Lamarck and science after the revolution

Rahul Mahajan rahul at
Wed Jun 21 19:43:02 MDT 1995

Lisa, thanks for the post on Lamarck. I didn't think Justin's answer was at
all sufficient because I had (obviously) not raised the point as an appeal
to authority but as a historical question about Darwin and about the
experimental evidence on Lamarckism.

I had heard about the mice experiment, which somehow seems like the
archetypal exercise in scientific stupidity (like breaking chimpanzees'
heads or drowning dogs to see what happens), considering the excellent
evidence that was already there on generations of Jewish boys. I suppose it
was just a matter of closing loopholes. Personally, I would say that the
lack of any conceivable mechanism which could make environmental influences
on genetics directional is enough to kill Lamarckism in the absence of
strong evidence for it.

I wish all these would-be critics of science would just show it as much
respect as any  other body of knowledge. I wouldn't ask for more at the


P.S. I raised the issue of alternate mechanism of evolution and the
importance of natural selection a couple of months ago, but I don't think
we went anywhere with it. As I understand it, the debate on the
neo-Darwinian model is still going on. Certainly it would seem that
mechanisms such as genetic drift have the potential to be as significant
for evolution as NS, if we define evolution to be change in gene
frequencies. Is this definition fundamentally flawed, in your
understanding?  Another point which is natural to a physicist to bring up,
and which seems important to me, is how much the evolution of traits, both
physiological and behavioral, of species depends on the inherent structural
limitations that an organism begins with, i.e., given a certain structure
of the DNA of an organism, there may well be strong constraints on the
directions in which that DNA can change from generation to generation. In
this connection, Vavilov's ideas on homologous series (I think that's the
term) seem very interesting -- i.e., if rye and wheat are closely
connected, then the different variations in wheat are reflected in a
reasonably isomorphic structure of variations in rye. Some might just
advance his work as an example of "proletarian science," since he worked in
the Soviet Union. Of course, his views were counter to the reigning
orthodoxy, so the Stalinists did for him.


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