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August 28, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Biology, Neoteny, Ontogeny

“Alberch et al. (1979) showed that between ancestor and descendant, development can either be reduced (resulting in paedomorphosis) or increased (resulting in what they termed peramorphosis). Each could be produced by three processes, involving: developmental rate change, change in onset time of development, or change in its offset time. In the case of paedomorphosis, reduced rate is neoteny; delayed onset time is postdisplacement; and earlier offset is progenesis. For the opposing case of peramorphosis, increased rate of acceleration; earlier onset predisplacement; and delayed offset hypermorphoses. These six processes could therefore describe all heterochronic processes. (McKinney, M.L. & McNamara, K.J (1990) Heterochrony: The Evolution of Ontogeny: Plenum Press, New York p. 11)”

It astonishes me that while the behavioral and social sciences have looked to physics as a model for how to engender robust accessibility as a science, a central theme that carries though the sciences has its origins in biology, along with a metric for measuring its effects. I refer to heterochrony with an emphasis on neoteny. I would suggest for a metric the social science or physical science equivalents of the following biological variables:

“Neotenous Physical Traits in Humans. Cranial flexure, head situated over top of spine, forward position of foramen magnum, forward position of occipital condyles, lack of heavy brow ridges, orbits under cranial cavity, flatness of face (orthognathy), contact between sphenoid and ethmoid bones in anterior cranial cavity, retarded closure of cranial sutures, large size of brain, round-headedness (fetal head index 72-82), small jaws, small face, large braincase, small teeth, late eruption of teeth, prominent nose, absence of cranial crests, thinness of skull bones, gracile skeleton, thin nails, nonrotation of big toe, relative hairlessness of body, lack of pigment in some groups, curvature of pelvic axis, lack of pronounced physical differences, anterior position of vagina, downward direction of vagina, persistence of labia majora, persistence of hymen, persistence of penile prepuce.” (Montagu, Ashley (1989) Growing Young N.Y.: McGraw Hill p. 23)

This work has suggested that heterochronic processes, what I would call the principle of waves, manifest across several scales, including biology, society, ontogeny and personal biography. I’d go a step further. It’s time physics be humbled a bit by being influenced by theory with a biological origin. Of course, physics has been deeply influenced by the assumption that there is such a thing as evolution, even though it has monkeyed with time, observing that time’s flow can be forward or backward. Consider the principle of waves applied to a discipline where a thing can be both a particle and a wave. This looks like major fun to me.

The principle of waves is based upon observing the effects of varying the rates and timing of maturation on progeny by noting the influence of the environment on the parents. Unlike natural selection where the traits of progeny are randomly generated, with the principle of waves the environment has an enormous amount to do with the features that are selected. Once selected, natural selection can then engage in its effects.

What would be the cosmological concomitant? How are universes born? How do they achieve their features? How do universes mature? What influences their maturing? Can a universe speed up or slow down? How do universes reproduce?

If we were to suddenly inhabit our bodies with no memories of parents, friends or family, what features of our existence could we rely upon to hypothesize the fact that we are social beings with long ancestral lineages, with an evolution driven by changing rates and timing of maturation?

Plopped down a mere 12 billion years into our universe’s unfolding, what clues do we have to what preceded us and what will likely follow?

I would start with what evidently influences the speed of our universe’s maturing. Has that speed changed? I would then ask what possible information or effects might enter our universe from outside our universe. Where are the universe’s boundaries, so to speak, that might allow influences from other dimensions? Light, for example, influences human evolution. What would be a universe equivalent of light?

Assuming that the universe has a parent or parents, and that new universes will be born, where do we look to discover what influences the universe we are in that the progeny universes would reveal as the results of that influence?

Because time is evidently malleable, I suspect that when searching for clues about how a universe matures, we should be observing changes in the behavior of time. Because speed and time are closely related, perhaps speed of expansion or fluctuations in that speed offer insight into universe maturation rates or timing.

Perhaps someone who knows something about cosmology and physics can consider some of these questions. As an artist that specializes in exploring the connections between ideas, I’ve discovered a limit in my personal universe of experiences.


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