Re: Darwin and Lamarck

Chris Lees (
Wed, 28 Apr 1999 17:05:14 +0100

Date: Wed, 28 Apr 1999 17:05:14 +0100
From: Chris Lees <>
Subject: Re: Darwin and Lamarck

Lloyd wrote :

> Maybe I am confused but I don't see why people who wish to rehabilitate
> Lamarck get excited over research like this.

Maybe the confusion arise because there are a number of threads / arguments
running in parallel here, and some of them are getting tangled up.

Allow me to try and clarify from the way I see it, as of this moment.

A while back,Jake spoke of Lamarck as discredited, etc.

I chipped in, because I remembered some research which showed that,
environmental influences upon the phenotype during one generation
can indeed, be passed on to subsequent generations.
I understand that the modern name for this is 'epigenetic inheritance'.
This seems to be well accepted by several authoratitive figures.
Therefore, Lamarckism, was not_entirely_wrong.

Since then, the plot has thickened.

Derek suggested that the data I had in mind was the Waddington experiment.
As you say, that doesn't look much like classical Lamarckian 'cutting of foreskins'.
As Derek pointed out, it's more like the thalidomide effect.

However, I don't think that is the correct data. The dates don't sync. That's
from the fifties. The stuff I was thinking of was cited by Margulis. (Prof of Biol,
Uni of Massachuts) as 'leading edge', possibly in the 1970/80s. I am still trying
to clarify that.
I asked my father ( who researched and taught animal genetics and behaviour
for 35 years, now in venerable retirement) if he knew any clues. All he has,is
the memory that someone called Durrant showed this 'Lamarckian' evidence,
in Drosophila, and presented a paper at the Royal Soceity. But I think that also
is not the Margulis data.

To my mind, all of that is something of a red herring, (although I'd like to tie it
up neatly) because we now have the data as published by New Scientist, Jablonka,
and others.

Then, there is the other skeleton in the cupboard, which Mario has found,
that Darwin was a Lamarckian, whilst Lamarck was not. A somewhat ironic
and strange twist to the tale, to say the least.

So, what we ought to try and keep clear, is which brand of Darwinism we are
talking about.
As I understand it, Dawkins, Dennett, et alia, are all neo-Darwinists, i.e. they
hold to the theory, in the form it now takes, after a century or so of modifications.

S.J.Gould, and others, don't like that interpretation of Darwin, but that again is
a side issue perhaps.

Point is, can neodarwinism account for these weird epigenetic results, or does it
have to restructure itself to accommodate them. I don't know.

I don't think that any of the above pertains directly to memetics, because, if
memes are more than 'a meaningless metaphor', there is no reason, a priori,
to suppose that they conform to classical genetics, be it Darwinian, neodarwinian,
or Lamarckian. They may follow another algorithm entirely, perhaps.

However, as the meme is a meme, so is Darwism, and Lamarckism, so the historical
development of these ideas can be considered from a memetic perspective.
For me, the most fascinating insight to emerge recently, was from Mario, who
had Lamarckism down as a classic example of 'a wrong belief' which was a long
surviving meme ( am I right, Mario ?) and as you, Lloyd, pointed out, in the USSR
Lysenko promoted Lamarckism to an absurd degree for ideological reasons.
So, in 'the story of the Lamarck meme' we have an illustration of memetic
evolution perhaps ?


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