Dictionary of Human Evolution and Biology

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Maupertuis, Pierre Louis Moreau De

French mathematician, astronomer, naturalist; in 1736 he traveled to Lapland to measure the curvature of the earth. Venus physique (1746), partly on the origin of skin color, foreshadowed the concepts of epigenetics, mutation, and particulate inheritance; analyzed pedigrees of families to show that the trait polydactyly was not inherited solely through males, thus potentially falsifying the Preformation Doctrine (in Systeme de la Nature, 1751). His principle of least action (1744) stated that nature chooses the most economical path for moving bodies; also anticipated natural selection in Essai de Cosmologie (1750). Virtually all of his works were ignored for a hundred years, primarily because of Rousseau’s negative influence.

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