Letter | Published:

The Mnemic Theory of Heredity

Nature volume 88, page 483 (08 February 1912) | Download Citation



I AM unable to agree with Dr. Beard that the mnemic theory of heredity does not involve acceptance of the doctrine of the inheritance of acquired characters. Certainly the theory as enunciated by Prof. Semon, which formed the subject-matter of my review, is based upon such acceptance, to justify which weighty evidence is brought forward. Can an organism, or a germ-cell, be said to remember events of which it has had no past experience, direct or indirect? If, as Dr. Beard holds, neither the primary germ-cells nor their ancestors have ever formed part of the body of a higher animal, can they be supposed to remember events in the ancestral history of the race, unless, of course, they have received information as to such events (engrams) from the bodies in which they are, or were, enclosed? The power of transmitting such engrams to the germ-cells is the fundamental conception of the doctrine of the inheritance of acquired characters, as it is also of the mnemic theory as expounded by Prof. Semon. If, however, Dr. Beard holds that the germ-plasm does not receive engrams from the body at all, but is merely a continuous stream of living matter which has the power of producing some particular type of body at intervals and under appropriate conditions, I fail to see where the idea of memory comes in, any more than in the case of the periodic waves produced by the tide.

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