It is widely recognized that human evolution has been driven by two systems of heredity: one DNA-based and the other based on the transmission of behaviorally acquired information via nervous system functions. The genetic system is ancient, going back to the appearance of life on Earth. It is responsible for the evolutionary processes described by Darwin. By comparison, the nervous system is relatively newly minted and in its highest form, responsible for ideation and mind-to-mind transmission of information. Here the informational capabilities and functions of the two systems are compared. While employing quite different mechanisms for encoding, storing and transmission of information, both systems perform these generic hereditary functions. Three additional features of neuron-based heredity in humans are identified: the ability to transfer hereditary information to other members of their population, not just progeny; a selection process for the information being transferred; and a profoundly shorter time span for creation and dissemination of survival-enhancing information in a population. The mechanisms underlying neuron-based heredity involve hippocampal neurogenesis and memory and learning processes modifying and creating new neural assemblages changing brain structure and functions. A fundamental process in rewiring brain circuitry is through increased neural activity (use) strengthening and increasing the number of synaptic connections. Decreased activity in circuitry (disuse) leads to loss of synapses. Use and disuse modifying an organ to bring about new modes of living, habits and functions are processes in line with Neolamarckian concepts of evolution (Packard, 1901). Evidence is presented of bipartite evolutionary processes-Darwinian and Neolamarckian-driving human descent from a common ancestor shared with the great apes.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Gash, Don M. and Deane, Andrew S., "Neuron-Based Heredity and Human Evolution" (2015). Neuroscience Faculty Publications. 33.