hopeful monster hypotheses

Hopeful monster theory suggests that major evolutionary transformations have occurred not through the gradual accretion of small steps but rather through large leaps between species.

“Biologists seem inclined to think that because they have not themselves seen a ‘large’ mutation, such a thing cannot be possible.”

― Richard Goldschmidt, The Material Basis of Evolution, 1940

Corpus linguistics is the study of language as expressed in samples (corpora) of “real world” text. 

“The corpse, seen without God and outside of science, is the utmost of abjection. It is death infecting life. Abject.”

Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror, 1980

A cloud of opaque materials.


Revenge fantasies? Yes, of course those too.

Rhapsodomancy is a form of divination in which guidance was sought through the chance selection of a passage in literature, often by opening a book and selecting the first line seen.

Parable underused: Preincarnation.

Men who do not devote their lives to pursuing wisdom will be reborn as women. Determined Plato.

There are so many ways of earning a living, and most of them are failures. Wrote Gertrude Stein.

“I know, indeed, the evil of that I purpose; but my inclination gets the better of my judgment.”

Allows Euripides, Medea, 5th century BC.

True carnivory is thought to have evolved independently nine times in five different orders of flowering plants.

Monotonous and gloomy variations of the same dismal theme.

“Each individual is separated from others by a taboo of personal isolation, a narcissism of minor differences.”

States anthropologist Ernest Crawley, Sexual Taboo: A Study of the Relations of the Sexes, 1895.

“When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathe News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been anticlimax.”

Admits Flannery O’Connor.

In the Middle Ages. the most important events occurred in cemeteries: local elections, trials, sermons, and theater plays. Prostitutes would also operate within cemetery grounds.

Little moon faced girl from the woods.  Picked over, pock marked.

For humans, repetition is inherently transgressive.

Predictive brain, inference generating machine.  

Many people, taking this into account, and holding that such a change of sex is against nature, have been at great pains to prove:

(1) that Orlando had always been a woman

(2) that Orlando is at this moment a man.

Let biologists and psychologists determine. It is enough for us to state the simple fact; Orlando was a man till the age of thirty; when he became a woman and has remained so ever since.

Instructs Virgina Woolf, Orlando: A Biography, 1928.

Contact metamorphism.

“Devastating birds wither everything with their breath.”

Irish myth: Cross.

Adult. Reproductive or cannibalistic.

A “parataxon” (not to be confused with parataxonomy), or “sciotaxon” (Gr. “shadow taxon”), is a classification based on incomplete data: for instance, the v larval stage of an organism that cannot be matched up with an adult.

Pretend they’re all children in adult costumes.  It gets easier.

“The shadow escapes from the body like an animal we had been sheltering.”

Writes Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, 1981.

Hypothesis. That the body itself is capable of storing memories, as opposed to only the brain.

Categorical perceptions.   We’re trying as quickly as possible to fit it in within our taste.

If there were no thinking beings in the universe would numbers exist?

“Trahit sua quemque voluptas.

Everyone is dragged on by their favorite pleasure.”

― Virgil, Eclogues, 1st century BC.

“Indeed it may be only by risking the incoherence of identity that connection is possible.”

― Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter, 1993.

In classical astronomy, androgyn was a name given to planets that were sometimes warm and sometimes cold.

General structure is largely (in terms of record and filter): more potential than production.

From a 1906 psychiatric journal, The Alienist and Neurologist:

Then, there is a fear of being seen and a shamefacedness, which one sees in asylums. […] We called it scopophobia — a morbid dread of being seen.

 In minor degree, it is morbid shamefacedness, and the patient covers the face with his or her hands. In greater degree, the patient will shun the visitor and escape from his or her sight where this is possible. Scopophobia is more often manifest among women than among men.

“The basic anxiety, the anxiety of a finite being about the threat of nonbeing, cannot be eliminated. It belongs to existence itself.”

Admits Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be, 1952.

“Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils.”

Admits Hector Berlioz in a letter written in November,1856.

The most common types of suicide include copycat, euthanasia, familicide, forced, honor, internet, martyrdom, ritual, attack, and cop suicides.

Corpus linguistics adherents believe that reliable language analysis best occurs on field-collected samples, in natural contexts and with minimal experimental interference.

Until the late 15th century the word ‘girl’ simply means a child of either sex. 

