Georges Cuvier was an early French biologist, a contemporary of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Lamarck, unfortunately, died before Cuvier and ended up vilified in a famous eulogy by his younger, very influential peer. That speech is attributed to having marginalized Lamarck’s influence on evolutionary theory. Cuvier didn’t believe in evolution. That was almost 200 years ago. Only now is Lamarck’s name emerging with respect in the discussions of biologists.

Lamarck hypothesized that the environment can influence evolution in a single generation, compelling the emergence of nonrandom characteristics and environment-influenced features. Darwin shared this view, devoting the last years of his life in search of an explanation for the process that Lamarck proposed. How despised was Lamarck? Darwin rarely mentioned in his writings Lamarck’s name or even the names of Darwin’s contemporaries that shared Lamarck’s positions. Darwin felt he could explore their ideas if he did not cite them.

Darwin and Wallace’s theory of natural selection emerged as a paper in 1858. Darwin’s Origin of Species appeared a year later, and “survival of the fittest” was embraced with astonishing speed. It was a theory that complemented and enhanced the principles behind the industrial revolution. The natural world looked to mirror the world of men. Darwin was a hero.

Lamarck is the boogie man of biology circles. “This is what can happen to you if you don’t swim with contemporary theory, don’t make the right friends or if you think of things too soon,” suggests this story of the brilliant theorist ignored. Darwin was tormented by the possibility that his theory of natural selection would bring down scorn. He waited almost twenty years to publish. Then, Darwin was haunted by the possibility that his pluralistic inclinations embracing additional theories of evolution would not be understood. While distancing himself from contemporary Lamarckians, Darwin shared many of their beliefs. Even Darwin’s genius accompanied by the adulation of many of his peers was not enough to protect him from a sizeable portion of this work being rejected and ignored.

Cuvier did not believe in evolution, but he shared the insights that he experienced behind his pioneering observations that there are relationships or patterns connecting the physical structures of species. He had the thoughts of a creationist but the heart of a biologist. He saw connections everywhere he looked. It was Lamarck that insinuated the element of time, a violation that Cuvier could not tolerate.

As a blogger, not a biologist–a web developer/activist, not an academician–I can wander freely about, displaying leaps of logic without fear of retribution or marginalization by my peers. I can experience an idea and share it on these pages in just the way an artist can be struck by a metaphor and put it to paper as an illustration or a cartoon. I was a comic panel and strip artist for several years.

So, let’s draw ideas!

As noted in the last entry, because a mother’s testosterone level rises with her age and because she has children across the whole arc of her reproductive years, then we might observe a display of personality and physiological features in her children that would roughly reproduce human evolution over a span of eons.

If matrifocal and patrifocal social structure reflect physically the hormonal manifestations characteristic of a matrifocal high-testosterone female, low-testosterone male in the first case; and a patrifocal low-testosterone female and high-testosterone male in the second case, then perhaps we can observe in the skeletal remains of our evolutionary precursors evidence of evolving social structure.

Are there, for example, dental correlations between the just mentioned physiologically contrasting social structures and/or familial family arcs? Neoteny has dental correlations, with smaller teeth being characteristic of the neotenous smaller jaw. Watching teeth grow smaller over millions of years, might researchers find that they have grown larger in males the last few tens of thousands of years as patrifocial social structure has taken hold? Are the teeth of males from older mothers smaller than the teeth of males of first-born, young mothers? Is it reversed for females?

In a large family, do the male’s teeth erupt later and later, females earlier and earlier?

Are there height correlations, particularly in the relative length of the legs and arms to the body, suggesting evidence of neoteny in our contemporaries or the fossil record? Leg length has emerged as a possible marker for neoteny when noting bonobo/chimpanzee comparisons. The maturational delayed often reach puberty later, providing a longer time for the legs to lengthen. Note that primary hypogonadism (abnormally low testosterone production) results in disproportionately long legs and arms. Does just low testosterone also prolong the limbs?

Do conditions that display maturational delay, such as autism, Asperger’s and stuttering, display longer limbs or smaller teeth? Perhaps there is a correlation noting the reverse. Maybe as we go back in time, we will find that teeth grow larger, with perhaps that less intuitive correlation emerging as a signature of increased maturational delay. What specifically are the correlations?

Cuvier was famous for maintaining an extraordinary work environment characterized by a host of working surfaces, each focusing on a different aspect of animal physiology. In my mind, these surfaces move about on wheels, often bumping into one another, mixing ideas and sharing patterns, compelling the emergence of understandings not obvious before.

Astonishingly right while remarkably wrong, Cuvier is an inspiration.


This entry was posted on Saturday, August 9th, 2008 at 6:56 am and is filed under Autism Features, Biology, Neoteny, Ontogeny, Sexual Selection, Social Structure. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
2 Comments so far

  1. Dean Carter on November 23, 2008 2:00 pm

    On a survival-training outing in the Mojave in 1974, I observed that vultures appeared INSTANTLY in the sky, ten or more miles distant, when we killed captive rabbits (to learn how to skin, clean and cook them). On our return to Los Angeles, the thought occurred to me: If this phenomenon were evidence of the ability in some animals to receive non-sensory data of an extreme/leathal event — to be able to “hear dying”, as it were — might this faculty play a role in the evolutionary response to the handful of mass die-offs in our world’s biological history? I wondered whether a set of recombinative potentials, imbedded in plasms as a “reserve” separate from the more common DNA helices, might be activated by the reception of “death signals” in sufficient number/volume/simulanaity, and when thus activated, override and supercede both the cumulative and punctuated-eqilibrial modes by which evolution normally procedes?

    I know…a goofy concept. But as nothing which might PROHIBIT such a possibility was ever encountered, the idea was never discarded. Whatcha think?

  2. Andrew on November 25, 2008 8:03 am

    If trans-sensory information became available to a species, it would become so dominant in its niche that it would either destroy the species it predates on and/or fan out to nearby niches. The net result would be destruction of a number of ecosystems with a species emerging with no boundaries to the information it could gather.

    Prey species would have to generate trans-sensory responses to survive.

    The net result would be surviving species would all have to be able to function on a non-sensory basis.

    Sounds like a great science fiction plot, but a doomsday scenario in real life.

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