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Basic Information

Lamarckism is a discredited alternative version of evolutionary theory proposed by Jean-Baptist Lamarck. Lamarck utilized the concept of "soft inheritance", the notion that organisms could pass on learned or acquired traits to their offspring.

The classic example is a Giraffe.

  • According to Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, animals sometimes end up with longer-than-normal necks by random mutation. Natural selection caused those giraffe-ancestors with longer necks to survive and reproduce, because they could reach food higher in trees.
  • Under Lamarckism, the causality is very different. The Giraffe's ancestors stretched their necks trying to reach higher branches. This stretching made their necks longer. When they had offspring, those offspring were born with the longer necks that their parents had created. The offspring in turn stretched even farther to reach higher branches, and passed it along to longer-necked children of their own.

The same example could, for instance, be made of Blacksmiths. As he gets better at his job, the Blacksmith becomes stronger, more dexterous, and grows greater tolerance for the heat and smoke. When he later has children, they are born with more strength, agility, tolerance to heat and smoke, and possibly an intuitive knack for blacksmithing.

Obviously, everything we know about Genetics invalidates this line of thought.

See also Transmutation of Species, the larger body of thought that Lamarckian Evolution lies within.



Game and Story Use

  • Just because all the science supports Darwinian evolution and the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, doesn't mean you can't fudge things for the sake of a good game.
    • This Arcanist once ran an Amber DRPG Campaign where the Courts of Chaos were defined by Lamarckism. The Chaosites were limited shape-shifters, and a strong persona could result in developing a new form and passing it on to your offspring. Approaching it from this angle helped give flavor to the different houses of Chaos.
    • Even without shape-shifting, Lamarckism can definitely have a place in gaming. There's numerous tropes concerning lineage and ancestry. Being the son of a great warrior means more than just jealous rivals, a sad childhood, and an early inheritance. In a Lamarck world, it means being warrior-born, and a little stronger and faster than other children.
      • What an awesome reward this opens up for players in a long-term campaign with some amount of PC death. Yeah, your favorite character died, but cheer up. Your next PC has higher attributes because you're playing your old character's son.
  • If you're playing a Mad Scientist in the 19th Century, you might favor Lamarckism over Darwinism.
  • The Soviets pursued Lamarckian Theory for many decades. It was patriotic and politically pleasant, as it meant future generations would be better workers and patriots. They would have inherited these traits when their parents overthrew the Czar and installed Communism.
  • Where inherited memory applies, this may be a cultural, if not genetic, factor.
  • This could also be a trick for a specific species, where the ability to adapt to an environment and then pass those adaptations on would be a specific attribute. Probably for a less scientifically rigorous setting.
  • Just because Lamarckism turned out not to apply to biological evolution, doesn't mean that it doesn't apply to, say, magical inheritance - perhaps spiritual alterations can be inherited, whether learned proficiency or corruption.
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