Boys, where they had to be differentiated, were referred to as ‘knave girls’ and girls in the female sense were called ‘gay girls’. 

“Female monsters take things as personally as they really are. They study facts. Even if rejection makes them feel like the girl who’s not invited to the party, they have to understand the reasons why.

… Every question, once it’s formulated, is a paradigm, contains its own internal truth. We have to stop diverting ourselves with false questions. And I told Warren: I aim to be a female monster too.”

― Chris Kraus, I Love Dick, 1997.

“I didn’t recognize you…  from a distance. That’s supposed to be my job.”

A security guard says to me.

Equally a boy could be a ‘knave child’ and a girl a ‘maiden child’.

Hybridization is actually quite common in nature.  Equines. Elephants. Big cats.

Hopeful monster hypotheses.  The root of ‘monstrum’ is ‘monere’—which does not only mean to warn, but also to instruct, and forms the basis of the modern English “demonstrate.”

Thus, the monster is also a sign or instruction.

Repetition and deficiency.

Exaggerated intuitions for how unlikely some things are. 

“And identity is funny being yourself is funny as you are never yourself to yourself except as you remember yourself and then of course you do not believe yourself.”

Writes Gertrude Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 1937.

I couldn’t write dialogue so I depended on lists and deadlines.

Mary Shelley was nineteen when she published the first edition of Frankenstein in 1818.

Consciousness causes collapse.  Various alternative interpretations of quantum mechanics according to what defines “observation.”

Anesthesia is a delicate place.  

Never would pass with a voice like that.  Not at that pitch, starting from scratch and dying on contact,  no intent or desire to keep it in key.

See what I mean?  Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, tenteen, deadteen.  

The Law of Conservation of Misery is folk wisdom that states that the total amount of misery in a system is constant.  This implies that when you try to decrease the misery in one aspect of a system, you will increase the misery in some of the other aspects.

“Such a mutation need only be an event of the most extraordinary rarity to provide the world with the important material for evolution.”

Writes Richard Goldschmidt, The Material Basis of Evolution, 1940.

Near life experience.

Perverse incentives of evolution (a type of unintended consequence).

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

According to Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, 1950.

Fog collectors. Fossil water.  Frost flowers.

In Seneca mythology, Djieien is a monstrous spider six feet tall. It could not be killed because it had hidden its heart underground.

“Oh hi! It’s you, I didn’t recognize you.”

Deep blink, twice.

“We may take advantage of this pause in the narrative to make certain statements. Orlando had become a woman — there is no denying it.

In every other respect, Orlando remained precisely as he had been. The change of sex, though it altered their future, did nothing whatever to alter their identity.”

Continues Virginia Woolf.

An aggressive move to harmony.

In living tissue, grey matter actually has a very light grey colour with yellowish or pinkish hues, which come from capillary blood vessels and neuronal cell bodies

What is the solution to human weather? The pinker parts of each absence?

Palms, forehead, chin, knee, ankle.

A large ghostly skeleton of a whale and it is said to be accompanied by strange birds and fish.

The lower jaw consists of two parts and it can be proven by the fact that it disintegrates in the middle when cooked.

Originally done by hand, corpora are now largely derived by an automated process.

Some opponents of the doctrine of hell claim that the punishment is disproportionate to any crimes that could be committed, an overkill.

Trash bag blown up to the size of a brain.  Unstable. Unclean.

Wastebasket taxon is a term used in some taxonomic circles to refer to a taxon that has the sole purpose of classifying organisms that do not fit anywhere else.

Linnaeus created a wastebasket taxon “monstrosus” for “wild and monstrous humans, unknown groups, and more or less abnormal people.

Per Aristotle, we laugh at inferior or ugly individuals, because we feel a joy at being superior to them.

The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism: 

1. Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they disappear; morphological change is usually limited and directionless. 

2. Sudden appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and “fully formed.”

Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda’s Thumb, 1980.

5’3.  Competent.  Hairless.

Satisfactory appearance.

Have you thought that you could waste away ?

You don’t care much for yourself

There are circles deep beneath your eyes

Why do you do this to yourself ?

Carphology refers to the movements that delirious patients sometimes make, as if searching for or grasping at imaginary objects, or picking the bed-clothes.

It comes from the Greek karphologia, a compound of the two words karphos, straw, and legeln, to collect. So it means to act as though one was picking up bits of straw, a compact description of the involuntary movements sometimes seen in delirious patients.

“Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”

Minor delusions of James Madison.

Black eye permanent.  Believe me now?

Adela Rogers St. Johns, a noted screenwriter who had done a number of pictures with 1920s film star Clara Bow, wrote about her:

“There seems to be no pattern, no purpose to her life. She swings from one emotion to another, but she gains nothing, stores up nothing for the future. She lives entirely in the present, not even for today, but in the moment. Clara is the total nonconformist. What she wants she gets, if she can. What she desires to do she does. 

She has a big heart, a remarkable brain, and the most utter contempt for the world in general. Time doesn’t exist for her, except that she thinks it will stop tomorrow. She has real courage, because she lives boldly. Who are we, after all, to say she is wrong?”

Bow fumed: “They yell at me to be dignified. But what are the dignified people like? The people who are held up as examples for me? They are snobs. Frightful snobs … I’m a curiosity in Hollywood. I’m a big freak, because I’m myself!”

“This chain of human ancestors was totally unknown to Darwin. He could not have even dreamed of such a flood of proof and truth.”

States Henry Fairfield Osborn in Evolution and Religion in Education, 1926.

Many scientists rejected the hopeful monster hypothesis as genetic research seemed to show that large mutations would be lethal.

In response to this Goldschmidt suggested that, from time to time, macromutations can occur and although the majority of these would have been lethal, a very small number would have been compatible with survival.

The most common criticism however; came from the early neo-Darwinian theorists who asked the question “how does a hopeful monster find a mate.

The past twenty years have vindicated Goldschmidt to some degree.

Embryology has shown that if you affect an entire population of developing embryos with a stress (such as a heat shock) it can cause many embryos to go through the same new pathway of embryonic development, and then they all become hopeful monsters when they reach reproductive age.

With the discovery of the importance of regulatory genes, we realize that he was ahead of his time in focusing on the importance of a few genes controlling big changes in the organisms, not small-scales changes in the entire genome as neo-Darwinians thought.

Liminal personas are structurally and socially invisible, having left one set of classifications and not yet entered another.

“I shall thus give a general answer to the question, so frequently asked me—”How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?”

Mary Shelley writes in her introduction to the third edition of Frankenstein,1831.

“Not a language of the desiring exchange of messages or I objects that are transmitted in a social contract of communication and desire beyond want, but a language of want, of the fear that edges up to it and runs along its edges.”

Instructs Julia Kristeva.

We are not here to self-actualize or understand.  We are here to help other people. To die if necessary. 

The hopeful monster problem may not be so insurmountable after all.

3 thoughts on “hopeful monster hypotheses

  1. “I did speak extensively — often quite critically — about the reviled work of Richard Goldschmidt, particularly about aspects of his thought that might merit a rehearing. This material has often been confused with punctuated equlibrium by people who miss the crucial issue of scaling, and therefore regard all statements about rapidity at any level as necessarily unitary, and necessarily flowing from punctuated equilibrium.

    In fact, as the long treatment in Chapter 5 of this book should make clear, my interest in Goldschmidt resides in issues bearing little relationship with punctuated equilibrium, but invested instead in developmental questions that prompted my first book, Ontogeny and Phylogeny.

    The two subjects, after all, are quite separate, and rooted in different scales of rapidity — hopeful monsters in genuine saltation, and punctuated equilibrium in macroevolutionary punctuation (produced by ordinary allopatric speciation).”

    ― Stephen Jay Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, published in the year of his death, 2002.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “I have made up thousands of stories; I have filled innumerable notebooks with phrases to be used when I have found the true story, the one story to which all these phrases refer. But I have never yet found the story. And I begin to ask, Are there stories?”

    ― Virginia Woolf, The Waves

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A series of head injuries has left me with a dysfunctional memory, which I’ve adapted to. Everything you said, it should be required reading in a course on evolution. Unfortunately, I shall forget most of it by the time I move on to your next blog. It is clear to me, that evolution is realization of intention to survive, on both small-scale and large-scale levels, not necessarily organic or physical. I have always wondered how “monstrous” progeny could survive, how did dinosaurs find advantages from flight when it’s obvious there could be no gradual evolution of wings, they either mutated fully functional, or would have gotten any creature trying to use them killed? Did pain evolve before or after the nervous system?


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