, pound-for-pound, it used energy . The story of life on Earth has been one of , and in turn influencing them. During the eon of complex life that began more than 500 million years ago, there have been many brief for some fortunate species, soon followed by increased energy competition, a relatively stable struggle for energy, and then cleared biomes and set the stage for another golden age by organisms adapted to the new environments. Those newly dominant organisms were often marginal or unremarkable members of their ecosystems before the mass extinction. That pattern has characterized the journey of complex life over the past several hundred million years. among some animals, which provided them with a competitive advantage.

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I am not ignorant how little I herein consult my own reputation, when I knowingly let it go with a fault, so apt to disgust the most judicious, who are always the nicest readers. But they who know sloth is apt to content itself with any excuse, will pardon me, if mine has prevailed on me, where, I think, I have a very good one. I will not therefore allege in my defence, that the same notion, having different respects, may be convenient or necessary to prove or illustrate several parts of the same discourse; and that so it has happened in many parts of this: but waving that, I shall frankly avow, that I have sometimes dwelt long upon the same argument, and expressed it different ways, with a quite different design. I pretend not to publish this Essay for the information of men of large thoughts, and quick apprehensions; to such masters of knowledge, I profess myself a scholar, and therefore warn them beforehand not to expect any thing here, but what, being spun out of my own coarse thoughts, is fitted to men of my own size; to whom, perhaps, it will not be unacceptable, that I have taken some pains to make plain and familiar to their thoughts some truths, which established prejudice, or the abstractedness of the ideas themselves, might render difficult. Some objects had need be turned on every side: and when the notion is new, as I confess some of these are to me, or out of the ordinary road, as I suspect they will appear to others; it is not one simple view of it, that will gain it admittance into every understanding, or fix it there with a clear and lasting impression. There are few, I believe, who have not observed in themselves or others, that what in one way of proposing was very obscure, another way of expressing it has made very clear and intelligible; though afterward the mind found little difference in the phrases, and wondered why one failed to be understood more than the other. But every thing does not hit alike upon every man’s imagination. We have our understandings no less different than our palates; and he that thinks the same truth shall be equally relished by every one in the same dress, may as well hope to feast every one with the same sort of cookery: the meat may be the same, and the nourishment good, yet every one not be able to receive it with that seasoning: and it must be dressed another way, if you will have it go down with some, even of strong constitutions. The truth is, those who advised me to publish it, advised me, for this reason, to publish it as it is; and since I have been brought to let it go abroad, I desire it should be understood by whoever gives himself the pains to read it; I have so little affection to be in print, that if I were not flattered this Essay might be of some use to others, as I think it has been to me, I should have confined it to the view of some friends, who gave the first occasion to it. My appearing therefore in print, being on purpose to be as useful as I may, I think it necessary to make what I have to say, as easy and intelligible to all sorts of readers, as I can. And I had much rather the speculative and quick-sighted should complain of my being in some parts tedious, than that any one, not accustomed to abstract speculations, or prepossessed with different notions, should mistake, or not comprehend my meaning.

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This essay has presented Earth’s many changing faces during its journey. Earth had molten beginnings, was , and may have . Later, and and . Earth experienced swings from to conditions as atmospheric gases dramatically changed, continents moved, and vast and of complex life played out on land and sea. But the changes happened over timescales of millions and billions of years, not hundreds. No climate scientist will deny that carbon dioxide traps infrared radiation and warms Earth’s atmosphere. The vented enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to create 200 million years of Greenhouse Earth conditions, when reptiles ruled Earth. Volcanism waned and around 150-to-100 mya. By 35 mya, and the Antarctic ice sheet began forming. Every paleoclimate study I have seen places greenhouse gas (and primarily carbon dioxide) concentrations as the primary determinant of global surface temperatures, after the Sun's radiation, but the Sun's output is considered to have been exceptionally stable and has risen slowly over the eons. , usually by accentuating the carbon dioxide with a positive feedback effect that may have reached runaway conditions at times.

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From the same principles it may be collected that all such pompous theories of morals, however seemingly diversified, yet amount ultimately to the same thing, being all built upon the same false bottom of innate notions; and from the history of this science we may see that they have received no manner of improvement (as indeed by the supposition of their innateness they become incapable of any) from the days of Plato to our own; but must always take the main point, the ground of obligation, for granted: which is in truth the shortest and safest way of proceeding for such self-taught philosophers, and saves a deal of trouble in seeking reasons for what they advance, where none are to be found. Mr. Locke went a far different way to work, at the very entrance on his Essay, pointing out the true origin of all our passions and affections, i. e. sensitive pleasure and pain; and accordingly directing us to the proper principle and end of virtue, private happiness, in each individual; as well as laying down the adequate rule and only solid ground of moral obligation, the divine will. From whence also it may well be concluded that moral propositions are equally capable of certainty, and that such certainty is equally reducible to strict demonstration here as in other sciences, since they consist of the very same kind of ideas [viz. general abstract ones, the true and only ground of all general knowledge]: provided always that the terms be once clearly settled, in which lies the chief difficulty, and are constantly applied (as surely they may be) with equal steadiness and precision: which was undoubtedly Mr. Locke’s meaning in that assertion of his which drew upon him so many solicitations to set about such a systematic demonstration of morals.

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