Abstract

Current inquiry into nongenetic forms of inheritance has deep roots in the nineteenth century. Samuel Butler’s evolutionary science writing and fiction points ahead, beyond the twentieth-century dismissal of pre-Darwinian science, to our own questions about how the experiences of an individual organism may effect change at the species level. This includes the way that symbolically mediated information, which rapidly shapes the human environment, exercises a downward pressure on slower-moving, genetic change. Butler’s theories of unconscious memory and extended cognition, along with the Lamarckian principle that acquired traits could be passed on to descendants, together constituted an “evo-devo” approach to species history. In particular, language—specifically literary language—for Butler functioned as a machinate extension of the mind that could communicate transformative information to successive generations. Such extension therefore enables the little events of a lifetime to reach into the evolutionary future and transform it.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6520
Print ISSN
1063-1801
Pages
pp. 57-77
Launched on MUSE
2014-06-06
Open Access
No
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