|The Age of Reptiles|
|Artist||Rudolph F. Zallinger|
|Movement||Panorama through time|
|Subject||Representative survey of the natural history of the age of dinosaurs|
|Dimensions||4.9 m × 34 m (16 ft × 110 ft)|
|Location||Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, Connecticut|
The World We Live In appeared in the pages of LIFE magazine from December 8, 1952, to December 20, 1954. A science series, it comprised 13 chapters published on an average of every eight weeks. Written by Lincoln Barnett, The World We Live In spanned a diverse range of topics concerning planet Earth and universe, and employed the talents of artists and photographers, including cameramen Alfred Eisenstaedt and Fritz Goro and artists Rudolph Zallinger and Chesley Bonestell. The chapters were illustrated with art and photos, often presented in large gatefolds which showed two sides of a scenario.
Barnett's first few pages of the first episode expound his philosophy of natural history. It begins in the classical tradition with wonder (Episode I, LIFE p 85), a conventional motivation known as early as the Academics. The peripatetics of the next generation elucidate further that wonder is a perplexity eliciting feelings of ignorance. Barnett's next assertion departs somewhat from the classical tradition. He supposes that wonder is the specific difference between men and animals, which in evolution "caused him to leave behind the animal forbears from which he sprang." From it "the questioning spirit of man was born."
Tradition had gone in a different direction. Aristotle (and students), author of the earliest surviving work on logic, or reasoning, had defined reason, or rationality, as the ability to apply logic. Furthermore, he asserted, it is the one property that distinguishes man from the other animals. Centuries later, in a study of one of Aristotle's works, Porphyry recapped the definition of man as a mortal, rational, sensible, animate substance, which survived as the main definition into modern times. Descartes simplified it to rational animal (only to then vainly reject its usage), while Linnaeus devised the neo-Latin name of Homo sapiens, "man the wise."
"Rationality" and "Wonder" are not necessarily mutually contradictory if both are regarded as potencies, or the powers to produce human behavior; that is, all humans have the power to act rationally or experience wonder, but they may not necessarily actually do so. Pythagoras said (reportedly):
But in traditional philosophy; specifically, The Theory of Act and Potency, the perceptible form of rationaity is an act, an "accomplished fact", as opposed to a mere potency, or "possibility" hidden within something else. Some acts, however, retain something of potency about them. These are called active potencies. Those who seek fame and gain in Pythagoras are no doubt rational, and do wonder, but they choose not to pursue philosophic investigation, which is as yet only a possibility within them. Since wonder and rationality are the same type of object and serve the same purpose of being the specific difference of man, one might suspect that they are to some degree the same thing. Philosophy is a rational undertaking and wonder, the source of philosophy, must be under the same umbrella.
Whether of rationality or of wonder, Barnett's definitions offer a logical problem: man becomes different from the animals because of wonder, but wonder is the difference. Some animal therefore must have wondered. The problem, however, belongs to the concept of evolution, rather than to Barnett. The record of the rocks presents a stepped sequence of species already complete, but the concept of evolution requires continuous change. The transitions between steps are missing.
Their existence was proved subsequently. After the chemical structure of genes and chromosomes was deciphered by Watson and Crick and was published in 1953, the ability to reconstruct parts of the genome, or genetic map of a species, ensued. The resulting field of cladistics compares genetic sequences to produce more accurate phylogenetic trees than were possible with only comparative anatomy. Knowing the true lines of descent, the paleontologists have been able to identify many more transitional fossils. Man's closest living relative is the chimpanzee. The last common ancestor is dated to 6 mya.
Intermediate fossils by the hundreds lie scattered along the evolutionary path from then to now. There is a gradation, suggesting that rationality did develop gradually. It was the anthropologists of the 20th century who began to propose that the specific difference of man is only one or some subdivisions of rationality and that the animals have a share in others. The main suggestions have been culture, tool-using, language, adaptability. Barnett indulges in this sort of speculation himself at the end of the episode on mammals, anatomically selecting the human brain (Episode VI, LIFE p 109):
"a convoluted mass of soft tissue which enables him to perceive the world around him with unique acuity and respond to stimuli with a subtlety and self-consciousness that sets him apart from all other living things. It invests him, moreover, with a power which no other creature ever possessed - the power to modify the environment, to govern and alter the very course of evolution ...."
