Eva Jablonka, Marion J. Lamb, “Traditions and Cumulative Evolution: How a New Lifestyle is Evolving”, 2017 (Review 2022, 2023)

(Last change: July 13, 2023)

(The following text was created from a German text with the support of the software deepL.)


This is a short review of an article from Eva Jablonka, Marion J. Lamb from 2017 talking about their book „Evolution in vier Dimensionen. Wie Genetik, Epigenetik, Verhalten und Symbole die Geschichte des Lebens prägen (Traditions and cumulative evolution: how a new lifestyle is evolving)“, Stuttgart, S. Hirzel Verlag, published in 2017. There was an earlier English edition (2005) with the title „Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life“, MIT Press. MIT Press comments the 2005 English edition as follows: „Ideas about heredity and evolution are undergoing a revolutionary change. New findings in molecular biology challenge the gene-centered version of Darwinian theory according to which adaptation occurs only through natural selection of chance DNA variations. In Evolution in Four Dimensions, Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb argue that there is more to heredity than genes. They trace four „dimensions“ in evolution—four inheritance systems that play a role in evolution: genetic, epigenetic (or non-DNA cellular transmission of traits), behavioral, and symbolic (transmission through language and other forms of symbolic communication). These systems, they argue, can all provide variations on which natural selection can act. Evolution in Four Dimensions offers a richer, more complex view of evolution than the gene-based, one-dimensional view held by many today. The new synthesis advanced by Jablonka and Lamb makes clear that induced and acquired changes also play a role in evolution.

The article (in German) was published in pp. 141-146 in: Regina Oehler, Petra Gehring, Volker Mosbrugger (eds.), 2017, Series: Senckenberg Book 78, “Biologie und Ethik: Life as a Project. Ein Funkkolleg Lesebuch”, Stuttgart, E. Schweizerbart’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung (Nägele u. Obermiller) and Senckenberg Nature Research Society.

Main Positions extracted from the Text

Preparing an understanding of the larger text of the book the author has tried to extract the most important assumptions/ hypotheses from the short article:

  1. There is an existing ‘nature’ as a variable quantity with ‘nature-specific’ properties, and
  2. in this nature there are biological populations as a ‘component of nature’, which appear as ‘environment’ for their own members as well as for other populations themselves.
  3. Populations are themselves changeable.
  4. The members of a biological population are able to respond to properties of the surrounding nature – with the other members of the population as a component of the environment (self-reference of a population) – by a specific behavior.
  5. A behavior can be changed in its form as well as related to a specific occasion.
  6. Due to the self-referentiality of a population, a population can therefore interactively change its own behavior
  7. interact variably with the environment through the changed behavior (and thereby change the environment itself to a certain extent).
  8. It turns out that members of a population can recall certain behaviors over longer periods of time depending on environmental characteristics.
  9. Due to differences in lifespan as well as memory, new behaviors can be transferred between generations, allowing for transmission beyond one generation.
  10. Furthermore, it is observed that the effect of genetic information can be meta-genetically (epigenetically) different in the context of reproduction, with these meta-genetic (epigenetic) changes occurring during lifetime. The combination of genetic and epigenetic factors can affect offspring. The effect of such epigenetically influenced changes in actual behavior (phenotype) is not linear.


For the further discussion, it is helpful to clarify at this point which are the basic (guiding) terms that will shape the further discourse. This will be done in the form of ‘tentative’ definitions. If these should prove to be ‘inappropriate’ in the further course, then one can modify them accordingly.

Three terms seem to play a role as such guiding terms at this point: ‘population’, ‘culture’ and – anticipating the discussion – ‘society’.

Def1: Population

Population here is minimally meant to be such a grouping of biological individuals that form a biological reproductive community (cf. [1])

Def2: Culture

In common usage, the term ‘culture’ is restricted to the population of ‘people’. [2] Here the proposal is made to let ‘culture’ begin where biological populations are capable of minimal tradition formation based on their behavioral space. This expands the scope of the concept of ‘culture’ beyond the population of humans to many other biological populations, but not all.

Def3: Society

The term ‘society’ gains quite different meanings depending on the point of view (of a discipline). Here the term shall be defined minimalistically with reference to the effect that biologically a ‘society’ is minimally present if there is a biological population in which ‘culture’ occurs in a minimal way.

