An outstanding aspect of this revolution in the history of human theories is the introduction of a time scale in the analysis of the structure of living beings. Before Lamarck, a system (the universe, a planet, an animal) has a fundamental structure (its essence) that can only suffer surfaceâ modifications during its life (an amputation, for example). These changes are often referred to as accidental.â They do not influence the structure of the soul, which shapes the essence of an individual. From Lamarck onward, the fundamental structure of a system constitutes itself progressively on a time scale that varies according to systems. A few seconds for a cell can correspond to thousands of years for the human species, millions of years for a planet, and billions of years for the universe.
It is only after Lamarck’s death that Hegel integrated time into a philosophical conception of human nature2 and created a philosophy of human history.3 This history describes the way the human mind developed by creating increasing complex civilizations across the centuries.4 Time thus becomes a part of the mechanisms that generate the human mind, because the capacity to structure oneself in time to be in becoming is now part of the properties of the human mind. It was then only a matter of time before scientists would discover that there had been humanoids who, in the prehistoric period,5 did not walk and did not think like a human being of the nineteenth century. Finally, in 1830, Scottish geologist Charles Lyell began to publish a series of volumes that demonstrated that the Earth has been shaped for millions of years by forces that are still presently active.6 Before the nineteenth century, the Europeans, inspired by the Bible, imagined a history of only some thousands of years. Today, we
think that the first humans appeared several million years ago.
Lamarck7 remarks that thoughts not only grasp the organismic system of which they are a part with difficulty but that they also poorly evaluate the impact of time on what is happening and on the way they function. From the point of view of the mind, to include time as a variable is experienced as a complication that requires much attention. Psychologists know that it is equally true when they want to organize a developmental research study. An experimental design that wants to study the unfolding of a behavior at different moments in a lifetime exponentially multiplies the costs, work time, quantity of data to consider, and complexity of the statistical methods. It is not for nothing that theories integrating the notion of time are rare and recent. Even today, it is difficult to integrate the implications of a developmental and historical approach in psychological theories.
LAMARCK ESTABLISHES BIOLOGY BY SHOWING THAT THE ESSENCE OF NATURE IS DYNAMIC Situating Biology: From Buffon to Lamarck
The Botanical Gardens of Buffon
Count George-Louis Leclerc Buffon (1707-1788) was one of the great French botanists. He published a marvelously illustrated reference catalog of plants: Natural History, General and Particular, from 1749 to 1788. He is also known because he transformed the King’s Gardens in Paris into an immense Museum of Natural History. The Botanical Gardens that surround the museum contain a great variety of plants. In the same spirit, the museum preserves examples of most of the inventoried animal species on the planet. Buffon died in time to avoid witnessing the torments of the first French Revolution. During this period, the different succeeding governments maintained the operation of this museum
Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck (1744-1829), a botanist trained by Buffon, participated in the establishment of the Museum of Natural History, where he became in charge of the section on invertebrates (insects, mostly). His major work is the Natural History of Animals without Vertebra, made up of seven volumes published between 1815 and 1822. This work quickly became a reference for many biologists.