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2005: Evolution in Four Dimensions

For our 45th day, Eva Jablonka reflects on Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life, which she co-authored with Marion J. Lamb:

The early years of the 21st century were exhilarating times for evolutionary biologists. There was so much new data, so many new ideas, and so much questioning of former dogmas that it sometimes felt as if we were having an intellectual carnival. Yet, in spite of the hubbub, evolutionary thinking remained coherent. Using the general framework of evolutionary theory, biologists began to weave together threads from various areas of biology to construct a fresh, richer evolutionary tapestry. The picture that began to emerge was exciting, and very different from the narrow, gene-centered view of evolution that had dominated discussions during most of the 20th century.

Evolution in Four Dimensions was our attempt to bring some of this excitement to a wider audience. We hoped to convince both biologists and the many lay people who are interested in evolution of the significance of changes in ideas about heredity. Our basic argument was simple: there is more to heredity than the transmission of DNA, and therefore there is more to evolution than changes in the frequency of variant DNA sequences. We provided evidence that there are four channels of heredity – genetic, epigenetic, behavioral, and symbolic – and that for understanding evolutionary history the origin of variants in each channel is as important as their selection. Because we used evidence and arguments from fields we knew would be unfamiliar to some readers, we asked Anna Zeligowski to illustrate them with her quirky drawings, and used imaginary dialogues to make them clearer.

Today, we feel happy with the book for two reasons. First, since it was published, there has been a mass of new data that support many of the arguments we made. Second, a gratifying number of readers have told us that the book changed the way they think about evolution.


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  • Posted at 11:02 am on Tue, 04 Dec 2012 in


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