THE BERGSON BOOM IN BRITISH BIOLOGY
THE ÉLAN VITAL
Forthcoming chapter in The Bergsonian Mind (Routledge)
EMERGENCE IN BIOLOGY FROM ORGANICISM TO SYSTEMS BIOLOGY
Herring, E. and Radick, G. Forthcoming, 2019. Emergence in Biology: From Organicism to Systems Biology. in. Gibb, S, Hendry, R. F. and Lancaster, T. (eds.) in The Routledge Handbook of Emergence. Routledge
VS DARWINIAN SPECIALISTS:
UNITY AND DISUNITY IN 20TH CENTURY
Article published in the British Society for the History of Science Viewpoint magazine
Available here (pp. 6-7)
"GREAT IS DARWIN AND BERGSON HIS POET": JULIAN HUXLEY'S OTHER EVOLUTIONARY SYNTHESIS
Herring, E. 2018. ‘Great is Darwin and Bergson his poet’: Julian Huxley's other evolutionary synthesis. Annals of Science. 75(1), pp. 40-54, DOI: 10.1080/00033790.2017.1407442
In 1912, Julian Huxley published his first book The Individual in the Animal Kingdom which he dedicated to the then world-famous French philosopher Henri Bergson. Historians have generally adopted one of two attitudes towards Huxley’s early encounter with Bergson. They either dismiss it entirely as unimportant or minimise it, deeming it a youthful indiscretion preceding Huxley’s full conversion to Fisherian Darwinism. Close biographical study and new archive materials demonstrate, however, that neither position is tenable. The study of the Bergsonian elements in play in Julian Huxley’s early works fed into Huxley’s first ideas about progress in evolution and even his celebrated theories of bird courtship. Furthermore, the view that Huxley rejected Bergson in his later years needs to be revised. Although Huxley ended up claiming that Bergson’s theory of evolution had no explanatory power, he never repudiated the descriptive power of Bergson’s controversial notion of the élan vital. Even into the Modern Synthesis period, Huxley represented his own synthesis as drawing decisively on Bergson’s philosophy.
LAMARCKIAN RESEARCH PROGRAMS IN FRENCH BIOLOGY. 1900-1970
Herring, Emily, Loison, Laurent. 2018. Lamarckian Research Programs in French Biology. 1900-1970. in. Delisle, Richard G. (ed.). The Darwinian Tradition in Context: Research Programs in Twentieth-Century Evolutionary Biology. Springer
The situation of biology in France in the 20th century has always been considered something of an oddity. The theories of the Darwinian Modern Synthesis and of population genetics were not included in standardized university curricula and the main research programs until the 1970s. Against the Darwinian picture that was developing abroad, French life scientists promoted various forms of Lamarckism. The aim of this chapter is to produce a general picture of these different 20th century Lamarckian research programs which deeply structured various fields of the French life sciences, like morphology, zoology, paleontology but also microbiology and virology. We first recall the failure of the first Lamarckian program, based on a mechanistic understanding of life, and which aimed at explaining evolution in terms of cumulative adaptation through the inheritance of acquired characters. We show that during the inter-war period, French Lamarckians were no longer unified in their understanding of the evolutionary process but instead defended a heterogeneous array of concepts. In particular, we examine philosopher Henri Bergson’s legacy, which was pivotal in the setting up of a second Lamarckian program that started to develop in the 1940s with the work of zoologists Albert Vandel and Pierre-Paul Grassé. While it is true that the various forms of Lamarckism delayed the reception of Darwinism and, to a lesser extent, genetics, we assess their impact on the way the Modern Synthesis and molecular biology were conceived and developed in France by non-Lamarckian biologists like Georges Teissier, Philippe L’Héritier, André Lwoff or Jacques Monod.
THE GENOTYPE/PHENOTYPE DISTINCTION
Herring, Emily. 2017. The Genotype/Phenotype Distinction. in. Smith, Justin E. H. (ed.). Embodiment. Oxford University Press. Book available for purchase here
In the 18th and 19th centuries, before Wilhelm Johannsen first distinguished between the hidden hereditary make-up of organisms (the genotype) and its macroscopic manifestations (the phenotype), theories postulating invisible internal particles meant to account for the external appearance of living organisms were devised. These were not just attempts at solving the problems of inheritance and generation, but also a way of addressing the intimate nature of the bodies of living beings. The problem of embodiment was for naturalists such as Buffon, Darwin and Weismann, the problem of understanding how the macroscopic level could be explained by the activity of the microscopic particular level. By the time Johannsen had coined the term “gene” in 1909 this problem had shifted into working out how organisms’ visible characters could explain the workings of the particles hidden within. This Reflection retraces the transition from one conception of embodiment to the other.
DES ÉVOLUTIONNISMES SANS MÉCANISME: LES NÉO-LAMARCKISMES MÉTAPHYSIQUES D’ALBERT VANDEL (1894-1980) ET PIERRE-PAUL GRASSÉ (1895-1985)
Herring, Emily. 2016. Des évolutionnismes sans mécanisme : les néo-lamarckismes métaphysiques d’Albert Vandel (1894-1980) et Pierre-Paul Grassé (1895-1985). Revue d'histoire des sciences. 69(2), 369-398. Available for purchase online here
Albert Vandel and Pierre-Paul Grassé were influential and academically acclaimed zoologists in France in the second half of the 20th century. They were among the last scientific adversaries of Neo-Darwinism in France, proposing instead a form of Neo-Lamarckism up until the 1980s. Their theories were not equivalent but were both founded on the idea that evolution is internally driven, teleologically orientated but also « creative » in the sense that it generates unpredictable novelties. However, they proposed no alternative mechanism to replace natural selection. My analysis of their scientific, epistemological and metaphysical arguments shows that their take on evolution relied on cosmogonical and metaphysical explanations, founded on elements from Henri Bergson’s metaphysics of duration and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s theological cosmogony. Despite theoretical differences they shared ideas about mankind’s nature and destiny in the universe, which justified, in their view, their repudiation of Darwinian adaptation and chance as well as their philosophical vision of evolution.
BOOK REVIEW. JIMENA CANALES'S THE PHYSICIST AND THE PHILOSOPHER
Herring, Emily. 2016. Book review. The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson and the Debate that Changed our Understanding of Time. Annals of Science available online here