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Revolutions that made the Earth$
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Tim Lenton and Andrew Watson

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199587049

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199587049.001.0001

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Rolls of the dice

Rolls of the dice

(p.330) 17 Rolls of the dice
Revolutions that made the Earth

Tim Lenton

Andrew Watson

Oxford University Press

This chapter illustrates the fundamentally random, stochastic nature of the evolutionary process that has produced us and everything else alive today. In the language of Stephen Jay Gould, the dice probably had to be rolled many times for mammals to come to dominance, or for intelligent life to appear. The big shake-ups and rolls of the dice were the mass-extinction events that allowed new types of life, and new ecologies, to flourish. Traditionally, five mass extinctions are recognised during the Phanerozoic on the basis of the marine invertebrate fossil record. Recent work has brought some of these ‘big five’ events into question, but the end of the Permian still stands out as the biggest of all.

Keywords:   stochastic nature, evolutionary process, Stephen Jay Gould, big shake-ups, mass-extinction events

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