Paul Kammerer

Paul Kammerer bigraphy, stories - Zoologists

Paul Kammerer : biography

17 August 1880 – 23 September 1926

Paul Kammerer (17 August 1880, in Vienna – 23 September 1926, in Puchberg am Schneeberg) was an Austrian biologist who studied and advocated the now largely abandoned Lamarckian theory of inheritance – the notion that organisms may pass to their offspring characteristics they have acquired in their lifetime. He began his academic career at the Vienna Academy studying music but graduated with a degree in biology.


Paul Kammerer Kammerer undertook numerous biology experiments, largely involving interfering with the breeding and development of amphibians. He coerced ovoviviparous fire salamanders to become viviparous, and viviparous alpine salamanders to become ovoviviparous. In lesser-known experiments, he manipulated and bred olms. He made olms produce live young, and he bred dark-colored olms with full vision. He supported the Lamarckian theory of the heritability of acquired characteristics, and experimented extensively to prove this theory.

Kammerer succeeded in making midwife toads breed in the water by increasing the temperature of their tanks, forcing them to retreat to the water to cool off. The male midwife toads were not genetically programmed for the underwater mating that necessarily followed and thus, over the span of two generations, Kammerer reported that his midwife toads were exhibiting black nuptial pads on their feet to give them more traction in this underwater mating process. While the prehistoric ancestors of midwife toads had these pads, Kammerer considered this an acquired characteristic brought about by adaptation to environment. Claims arose that the result of the experiment had been falsified. The most notable of these claims was made by Dr. G. K. Noble, Curator of Reptiles at the American Museum of Natural History, in the scientific journal Nature. Noble claimed that the black pads actually had a far more mundane explanation: it had simply been injected there with Indian ink.Nature, 7 August 1926

However, it has been reported that Kammerer previously exhibited toad specimens in England with inspection by eminent zoologists, all of whom doubted the validity of Lamarckism but none suggesting the accusation of irregularity later levied by Noble. Hence, the possibility of sabotage committed shortly before Noble’s visit to Vienna (after Kammerer’s departure from the Institute) has been raised, with further reference being made to the many European biologists that had visited Kammerer in Vienna and to the widely availability of photographs and reports of his work. This report notes that Kammerer approved Noble’s inspection of the specimen found to have been tampered with, and that Kammerer expressed great astonishment at Noble’s observation. Moreover, it has been noted that Kammerer had also experimented with sea squirts, salamanders, and other animals and believed that these prior experiments also provided substantial evidence of Lamarckian inheritance; as such he regarded midwife toad foot pad inheritance to be of relatively minor significance in the overall argument.

Six weeks after the accusation by Noble, Kammerer committed suicide in the forest of Schneeberg, an event whose complex meaning is discussed by journalist Arthur Koestler.Arthur Koestler. (1973). The Case of the Midwife Toad. Vintage (first published 1971). ISBN 978-0394718231

Seriality theory

Kammerer’s other passion was collecting coincidences. He published a book with the title Das Gesetz der Serie (The Law of the Series; never translated into English) in which he recounted some 100 anecdotes of coincidences that had led him to formulate his theory of Seriality.

He postulated that all events are connected by waves of seriality. These unknown forces would cause what we would perceive as just the peaks, or groupings and coincidences. Kammerer was known to, for example, make notes in public parks of what numbers of people were passing by, how many carried umbrellas etc. Albert Einstein called the idea of Seriality "interesting, and by no means absurd",Arthur Koestler. (1972). The Roots of Coincidence. Vintage. p. 87. ISBN 978-0394719344 while Carl Jung drew upon Kammerer’s work in his essay Synchronicity. Koestler reported that, when researching for his biography about Kammerer, he himself was subjected to "a meteor shower" of coincidences – as if Kammerer’s ghost were grinning down at him saying, "I told you so!".