- Series: Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology
- Paperback: 472 pages
- Publisher: A Bradford Book; 1 edition (September 8, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0262600692
- ISBN-13: 978-0262600699
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 42 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,097,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life (Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology) 1st Edition
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"An individual's personal experience can influence the characteristics of his or her offspring. Some of the ways in which this happens would have seemed heretical in the past. Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb's stimulating new book successfully challenges some of the old orthodoxies. I recommend it warmly to anybody with a serious interest in developmental and evolutionary biology."--Sir Patrick Bateson, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, author of *Design for a Life: How Behavior and Personality Develop*
"Another valuable perspective to the discussion... I found it refreshing to read a science book that is a conscious attempt at good literature." Nature
"As this important book by Eva Jablonka and Marion J. Lamb shows, the twentieth-century 'neo-Darwins' told the evolutionary story in their own particular way, and some of the richnes of evolution that their forebear had described fell into neglect." The New Republic
"There have been rumblings for some time to the effect that the neo-Darwinian synthesis of the early twentieth century is incomplete and due for a major revision.... Evolution in Four Dimensions is the most recent addition to this genre, and contributes yet another valuable perspective to the discussion." Massimo Pigliucci Nature
About the Author
Eva Jablonka is Professor at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University. Jablonka and Lamb are also the authors of Epigenetic Inheritance and Evolution.
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This book is quite a treat. Jablonka and Lamb significantly advance evolutionary biology by assembling a wealth of biological knowledge.
Their basic thesis is that evolution in some way acts on all forms of hereditary information carried by organisms. This is, of course, true for the information encoded on an organism's DNA, but also for information encoded in epigenetic systems, in animal behavior and in symbolic systems. The later is unique to our species.
Jablonka and Lamb argue that a type of behavior which is learned by an offspring from a parent will propagate itself from generation trough generation. Successful types of behavior will over time be enriched in the population. This type of evolution will of course be ruled by different laws than genetic evolution - changes in behaviors will not be random and un-directed as DNA mutations (and even that is not certain). Thus, the "evolution of educated guesses" is taking place.
Similar principles hold for epigenetic and symbolic evolution. Information is passed on, and will be enriched in the population if it increases the bearer's fitness. In addition, these levels of evolution interact. The Baldwin effect, genetic evolution directed by behavior, is one example of such an interaction.
These points are made with a wealth of well-researched examples, some of them based on solidly established science, some of it on new strands of research. None of Jablonka and Lamb's ideas need you to believe anything outrageous to be true. At times they speculate about the role the mechanisms they propose could have, but the speculation seems completely reasonable to me and in many cases could serve as the starting point for interesting research projects - a real strong point of this book.
What is thus presented in this book is a modernized version of evolutionary theory, taking a number of complexities into account which have previously not been assigned the importance they propably should be given. From the connection between processes at the genetic, epigenetic, behavioral and systemic levels emerges a biology where evolution is not confined to selecting for benefitial variations in DNA sequences. Rather, such genetic evolution is only at the base of a more complex evolutionary process. Dobzhansky' famous quote that "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" morphs into "All (hereditary information) in biology makes sense for evolution".
While I am excited about Jablonka and Lamb's ideas, I found their presentation at times a bit tedious. The book could be 100 pages thinner. Especially the earlier chapters have a lot of introductory material which anyone who is picking up such a book will be familiar with. A number of times they start describing an intellectual debate about a certain topic, only to abort the description at a point when it would have been interesting, since "that would lead us too far astray". The chapters are followed by a dialog between two people defending and questioning, respectively, their ideas, which is often a bit redundant.
Then, Jablonka and Lamb admittedly cover a very wide range of topics and can't be expected to be experts on all topics. But there were still some cases where they could have payed more attention. As the example for a mutagen they list LSD, which it is not, in doses consumed by humans. To confuse a piece of drug war propaganda with a scientific fact made me cringe a bit. I enjoyed the creative naivist illustrations by Anna Zeligowski which often illustrate the concepts very well.
In summary: if you are a biologist who cares about a global perspective of his field, read this book. If you are one of these wonderful "educated laymen" scientists hope are abound in the public, read it as well.
Not only is this book a far cry from the simplistic genetic determinism that characterizes many popular discussions of evolution, but it is also a departure from 20th-century Darwinian orthodoxy. While genetic changes are usually blind to outcomes, the variations that are transmitted epigenetically, behaviorally or symbolically are often more targeted, arising in responses to signals from the environment. The environment plays the dual role of inducing as well as selecting variations, and the variations are more like educated guesses about what will work than random shots in the dark. The fact that these acquired innovations can be inherited (one way or another, though not by direct modifications of genes) means that evolution is partly Lamarckian after all, at least in a broad sense of the term.
Orthodox Darwinism has always been a philosophically puzzling doctrine. For a theory of change, it has placed a surprising amount of emphasis on the continuity of being, with change appearing as an accident that only occasionally happens to contribute to that continuity. For a theory of information, it has been surprisingly preoccupied with blind, completely uninformed variation. Jablonka and Lamb's understanding of evolution is both more dynamic and informationally richer. Inherited information is no longer confined to the genome, but can include information acquired and used in the course of development. Organisms participate in evolution not just as vehicles for the transmission of fixed information units (genes or their imagined cultural counterparts, memes, a notion J & L critique vigorously), but as active acquirers and interpreters of information. This is consistent with Stuart Kauffman's contention that life is even more complex and creative than biologists have realized.
The book is extremely well written and documented, so that the arguments are easy to follow by readers with a limited background in biology. Highly recommended for biologists and non-biologists alike.