Limits of imagination: the 150th Anniversary of Mendel’s Laws, and why Mendel failed to see the importance of his discovery for Darwin’s theory of evolution Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • Mendel is credited for discovering Laws of Heredity, but his work has come under criticism on three grounds: for possible falsification of data to fit his expectations, for getting undue credit for the laws of heredity without having ideas of segregation and independent assortment, and for being interested in the development of hybrids rather than in the laws of heredity. I present a brief review of these criticisms and conclude that Mendel deserved to be called the father of genetics even if he may not, and most likely did not, have clear ideas of segregation and particulate determiners as we know them now. I argue that neither Mendel understood the evolutionary significance of his findings for the problem of genetic variation, nor would Darwin have understood their significance had he read Mendel's paper. I argue that the limits to imagination, in both cases, came from their mental framework being shaped by existing paradigms-blending inheritance in the case of Darwin, hybrid development in the case of Mendel. Like Einstein, Darwin's natural selection was deterministic; like Niels Bohr, Mendel's Laws were probabilistic-based on random segregation of trait-determining "factors". Unlike Einstein who understood quantum mechanics, Darwin would have been at a loss with Mendel's paper with no guide to turn to. Geniuses in their imaginations are like heat-seeking missiles locked-in with their targets of deep interests and they generally see things in one dimension only. Imagination has limits; unaided imagination is like a bird without wings--it goes nowhere.

publication date

  • September 2015