December 22, 2009 | Leave a Comment
“Before Agassiz, recapitulation had been defined as a correspondence between two series: embryonic stages and adults of living species. Agassiz introduced a third series: the geologic record of fossils. An embryo repeats both a graded series of living, lower forms and the history of its type as recorded by fossils. There is a “threefold parallelism” of embryonic growth, structural gradation, and geologic succession. ‘It may therefore be considered as a general fact, very likely to be more fully illustrated as investigations cover a wider ground, that the phases of development of all living animals correspond to the order to succession of their extinct representatives in past geological times. As far as this goes, the oldest representatives of every class may then be considered as embryonic types of their respective orders of familiar among the living.’” (1857, 1962 ed., p. 114) (Stephen J. Gould, Ontogeny and Phylogeny (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1977), pp. 65-66.)
Stephen J. Gould’s Ontogeny and Phylogeny lies at the heart of many of the interconnecting concepts of this thesis. Ontogeny and Phylogeny made sense of many of the disciplines I’d been studying for many years, showing how evolutionary theory informs many levels of experience. Central to Gould’s thesis was the work of the Neo-Lamarckian heterochronists that explored how evolution manifested at several scales represented by several emerging science disciplines and those theorists’ influence on discipline founders such as Freud and Piaget. Recapitulation was integral to an understanding of how many academics viewed the world.
Recapitulation, or more specifically, Haeckel’s thesis that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, has been set aside as a theory that if not totally disproven, is a theory that is not useful when exploring how species evolve. Haeckel behaved as though obsessed with what he called acceleration, or ancestor adult features emerging in descendant young. Theorists a hundred years ago often focused on a particular heterochronic dynamic as the prime mover and shaker of species transformation. Many of these theorists carried a presupposition that evolution occurs at several contiguous levels or scales, informed by one of these particular heterochronic processes, often recapitulation. This blog’s orchestral theory of evolution instead posits a balance of process, featuring both neoteny and acceleration, a process that manifests at the biological, social, ontogenetic and personal scales of experience, informed by testosterone and estrogen, driven by social structure and the environment.
The proponents of Wallace’s version of the theory of natural selection, a theory of natural selection that rejected sexual selection and Lamarckian selection, also rejected Haeckel’s Lamarckian-grounded work that focused on a close relationship between ontogeny and species evolution. It is Wallace’s world view we embrace today. Darwin was a pluralist. Wallace was a reductionist (with the exception that he believed that deity intervened to create the brain). The current Neo-Darwinian era has focused on how answers provided by other theories could be instead explained by the theory of natural selection. If natural selection could explain it, the others answers were ignored.
Rather than continuing to ignore theories that seem redundant to a more elegant solution, I am returning to a world view characterized by an attraction to observing what may at first seem like unrelated processes in different scales and disciplines. Over the last 150 years, we have divided the scales of experience into different academic disciplines and subdisciplines, dramatically increasing the difficulty of intuiting similarities, particularly when different languages and nomenclatures have emerged. Part of the process of forming the theory that this work represents has been to dive into several different disciplines to draw out isomorphisms or similar patterns that reveal hidden, common structure and process.
There are benefits. Again, presupposition can be a powerful tool when swimming in unfamiliar waters. An ontological discovery can illuminate a species’ evolutionary process, and vice versa. A species’ evolutionary dynamic can offer a social transformation insight. A personal revelation in one’s own life may reveal an ontological connection. This work explores the usefulness of viewing species evolution, social transformation, growth maturation and development, and personal experience as deeply informing one another’s experience.
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 that 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.
Biology, society, ontogeny and personal experience are not just closely tied; they are the same thing viewed with adjustments in time and scale. Reductionists have become obsessed with how things are divided. By offering our attention to how seemingly different scales of experience reflect one another’s process and influence one another’s behaviors, we can begin to understand relationships intuited by theorists a century ago.