The passage expresses a studied optimism, but, in the middle of the 2oth century, there is a certain degree of prophetic hypocrisy about it:
"Of the more than one million species of animals on earth man is capable of killing all but a few without recourse to the weapons he ingeniously contrives for his own destruction."
This expression of unease about the outcome of the wonder story long after Barnett's death would become shrill cries of warning concerning the human impact on the environment. Amidst doubts about how successful rationality is as a strategy over geologic time, the theorists were finding increasing difficulty in defining it and discovering when it began. Each subdivision of rationality developed its counterpart in animal behavior studies: animal culture, tool use by animals, animal language, and so on.
When all is said and done about rationality, we are left with the problem of finding a complex that is minimally present in some form in animals but gradually grows more complex in humans until it accounts for their great success and power . Apparently, rationality would seem to be a pre-condition for the development of rationality. The paradox is nothing new to evolutionary problems. The answer is generally pre-adaptation, the pre-empting of a feature that evolved for some other reason, such as the use of feathers, which evolved for thermal insulation, for flying. Otherwise, the feathers would present a problem, as they could only evolve in animals that already fly. There is, however, no clear pre-adaptive function of rationality. The differences between human and animal rationality or irrationality are still being experimentally defined, a topic not covered by Barnett. His sequel to the human story in ''The Epic of Man'' concentrates on anatomical development. He presumes, following anthropological tradition, that the growing skills of man are linked to the increase in brain size (a presumption often questioned and still not proved). The documentation of these skills, rather than any theory of wonder or rationality, is his main concern in that series.
The World We Live In was introduced to LIFE's readership as "the greatest series of science stories we have ever produced". It promised a "unified, understandable picture story of the planet Earth" authored by Lincoln Barnett, "one of the most literate authors in the field of science". The series itself started two issues later. Each chapter was assigned to a reporter, who was granted eight months to research the subject, organize the data, and oversee the photography and artwork. This opportunity to travel, learn, and explore on company expense was known informally as a "Luce fellowship".
After its successful run at LIFE magazine, The World we Live in was released in book form in 1955, abridged in 1956 for younger readers by Jane Werner Watson, and re-released in a three-volume "Family Edition" in 1962.
The 1955 book was not entirely complete. Some minor schematic diagrams were cut to better fit the format of the book. Furthermore, some of Chesley Bonestell's artworks, including the painting illustrating the end of the Earth, were removed, possibly because they were seen as dated by then. Jane Werner Watson's edition for young readers cropped many pictures or removed them altogether; for instance, the Paleocene landscape was removed, while the eroded geological panorama was relegated to the endpapers. This led to some odd situations, with some captions referring to animals that were cropped out of the picture.
Lincoln Barnett's style is populist rather than mathematical. Totally absent are the calculations and traditional proofs of geology and the other natural sciences. He does repeat or summarize some statistics derived from those sciences of the times, without much reference to the sources. His work is a selective summarization of some of the major scientific theories about "the world we live in," greatly enhanced by prize-winning art and photography.
Appealing to the public in general, rather than to any select scientific audience, his text can be criticized of being florid, sometimes to a ludicrous degree. As one reader put it, "[I] Enjoyed "Creatures of the Sea" most of all because of the way Lincoln Barnett slings the King's English around. While Nobel Prizer Sir Winston Churchill had an easier subject, he can't hold a candle to this guy Barnett". The rationale for mammalian dominance of the Earth from Ch. VI is only one example.
"Indeed, it is probable that the mammals may have survived and succeeded to hegemony of the earth not in spite of but by reason of their very weakness and obscurity, their smallness in a world dominated by giants, their nakedness in a world of armor plate -- in particular, by their fear and sensitivity and awareness in a world of unperceiving, insensate, brainless brutes."
There is also marked personification and some bias. Large prehistoric mammals, for instance, are variously described as being "awkward" or "witless". Tyrannosaurus rex in Ch. V does not escape this treatment either.
"The apogee of development was attained with the creation of Tyrannosaurus rex, the mightiest and most fearsome flesh-eater that ever terrorized the land. A towering agent of destruction, endowed with gigantic strength and power, Tyrannosaurus spanned 50 feet from nose to tail and carried his terrible head 18 to 20 feet above the ground. His hind legs were superbly muscled, from his thick thighs down to his three-toed, cruelly taloned feet. His main weapon of attack was his murderous mouth which had a gape of incredible size and was armed with rows of six-inch saberlike teeth."
