I got this book from a friend several years ago and am finally getting around to it. It’s a classic written by a giant thinker in the fields of anthropology, education, philosophy , and natural science. The book fits in quite well with The Forest Unseen by David George Haskell as well as Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (and which I read prior to this blog). But where Haskell sits in a small patch of east coast forest and Dillard next to a creek in Virginia, Eiseley hangs out in the desert areas, mostly in South Dakota’s Badlands. These three authors all evoke the “sense of wonder” Richard Dawkins writes about in his interesting book, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder. (The link is to Wikipedia – I read the book but it was prior to this blog.)
These are not dry textbooks, but rather written meditations re the nature of man and originating in the authors’ natural science field studies. Eiseley falls a bit less in this category because he comes at it from anthropology and evolution and the history of those sciences plus the arguments of history – very illuminating.
Eiseley is not afraid to question – to ask why and how and when and in what manner does this relate to what. He asks where music and aesthetic appreciation fit into survival of the fittest – (I think that’s been hypothesized since Eiseley wrote this). He asks why mankind has more brain capacity than it uses and why it grew so fast. He points to scientific findings which don’t necessarily support the idea that man is growing better and better. Humankind might still be overwhelmed by some physical encounter – other human starts have faltered.
Eiseley is no creationist – he simply has questions and curiosities and not only works from the past but towards the future and the galaxies – because evolution didn’t stop with Darwin – and hasn’t stopped with us. But Eiseley doesn’t dogmatically eliminate the possibility of an original single cause, either – he speculates about the missing link between man and ape, but also about the missing link between man and rock – organic life and non-living material.
Eiseley.org / essay on The Immense Journey