It will be further considered how these processes are to be understood in detail and what this may mean from a philosophical point of view.


wkp-en: en.wikipedia.org

[1] Population in wkp-en: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population

[] Culture in wkp-en: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture

[] Society in wkp-en: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society


(July 12, 2023 – August 24, 2023)

(The following text was created with the support of the software deepL from a German text)

–!! To be continued !!–

–!! See new comment at the end of the text (Aug 24, 2023)!!–


We live in a time in which – if one takes different perspectives – very many different partial world views can be perceived, world views which are not easily ‘compatible’ with each other. Thus, so far, the ‘physical’ and the ‘biological’ worldviews do not necessarily seem to be ‘aligned’ with each other. In addition, there are different directions within each of these worldviews. Where do the social sciences stand here: Not physics, not biology, but then what? The economic sciences also seem to be ‘surfing across’ everything else … this list could easily be extended. Within these assemblies of worldviews, a new worldview emerges quite freshly, that of so-called ‘artificial intelligence’; it is also almost completely unmediated with everything else, but makes heavy use of terminology borrowed from psychology and biology, without adopting the usual conceptual contexts of these terms.

This diversity can be seen as positive if it stimulates thinking and thus perhaps enables new exciting ‘syntheses’. However, there is nothing to be seen of ‘syntheses’ far and wide. The terms ‘interdisciplinary’, ‘multidisciplinary’ or even ‘transdisciplinary’ are probably used more and more often in texts, as a reminder, as a call to integrate diversity in a fruitful way, but there is not much to be seen of it yet. The average university teacher at an average university still tends to be ‘punished’ for venturing out of his disciplinary niche. The ‘curricular norms’ that determine what time may be spent on what content with how many students do not normally provide for multidisciplinary or even transdisciplinary teaching. And when the single-science trained researcher throws himself into a multidisciplinary research project (if he does it at all), then in the end usually only single-science comes out again ….

Against this panorama of many worldviews, the following text will attempt to interpret how the concept of ‘intelligence’ could be grasped and classified today – taking into account the whole range of worldviews. Thereby a special accent will be put on the phenomenon ‘Homo sapiens’: Although Homo sapiens is only a very small sub-population within the whole of the biological, in the course of evolution it takes nevertheless up to now a special position in multiple senses, which shall be considered in this attempt of interpretation.

‘INTELLIGENCE’ – An interpretive hypothesis

This text intends a conceptual clarification of the concept ‘intelligence’ in the larger context of ‘biological systems’. ‘Machine systems’ with specific ‘behavioral properties’ that show ‘similarities’ to such properties that are ‘usually’ called ‘intelligent’ in the case of biological systems are then called ‘machine forms of intelligence’ in this text. However, ‘similarities’ in ‘behavior’ cannot be used to infer ‘similarities in enabling structures’. A ‘behavior X’ can be produced by a variety of ‘enabling structures’ which may be different among themselves. Statements about the ‘intelligence of a system’ therefore refer specifically to ‘behavioral properties’ of that system that can be observed within a particular ‘action environment’ within a particular ‘time interval’. Explicit talk about ‘intelligence’ further presupposes that there is a ‘virtual concept intelligence’ represented in the form of a text, which is able to classify the many individual ’empirical observations’ into ‘virtual contexts/relationships’ in such a way, that both (i) when certain behaviors ‘occur’ with the ‘virtual concept intelligence’ one can assign (classify) the occurring phenomena to the area of ‘intelligent behavior’, and that (ii) with the ‘virtual concept intelligence’ starting from a ‘given situation’ one can make conditional ‘predictions’ about ‘possible behaviors’ that can be ‘expected’ and ’empirically verified’ by the target system.

New Comment

While I was preparing a public lecture for a conference at the Technical University of Darmstadt (Germany) ( https://zevedi.de/en/topics/ki-text-2/ ) I decided to abandon the concept of ‘intelligence’ as well as ‘artificial intelligence’ for the near future. The meaning of these concepts is meanwhile completely ‘blurred’ / ‘fuzzy’; to use these concepts or not doesn’t change anything.


(July 7, 2023 – July 7, 2023)

(This text was translated from the German source with the deepL software (deepL.com)).


Following the basic considerations on the possibility/impossibility of a generally valid morality in this finite-dynamic world, a small look at the ‘phenomenon of life’ shall be suggested here, based on the currently popular concept of ‘sustainability’.


In the year 2023, the term ‘sustainability’ is on – almost – everyone’s lips; not only positively (That’s it; we have to do that, …) but very well also negatively, rejecting (What nonsense; we don’t need it, …). In addition, the many billions of people who have never heard of sustainability … Since the fundamental ‘Brundtland Report’ of 1987 [1], the United Nations has been trying to raise the awareness of all governments for the topic of ‘sustainability’ in ever new conferences with ever new emphases and possible recommendations for implementation. How far this has been successful so far can be judged by everyone who looks at the course of world events.

