The Uses of Heterochrony

  • Stephen Jay Gould
Part of the Topics in Geobiology book series (TGBI, volume 7)


Ernst Haeckel, following the scattershot theory for an enduring recognition by posterity, coined terms as a government might issue promises—continuously and with some repetition. Most, like the vows of statesmen, were soon forgotten, but some have endured in the sense that Haeckel intended, notably ecology, ontogeny, phylogeny, and Monera. (Haeckel almost pulled off the neat trick of naming our ancestral genus before its discovery—for he predicted, by applying his biogenetic law to modern children, the characters of Pithecanthropus 30 years before DuBois found an appropriate fossil for the name on Java. But the species has since been promoted to Homo erectus, and Haeckel’s genus rests on the ash heap of synonymy.) In some cases, however, Haeckel would only be able to view the survival of his names as, at best, a pyrrhic victory, but more as a bitter joke unconsciously played against his scattershot approach—for the names live, but with meanings contrary to Haeckel’s original intent. Heterochrony, the theme of this book, is such a Haeckelian term converted into its opposite in current usage. The odyssey of its transformation is as quirky a tale as the phylogeny of many lineages; the reasons behind the shift in meaning also tell an interesting story crucial to the major concerns of this book.


Developmental Timing Cambrian Trilobite Early Ontogenetic Stage Extra Digit Chasmogamous Flower 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen Jay Gould
    • 1
  1. 1.Museum of Comparative ZoologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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