Darwin-L Message Log 1:119 (September 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<1:119>From ahouse@hydra.rose.brandeis.edu  Tue Sep 14 12:55:07 1993

Date: Tue, 14 Sep 1993 14:01:33 -0500
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
From: ahouse@hydra.rose.brandeis.edu (Jeremy John Ahouse)
Subject: Re: Lamarkianism in linguistic change

>On Sun, 12 Sep 1993, J. Luke Matthews wrote:
>   I believe I understand what you mean by the term intentionality -
> that the individuals within the population have some capacity to choose
> their own destiny.  That isn't particularly lamarkian - intentionality is
> observed in sexual selection when by means of choice certain alleles
> are favored in the population over others.
>  It only becomes lamarkian when a purpose external to the system
> is placed on the system... selective breeding, for example, is lamarkian.
> Cultural evolution, I would think, would follow a darwinian system,
> with ideas as the base unit instead of alleles.  However, certian theories
> of cultural evolution, eg Marxism, are definately lamarkian, proposing
> that human culture is following a pattern or heading towards some
> form of utopia.
>   -Anax-

    I kept expecting someone to respond to this.  But so far no one
has.  Selective breeding may be different than what dogs might experience
without breeders but it isn't "Lamarkian."  Not if by Lamarckian we mean
the transmission of acquired characteristics.  Language (and many other
learnable cultural traits) are almost certainly transmissable as acquired
in the life of the members of the previous generation.  The big question
that Weissman's doctrine (germ plasm is separate from the somatic tissue)
responds to is that information flows from genotype to phenotype (and there
is no way back).  And this was subsequently reconfigured as molecular
biology's central dogma of DNA -> RNA -> Protein.

    Lots of organismal biologists have had a hard time with what the
central dogma does to traits (making them coextenisive proteins).  (And
rightly they should.)  But in this discussion, we should be clear that
there are explanations that insist on variance of the traits being selected
and this selection shifting the mean (or other statistics of the trait
distribution) and other explanations that allow advantages that are accrued
or manufactured during a lifetime to be passed along.  Mixing these two
approaches is surely necessary (in Biology, Linguistics, etc...).  But I
think we miss something if we conclude that ideas, language, aesthetic
sensibilities don't have the extra-Darwinian feature of being able to be
transmitted as acquired.

    - Jeremy

p.s. Intro: Interests in Evolution, Immunology, Mathematical Modeling, and
Phil of Method.

    Jeremy John Ahouse
    Biology Dept. & Center for Complex Systems
    Brandeis University
    Waltham, MA 02254-9110

    (617) 736-4954
    email: ahouse@hydra.rose.brandeis.edu
    Mail from Mac by Eudora 1.3.1 RIPEM/PGP accepted.

    "Si un hombre nunca se contradice, sera porque nunca dice nada"
      - Miguel de Unamuno

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