Mind Music

September 2, 2008 | 3 Comments

Category: Biology, Myth/Story, Neoteny, Ontogeny, Society

I’m playing with the idea that through birth comes creativity and through death comes wisdom, and that this idea is an evolutionary biological principle, not just a folklore insight. Following this thematic exposition with two strong, opposing, yet complementing ideas through several sections of the orchestra offers opportunities for understanding how evolution works.

In previous entries, I’ve discussed what I call the principle of waves or heterochronic theory and its best known feature, neoteny. It is a foundation thesis of this work that there are patterns that operate across several scales of experience–academic disciplines–and that an examination of these cross-scale connections provides insight into biology, society, ontogeny and personal experience.

In the 19th century, evolutionary biologists cobbled together names for the processes they observed in several species as they became aware of the influence of changing rates and timing of maturation. Many biologists believed that the environment and/or experiences of individuals could effect the features of their progeny by accelerating or delaying maturation. They observed that the variation of features in a brood were not random. Darwin posited that all variation is random in his Origin of Species of 1859, a conclusion he retracted in 1866 in his work The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication. Nonetheless, with the Mendel/Weisman synthesis of the early 20th century, random variation grew to become the default core belief of biologists and scientists across the West.

There are repercussions when the same patterns cross disciplines and the practitioners and journal pages show no awareness. Heterochronic theory is vaguely addressed in medical circles as “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” when Haeckel is briefly touched upon in school. Because natural selection is still the default frame of reference that drives our culture from medical school to corporate board rooms and popular culture, medical practitioners have little reason to examine underlying presuppositions. Medical practitioners don’t reflexively withdraw from established beliefs to scrutinize the embedded assumptions of evolutionary theory when confronted with a medical mystery.

When the neuropsychologist Norman Geschwin in the early 1980s discovered that environmental influences on a mother informed the features of a child, influences that were not damaging the genes, he was not aware that a highly refined theory structure already existed that explained the anomalies he was observing. A single colleague, T. J. Crow, suggested that evolutionary biological theory may have some relevance when searching for a solution. Heterochrony, a theory with 19th century origins, was not discussed, except in folk tales, stories, myths, and to some degree, in popular culture.

Ernst Haeckel placed a premium on the emergence of features in the adult of a species withdrawing or condensing to manifest earlier and earlier in the ontogeny of descendants over time. Louis Bolk proposed neoteny as a primary force in evolution when he suggested that infant features over time could appear in the adults of descendants. Whereas lessons learned move backwards, the ability to learn moves forward. Two kinds of “new” are being examined here. The old “new” is about the new insight that comes from experience. The new “new” is focused on creativity and the emergence of what has not been seen before.

This biological principle is also a foundation theme that carries through our societal stories illuminating the nature of experience. Through one door comes birth; through the other door death. With birth come innocence, creativity and possibility. Accompanying death are wisdom and a certainty that there is no certainty. Myth and folklore are so infused with this perspective that even stating it seems somehow redundant. As intuitive as natural selection has felt to us as a theory because it reflects the brutal realities of living in a patrifocal society, heterochrony also has roots in our societal consciousness as we live and breathe the belief that death and birth are doorways that offer the information we need to evolve and grow.

Societal myths and legends are the cultural equivalent of dreams. I’m suggesting that evidence of useful evolutionary theory lies not only in the successful predictions of its hypothesis, but also in the unconscious productions of society’s story makers. Nature’s answers are all around us and within us. Practicing the scales of experience–biology/society/ontogeny/autobiography–we become musicians of a larger mind.


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This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008 at 6:40 am and is filed under Biology, Myth/Story, Neoteny, Ontogeny, Society. 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.
3 Comments so far

  1. Coralie on January 6, 2012 4:46 pm

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