I just noted a paper, Multiple ancient origins of neoteny in Lycidae (Coleoptera): consequences for ecology and macroevolution, that observes instances of neoteny compelling jumps in evolution.  One of the riddles of the career of Stephen J. Gould was how he seemed to rarely discuss how his deep insights focusing on neoteny explained his theory of punctuated equilibrium.  Gould did not believe in gradual evolution.  Yet, he seemed to only occasionally discuss the specifics of his saltationist conjectures, particularly when it came to heterochronic theory, or the study of the rate and timing of maturation and development, the source of neoteny.

The work just noted, Multiple ancient origins…, doesn’t just not note the influence of neoteny on humans, but it goes back many millions of years to discuss its subject.  My work has focused almost exclusively on neoteny in humans and makes the following statement….

If heterochrony is the study of the rates and timing of maturation with testosterone levels impacting rate and estrogen levels controlling timing, then those environmental or social structure adjustments that influence levels of testosterone and estrogen determine the speed, timing, features and direction of evolution.

Contemporary research on neoteny and heterochronic theory, for some reason, seems hesitant to explore the endocrinological foundations for the changes in the rate and timing of maturation and development.  I am a comic artist trained to view the world through a succession of stills accompanied by words.  Perhaps this is how I’ve come to be so intimately involved with a theory best understood by a succession of images, not through mathematics or words.  Right now, Beck Kramer, one of my colleagues here at Andrew Lehman Design, is putting together a sophisticated Flash presentation of how neoteny looks and behaves when used to describe human evolution.  I’ve defined neoteny maybe 30 times in the nearly 600 pieces I’ve written for this blog.  Still, I get the feeling that the use of words to describe the process does little to provide an intuition for what exactly is happening.  Friends that have known me for decades, friends that have listened to several of my forays into evolutionary theory over the last ten years, often ask me to redefine “neoteny” before approaching the subject once again.

Consider that natural processes not easily described in mathematics or words, but by a succession of pictures or by animation, may become accessible with the emergence of new communications technologies that encourage video presentations.  There may be many theory features, such as neoteny, that are best described by a succession of pictures or an animation.  Journals fall flat as vehicles for sharing insights in these areas.

This may be another example of the media being integral to comprehension.  Whereas mathematics became integral to our understanding physics, animation may be what is necessary to assimilate and embrace new principles in biology.  I can imagine that for a future generation, being familiar with animation software will be necessary to model biological processes just as an ability now to work similar software is essential to being able to grasp molecular biology.

Might there be a connection among those experiencing the world through a succession of images tied to sounds, rather than through a focus on feelings or words, and the talents and tendencies of our youth and what those with Asperger’s and autism often describe, the visual, as their primary mode of experience?  Is it possible that a predilection to comprehend the world through pictures and sound is an emerging, or reemerging, paradigm, a way of experiencing the world that offers some paradigmatic leverage when it comes to understanding biological processes exhibiting predictable and structured changes in form over time?

Stephen J. Gould seems to me to have backed off of seminal insights as regards biological transformation.  This may have been because colleagues just didn’t seem to get it.  They were unable to see patterns in transformations over time.  Academics couldn’t grasp the larger picture in a reductionist milieu, times that feature mathematics or words when communicating scientific principles.  The times are changing.  Perhaps with changes in the ways we perceive the world, the world can be understood in different ways.


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