As regular readers know, I can mention any idea whatsoever and a dozen of you will leave comments telling me who already thought of it, or who wrote the fascinating scifi book with that plot. This post is a test of that phenomenon.

Today's hypothesis is that the evolution of sentient creatures is influenced by their aspirations. In the simplest example, if a creature wishes its entire life that it could reach tasty fruit that is higher in the trees, it slightly increases the likelihood that its offspring will be taller, or have longer necks, or be able to leap higher, or climb better. In other words, the longings of the parents affect how their genes get passed on.

I'm not saying the hypothesis is true or false, just verifiable. And it doesn't conflict with the fact that some traits improve survivability of the species.

Who already thought of that hypothesis, and who wrote the book? (Don't say Lamarck.)
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Feb 12, 2009
Rhonda Byrne's "THE SECRET" seems like it's similar enough to this description.
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Feb 12, 2009
The last three blog titles started with a "S". Craaaaaaaaaaaaazy!
Feb 12, 2009
Hmm, so if Mr Adams was too lazy to Google something, he could just create a post out of his question and let us search for it. How very mechanical Turk.

What do I have to do to get a blog like this? :-)

The Unexpected Traveller

Feb 12, 2009
Rupert Sheldrake in his various works?
Feb 12, 2009
"This theory was first proposed by Darwin - Erasmus Darwin that is, not Charles, his grandson."

Interestingly, the concept that all ideas have already been postulated was discussed in Neal Stephenson's novel Anathem. The main character in that book was named Erasmus.
Feb 12, 2009
The Titanides, from John Varley's Gaea trilogy, had Lamarkian heredity.
Feb 12, 2009
This theory wasn't originally described in terms of "longings" - Erasmus (I love that name) described
it as the ability to gain new function in response to stimulus - so the giraffe is constantly trying to reach
higher and higher leaves somehow gains a longer neck, which it then leaves to it's descendants. Charles
Darwin allowed that this possibility might be a secondary factor in evolution.
Feb 12, 2009
How exactly is this hypothesis verifiable? How do you verify the longings of, say, a giraffe? If you claim that an animal must have longed for the fruit simply because it eventually evolved to be able to reach it, that's begging the question.
Feb 12, 2009
Of course it's been thought of .. your (late) namesake Douglas N Adams:


The Haggunenons, according to Adams, would evolve something with longer limbs if the sugar was out of reach.
Feb 12, 2009
Zoonomia - can't seem to get an umlaut to work, even when I cut and paste it.

Feb 12, 2009
I can't believe no one got this yet! (Unless the correct answer is still in the queue).

This theory was first proposed by Darwin - Erasmus Darwin that is, not Charles, his grandson.
The book was Zoönomia. The victory of trivia is mine!
Feb 12, 2009
Orson Scott Card, A PLANET CALLED TREASON (1979, revised and released as TREASON, 1988)

It's about a planet of elites exiled from Earth, each gifted in particular fields (genetics, politics, geology, physics,etc.). They exist in tribal isolation from each other and over centuries (with the help of inbreeding?), they evolve superhuman capabilities pertaining to their specialized field- the geneticists can spontaneously regenerate limbs, the physicists can manipulate time, the politicians can manipulate people's minds into seeing them as different people, etc.

This sounds like what you're looking for. Great book, too.
Feb 12, 2009
I don't know about the general animal kingdom (to what degree does a cow aspire to anything), but for humanity I'm sure this would be covered in some form of various eugenics movements.

Someone aspires to live a longer lifespan so they seek out genetic lines that suggest longer lifespans and try to limit reproduction thus eugenically creating longer lifespans (or so the theory would be). Someone wants smarter (on average) people so prevent reputedly stupid people from reproducing.

Whether it works or not (generally not) is irrelevant. But the theory is there that what the individual (or group) aspires to shapes the results, incrementally of offspring.

But for some characteristics it is also achieved through non-genetic transmission. If you have a person who strongly wishes they were better educated I am guessing that they're more likely to end up having better educated children than a parent indifferent to education.
Feb 12, 2009
@Mr. Wampus

I think you misunderstood me: Then again, I don't think I was very clear- Here is the connection: I think our desires can sometimes create realities. My desire to move my dresser and having to move it by myself actually made me feel stronger (whether or not I was). When I had help, my reality was that the dresser was a job for two people.

Same goes for intelligence. When motivated by desire, I can actually become smarter than I usually am. I can say with a great degree of certainty that this is true.

I think the same can apply to our offspring- if we long for something, say, being taller, perhaps we can affect our offspring to be taller. We might be able to create that reality for them.
Feb 12, 2009
My understanding is that Darwin's hypotheses for how variation arose were similar to those of Lamarck (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pangene ), which would lead me to believe that Darwin is indeed the subject of your question.

Of course, Darwin did not know of Mendelian Genetics (since Mendel's paper was published only a short time before Darwin published On the Origin of Species, and it was largely ignored until 1900), so he can be forgiven for being wrong. But make no mistake, when it comes to how heritable variation arises Darwin was wrong. Genetic variation arises at random, at least with respect to the needs and aspirations of the parent. And epigenetics, while important, interesting, and powerful, can still only act to regulate the expression of existing genes.

Darwin's great insight, the one for which he is remembered and celebrated, was that, given existing variation in a population, the variations which make individuals better suited to the environment will become more common simply because they will allow the individuals who have these variations to reproduce successfully more often. In other words, Natural Selection occurs.

Sub-populations of a species that live in different environments will acquire different variations due to encountering different conditions. Eventually, the differences will become great enough that the populations become distinct species. Thus the diversity of life increases like twigs splitting on a bush. Darwin even dared to postulate that all life, animals and plants and fungi and bacteria alike, were related in this way. 150 years of observation bears this out.

Happy Darwin Day!
Feb 12, 2009
Forgive me. I've been busy lately. Forgot where I got that.
Feb 12, 2009
Darwin didn't get it quite right I think either. What you are talking about may actually be going on. Look at this newsweek article
Hopfully I can post this.
Feb 12, 2009
Joel Osteen (just a guess based on the book cover)
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Feb 12, 2009
(Don't say Lamarck.) ?????

That's like saying, who wrote a book about a theory whereby evolution occurs via a series of random mutations the most successful of which propagate, sort of a survival of the fittest... but don't say Darwin!!

Anyone after Lamarck was just copying him surely.
Feb 12, 2009
Oh I see, don't say Lamarck... oops.
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