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Making Heredity Matter: Samuel Butler’s Idea of Unconscious Memory

Authors
  • Turbil, Cristiano1
  • 1 King’s College London, Department of History, Strand London, WC2R 2LS, UK , Strand London (United Kingdom)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Journal of the History of Biology
Publisher
Springer Netherlands
Publication Date
Feb 28, 2017
Volume
51
Issue
1
Pages
7–29
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1007/s10739-017-9469-8
Source
Springer Nature
Keywords
License
Green

Abstract

Butler’s idea of evolution was developed over the publication of four books, several articles and essays between 1863 and 1890. These publications, although never achieving the success expected by Butler, proposed a psychological elaboration of evolution (robustly enforced by Lamarck’s philosophy), called ‘unconscious memory’. This was strongly in contrast with the materialistic approach suggested by Darwin’s natural selection. Starting with a historical introduction, this paper aspires to ascertain the logic, meaning and significance of Butler’s idea of ‘unconscious memory’ in the post-Darwinian physiological and psychological Pan-European discussion. Particular attention is devoted to demonstrating that Butler was not only a populariser of science but also an active protagonist in the late Victorian psychological debate.

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