Category Archives: Epigenetic

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.



[1] Population in wkp-en:

[] Culture in wkp-en:

[] Society in wkp-en: