August 03, 2014

Additional Lamarckian themes

Still looking for a good book in English that describes Lamarck's scientific work.  Not much success on that front.  Here is an article suggesting that the discredited idea for which he is most famous - the inheritance of acquired characteristics - might have some basis in fact after all.

This article from Cal Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology says "Lamarck can be credited with envisioning evolutionary change for the first time."

Suck it, haters

(The same article also says Buffon had an even earlier read, but I think Buffon is a little like Tobin in financial economics - if you properly credit him, he'd probably have four Nobels instead of just the one.  But at some point you have to let someone else play.)

I'd said that Lamarck developed his views from analysis of skeletal structures, and walking through a museum full of skeletons it seemed obvious how he must been thinking:

After the "holy shit" part

Cuddly, friendly triceratops

But there are two problems with that:  First, Lamarck predates most of the samples in the museum.  Second, the Berkeley site and Wikipedia say it was his pioneering work in plants and invertebrates that formed his thinking, not skeletons.  Oh.

So what did that look like?  What is he looking at that makes him think, "hey, these organisms are evolving over time"?

Well, his works are lavishly and beautifully illustrated, so much so that people tear them apart and sell them on Etsy.  But which of these marvelous pictures was he looking at as it dawned on him that creation was not static, complete, perfected?

It's hard to get an answer to this because so much crap has been written about him.  Lamarck is pure crackpot fuel.  There are two kinds of people who hate Darwin:  religious nuts, and The French.  Both find Lamarck appealing, and both have written many words praising Lamarck for his support of their religious and/or patriotic agendas.

But it turns out there is - or was - a book.  Intellectually honest and well-regarded, it is of course out-of-print and hard to obtain.  (Goes to Amazon.)  My copy is supposed to arrive August 6th, so more on this story as it develops.


Blogger Laird of Madrona said...

Only a douchebag won't get off his phone while posing for his statue.

August 5, 2014 at 11:34 AM  

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