Sunday, June 07, 2009

Lamarck and Lovecraft

As followers know, I believe that Lovecraft was profoundly affected by knowing Brown University professors personally as a youth. Upton (astronomy) and Appleton (chemistry) are well known, and I believe he also knew or certainly knew of the famous Alphaeus Spring Packard, Jr. who died in 1905 the same year Lovecraft wrote The Beast in the Cave. Packard was a leading Neo-Lamarckian biologist whose specialty was Mammoth Cave, Ky. Neo-Lamarckianism was contra Darwinsim, and later discredited. However, it was not eradicated. The Rats in the Walls carried forth the juvenile ideas of "Beast" as did Arthur Jermyn. In a weird tale, he tried to show that "taints" could cause reverse evolution, or devolution.

At the 200th birthay of Darwin, Lamarckianism is still alive in some dark corners as seen in Science News letters of 9 May 2009. Excerpts (you will need a subscription to access the entire leters)

Don’t dismiss Lamarck
Your ... special birthday edition on Darwin ... was excellent, but I believe that science has allowed Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s contributions to be overshadowed by Darwin’s. The change that can occur to an organism’s genetic makeup during its own lifetime harks away from Darwin’s slow evolutionary process by chance mutations and argues toward Lamarck’s heritable changes within a lifetime.
... Austin, Texas

... I predict that in 20 years ... the new most influential biologist will be Lamarck. The turning point was the Human Genome Project. It is now becoming clear that a type of formative causation may be real, in spite of the fact that most biologists still gag on the word. ... Pueblo West, Colo.

Lamarck did argue that traits acquired during an organism’s lifetime could be inherited, a notion almost universally accepted in his day. Since then, the term “Lamarckian inheritance” has been applied to several mechanisms, including some far from his original ideas. Many of his ideas have been largely discredited. Yet, the late Stephen Jay Gould wrote eloquently about Lamarck, calling him a fine scientist, and Darwin himself acknowledged Lamarck’s contributions to science. Scientists today do agree that inheritance is messier than previously realized and that it involves more than genes. For example, epigenetic changes to the way DNA is tagged or packaged — triggered by environmental factors such as stress or diet — may be inherited. But the various kinds of inheritance have themselves evolved through Darwinian natural selection, which does not require that selection be based only on genetics . — {editor}

p.30, Science News, 9 May 2009,

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