December 9, 2009 | 1 Comment

Category: Ontogeny, Sexual Selection, Society, Theory

“Again, masculine characters generally lie dormant in male animals until they arrive at the proper age for procreation.  The curious case formerly given of a Hen which assumed the masculine characters, not of her own breed but of a remote progenitor, illustrates the close connection between latent sexual characters and ordinary reversion.”  (The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, Charles Darwin, 1868, V2, p. 394)

Freud was inspired by his contemporary evolutionary biological theorists to take the emerging paradigm equating the fossil record displaying species transformation with embryology and cultural variation.  Biology, ontogeny and society were thought to be allied.  Western prejudices assumed aboriginals were less “evolved.”  They were looking at evolution as a process displaying “progress.”  Nevertheless, this threefold parallelism was embraced by many a hundred years ago.  Freud added a fourth layer by theorizing that individual human development could follow pathways, influenced by incidents over the course of a lifetime, that would align themselves with paths at the biological, social and ontological scales.  Central to Freud’s thesis was the power of adult reversion to early developmental stages to then have early childhood (and earlier human-society) features manifest in the lives of adults, informing their behavior and experience.

Darwin and Freud were fascinated by reversion.

Contemporary evolutionary and psychodynamic theorists tend not to concentrate on patterns that suggest a withdrawal to former times.  This is partly a result of a liberal prejudice that societies are all the same, revealing no evolutionary dynamic, and that evolution is only about the gene.  The government and insurance companies work together to compel psychotherapists to come up with very quick solutions, using drugs when possible, that can address problems without long-term interventions.  Interventions are often ignored that take time and require a stepping-back into past experiences while feeling securely accompanied so that past experiences can feel embraced and integrated.  The net result of an anthropology that often ignores fundamental difference based upon evolutionary principles, an evolutionary biology that focuses on incremental random processes and psychotherapeutic interventions limited to what insurance companies will tolerate is an ignoring of the relationship between ancient time and present transformation and the connection between seemingly different disciplines that actually share the same dynamic on different scales.

A result of our peculiar refusal to experience ourselves as part of a larger whole, passengers in narratives with informative pasts, is a difficulty observing conditions and diseases with obvious evolutionary implications.  This is complicated by our having embraced only one of Darwin’s theories, his theory of natural selection.  Darwin was working on three theories when Wallace, in 1858, compelled Darwin to prematurely publish.  I say prematurely because Darwin noted a number of anomalies that did not fit the theory of natural selection.  He broke out these various exceptions into two additional theories, sexual selection and pangenesis.  An integration of all three theories did not emerge.  Nevertheless, he described in detail hundreds of exceptions to natural selection, many directly related to reversion.

In just the way that Freud suggested that past or present trauma could compel the contemporary emergence of past features, earlier developmental stages in the adult phase of development, Darwin focused on what exactly could be causing the emergence of past species’ features in contemporary individuals.  In addition, it seemed to Darwin, if we understood the processes that led to the reemergence of ancient traits, we might gain insight into how new traits are developed.

As is often the case with gifted scientists, Darwin was obsessed with anomaly.  What didn’t fit suggested answers.  As his discipline evolved, it instead occurred that evolutionary anomaly was explained as a result of individual adaptation, compelling species trajectories solely justified by natural selection.

Following Darwin’s death, there emerged a whole evolutionary biological discipline devoted to changes in species over time, changes seeming to follow specific trajectories, often by reversion.  These were the heterochronists.  Noted were tendencies for ancestor infant features to appear in adult descendants and the reverse, ancient adult features emerging in embryonic descendants.  Reversion was integral to this new paradigm.  Anomalies that Darwin was fascinated by were studied closely by these Neo-Lamarckian theorists.

Perhaps it’s time we moderns consider that there is much our precursor theorists might know.  Darwin’s focus on anomalies in the context of different discipline parallelisms, integrated with the discoveries of the heterochronists that suggested answers to many of Darwin’s reversion questions, in combination with recent endocrinological discoveries, together suggest solutions to contemporary riddles.

Sometimes you have to take a step back to go forward.  Instead of continuing to ignore anomalies, it’s time we step back to old science paradigms while feeling securely accompanied with recent discoveries so that past insights can feel embraced and integrated.

A new paradigm requires an integration with the past.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 9th, 2009 at 7:23 am and is filed under Ontogeny, Sexual Selection, Society, Theory. 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.
1 Comment so far

  1. Nathan George on June 16, 2012 2:35 pm

    This is was a wonderful and entertaining read. However, before I say a few words: “Share your wisdom” is condescending by its inability to hear a point of view that shares perhaps differently. I do not disagree with most of what you have written. I find it quite intellectually..spoken before but with a obviously pronounced and gifted vocabulary. Heterochronist is a unique one. If used in context with the author’s statement, one can distinguish its definition, even though the word isn’t a word in that context. It cannot be one’s scientific standpoint, so if you use that as an argument, then it is by Lincoln/Douglas fallible. However, it was a different perspective of the correlation of ideological views on why and how.
    Thank you for showing me a few new aspects of the relationship between the difference of “who” we are versus “what” we are. Too many run like scared school children to try and have ourselves “categorized”. And then when we breed…er..become parents, we assume that we have a genetic right to believe talents and IQ are perhaps our gift before we PARENT them. Therein lies the difference and I’ve viewed that way before but you have but it ever so eloquently;)

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