The Sixth Extinction

Natural selection Term Analysis

A theory, developed by Charles Darwin in the mid-19th century, that posits that the Earth’s species are locked in a perpetual struggle to survive and reproduce. Darwin had two key insights. First, that some species have certain traits—strength, intelligence, speed, etc.—that make them more likely to survive in the long run than other species. Second, that individual animals within each species have slight differences that they may pass down to their children. Nature will “select” only the fittest individuals to survive, thus selecting which individuals will have the most offspring, and which traits will be passed down. Over generations, the selection of traits will shift and change the development of entire species.

Natural selection Quotes in The Sixth Extinction

The The Sixth Extinction quotes below are all either spoken by Natural selection or refer to Natural selection. For each quote, you can also see the other terms and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Mass-extinction and Morality Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Picador edition of The Sixth Extinction published in 2015.
Chapter 1 Quotes

The history of life thus consists of "long periods of boredom interrupted occasionally by panic."

Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 3 Quotes

Darwin's familiarity with human-caused extinction is also clear from On the Origin of Species. In one of the many passages in which he heaps scorn on the catastrophists, he observes that animals inevitably become rare before they become extinct, "we know this has been the progress of events with those animals which have been exterminated, either locally or wholly, through man's agency." It's a brief allusion and in its brevity, suggestive. Darwin assumes that his readers are familiar with such "events" and already habituated to them. He himself seems to find nothing remarkable or troubling about this.

Related Characters: Charles Darwin
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:
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But how, then, to make sense of cases like the great auk or the Charles Island tortoise or, to continue the list, the dodo or the Steller's sea cow? These animals had obviously not been done in by a rival species gradually evolving some competitive advantage. They had all been killed off by the same species, and all quite suddenly—in the case of the great auk and the Charles Island tortoise over the course of Darwin's own lifetime. Either there had to be a separate category for human-caused extinction, in which case people really did deserve their "special status" as a creature outside of nature, or space in the natural order had to be made for cataclysm, in which case, Cuvier— distressingly—was right.

Related Characters: Georges Cuvier, Charles Darwin
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 4 Quotes

Darwin's successors inherited the "much slow extermination” problem. The uniformitarian view precluded sudden or sweeping change of any kind. But the more that was learned about the fossil record, the more difficult it was to maintain that an entire age spanning tens of millions of years, had somehow or other gone missing. This growing tension led to a series of increasingly tortured explanations. Perhaps there had been some sort of “crisis,” at the close of the Cretaceous but it had to have been a very slow crisis. Maybe the losses at the end of the period did constitute a "mass extinction."

Related Characters: Charles Darwin
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 8 Quotes

There are various ways to calculate migration rates: for instance, by the number of trees or, alternatively, by their mass. Feeley grouped the trees by genus. Very roughly speaking, he found that global warming was driving the average genus up the mountain at a rate of eight feet per year. But he also found the average masked a surprising range of response. Like cliques of kids at recess, different trees were behaving in wildly different ways.

Related Characters: Kenneth Feeley
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 13 Quotes

Among the many lessons that emerge from the geologic record, perhaps the most sobering is that in life, as in mutual funds, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Page Number: 267-268
Explanation and Analysis:
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Natural selection Term Timeline in The Sixth Extinction

The timeline below shows where the term Natural selection appears in The Sixth Extinction. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3: The Original Penguin
Mass-extinction and Morality Theme Icon
Natural Selection and Mass-extinction Theme Icon
Science and Paradigm Shifts Theme Icon
...their journey to Iceland, Charles Darwin was publishing a revolutionary paper on the process of natural selection . Darwin’s ideas immediately impressed Newton, and later in life they became friends. Personally, Darwin... (full context)
Mass-extinction and Morality Theme Icon
Natural Selection and Mass-extinction Theme Icon
Science and Paradigm Shifts Theme Icon
...troubling phenomenon. Darwin conceived of human beings as, fundamentally, subject to the same laws of natural selection as all other animals. He even recognized that human intelligence was just an evolutionary adaptation,... (full context)
Chapter 10: The New Pangaea
Mass-extinction and Morality Theme Icon
Environmental Change and Human Nature Theme Icon
Science and Paradigm Shifts Theme Icon
...that, for all intents and purposes, most animals cannot travel long distances. The idea of natural selection assumes the existence of isolated environments with natural barriers like mountains, oceans, rivers, etc. Thus,... (full context)