First, some excerpts….

“But why does recapitulation occur?  Since he rejected the single developmental tendency of Naturphilosophie, Agassiz could not propose the easy explanation of his teacher Oken.  As Darwin’s most implacable opponent, he could seek no aid from transmutationists’ doctrines.  To Agassiz, the threefold parallelism reflected the unity of God’s plan for His creation.  It was also a fact of observation.  What more need a Cuvierian empiricist say? “The leading thought which runs through the succession of all organized being in past ages is manifested again in new combinations, in the phases of the development of the living representatives of those different types.  It exhibits everywhere the working of the same creative Mind, through all times, and upon the whole surface of the globe” (1857, p. 115) Agassiz invoked his God specifically to forestall any evolutionary reading of recapitulation: ….  Yet, Agassiz’s view contained an argument that no evolutionist could resist interpreting.  If the fossil record is only a temporal display of the same divine plan that animals reflect in their own ontogeny, then the geologic component of Agassiz’s threefold parallelism merely extends the scope of recapitulation and the generality of benevolent design.  But if fossils record an actual history of physical descent, then the argument must be inverted.  The geologic record is no mere addition to a twofold parallelism between embryonic stages and the structural gradation of living forms; it is the fundamental sequence that engenders the other two.  The structural gradation of living forms is merely its artifact, because primitive animals have survived in each type.  Embryonic stages are only its reflection, because an embryo must repeat the shapes of its ancestors before adding its own distinguishing features.  Agassiz’s parallelism, a divine union of three independent sequences, becomes the mechanical result of a single causal chain leading from the geologic record to the stages of embryology: ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” (Gould, S.J. (1977) Ontogeny and Phylogeny.  Cambridge: Belknap Press, pp. 67-8)

“The cultural evolutionists also recognized the similarity between their concept of development and the growth of the individual toward maturity.  Taylor himself saw savages as having a mentality equivalent to that of children of civilized races ((1865) 1870, 108).  Frazer made the link with the recapitulation theory even more explicit: ‘For by comparison with civilized man the savage represents an arrested or rather retarded stage of social development, and an examination of his customs and beliefs accordingly supplies the same sort of evidence of the evolution of the human mind that an examination of the embryo supplies of the evolution of the human body. (1913, 162)’ ”  (Bowler, Peter J (1988) The Non-Darwinian Revolution.  John Hopkins Univ. Press: Baltimore, p. 136)

“The foregoing chapters have surveyed the three major areas of language development: development in the individual, development of new languages, and original development of language.  Parsimony alone would suggest that these developmental processes might have much in common with one another, and the common pattern that emerges has an independent support that no other linguistic theory that I know of could claim: it is in accord with all we have so far learned about evolutionary processes and it is in accord with all we have so far learned about how processes in the brain determine the behavior of animate creatures.”  (Bickerton, D (1981) Roots of Language.  Karoma Publishers: Ann Arbor, p.194)

The excerpts noted above provide some idea of the zeitgeist around 100 year ago characterized by a desire to observe common ground between different disciplines.  Gould in his Ontogeny and Phylogeny goes into passionate detail, exploring academic overlaps as disciplines formed.  There were equivalencies noted between evolution, embryology and individual ontogeny, societal stages and individual pathology.  When Bickerton regards language development as “development in the individual, development of new languages, and original development of language” he is providing another view of multileveled parallelism.

Gould displayed a deep sensitivity and intuition for the ability of heterochronic theory to explain ongoing processes in several disciplines at several levels.  Heterochronic theory tracks the effects of changes in rates and timing of maturation and development on ontogeny.  I’ve noted the fourfold parallelism outlined by Gould and mated that with discoveries in neuropsychology over the last two decades while observing the relevance of social structure to heterochronic direction over time.  In other words, the fourfold parallelism of 100 years ago is even more relevant today with our enhanced understanding of the dynamics behind….

Evolution of Species
Transformation of Society
Individual Ontogeny
Psychological Trauma

…with social structure evidencing itself as a bridge concept connecting biological and social evolution.

Regarding bridge concepts, once you wade into patterns or processes that leap from discipline to discipline, you begin to see patterns or processes in one area as identical to the others, only with a different name.  Social structure is integral to all four levels.  Heterochrony is integral to all four levels. Neuropsychological endocrine system insights, particularly those revolving around the sexual hormones, are integral to all four levels.

What is different now is that an understanding is emerging of the influence of the environment upon all four levels of the fourfold concept.  This is not exactly conventional wisdom at this time, though our story is changing from “survival of the fittest” to “we’re in this all together.”  As the twin crises of the environment and the economy make clear that integration and interconnection, not just competition, are integral to understanding evolution, the fourfold parallelism will feel intuitively right.  In an epoch of reductionism, it’s difficult to respect that which can be better understood by stacking up concepts instead of breaking them down.

Parallelisms run rife through culture.  Still, science has difficulty growing in directions that society and politics don’t suggest.  For example, without the recent (over the last 200 years) idea of progress it would be difficult to hypothesize patterns of transformation over time.  The reverse is true.  In the West, we are so narrative/sequence time-based it is difficult to evaluate processes that occur at several levels in a single moment.  Hence our blanking out as a society to the understanding that biology, society, ontogeny and personal experience are all integrally tied in the moment we occupy, a moment profoundly affected by the environment.

Parsing out the moment is not as difficult as a deep commitment to reductionism and narrative understandings would imply.  Still, parsing out the moment is difficult.  I’ve written over 300 essays on this blog seeking different ways to provide a handle on a moment.  Threefold and fourfold parallelisms are one way to break out a point in time.  Within just one of the parallelisms, society, many isomorphic, interacting forces can be observed in play.

It helps to presuppose interconnection.  It’s not enough to assume understanding can be enhanced by exploring something specific in detail.  It’s also important to understand how that thing came to be.


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