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Darwinism and Evolutionary Economics

Edited by John Laurent and John Nightingale

Darwinism and Evolutionary Economics brings together contributions from eminent authors who, building on Darwin’s own insights and on developments in evolutionary theory, offer challenging views on how economics can use evolutionary ideas effectively.
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Chapter 8: The Appearance of Lamarckism in the Evolution of Culture

John S. Wilkins


John S. Wilkins1 For one thing our newer style of evolution is Lamarckian in nature. The environment cannot imprint genetical information upon us, but it can and does imprint non genetical information which we can and do pass on. Acquired characters are indeed inherited. … It is because this newer evolution is so obviously Lamarckian in nature. … But the higher parts of the brain respond to instructive stimuli: we learn. (Medawar, 1960) Acquired characteristics are inherited in technology and culture. Lamarckian evolution is rapid and accumulative. It explains the cardinal difference between our past, purely biological mode of change, and our current, maddening acceleration toward something new and liberating – or toward the abyss. (Gould, 1980b, p. 84) Cultural (or memetic) change manifestly operates on the radically different substrate of Lamarckian inheritance, or the passage of acquired characters to subsequent generations. Whatever we invent in our lifetimes, we can pass on to our children by our writing and teaching. Evolutionists have long understood that Darwinism cannot operate effectively in systems of Lamarckian inheritance – for Lamarckian change has such a clear direction, and permits evolution to proceed so rapidly, that the much slower process of natural selection shrinks to insignificance before the Lamarckian juggernaut. … [H]uman cultural change operates fundamentally in the Lamarckian mode, while genetic evolution remains firmly Darwinian. Lamarckian processes are so labile, so directional, and so rapid that they overwhelm Darwinian rates of change. Since Lamarckian and Darwinian systems work so differently, cultural change will receive only limited (and metaphorical)...

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