Friday, February 10, 2006
[This post also appears here in the Main Blog]
Words frozen in time should be differentiated from those carved in stone:
In 1640 Galileo Galilei wrote a letter to Fortunio Liceti in which he said:
"If Aristotle were to see the new discoveries recently [made] in the heavens, whose immobility he had asserted, because no alteration had previously been seen in them, he would now without doubt state the contrary." ['Galileo Galilei - Towards a Resolution of 350 Years of Debate', Paul Cardinal Poupard].
The above statement highlights the danger of placing dependence on words frozen in time without taking into account how different those words might be if their author had had access to the discoveries that have since been made.
Lamarck, for example, published his "Zoological Philosophy" in 1809 and is today popularly associated with "the inheritance of acquired characteristics" whereby organisms somehow direct their own evolution. On the basis of Galileo's words, however, it could be argued that had Lamarck been alive in the 1890s, over thirty years after publication of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species", his views would have progressed from the moment in time in which they had been caught.
With access to the discoveries and discussions that occured throughout the 19th Century it is conceivable that Lamarck might even have reached broad agreement with J. Mark Baldwin over the latter's proposal of an indirect factor in evolution, known today as the "Baldwin Effect", and described in the 1896 paper "A New Factor in Evolution" [American Naturalist].
Pure speculation ,of course, but if sufficient to illustrate a general principle (that "words frozen in time should be differentiated from those carved in stone") then the inappropriateness of interpreting new discoveries or proposals in 'Lamarckian terms' is readily apparent.
Indeed, the general principle can be used to question many acquired cultural beliefs.
[An Error In Associating Lamarck With 'Adaptive Mutations'? is taken from the Model of an Internal evolutionary Mechanism website]