Overcoming Bloglessness

The Theory of Recapitulation


Weekly Writing Challenge:Student, Teacher.

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.

The words were unfamiliar and puzzling. Even after Paul repeated the phrase for me, I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember it. I needed to see the words spelled out in order to look them up, but the conversation had evolved past the point of asking.  It was Darwin Day and my secular humanist group was discussing the documentary we’d just viewed: The Tree Of Life.

I’d understood, based on the context of the conversation, the gist of what Paul was saying: that the development of the individual repeats the development of the species, but I didn’t know the words he’d used and it bugged me. It stayed in the back of my mind for weeks, popping to the fore every now and then: What did he say?
Is that weird? Would that bug you?

I could always ask Paul again, at the next meeting.  Let’s see, how would I word that?  Hey Paul, remember that time you said something I didn’t understand and I asked you to repeat it and I still didn’t understand?  Would you repeat that again?  I imagine he wouldn’t remember. Yeah, that would be awkward.

Then, reading in bed one night, Bernd Heinrich solved the mystery for me. I was reading his book, “One Man’s Owl” when I saw the phrase Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”.
Eureka! I’ve found it! That’s the phrase Paul had used. Thank you Bernd! Now that I’d seen the words in print I could look them up. I’d remember them.  My inner geek  felt so relieved.

Once I got the words in my head they took over like a catchy tune: ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. I said them in my head and aloud, to myself. I looked them up and learned about Haeckel’s Theory of Recapitulation; that is, the development of the individual repeats the development of the species.

(pic from Wikipedia)

The next time biogenetic law and embryological parallelism come up in conversation, I can nod, knowingly. Ah, yes, I’m familiar with Haeckel’s largely discredited theory that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.

It’s funny to think that subject would ever come up in conversation again. What kind of people am I hanging out with anyway?



Author: Susan B Raven

For many years I have suffered from debilitating bloglessness, only writing in my head, while everyone else posted and shared with ease. Previous attempts at recovery have failed, my secret journals edited to death, pages torn out, crumpled and trashed. I will not succumb to this embarassing condition. I will continue to struggle against the rampant backspacing and endless blank staring. I refuse to relapse into the void that is bloglessness. I can do it. I am doing it. I am Overcoming Bloglessness.

9 thoughts on “The Theory of Recapitulation

  1. You have the storytellers gift

  2. Fascinating — and thank you for the definitions and explanations – because I had no idea what that phrase meant – and am/was too tired to hunt and search —- but hey, what kind of people are you hanging out with anyway??

    That truly made the entire post for me!

    • Among the good people in our group there’s a geologist, a climatologist and several biologists.
      Mr. R and I think it’s kind of funny, when scientists come over.

      • Well it certainly makes for enlightening conversation – providing it is tempered with some spirits – thus allowing for simplification of terms that could perhaps tax the brain a bit too much 😉

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  6. Clever post! I had read something about this before but your writing brings it alive with vigour.

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