Finally, apparently as part of Barnett's effort to interest a wide audience, the text features quotations from non-scientific literature, including the Judaeo-Christian Bible. For example, each episode includes such an independent quotation just below the title, as is often the practice in scientific works. Concerning the few Biblical quotes, one reader remarked that the "text was written as if the clergy were looking over Mr. Barnett's shoulder and crossing out anything that might be in conflict with the story of Adam and Eve". Whether the statement is to be judged true is a matter of opinion. Certainly, the Bible is not used as justification for any hypothesis in the entire work, which, unlike the Bible, portrays the evolution of the natural world in every episode.
Still, among the scientists, the purple prose does its job of conveying awe at the natural world. Paleontologist George Olshevsky described Lincoln Barnett's text as having "the grandeur of the universe contained in every word".
Much of The World we Live In is and always was intentionally out of date, due to differences between the latest theories of modern physics, which are mainly incomprehensible to the general public, and the more popular theories of classical physics. This dichotomy of theory developed in the 20th century and continues today. Faced with it, Barnett chose the more classical theories for his presentation.
Barnett primarily offers the Newtonian universe. At the time of publication, his episodes were up-to-date with contemporary theories on the natural world, but major scientific breakthroughs in astronomy, geology, and biology date the series. For instance, the sections on geology assume geophysical global cooling instead of plate tectonics to explain uplift. The paleontological chapters (V and VI) are especially dated, considering the speed of new discoveries in the field and the Dinosaur Renaissance.
The frontier of research had already dissociated itself from the Newtonian universe in Barnett's time, in favor of the Einsteinian. Writing in the mid-20th century, he was well aware of this development. He copes briefly with Einstein in the last few pages of the last episode as a special topic, but for the most part modern cosmology, quantum mechanics, and advanced particle physics are beyond his chosen classical subject matter. For example, Newton's gravity prevails, but its equivalent relativistic curved space-time is neglected. There is no force of gravity in the relativistic universe; however, it is acceptable to use the language of gravity with relativistic meanings.
The sections on various biomes such as the desert, rainforest, and woodland, which depend on more immediate observation, are still more or less accurate as far as they go, which today is more limited in reach. They reflect the ecology of the time. Neither Barnett nor any other writer had any hint of the massive changes to the biomes caused by climate change, such as the rapid melting of the polar ice caps, the bleaching of most of the world's coral, and the threat to the atmosphere's ozone layer, narrowly placed in abeyance by world collaborative action.
"The World We Live In ought to be in book form. It is extraordinarily well done, comprehensive and at the same time comprehendible--a great thing."
"To own The World We Live In in book form is a not-to-be-missed opportunity for any family--old or young, it's a wonderful and exciting adventure in learning."
The World We Live In, with its several incarnations, successfully brought the intricacies of science to the baby boom generation. By the time the book version was being published, endorsements were printed by notable people, including paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews, filmmaker Walt Disney, and Admiral Richard E. Byrd. The "Letters to the Editors" page frequently featured glowing reviews of the series, as well as letters from creationists that either embraced or rejected it.
After publishing chapter XII on Mettler's Woods, LIFE received mail from the Citizens' Committee for the Preservation of Mettler's Woods, which congratulated them for the article and encouraged readers to help save the forest from destruction. Eventually, a letter from the Committee was published announcing that they had "raised to funds to purchase and study these woods and adjoining woodlands", adding that Life's article "not only stimulated several hundred persons to contribute to the fund to save one of the last primeval American forests, but encouraged the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America to contribute $75,000 in memory of W. L. Hutcheson". The forest was renamed the Hutcheson Memorial Forest.
Paleontologist Bob Bakker mentions Zallinger's dinosaurs as the spark that ignited his passion for prehistory; ironically, Bakker himself would later argue against Zallinger's rendition. George Olshevsky also cites The World We Live In as introducing him to science, and adds that he suggested authoring an updated version; however, LIFE's editors were not interested. The World We Live In was also the basis for a science series by the German comic book Mosaik.
