MadSci Network: Evolution

Re: If I were to will myself my whole life to grow another finger could I?

Date: Mon Aug 28 14:12:18 2000
Posted By: Mark Sullivan, Medical Student
Area of science: Evolution
ID: 967233327.Ev

Hi Dave,
     That is a good question, and actually a very old one first posed by a 
taxonomist named Jean Baptiste Lamarck in about 1809AD.  He was an early 
theorist about the evolution of species, about 40 years before Charles 
Darwin showed us all(except the Kansas state board of education)that 
evolution occurs by random mutation and survival of the fittest.  By 
comparison, Lamarck believed that evolution occured by will power.  For 
example, giraffes have long necks, but how did they get that way?  Lamarck 
theorized that early ancestors of the giraffe had short necks, but 
eventually stretched them out over time tyring to reach the top leaves on 
tall trees.  Not only did they stretched their own necks to accomodate 
their desire, but were able to pass this new physical trait to their 
offspring.  So in essence he believed that modifications an organism makes 
during its lifetime are inherited by the offspring.  He also proposed that 
organs that weren't used deteriorated while those that were overused 
became stronger.  Well this last part is pretty true cause muscles get 
stronger with excessive use and weaker with disuse.  However it doesn't 
hold true that if you are very weak or strong that your kids will turn out 
the same as you.  You can't will yourself to have bigger muscles without 
taking physical action, or have weak muscles without physical inaction.
    Now, I think this first part answers your finger question in that no 
amount of will power will get you a 6th finger on one hand.  Can you 
change yourself mentally?  Not really sure what you mean so I'll take a 
guess.  You can't will yourself to change the structure, size or shape of 
your brain but you can change the way you think.  For example, people who 
are scared of spiders can take steps to rid themselves of this fear, or at 
least decrease that fear.
     So I'll sum up using Darwin's theory.  When a species evolves, 
thereby changing it's physical and/or mental abilites, it does so through 
a series of genetic mutations propagated through generations.  That was a 
tongue twister.  Evolution of a 6th finger as a dominant(very common) 
physical trait will take a very long time, and only if there is a 
selection for people with this trait.  (Selection meaning that there is 
some life or death need for 6 fingers/ and ability of 6 fingered people to 
produce more offspring that 5 fingered people).  Who knows, maybe a 
million years from now humans may have very different physical and mental 
features and abilities than we have now.  Too bad you and I will never 
know but you can imagine.  So put your will power to more productive use 
like developing your imagination.  Good luck,

Mark Sullivan     

Current Queue | Current Queue for Evolution | Evolution archives

Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Evolution.

MadSci Home | Information | Search | Random Knowledge Generator | MadSci Archives | Mad Library | MAD Labs | MAD FAQs | Ask a ? | Join Us! | Help Support MadSci

MadSci Network,
© 1995-2000. All rights reserved.