At this point, we would like to focus on one particular aspect of sustainability, an aspect that seems to be somehow ‘invisible’ until today, although it is fundamental for the understanding and success of the project ‘sustainability’. Without this aspect, there will be no effective sustainability.

Simple example: In a certain place on the planet Earth, there is a well from which one can draw about 180 liters of water per day so far. In itself, it is neither much nor little. But if plants, animals or humans have to live from this water, then this water can become ‘too little’ very quickly. In addition, there is the ‘ambient temperature’: do we have 10 °C, 20 °C, …, 50 °C …? Also, it is not unimportant ‘from where’ the well gets its water: does it come from (i) near-surface water from a nearby stream? or from (ii) deeper renewable groundwater (iii) or from …

If this well is in a village with 20 families, then the water becomes a ‘scarce resource’ in view of the ‘need’. For the daily needs of the families, the plants and possibly for animals this water will not be enough. Whatever happens/will happen now in this village with this scarce resource depends on the ‘knowledge’/’experience’ available in the minds of its inhabitants; plus the kind of ’emotions’ that are ‘operative’ in the same minds, and somehow – more or less consciously/unconsciously – certain ‘values’ (what to do in a certain situation). A ‘borderline case’ would be (i) that people have a great ‘fear’ to die, that therefore they would not shy away from ‘killing’ the others, if they ‘don’t know’ that there are no alternatives…; another case (ii) would be that besides the emotion ‘fear’ they also have an ’emotion’ ‘connectedness with the others’, supplemented by a value concept ‘one does not kill relatives/friends’. Therefore then perhaps rather the attempt to look together the ‘death by thirst’ into the eyes. Another case (iii) could be that at least one member of the village ‘knows’ when and how there could be a solution of the problem (differently sure), that the majority of the village ‘trusts’ him, and that ‘concrete behaviors are available’ to implement the solution.

If in case (iii) a solution is known ‘in principle’, but it is not known with which
‘measures’ this solution can be achieved, then case (i) or (ii) applies again. If in case (iii) the majority ‘does not trust’ the one person who says he has ‘knowledge/experience’ to find a solution, then ‘dejection’/’despondency’ may arise. Very bad it would be if no one in the village had the slightest bit of
knowledge, from which a useful action could be derived. Or, not less badly, individuals ‘believe’ that they have a knowledge which promises a remedy, but this ‘believed solution’ turns out to be a ‘mistake’.

What this simple example can clarify is that a ‘resource’ as such is neither good nor bad, neither little nor much. Decisive is the existence of a ‘need’, and a need is ultimately always coupled to the ‘existence of biological life forms’! ‘Biological life forms’ – thus ‘life’ – represent that phenomenon on the planet earth, to whose basic characteristics it belongs to have a ‘need’ of resources which are necessary so that life ‘can realize itself’, that ‘life can live’.

If one refers to the 17 development goals of the United Nations, valid from January 2016, addressed to nation states [2], then one can recognize many partial goals, which seem helpful for the promotion of the ‘life of life’, but one will miss the clear classification of the human population as a partial population in the total phenomenon ‘life’. All ‘non-human’ life is only granted a meaning in the haze of the 17 development goals, insofar as it appears helpful for the ‘life of the human sub-population’.

What is missing is a fundamental determination of what the phenomenon of life on the planet Earth represents as part of the entire universe: is it a random phenomenon that currently exists but to which no further significance is to be attached; it can also disappear again. Or must the phenomenon of life as a part of the universe be classified as an ‘extraordinary phenomenon’, indicating fundamental properties of the universe, pointing far beyond anything we have been accustomed to think of as reality, as possible future?

If we classify the ‘phenomenon of life’ as an ‘extraordinary phenomenon of global importance’ – and indeed the ‘whole life’ !!!. -, then the question of the ‘preservation’ of this whole life together with its manifold interactions must be in the center of the considerations and one must pursue ‘knowing-learning-questioning’ in a corresponding everyday life the questions, what this means; at the same time one must work ‘acting’ on a lasting shaping of the ‘conditions for a global life’.

Against this background, a culture that puts ‘unimportant things’ on top 1 and at the same time marginalizes what is fundamentally important for life appears as the perfect recipe for a quick common death. This common death, fragmented into many millions of individual deaths, is not simply ‘a death’; it destroys the ‘heart of the universe’ itself.


[1] Brundtland Report of 1987: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Common_Future

[2] The 17 Sustainable Development Goals see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_Development_Goals