The World We Live In was followed closely by The Epic of Man, in ten parts (all signed by Barnett) beginning with the November 7, 1955 issue, and ending with the May 6, 1957, issue. It focused on the development and history of human civilization, material that is usually covered under Physical Anthropology and Archaeology. The article format is the same: text by Barnett illustrated by many of the same artists and photographers. Panoramic fold-outs depict the ancient tribesmen carrying out their reconstructed cultural activities. These latter were duly compared to the activities of select modern tribesmen of the times. Ironically those ways were permanently altered by the exposure. The 1950s were times of great archaeological changes also, due to the multiplication of sites and discoveries. The magazine series finally presents the ancestors of modern Europe (Celts) and then ends abruptly, without a book edition for the time being. Notably missing from the series are the Far East and the Americas, where agriculture is now known to have been innovated independently.
After helping to produce the various editions of The World We Live In, Barnett went back to his true passion, natural History. From the June 30, 1958 to the October 19, 1959 issues, an eight-part series, The Wonders of Life on Earth traces the development of Darwin's Theory of evolution, portraying the places and species that influenced his thought in eye-catching color photographs. The Wonders name only appears in the first issue. In that issue also and in all subsequent issues the name is Darwin's World of Nature.
In those years great changes were being reported by LIFE, which seemed to be obsoleting the series articles as fast as they could be written. For example, the International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958 was duly planned and was duly reported in advance by a single article in LIFE Magazine. Data collected during this international research undertaking unexpectedly proved and resurrected Alfred Wegener's theory of continental drift, the foundation of today's plate tectonics in geology, yet the magazine mentions it no further. Articles on the Space Race were frequent, as well as individual scientific articles on various expeditions and wildlife. Barnett played no part in these, as he was not a regular employee of the magazine. One of its reporters in World War II, he had resigned in 1946 to pursue a career as an independent writer. He did his major writing for LIFE as an independent contractor, bringing the art staff with him.
In 1959, the handwriting appeared on the wall, so to speak, for LIFE Magazine. Circulation began to fall, due to competition with television, and fell even further in 1960. Barnett forged ahead with the book form of the Darwin series, returning to the title and concept of The Wonders of Life on Earth. Darwin seemed to him to be the true heir to classical science, investigating, like Aristotle and his students, the puzzling circumstances of nature. Unlike The World We Live in, the Wonders book' rewrote and re-edited much of the magazine material. The first edition appeared in 1960 under the banner of Time, Inc., and was soon followed by others, including a special edition for young people by The Golden Press.
Time's principal owner and co-founder, Henry Luce, moved in 1961 to restructure his holdings. LIFE Magazine was less successful, but Time Books was very successful. Luce took the advice of a new employee, Jerome (Jerry) Hardy, who had recently come to Time, Inc. from another publishing house. In 1959 he had launched a series of books, Time Capsules, containing extracts from Time with moderate success. In consultation with the LIFE editorial staff he proposed a new division that would publish series of books on specific topics. In 1961 Time Life was created under Hardy's management. It joined the scientific research assets of LIFE with the book publishing assets of Time Inc. The magazine would now decline, but Time Life would rise to new heights.
Time Life was able to restore and improve many dropped projects from the archives of LIFE. One of the first was the single book based on Epic of Man. When it appeared in 1961 it was considerably different from the magazine articles. The WorldCat citation for APA lists Barnett as the author along with Time Life. The printed version ignores Barnett, citing the Editors of LIFE as the author and Time Incorporated as the publisher. The book itself is divided into 16 chapters, not 10. China, the Maya, and the Incas have been added, as well as new material on Cultural Anthropology. Many of the chapters correspond to the previous LIFE articles, but the names have been changed, and the material has been rewritten. Barnett has been listed as Senior Writer, and 9 other writers have been added, but none of the chapters are signed.
From 1961 on, Time Life produced hundreds of books in dozens of series, typically about 20 books a series. The one that most closely emulates Barnett's interest is perhaps the Life Nature Library some 24 volumes of Natural History, 1961-1965, each expanding and updating some article or part of an article of The World We Live In. For example, parallel to the article, The Age of Mammals, is the book, The Mammals. The 25th volume is a series index. Barnett, however, does not appear in any of the 25, or in any other series. He has moved on to other books. In his place Time Life has recruited other notable writers and scientists in their fields, such as Willy Ley, Francis Clark Howell, and Niko Tinbergen.
philosophy begins in wonder
Now, he who is perplexed and wonders believes himself to be ignorant