Sidebar: Lamarck and evolution

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Posted by Steve Price on November 23, 1998 at 08:17:04:

In Reply to: Re: Yomud Salatchak posted by James Allen on November 23, 1998 at 05:55:55:

Jim correctly notes that Lamarckian genetics is not generally accepted today, and this is hardly the appropriate place for a debate on Lamrckism. On the other hand, many of our readers may be without a clue to what we are talking about, so I would like to offer a brief outline of the conventional and unconventional wisdoms for their benefit. Jim, please correct me if I misrepresent the unconventional position. My intention here is simply to inform the readers, not to persuade anybody of anything.

Lamarck published his theories on evolution between 1801 and 1815 (Darwin's ORIGIN OF SPECIES was published in 1859). In a nutshell, his position was that body parts became enlarged through use, and that this enlargement would be inherited by the offspring, who would then be born with larger parts. Then, if the offspring used those parts enough to enlarge them further, their offspring would be born with even larger parts, and so forth. His best known example is the giraffe's neck. He proposed that early ancestors of giraffes stretched their necks reaching for leaves on trees. Their offspring, therefore, were born with longer necks, which they stretched even more by reaching for even higher leaves. Eventually, we got to the present day giraffe.

Darwin believed Lamarck to be essentially correct, although he also believed that there was much more to evolution than Lamarckian mechanism. What is generally considered "modern" genetic theory didn't really begin to take hold until the early 20th century, but that's a long story for a different place. What is relevant here is that once we understood (or at least, believed we understood) how inheritance works, Lamarckian genetics was rejected. There is simply no known route through which acquired changes in physical characteristics can be incorporated into the genetic information that gets passed on to the offspring.

Now, in the context of weaving traditions, if my understanding of the unconentional position is correct, it holds that the motifs and designs, perhaps even the motor skills peculiar to certain motifs and designs, are reinforced by being used by weavers and then these reinforced skills are inherited - not only passed on by teaching, but by becoming incorporated into the genetic material - by the offspring. The native Americans and Turkmen tribespeople, having a genetic linkage through the Mongols from whom they separated thousands of years ago, would still carry the textile-related genetic information imparted by their distant relatives who wove.

I hope this helps anyone who was confused by the subject matter, and I vey much hope that I have not misrepresented the alternative view.

Steve Price

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